If you pray, pray for India

Bug eyed statue, Jain Temple - Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
Bug eyed statue at Jain Temple | Photo by Lauren Girardin

A slim two weeks before the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Todd and I checked India off our round-the-world itinerary. From the safety of Vietnam, it’s been disconcerting to reflect on our time in India, but here we go:

There’s a lot of time for conversation with shop owners in Jaisalmer, and not just because it’s a remote, small town about as far west as you can get in Rajasthan without trekking by camel into the Thar Desert.

“Since the bombings in Delhi, is many less tourists coming here. They are afraid, but Jaisalmer is very safe. Rajasthan is safe. India is safe! But, look – you see? You are my only customers today.”

Normally in India, that last part is a line of bull. But, we’ve had the shop to ourselves for an hour – there’s definitely something wrong. We’re able to take our time browsing through heaps of brightly colored patchwork quits, some of which are works of art, made from old Pakistani knit skull caps or the sparkly wedding dresses of village women.

Patchwork seller - Jaisalmer, India
Patchwork seller in Jaisalmer | Photo by Lauren Girardin

Though experience tells him we’re not buying, the shop owner goes through the motions anyway, unfolding bedspread size quilts at our bare feet until they are layered deep enough for a scene from the Princess and the Pea. More than the potential for business, he seems happy to have someone to talk to over cups of hot, spicy sweet chai.

“And Jaisalmer has had not enough rain for the past four years. Many cows die. Mostly camels left and those are expensive – they are for tourist camel safaris. And the tourists don’t come.”

Even though Jaisalmer is over 700 miles from Mumbai – about the same distance as Manhattan is from Charleston, South Carolina – there’s no doubt that Jaisalmer will be seeing fewer tourists in the months, if not years to come because of the Mumbai terror attacks.

Just after the Mumbai attacks began, Todd and I were relieved to get an email from Hardik, one of our new friends from India. After assuring us that he and his family were safe at home in Gujarat, far from Mumbai, he told us that “Whole India is under deep shock. As you know, the people of India, they are very kind and calm. So instead of giving fight to terrorism in American or Israel style, they pray to god to stop violence!”

Salim Singh-ki Haveli - Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
Salim Singh-ki Haveli in Jaisalmer | Photo by Lauren Girardin

As Americans who have watched the relentless escalation of President Bush’s war on terror since September 11, Todd and I are reassured by Hardik’s estimation of India’s measured reaction to the Mumbai tragedy. We just pray Hardik’s hope proves true.