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INDIA | Saturday, 29 March 2014 | Views [242]

Mehendi painting on my arm

Mehendi painting on my arm

The train to Jaipur is on time. Yes!

I'm sitting with a family. The wife must have stared at me for an hour straight - I'm not exaggerating. Full on staring for a full hour. So weird. I'm not sure what would happen if I stare back at her. You're not supposed to stare at the men because they think that's a come-on, supposedly, but it's so annoying trying to get rid of them. You just have to give them crazy eyes or something.

But this woman just thinks it's okay. She must have memorized my face. I should have asked if she wanted a photo. She's pretty clearly upper class. Lots of jewelry, all her nails painted. But this is the first time I've seen this behaviour in the 1st class train car. It happened to me in second class with a woman, but usually they are not so curious or they get distracted by something. I guess I should have struck up a conversation. How rude of me.

I think she might be in love. Just before she got off the train, she told me I was beautiful and her 11-year old son was also apparently enamored because he invited me to their home. They asked me how old I was and when I said 39, the woman got so excited because she was the same age. I thought maybe she was my age based on her kids, but her attitude made her seem more like 50. Life and cultural differences, I guess.
I was a bit disappointed about Jaipur at first because my friend Tanni's cousin in law, Bordi, was not able to host me after all because her work was too busy. I was looking forward to seeing a real Indian home. Oh well.

Instead, Bordi booked me into an amazing hotel, I am so lucky! Probably quite expensive, but at this point it's a relief to stay in a place that is clean! No, I mean actually clean, even in the bathroom, no dirt in the corners, fresh bed sheets, this is a four star hotel even by American standards. Thank you, thank you, thank you Bordi! Obviously, LOL, I've had enough of cheap backpacker places. 
At breakfast, there are a lot of older travelers staying here. My favorite is a very old lady in a beautiful long dress. I'd say she was in her 80s!! Just making her way, traveling alone. This tugs at my heart strings. How darling and wonderful to still be traveling at her age and in such a country as India and by herself. That is true fearlessness! Remarkable!!
Today I visited Bapu, Johari and Tripoli bazaars on my way to city palace. These are local shopping streets lined with stores, not tourist places. Bapu specializes in clothing, Johari in jewelry, and Tripoli in home goods and Home Depot type stuff. They were all really interesting.

Halfway down Johari, I saw samosas in the window and there was a doorman, dressed in white, with a red turban, who opened the door, so I stepped in to find a long display of sweets. Delightful. This is LMB, a famous sweet shop that also had a restaurant with it. I picked out two sweets and asked the guy behind the counter what he recommended. He put in three more sweets and a spicy cone thing. I ate the samosas right there. So tasty, with the sweet and spicy sauces. It really hit the spot as I've been looking for a good samosa for a week or two. The sweets I saved for later.
Farther down Johari, the jewelry stores changed to sari stores with bolts of beautiful fabrics lining the walls and women sitting on benches or on the floor as the salesman opened yard after yard of fabric to display. I went in to one store just to look- a very upscale one that looked like a place you might buy a wedding dress.
It was glorious. I really didn't know what to do there, though so I didn't stay long. The sales people watch you so it's a bit uncomfortable.
Tripoli bazaar was a surprise after that. All pots and pans and spices and all things for the home. And on the other side of the street, piping, hoses, wood, tools, sewing machine repair, furniture, cycle repair shops - a man's dream. Basically the street was divided - female shops on one side and male shops on the other. It was interesting to see home depot broken down into all of its individual stores.
After that, I got a bit lost and discovered a tower, Isarlat, that's like a lighthouse. You can climb to the top and get a great city view. A king had it built after he succeeded to the throne over his younger brother, but later committed suicide when his brother finally overtook him in a later campaign.

It did have an excellent view, although it made me feel quite a bit of vertigo. I could see the Amber Fort on top of a cliff-sided plateau off in the distance. And most of the city was surrounded by these "mountains". The area is maybe 15 square miles.
The city palace was lovely. All painted pink, just as they promised. The main reception room was grand, lined with wonderful paintings of each of the rulers of the palace in a very particular style. Unfortunately, no pictures. This is regretful because the style of the paintings was quite unique.
There were some ladies doing mehendi, henna tattoos, in the main pavilion and I got my hand done. It only took about 10 minutes. It's a stream of a thin clay-like substance that they squeeze out of little cones, like you might decorate a cake with pastry bags. The substance dries on your skin in a half hour and then you scrape it off and it leaves a yellowish stain which turns a darker brown over night. They say it lasts about two weeks. I thought mine came out very nice.
The second courtyard had four beautiful doors that were adorned with different birds and flowers. The most magnificent was the one with the peacocks. The painting in Jaipur is so detailed and colorful and delicate and fantastic. And it seems to be everywhere. These doors were an extreme example of this.
After city palace, I was going to visit Jantar Mantar, which is an astrological observatory built by the same king who built the palace, I think, but unfortunately it was already closed. I'm sorry I missed that- it would have been really interesting.
Instead, I caught a bicycle rickshaw to Indian coffee house- a place recommended in the guide. The coffee was quite nice and the place had a very local feel to it. Such a great vibe in Jaipur.
Today I tried to wake early but I felt so sluggish. I gave up trying to go on a tour and languished around my room and at breakfast extra long.
Around noon, I  finally ventured out and just arranged for a rickshaw for the whole day. He took me first to the Amber Fort. This is supposedly the jewel of Jaipur and it did not disappoint.
I had seen it the day before from afar when I was at Isarlat. It's built on a cliff-faced high plateau. Compared with other similar palaces I've seen, this one is impressive.
The rickshaw drops you at the bottom of the hill and you have to hike up to the first of four courtyards. This takes about ten minutes and its fairly steep so you get winded. This wouldn't be an easy invasion. The first courtyard is fairly plain, no painted adornments, just amber colored walls and a big plaza. This is where the guards/military would have lived and worked. And probably also where commoners like vendors who were allowed in would do business.
Steps up to one side lead to a second courtyard. The gate is painted beautifully in the traditional regional style. This courtyard was where you might get a public audience with the king. There was a large covered part with lots of columns and a later king also used it as a billiards parlour. From this level, you could also reach the hamam- the bath. A series of rooms that were supplied with hot and cold water, one of which has a deep tub. It actually seemed a little bit small compared with the size of the palace so it may have been somewhat exclusive.
Another beautifully adorned doorway led to what I would call the palace level. This courtyard had a beautifully crafted garden in the center. On one side, was an amazing mirrored parlour of rooms where the king would entertain foreign dignitaries, and there was a wide open patio on the second floor. The other side was the private apartments and verandahs where the king and family would rest and hangout during the day.

The side closest to the doorway had a dining room and another balcony. Opposite the dining room, the palace continued in a maze of three and four levels of various rooms including latrines and hidden passageways.

After exploring around and getting lost and found several times, I eventually found courtyard number four- the ladies courtyard. This simple unadorned courtyard was surrounded by two stories of ladies apartments for the kings wives and their servants. Apparently, the king had cleverly designed the passageway so each lady could have her own room and he could visit them at night without the other ladies knowing which one he had visited.

But while they might not know who the king visited at night, they all had full view of the courtyard. Architecturally, it was quite apractical setup for fostering community as well as a level of personal privacy, which in a palace full of wives would be a good idea, I would think.
All in all, I found the fort very thoughtfully designed and beautifully adorned and very modern. There were even secret underground passageways to two different nearby forts.
After Amber Fort, I  stopped at the water palace. A beautiful palace building drowned in a serene lake of water. The driver wasn't  able to tell me why the water had surrounded the building. Maybe a rise in the water table? It was so serene.

Then the driver took me to Village Textiles and I got to see how they dye the fabrics and make the block prints. It was a simple process but still interesting. They were still boiling vats of cloth over open wood fire. This seems so impractical to me.

Upstairs, they had clothing, sarees (sp?), and other goods made from the cloths. I was planning to buy a suit in Jaipur so here was my opportunity. I found a lovely shirt and pants that go together and are very thin and cool for a reasonable price. They even tailored the shirt a bit to look more slender on me- all for 25 USD. I think I may have disappointed the salesman that I didn't buy something more, but I've already bought so many souvenirs in India. 

In the evening, I had a nice dinner with Bordi and her friend, Anand. They took me to this lovely rooftop restaurant and we tried a whole range of yummy Indian foods. I now know what Dal Makhani and hallawa is- though maybe not how to spell them.
All in all, Jaipur was fabulous. So refreshing and I think probably my favorite place in India so far. Maybe I'm just prejudiced because of the hotel. I think I'm going to be staying in a lot nicer places in India from here on out. It makes such a big difference.


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