Authored By Brian

Getting to Jaipur by train was a no go with three separate bastards trying to “help” redirect me to an inflated bus ticket or a taxi for “only” 10x the cost. Eventually I took the Rajastan government bus which was nice and A/C and $4.50. I sat next to an Indian kid from Katmahndu who shared my ipod, snacks (”American” flavor chips: sour cream and onion) and told me a bunch of stuff about his school and friends and Nepal. He is 10 and speaks three languages fluently.

Anyways, as I was rolling in, it started to rain so I called from my mobile and made a reservation for the night and got a tuk-tuk there. Once I dropped my bags, I headed towards the Pink city for an evening walk. I had not gone more than 15 feet inside Chandoor gate when a young, personable English-speaking guy approached me and – you got it – proceeded to work me over. After telling me about the Hindu celebration I was watching, this guy said he was an artist and would love to show me his work. I said up front I wasn’t going to buy a thing and he promised, “I won’t try to sell you anything! If I try to sell, you slap my face!” I figured that would be fun so off we strolled two minutes to his “studio” where his buddy was waiting. We’re checking out a few of his pieces and after a few minutes he tells me one of his pieces would make a great gift! I guess I should have seen it coming but I turned it into a fun opportunity by simply lying for the next 10 minutes as I extricated myself from the situation. It’s not that these guys are trying to make a buck that bothers me, it’s the clever and extensive wasting of my (limited) time that kills me.

Once I escaped, the markets were an incredible array of colors and I walked along a long string of stores selling spices from giant burlap sacks in every color imaginable. Matching the rainboware the bright colors of the saris and clothing in Rajastan. It’s definitely different from Delhi and much less cosmopolitan than Mumbai. I felt a little awkward carrying around Jennifer’s fancy Digital SLR so I didn’t snap any pictures of the markets until a couple of days later when I had built up the courage to ask for permission and snap freely.

Having been on the move so quickly, I decided to spend the next morning just sitting in my hotel and reading the book I bought called “City of Falling Angels” about Venice. It was a serene change of pace to sit in my room or the grass and cobblestone courtyard and knock back a few pages of relaxation. The book is really great… it’s by the same author as “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. I read through the whole thing in just a couple of days.

That night, I decided to check out a revolving restaurant downtown called Om. It’s 14 stories tall and offers a cool view of the city at night. It’s kind of a weird building in that the floor moves but the walls and center do not so when I originally leaned my bag against the wall, it was getting stuck as the wall stood still and the floor moved. The floor rotated around the live band, sitting in the “center”, about every 45 minutes. As I mentioned in my last post, I had a delicious Gantt Curry here along with some naan. MMmmmmm!!

Afterwards, I began the walk back to my hotel and I was picked up by some carnie-type kid who performed in a puppet troupe or something nuts. When we eventually parted ways, I scoffed at the rickshaw who tried to charge me double (which, in hindsight was only 50cents extra but you know how it feels to be charged too much…) which led me to break my “No dark alley” rule. I soon found myself walking down an intermittently lit alley which I thought was right around the corner from my hotel until I happened upon an open driveway where kids were lighting off big fireworks (the kind that go up and explode). As I stopped to watch for a minute, two guys in a tuk-tuk asked me where I was going and asked me to come sit with them to talk. I was… unnecessarily gruff with them because getting into their tuk tuk in the dark seemed like an undesirable step when I could hear them just fine from where they were sitting. One told the other that it was OK and so I walked off in search of my hotel thinking all the time that, really, I just wanted to be home and pass out because it was late. I eventually found a rickshaw who charged me 400% to go the half-a-mile to my hotel. It was right around the corner… I just didn’t know which corner!

Next day I checked out Amber Fort which is outside of town a ways. I bartered with my tuk-tuk driver to lower the price in exchange for visiting a couple of shops. It’s kind of fun when you feel like you have the upper hand in their little game. Amber fort was interesting… a fort where the king used to stay and keep his many wives. The palace has separate pathways so the king could go from one wife to the other without anyone ever seeing him come and go.

The hills around the fort are lined with walls and watchtowers and there is a small, ancient town of a few residents located around the palace. Many of these people still work on maintaining the fort. There is also an active mosque on the grounds that many people were coming to worship at on this Friday.

On the way back, I wanted to go to Galta, the monkey palace which is up on the hill a kilometer or two outside of town. I didn’t realize it until after the fact but I never made it. Instead I hung out with this guy who was telling me I should have sexy time with Indian girls while he fed what seemed to be 100 monkeys on the roof of an empty building. I really came to see the monkeys so it was a success but I understand why the Lonely Planet said that single women felt uncomfortable at the ruins. I was feeling a little awkward and I am pretty sure this guy wasn’t even interested in me despite his model-quality headshot. For 10 rupees, I also saw this kid poke a king cobra a bunch of times up close. Weird.

I finished my time in Jaipur by hanging around the City Palace and waiting for a festival to start. The city palace is interesting if a little bland but there are four gates, one for each season, in the interior and the decoration was very vivid. They also have a mean armory full of swords, knives and other barbaric weapons that gives a good idea of how the Rajastani kings managed to stay independent for so long.

The Ganguar festival eventually started from deep within the palace. Every year the single women in town get together and have a festival that prays to have good luck in getting married. It has a bunch of decorated elephants and dancing girls and some marching bands.

I had read on a blog online somewhere when researching this that the Jaipur government provided a rooftop viewing pad for tourists to keep them away from the crushing (and often annoying) crowds and I stumbled upon it. Sure enough, they ushered me up the stairs and onto the roof where I had a great view of the passing festival. Minus the electricity lines in the photos, the vantage point couldn’t have been much better when combined with the new 300mm zoom lens. The elephants and dancing was really fun to watch and it felt like a small window into authentic ritual.

I wanted to leave adequate time for the festival so I booked an 11:30pm overnight bus to Agra to show up in time to see sunrise at the Taj Mahal. I remembered what Felicia told us about overnight buses in India: that the drivers drink because they think it keeps them awake. I also remembered what sucks about buses in developing countries: lack of road rules. On a train, it can speed up and slow down or stop but it can’t swerve endlessly. Swerving makes sleeping very difficult and a pretty heinous bus ride.

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