Julia Wilber is a Thomas J. Watson Fellow exploring fair trade fashion around the world this year. Here is some of her story.

Udaipur. “The Venice of the East.” An oasis for romance and for water. I first arrived at six o’clock in the morning after my first solo adventure into overnight train rides. Coming from Jaipur, where the further we got from monsoon the dustier it became, I was exhausted, cold (think mid-November), and excited. In the dark, I made my way to my hostel, Panorama, and decided to wait on the roof until my room would be ready at 10 a.m.

And then the sun started to rise.

Sunrise behind City Palace

For someone who was basically still detoxing a night of restless sleep (as a young white lady alone in sleeperclass I was keeping one eye open and on my pockets – just in case), the light seemed to finish the job, pushing out every other feeling but contentment. It rose behind the City Palace and slowly illuminated a town, already bustling behind closed shutters. It illuminated Lake Pichola, the oasis for which it is known in an otherwise desert state. It illuminated the temples, whose bells started to ring. Down on the water near Gangour Ghat, washing ladies began their morning ritual, beating the clothes in a rhythmic dance.

The bells, the washing, and the shouts of little children jumping into the lake would become part of my morning routine. A gentle sort of alarm clock – reminding me that everyone else was already awake and getting on with their day. I just liked to listen for a while before I joined the bustle.

Man amid the Bustle in Hanuman Ghat

But it’s just the things of the bustle—the noises and the faces and the smells of the city—that made my experience. The painter across the bridge with whom I grew friends, the entrepreneurial Indian part-owner of a Korean restaurant serving amazing kimchi, the mother of two who invited me to her home for traditional winter Udaipuri food. My way to Hanuman Ghat smelled of manure from cows and dogs and pigs and humans; sticky sweet syrup being made into all varieties of Indian sweets; earthy henna; acrid gunpowder from a myriad of firework stalls; light floral scents waft from religious offerings; cumin, coriander, chili, and ginger sparking out from Namkeen shops.

Buildings on the Road to Hanuman Ghat

But the majority of my day was filled with winding through the streets of the old city and into the “real” city—a series of shared rickshaws later, I found myself at the Production Unit for Sadhna, a women’s cooperative producing fair trade clothing. These women became my family—I learned their names, and they welcomed me into their homes, told me about their lives, and tried to marry me to their sons so I wouldn’t leave.

The sun set in the same way it rose. With a rosy display like it didn’t want to say good-night – even for now. I watched it from the road as I walked home in progressively more layers, my hands drifting up in respect to the small shrines where Ganesh resided.

There is romance in Udaipur, and beautiful lakes—but what it will always remind me of is the beauty of what 45 days can do to a life. It can bring you friends and companions, but only if you’re available to be filled by them, and to fill them.

These are only the shining sensory moments that stood out to me. They may not have stood out to you. So what are you waiting for? GO. Experience.


Julia Wilber

Images – Julia Wilber