Ad hoc travel, the best kind. Jaipur turned out to be the biggest (nice) surprise of the trip.
The train journey to Jaipur was more or less uneventful. It weaved its way through the slums and the country side. I have only ever seen slums like this on television, literal shanty town with rickety brick buildings piled atop and around each other, their inhabitants living like vermin; the coffee shop emotions rearing their ugly head again.
The view of the country side was a welcome change from the chaos of Delhi, women in the fields harvesting tea, chimney stacks for making red bricks protruding like ant colonies and the occasional small village dotted amongst miles and miles of green fields. But no where is there not a sign of human detritus even in the postcard country. On the train I once again had that sinking feeling of ‘what on earth am I doing in India and what on earth is there to do in Jaipur?’. I held me breath for five hours until I got there.
Fortunately nothing went wrong in Jaipur. In fact everything went right, and this is why I am in India! Upon stepping off the train I went to the local tourist office and they hooked me up with a friendly guide called Naim who showed me around three local hotels and helped me to negotiate the one I wanted for a good price. They asked for R1500, I got them down to R1000 and Naim said I could get them down to R900 if I tried. Haggling is brilliant when it is obviously working. It was also a lot more expensive than what I had slept in previously but the difference to my mental state was enormous. Naim and I then haggled over rates for a guide and I agreed to R1600. I spent the afternoon travelling with Naim, quietly and not so quietly stressing that I was spending more than I had planned.
The old part of Jaipur is a walled city with nine gates built in 1727 A.D. The walls and every building within the old walls is painted pink. Each of the nine gates is a horrendous traffic jam as strangely the walls weren’t built with modern transport in mind. Apparently there has been a drought in Jaipur for the last few years so the city has stopped painting the walls each year and spend the money on supplying basic services for people. Earlier this year there were a series of bombings all in quick succession which nobody has claimed responsibility for and the CIB (Central Intelligence Bureau) hasn’t any leads.
The first two places we visited were the Central Museum and the Observatory. The Central Museum and palace were interesting but as major attractions go not that impressive and well over priced at R300. The saving grace of the entry fee is that it also allows me to get into Jaigar fort. The observatory is a schizophrenic set of Escher drawings realised into massive three dimensional form, mainly for astronomical purposes, although I have read that the purpose of many are indecipherable.Â About to spit the dummy I said to Naim that I wanted to break schedule and head to the Amber Fort, a giant palace and fortress complex fifteen kilometres north of Jaipur. He reluctantly agreed (as it would mean more travelling the following day) and we headed up there. Upon arriving I immediately got the travellers high â€“ that feeling of awe in the presence of something impressive that you could not see anywhere else. The Amber Fort is a massive thick walled palace surrounded by gardens, walls snaking over the surrounding hills and other giant forts. The interior consists of a rabbit warren of rooms and interior courtyards which regressed me to the age of eight as I ran around exploring.
On the way back we stopped at the Jal Mahal, a lake with a palace on an island in the centre. The drought that is effecting the region has meant the lake has shrunk within the last year, and an entire new promenade has been built along what used to be lake land. I’m not sure what they will do if the lake fills up again. There were no insects for swatting at the lake, only a swarm of small begging children.
Feeling a lot better about both being in Jaipur and India Naim then took me to visit relatives, friends and associates in various trades. I now know about rug making (didn’t buy a rug), shaving camels (didn’t buy a shaved camel) and silver jewellery which Naim insists is real silver (might have bought some not not-fake silver jewellery). Travelling back to the hotel I asked Naim if I could buy him a drink, which he no longer does, but he then offered for me to come and eat dinner with him, his close family, his not so close family, and the entire neighbourhood that evening. Absolutely delighted and over the moon, I calmly said I would love too.
Dinner was at eight thirty in the evening. The meal was a lovely lamb curry slow cooked in a giant pot which was able to feed about thirty people. All of the men and boys sat around in a room on a rug with legs crossed and newspaper spread out before them. The cook and his helpers then brought chibati and the curry out in platters which we then gorged ourselves on. I have never eaten so much good curry in my life! Naim introduced me to his younger brother Neo and son Ion (I’m not sure on the spelling so phonetic will have to do). After dinner Naim’s whole family, wife Jasmine, daughters Sanna and Summa, and Ion all piled in his car and he dropped me back at the hotel, first stopping to buy all of us pineapple juice.
The following day Naim was busy looking after ‘two German doctors’ so being the manager he sent a lackey to show me around. Unfortunately his English was not as good as Naim’s but it didn’t really matter as all I had to do was point at a map, say where I wanted to go and off we went. I thoroughly recommend Naim as a guide in Jaipur:
He can also be contacted by visiting the tourist office at the Jaipur railway station.
In Jaipur I visited the following sites: the old pink city, City Palace, the Observatory, Jal Mahal, Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal, Jaigarh Fort, Nahargarh Fort and the Madhvendra Bhawan palace, the central museum in the Albert Hall, Lakshmi Narain Mandir, and central park with statue circle.
Jaigarh Fort contains the world’s largest cannon and impressive views over the surrounding lands. Same as Amber Fort it was a maze of internal rooms and squares.
From atop the Madhvendra Bhawan palace could be seen a view over all of Jaipur, or as much as could be seen that wasn’t clouded in pollution.
The central museum in the Albert Hall was the Jaipur equivalent of the British Musuem with exhibits from India and all over the world.
The Lakshmi Narain Mandir is a pure white marble temple amidst all of the dirt that is Jaipur, and unfortunately could only be viewed from the street.
Having done my dash of running around site seeing in Jaipur I waited at the train station for my ride back to Delhi. Sitting on the platform I felt like a Bollywood superstar, people always stopping to stare at me, little kids lingering until I gave them a smile and then coming up and shaking my hand. The train ride back was uneventful although I did get taught how to eat the meal by a lovely women sitting next to me. On the ride it really hit home at the difference in level of wealth between me as a member of a developed country and the others riding in first class. I pulled out my laptop to write and caused a minor commotion on the seats around me. Another passenger who I had been talking to asked me how much I earned a month and when I told him R500,000 I immediately felt embarrassed, I told him that I must have got a zero wrong in the calculation and that it maybe R50,000.
Upon my arrival in Delhi I got a roller coaster rickshaw ride to the airport, and slept on the couches. I met a lovely graphic Designer called Danny who was a real American Indian, his family was from Hyderabad but he was currently living in Houston, Texas. When he asked for my last name and remarked on Paul and Saul from the bible I asked him if he was Christian. We proceeded to discuss religion and philosophy for a couple of hours until neither of us could keep our eyes open.