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Irene's Adventures

India - Jaipur

INDIA | Thursday, 5 January 2012 | Views [1172]

 

Our 22:30 arrival in Delhi was your typical “Welcome to India”. The hotel Amax Guest House was true to their word that a boy with a card would meet us at gate 5. However, when we got to the car, it had a flat tire. Of course the spare was flat as well. The driver piled us in, with Ed on the good tire side to balance the vehicle, and proceeded to drive away – on the flat. If that wasn't bad enough, the car sputtered and stalled numerous times just leaving the parkade. We started down the expressway, smelling burning rubber and thinking we must be on the rim by now, when he pulled off into some little alley, told us to wait 5 minutes and off he trots to a tire repair shack on the side of the road. Where these obscure shops pop up is always a wonder in India. Anyway, he returns a moment later, removes the 3 nuts from the tire (one is sheered right off), takes it and the spare and off he goes to the tire shop again. Remember, this is now 1:00 AM!! He replaces the tire, starts his sputtering car again and off we go. No problem!

We spent our one day in Delhi looking around Connaught Place. On Irene's last journey Delhi was preparing for the Commonwealth Games and was re-vamping Connaught Place, it looked like a war zone. She was curious to see if they finished it and how it looked. It looked amazing! There was still construction going on and the typical Indian mayhem still abounds, but for the most part it looked great. We strolled along, not looking for anything in particular and enjoyed the day.

Our on-line search, the people at the hotel and a ticket agent in Connaught Place all said there were no train tickets available to Jaipur for the next day. We decided to go straight to the train station to see if there were cancellations. Irene had forgotten how cheeky these people can be. We knew there was a foreign ticket office on the upper level of the train station, but try to get a straight answer of where the stairs were was a journey straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Initially we were at the wrong train station, only 100 meters from the one we needed to go to but they sent us in the opposite direction. When we finally got to the main terminal every attempt to get us to go back in the opposite direction was made again. We were even told there is no upper level on the train station. Why do they do this?? We eventually found the upper level foreign ticket office only to discover that the queue was very long and things did not seem promising in getting a ticket. We opted to hire a private car from the hotel, which worked out well in the end, as we got a bit of a private tour as well.

Jaipur is the capital of Ragisthan and has a population of 3.2 million. It is referred to as “the Pink City” because the walls and 9 gates of the old city, as well as most of the buildings within, are painted pink. This was to honour the Prince of Wales' visit back in the 1800's. The old city is basically a bustling market. There are the typical touristy market streets, with a walking tour laid out in the Lonely Planet. One street has jewelry, one street has fabrics, one street has perfumes, etc but every street seemed to have kites; but more on the reason for that later. However if you go off the walking tour path you can discover the local markets, with better pricing and eateries, with better food.

We came across this little street restaurant that was no bigger than a north American dining room. It had about 3 tables about the size of TV tables. As usual, there was one guy making the food, a young kid serving the food and the king of the operation was the guy collecting the money. The guy making the food squatted with his knees literally up by his ears on a small platform about the size of a kitchen table with a huge vat of boiling oil beside him making the best samosas we had ever eaten. This was only to be equalled by the street vendor making parathas. Yummy! It is always a treat to get somewhat lost in these old cities. It was here that Irene had her hand painted with henna. The young man was extremely fast, precise and cheap. It cost us a whole dollar!

Of course the markets have your usual run of the mill oddities that are common in India, such as mountains of sugar in a variety of sizes and shapes, bangles, cows, cart loads of garlic (Ed was giddy with the prospects of that much garlic), bangles, a guy with a sewing machine, pigs rooting through garbage, bangles, old men squatting here and there with no apparent reason for being there other than killing time, a random shrine with accompanying offerings for sale – in this case to Sai Baba, bangles, open urinals, a street K-tel slicer dicer demonstration, a shoe repair guy and did I mention bangles?

Jaipur celebrated its annual kite festival on 14 January. For days leading up to the 14th the skies were filled with kites, but on the 14th, which is declared a holiday, not only the children but the men, women, old, young, in fact the whole city is up on the roofs flying kites. The sky is dotted with hundreds of thousands of colourful kites. Children run down the streets or from roof top to roof top to catch stray kites. Every year several people die and many more injured chasing after kites by running into traffic or missing the jump to the next roof top. The thread is sharp and lethal, thereby cutting each others kites. Warnings are issued in the media for motorbike riders to wear helmets at this time, as the glass covered threads of stray kites can cause serious injury and even death should you be unfortunate enough to get caught by a dangling thread. We met an fellow from New Zealand who showed us his leather chin strap nearly cut through by one of these threads. We were fortunate enough to be invited to our tuktuk driver's home to share in the celebrations. They gave Irene the honour of flying their most beautiful golden foil kite, only to have the thread promptly cut by a neighbouring adversary. Another neighbour even had a microphone and loud speaker set up on his roof top, giving a play by play. Ed had better success as Lucky (our new friend) coached him. It is an event that must be experienced to be believed.

 

The highlights of the old city of Jaipur are the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) which is a honeycombed looking building with hundreds of latticed windows. The original intention of the lattice was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen, since they had to observe strict "purdah" (face cover). It is one room deep and about 5 stories high. A very bizarre yet beautiful structure.

The Iswari Minar Swarga Sal, near Tripoli Gate, is a very high minaret with a spectacular view of the city. This doesn't sound very exciting, however, we had a guide that pointed things out and gave us a brief history on everything which made it more relevant. One very interesting thing about the tower is that the man who built it committed suicide in the face of an advancing army and his 21 wives and concubines threw themselves onto his funeral pyre (sati) in an act of loyalty. The Indian government outlawed Sati in 1987 after a controversial situation which left doubt as to the woman's willingness or her being forced onto the pyre.

Jantar Mantar is an observatory built in the 1700's that has the world's largest sundial, standing 27 meters tall and is accurate to within 2 seconds. The whole outdoor complex is an impressive observatory that consists of fourteen major geometric devices for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking stars' location as the earth orbits around the sun, ascertaining the declinations of planets, and determining the celestial altitudes and related ephemerides. Quite impressive for its day! It is a world heritage site.

Jal Mahal (Water Palace) sits eerily in the middle of a lake. It can only be accessed by boat and there are plans to turn it into a high priced hotel.

The Monkey Palace left us with the impression that it is an area infested with monkeys and the locals have somehow managed to turn it into a tourist attraction. It is in a dirty part of the city, on the side of a huge hill with switchbacks leading to the 'temple' – which was basically an old covered platform - on top. Of course, they take you there in the evening so you can see the sunset, which is virtually impossible due to the smog. There are children selling overpriced peanuts to feed to the monkeys as well as offering their assistance in keeping the monkeys from attacking you. We were told to hold the peanut in our fingers so the monkey can take it from you with his little fingers. Leaving the peanut in the palm of your hand leaves you open to the monkey being able to scratch you as he snatches the peanut, a prospect that neither of us was willing to risk. There are hundreds of monkeys who know you have peanuts and of course come running up to be fed. It reminded us of the “do not feed the bears” idea in Canadian parks, once they become reliant on food, they become aggressive if you don't provide it. The little monkeys were cute and we tried to feed them more, but the bigger monkeys would screech and basically chase the little guys away.

The City Palace is still one of the official residences of the Maharaja, who happened to be in residence when we were there. It may have had something to do with the Jaipur Literary Festival, which Oprah attended this year. One tuktuk driver was beside himself wanting to see her, but couldn't. The Maharaja is quite forward thinking in that he has allowed his Palace to become a tourist attraction thereby collecting entrance fees as well as having a smart and overpriced restaurant on site.

The very first building you see as you enter the courtyard of the Palace grounds is the Welcome Palace, that used to be used for welcoming dignitaries, but is now a museum housing mostly articles of clothing dating as far back as the 1700's. The most interesting article is from a certain Maharaja who weighed 250 kg. He supposedly had 108 wives.

There is an armoury display which Irene was not too bothered about, but Ed insisted on seeing. Irene was proven wrong in that some of the weapons were truly clever and diabolical. For instance, a dagger that had a pistol built into it, just in case you didn't kill the guy with the stabbing you could shoot him to be sure. Another double dagger that opened like scissors so you could really do some internal damage to make sure the guy won't recover even if it didn't instantly kill him. The craftsmanship on the hilts of the knives, swords, gun stocks and barrels was amazing. There were glass, marble, jade and jewelled, all finely sculpted and notched. All in all, it was an interesting place with lots of antiquities from former royal occupants.

Amber Fort is about 10 Km outside the city and covers an area of about 4 sq. Km. It is built from pale yellow and pink sandstone, giving it an amber color. It is situated on the Hill of Eagles directly below Jaigarh Fort. They are considered one complex and are joined by a subterranean passage so that the royal family could escape to the impenetrable Jaigarh Fort in times of war. The 10 minute walk up to the Amber Fort is dotted with vendors selling everything from lentil salad (double yummy), souvenirs, and the best yet, a guy with a bathroom scale so you could weigh yourself – for a price of course!

We purchased the audio tour and were not disappointed in the details and history it provided. The fort is an absolute maze of secret passages for the maharaja to visit his favourite concubines without any of the others being aware of it, ancient air conditioning where water would flow down the walls and along a channel of certain rooms whereby cooling the room through evaporation, the overflow passing through conduits to the pleasure gardens complete with fountains (this is in a desert, remember), latticed windows for the women to secretly view the comings and goings without being seen. There was a small cart that was used to carry women since their heavily jewelled dresses were such that they could not walk due to the weight of the garment. Stained glass windows, inlaid convex mirrors which would have glistened like stars in the lamplight and quirky, almost cartoon like reliefs show the decadence and grandeur of an era and structure whose main staircase leading to the inner gate are dedicated to the great Akbar.

Although we did not go to Jaigarh, the audio tour spoke of a canon housed there that is the largest in the world. It was built in 1720, can spin 360 degrees, the barrel is over 6 meters long and 280 mm across. It used 100 kg of powder to fire a 50 kg ball 35 km. It was only fired once, in a test run, that woke the entire city. Impressive!

 

We had stayed in Jaipur longer than expected and finally it was time to move on. We booked a train to Pushkar.

Places to stay: Atithi Guest House

 

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