Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jaipur Jaunt

Namaste friends.  Once again I am playing catch-up, and writing about an event far in the past.  When I was finally given a list of school holidays by my principal, I was delighted to discover that my birthday (a Monday) was a holiday this year.  I decided right away that I wanted to travel somewhere.  My roommates and I went back and forth for a while about where we wanted to go.  Himalayas?  No, too cold and far.  Amritsar?  I’d already been there.  For a while we were pretty sure that we’d be going to Pushkar to see the famous camel festival, but due to some procrastination, were unable to get tickets.  So we decided to go to Jaipur.  I had already been once, but my last trip had coincided with Rajasthan’s election day, so I had been unable to see many of the most famous sights.  This fact, coupled with the fact that the trip would be Krish, Jo, Jessica, and my first trip as a roommate group, was very exciting.  Also helpful was the fact that Krish had spent three months in Jaipur during the summer of 2010, so he was quite knowledgeable about the city.  As if that weren’t enough, our landlord Manish had lived there for four years, and had plenty of recommendations for fun things to do in Jaipur.  It promised to be a good trip.

Soon after school on Friday the 4th of November, the four of us headed to Old Delhi train station.  After a light dinner at a 24 hr McDonald’s/generic Indian food stand (for the record I did NOT eat the McDonald’s food, blech—dinner for me was a veg thali) we boarded our train.  Now, when I traveled around India as a study abroad student with my student friends, we pretty much always traveled on sleeper class.  Sleeper class is non-AC crowded, and far cheaper than the AC classes.  Because I was familiar with this class, I forgot that others might not be.  I felt a little guilty shoving my friends into this situation.  Fortunately, they are all great people, so they took it all in stride, and we were able to laugh at the many bizarre occurrences that went on during our journey:

Bizarre occurrence #1: When we first boarded the train in Delhi, we found our berths and squished onto the benches that we had reserved.  Soon, all the other berths filled up as well.  But the people just kept on coming.  Soon the train aisles were packed, and people were climbing onto the upper berths, and fighting to squeeze into seats.  I was very confused; I remembered sleeper class being crowded, but not quite this crowded!  After a few stops, it was really starting to get uncomfortable, and I wondered if our entire five hour ride would be like this.  Then, at one particular stop, the train basically emptied.  The aisles cleared, and people jumped down from their perches on the uppermost bunks.  It was a sort of exodus.  A number of new people did board the train, but nowhere near as many, and only the assigned seats seemed to be taken.  We were all confused until the train began to move again.  At this point, the conductor finally came around to check tickets.  All of the extra people had simply been bumming what they knew would be a free ride to that particular station.  We enjoyed the rest of our journey in relative comfort.

Bizarre occurrence #2: First, I must rewind to when we first boarded the train.  As you will recall, we were squished into our seats, while the unlucky standers packed into the aisles.  One such unlucky stander had placed himself very close to Krish.  We were all very used to the lack of personal space in India.  Unfortunately, the close proximity was not the only problem.  This man happened to be carrying a power saw, with the blade very close to Krish’s face.  There appeared to be a safety guard over the blade, but it was still alarming.  When the man saw Krish’s (admittedly quite amusing) horrified face, he grinned and waved it around, only adding to Krish’s discomfort.  Fortunately this man got off before the conductor came around, so we didn’t have to deal with him for too long.

Bizarre occurrence #3: This third occurrence is, in my opinion at least, the most bizarre of all.  When we reached the exodus station, the face of a man appeared in our window.  He said something in Hindi to one of our seatmates, then handed his bag through the window.  At first, this didn’t seem too strange to me; clearly, he did not want to deal with dragging his bag through the crowds of people as he boarded the train.  As I thought about it more though, the situation seemed more and more unusual.  The bag was not that big; smaller than my backpack in fact.  Why did he shove it through the window?  And how did he know he could trust the people in the train?  By this point all of us were alarmed and wondering about hidden bombs.  Our seat partner obligingly searched through the bag and found nothing untoward.  As he was still rooting through this stranger’s belongings, the bag’s owner appeared.  “Aapka bomb check ho gaya,” (your bomb check is finished) said our seat partner sheepishly.  The bag’s owner seemed unfazed; he simply took his belongings and sat down.  A great deal of time passed, and eventually, the bag’s owner reached his destination.  He got up, waved a cheerful goodbye to us, then exited.  Without his bag!!!!!!  We searched the area, and could find it nowhere.  As we wondered where it could possibly had gone, we saw its owner’s face in our window again.  “Bye bye!!” he said with a smirk.  After some discussion, we decided that he must have been involved in a drug deal.

We reached Jaipur late at night.  After a long, confusing rickshaw ride, we reached our hotel and fell into bed.

The next morning, we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast at our hotel, which consisted of some delicious stuffed parathas.  We then set off for Amber fort.  I was quite excited to see the fort, as it was one of the must-sees of Jaipur that I had missed out on during my last trip.  After a long rickshaw ride and a crowded bus ride, we reached the fort.  Amber fort is known for providing elephant rides from the base of the fort to the top.  Though I was somewhat lukewarm about taking an elephant ride, others were more enthusiastic.  So, we followed our noses (literally) and eventually found a large group of elephants and handlers.  The handlers coerced us into taking some pictures with the elephants, then informed us that elephant rides stopped at 11:30 (it was 11:45) so we would be unable to get a ride.  As we walked away dejected, they called us back, demanding money for the pictures we had taken.  It was a typically touristic experience.

Jo and her elephant

After this initial disappointment, we scaled the fort, on foot.  It was quite enjoyable; I scaled many a fort during my semester in Hyderabad, but had almost forgotten how much I loved the fort-climbing experience.  It is always satisfying to reach the top after the climb, and to look out over the city.  And the view is not all; there is always the whole interior of the fort to explore.  Some pictures follow:

One of the entrances to the main fort complex

View from the top

The "women's quarters"

Puppet show

After Amber fort, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Peacock Restaurant, a rooftop restaurant affiliated with one of the better known hotels in Jaipur.  The food was delicious, and the ambience relaxed.

My lunch!

We finished lunch at around 3 o’ clock.  As it was well past noon, we decided to take a rickshaw straight to the base of Nargarh fort, the prime sunset spot of Jaipur.  Nargarh fort was one of the lesser known places that Manish, our landlord had recommended to us, and we were excited to see it.  It was a steep two kilometer climb to the top, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  In fact, it would have been an absolutely perfect walk were it not for the comments and looks that we received along the way from some less than charming gentlemen.  Despite these irritations however, we reached the top, where we enjoyed a spectacular view of the city.  We chatted and played games as we waited for the sun to set.  When it finally did, we watched as the pink city glowed in the dimming light, and listened as a dozen different mosques issued the call to prayer.  The calls to prayer were not exactly in sync, thereby creating something of a cacophonous canon, but it was a beautiful moment nonetheless.



The girls

A demonstration of personal space in India, and everyone's thoughts on it.

When darkness finally fell, we called Pink City Radiocabs, a 24 hour Jaipur taxi service highly recommended by Lonely Planet.  Unfortunately, no one answered any of our multiple calls.  None of us were terribly enthusiastic about walking down in the dark, as we did not want to encounter the same men with whom we had become acquainted on our way up.  A large group of men offered to walk us down, but we declined.  It’s highly possible that they were all very nice, but we decided that it was better to be safe than sorry.  Eventually, we spoke to the ticket taker for the sunset spot.  He was reluctant to help us.  Fortunately, a driver of one the waiting taxis saw us pleading, and came over to see what the problem was.  He told us that he had been hired by two Australians, and that, if it was alright by them, he would be happy to give us a ride back to the city.  Luckily for us, the two Australians graciously allowed us to squeeze into their car, and we were able to talk to them about their experiences travelling around India, and about our own experiences as well.

The next day, we visited the Hawa Mahal, or wind palace.  I had seen this palace my last time in Jaipur, but thoroughly enjoyed it the second time around as well.  The Hawa Mahal has many floors, and a number of narrow winding staircases, passages, and nooks and crannies, which are great fun to explore.  I think the pictures sum up the experience best.

The entrance

A Jaipur street as seen from the Hawa Mahal

Krish and Jo

The girls

My amazing room mates


After the Hawa Mahal, we visited Jantar Mantar: an astronomy observatory which I had not had the opportunity to see my last time in Jaipur.  The Jantar Mantar was constructed by Maharaja Jai Singh in the early 1700s.  Each instrument had a sign post briefly explaining its purpose.  I was grateful for these, as without them, the instruments looked like bizarre sculptures.  Sadly, climbing on them was prohibited, but we did have a good time walking around and looking at the constructions.

Unclimbable observation tower

Jantar Mantar construction

Another structure

Me and my sign

After a great lunch, we went to Jaipur’s Birla Mandir, a beautiful Hindu Temple, and one of the lesser known sights of Jaipur:

Birla Mandir

After a quick trip to Jaipur’s famous bazaar, it was time to go home.  A short trip, but very enjoyable!


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