In Rajasthan: With only three days remaining on my trip to India, I decided to hire a Metropole Taxi to take me around the Golden Triangle so I wouldn’t have to risk missing sights from a train delay—or have the added stress of negotiating rates for rickshaw rides every couple of hours. My lovely friend, Sarah, and I parted ways after a wonderful week together in New Delhi, Amritsar and Rishikesh. I left New Delhi at 6 am and set out on my solo adventure.

I fell asleep on the car ride from New Delhi to Amer, a small city north of Jaipur. When my driver, Gajju, woke me up, I thought I had been transported into a storybook of Indian fairytales: ornate elephants with bells on their necks carried Indian men down the main road; chattering monkeys leapt from rooftop to rooftop with complete disregard for the bustling crowds below; colorful handmade crafts and enormous piles noodle-shaped fried food burst from the shops lining the windy road; and the ancient stone walls of Amber Fort snaked across the mountains in the city’s backdrop. The sounds, smells and shining desert sun made me feel like my welcome to Rajasthan was more of a dream than reality.

And my first activity that day was, in fact, a dream come true. After a few wrong turns and phone calls, we finally found our destination: Elefantastic. Rahul, a fourth generation elephant rider—whose great grandfather used to ride elephants in the Indian army, spent nine years taking tourists up and down the road leading to Amber Fort. He told me that every tourist had the same questions: Were the elephants being treated well? What did they eat? Where did they sleep? And so on. Rahul decided to create a home for rescued elephants that could be enjoyed by tourists from near and far – so he opened Elefantastic in February 2012. He proudly told me that in less than a year’s time, he had already become the number one tourist destination in all of Rajasthan. (A shout out for Rahul: he has all of Elefantastic’s t-shirts made at a local girls’ orphanage, which he visits once a week just to spend time with the girls. He’s a good-hearted man.)

My experience with the elephants was incredible. At first, I had a staring contest with the coarse black hairs poking out of the elephant’s leathery skin. The elephant’s attendant, Salim, offered me a bundle of hay wrapped in green leaves to feed the elephant. I was scared that the elephant might kiss me with its wet, curious snout; or that its ginormous, squishy mouth might swallow my hand whole. But Rahul assured me that the closer you are to the elephant, the closer she will feel towards you. I squinted and squealed and cautiously touched the elephant. To my surprise, she was so gentle! I fed her bundle after bundle and loved every moment! After feeding her, I painted a traditional Rajasthani design on her leg and then rode her in the peaceful countryside for nearly an hour.

What an incredible first day in Rajasthan! I highly recommend Rajasthan to anyone traveling to India for the first time. Rajasthan is a state, not a city. It boasts craftsmen hand-making designs of all kinds – such as handblock printed fabric, woven carpets and jewelry.

While I only had time to visit Jaipur and Amer, I very much hope to return to see more of this beautiful area.

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