The first thing we noticed was the animals. So many animals. Dogs, goats, cows, bulls, water buffaloes, and even a camel. Each had its own air of individuality as it loitered in the alleys and streets of Udaipur, head raised as if it knew it belonged there much more than we did. And in almost every way, the animals were right.
Our entrance into Udaipur was admittedly a bit shocking. Each of us had some sort of idea in our heads as to what we would find, but it is safe to say that many of our expectations were shattered upon arrival. We expected the winding streets; we expected the abundance of animals; we expected the temples and the shrines. But what neither of us expected was the bamboo scaffolding on which people worked to restore old monuments; or the people bathing in a seemingly dirty river so to cleanse themselves before entering a temple; and least of all the amount of people humbly working in the open air, entirely willing to accept our curious stares and poorly pronounced questions.
We entered the old city and met Vishal and Nishtha, friends of Sarah and Neerav and our guides for the day. The temples were anchored to the lake-side by ancient trees that twisted through the structures. It was clear that life in all its forms was paramount. The temples were built around these trees so as to allow them to continue to grow. Pigeons flocked to the lake-side where they were fed by locals. Breadcrumbs were scattered so that even the ants could eat. Nishtha pointed us to the multitudes of Jain temples within the walls of the old city and explained how this deep reverence in the face of all life was the result of an intertwining of religious practice, the concept of Karma and everyday lifestyle and routine.
Deeper in the city, Vishal pointed out an old woman who sat in a doorway, using twigs to fashion plates and bowls out of leaves. He told us that this was the old way, where nothing was waste and sustainability was a lifestyle. Broken clay pots were used as construction material. But modern convenience seems to have eroded this practice. The trash cans were filled with paper and plastic plates. We were served Chai in plastic cups, whereas once they had been clay. Nowadays, the leaf plates are reserved for special/ceremonial occasions.
We arrived in Udaipur amidst the festival of the elephant-headed god Ganesh. In this festival an idol of Ganesh is placed into a body of water, and it is believed that all one’s problem’s go with it. Where once these idols were made from sustainable mud, now they are mostly fashioned from plastic, polluting the water. Vishal as part of eco-hut continues to fashion Ganesh idols out of traditional materials, but plastic remains more prevalent throughout Udaipur and India.
Despite the degradation of sustainability that has resulted from the modernization of goods and products, there still exists an air of gradual yet devoted efforts to reclaim the ecological values of the past. Whether it be Vishal and eco-hut, the women diligently working to make the leaf plates, or the delicious “Millets of Mewar” restaurant, which emphasized vegan and sustainable food sources, we see the growth of an environmentally-conscious movement, which we hope to become a part of.