Wandering through the markets in India was truly an over sensory experience. From the sounds of the throngs of people and animals milling about to the smells of spices mixed with sweat, nothing could have prepared me for this.
Traveling through India gave me the chance to experience things I had never imagined before. I rode a rickshaw through the frenzied streets of Delhi’s marketplace, learned the proper way to wrap a turban in Jodhpur, and rode the back of one of the beautiful painted elephants in Jaipur’s pink city.
Yet none of those experiences came close to preparing me for the magic of the Taj Mahal.
Growing up with a total of seven dogs, 2 cats, one rabbit, a tarantula, and a host of other animals including turtles, hamsters, and fish, I definitely developed a love for animals at an early age. Yet no matter how hard I tried to dress my dogs in capes and call them warriors, none of my domestic pets held any sort of fear in my mind. Chloe, my black labrador retriever just licked my face before getting her feet tangled in the bed sheet tied around her neck.
Superdog, she was not. But I loved her anyways.
After reading The Jungle Book, and discovering the quiet sense of dread, accompanied by a slight tingle up my spine that Sher Khan could induce, I vowed to one day meet this beast, and face an animal that would not love me unconditionally. Over the years I forgot about my fascination with tigers and focused on more tangible life markers: going on my first date, graduating from high school, picking a college, and eventually, a career path.
It wasn’t until years later, when I had quit my job and rerouted my life, that I found myself in a small bookstore in Lima, Peru. Wedged in between Steve Jobs’ biography and Sex & the City was a book that brought back the spark of my youth in a rush of emotions. Black faced with the body of the beast padding slowly across the top, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht was suddenly in my hands, and out the door. It traveled with me as I hiked the dizzying mountains of Huaraz and sun bathed in the hammocks of Mancora. It spoke of my childhood desires with such intimate detail that seemed too unreal to be true.
It was then that I knew I had to meet my tiger.
Many little girls fantasize about a completely pink bedroom, a closet full of rose colored dresses, and an endless supply of bows in a rainbow of fuchsia and pale raspberry. So you can imagine my excitement at the prospect of seeing the famed pink city of Jaipur. While the color may be closer to terra cotta, (legend has it the city got its name from a certain British monarch who clearly didn’t have an eye for color) I was happy enough strolling down the sandy colored streets and enjoying the monochromatic buildings. My first stop was Hava Mehel or the Wind Palace, a giant, one-walled palace that served as a façade for the royal women. They were forbidden to show their faces in public, so this giant wall, almost completely covered in windows (165 to be precise), provided the perfect viewing balconies for ceremonies and parades.
I arrived to Jodhpur with the rain, and the city smelled fresh and clean, scrubbed free of its desert sands. After settling into my hotel, I headed to Pal Haveli, a noble family’s home turned restaurant and hotel. The rain had ended and the sky was dark and dramatic as I walked up to the rooftop terrace. Spread out before me was a panoramic view of Jodhpur’s iconic fort, Mehran Garh, and the main city square. As fireworks lit up the night sky, I feasted on butter naan, chicken masala, and lentil stew. Heading back to the hotel, I couldn’t wait for the morning, and my official welcome to the blue city.