Jaipur, India – 14th to 15th March 2015
Our time in enchanting Agra was up and I was feeling ecstatic with the fact that the great and mighty Taj Mahal lived up to the hype.
The next leg of this incredible tour of India was Jaipur. Named the pink city after it was famously painted terracotta, the colour of welcome, in preparation for Prince Albert’s visit in 1876 who incorrectly took the colour as pink. Well reputed for its marvellous marble, precious stones and trademark block printing we were all looking forward to getting to know another one of India’s gems.
This time our local mode of transport was a rather comfy, spacious and up to Indian standards, luxurious coach. As we departed Agra we were greeted by the onset of ‘British like’ heavy rain, something I wasn’t really expecting and neither was anyone else. A high, sun burning 30 degrees and a max of 6mm rain was the monthly average for this time of year. Maybe we had brought the weather with us?
As we drove down the near perfectly straight and recently tarmac’d road there were hundreds upon thousands of adults and children walking. Young and old marched together with colourful banners, rich red and gold bandanas, some carrying back packs and some skilfully balancing their luggage on their heads, as if they were Cristiano Ronaldo balancing a football on his.
We passed staggered pit stops serving hot, inviting food and pumping Indian music from ghetto blasters and deafening sub woofers. I didn’t have a clue what they were marching for but I continued to watch them stagger onwards as if it was some kind of charity fundraising walk or army of ants looking to find a new home for their colony.
As I gazed to my left to people watch I noticed the poor fellow next to me was beginning to get dripped on by cold leaking rain water. ‘Drip drop’. It was like one of those annoying ill fitted bathroom taps that seemed to only cascade sound in the middle of the night. The glittering grey haired coach attendants answer to this was to give the man a cardboard box to catch the droplets of rain as they fell from above. The logical answer to this problem would have been to just move the man to another seat but this is India. This is how it is sometimes. The Indian man seemed content with this anyhow.
As our journey progressed, to minimise the obstruction caused by the human traffic to our left the horn happy, middle aged coach driver decided to drive down the opposite road into oncoming traffic. No-one battened an eye lid. We were driving head strong into vehicles on the opposite side of a dual carriage way. This would seem crazy to most. Now if this was the M32 the police would have been called in an instant and it would have been on the evening news but this is India.
As we finally arrived in Jaipur the weather got even worse. Thunder, lightening and even hail stones were roaring through the night sky. It was rather impressive. Not content with the hotel food the four of us on the G Adventures tour decided to get a tuk tuk to a near by restaurant and leave CP, our Chief Experience Officer on his own .
Donning our water proof apparel we headed out into the Indian storm. In these conditions the tuk tuk seemed like a small wooden boat navigating its way through the rough seas of the Atlantic Ocean and with the beard to match and the crew to accompany me I felt as if I was the vessels captain voyaging to undiscovered lands.
Land ahoy! We made it safely to new lands and my eyes must have been deceiving me because there was no restaurant in sight? Maybe I was delusional from my long time at sea?
As I looked up a council estate like, high riser concrete building lay in front of me.
We all went in and walked up the never ending spiralling staircase. It felt like one of those staircase illusions that had no start or end like the film Inception. Was I dreaming… Inside of a dream, inside of a dream? We climbed another set of steps and a group of weed smoking Indians scurried away like they were flesh eating zombies who had just been greeted by day light. We continued are ascent.
We finally made it to the semi covered rooftop restaurant. It had been set up outlandishly for a wedding anniversary but we had some time to eat before the party arrived. As we walked to our seating area, the main parts of the restaurant were literally raining cats and dogs, the bellowing winds smashed against the stone walls and the loosely cladded roofing clung to its fixing. Luckily our seating area had extra coverage from the downpour but we felt the full effects of the hurricane strength wind, the echoing explosions of the thunder and the lightening fireworks display. This is India.
Our food was outstanding. BBQ grilled chicken, salad and of course the ever present bread. One thing I’ve noticed is that if you don’t order a form of rice or bread with your main meal then the waiter will look at you as if you’ve just sprouted an extra head.
We headed back to the hotel and our tuk tuk drivers compass must have been experiencing navigation issues as he couldn’t find the hotel for luck nor money. Luckily we had agreed a set price before our extended ride home so we just laughed along with the two drivers as they stopped continuously for directions and the vehicle waded though the flooded streets.
We finally made it back to the hotel and we all decided to carry the night on with some Indian Jenga with a drinking game twist. Vodka was our ammunition. £8 for one litre of India’s finest, Smirnoff…
Jenga was a lot harder than what I can remember. Maybe it was the outrageous 8% Kingfisher Strong we gulped down at the restaurant distorting our view. Alcohol loosens the tongue so it wasn’t long before we were all exchanging personal stories and interesting facts about one another. Two that radiate in my mind is that Caden, our American friend from Washington DC has had, I quote “a sleepover at 10 Downing Street” and Ana our Latino companion from Mexico City had been caught in the crossfire between drug dealers and village vigilantes while she was working as an investigating journalist. My story of playing football against the legendary Scot Murray didn’t seem up to scratch at this point. We finished the vodka, chilled for a while in the lobby and hit the sack with hazy heads in preparation for a full days sight seeing in the morning.
Our first stop on another action packed day was the Amber Fort Palace. Another impressive Mogul palace its architecture and clever design was as intriguing as the last. On arrival highly decorated elephants carried tourists up and down the hill. We were advised to walk the ascent and descent unassisted as the elephants are worked very hard in this particular site. Step by step we climbed the hill and the view was breathtaking!
Greeted by mischievous monkeys and marvellous scenery choosing to walk seemed the right choice.
Emperor Man Singh lived at the palace with 12 wives. I know what you’re thinking… That’s a lot of mother in laws. He decided to marry 12 wives for political reasons, each women aiding him in some way during his time at the top.
As we traveled back down into the city we took a small rickshaw ride around the centre. Impressed by my ever growing and shabby beard the driver was very welcoming, funny and a genuinely nice person. He pedalled furiously and skilfully steered us to sites such as the Hawa Mahal.
A rather short, rugged old Indian gentleman who unfortunately was unable to speak pointed to landscapes and monuments so that we didn’t miss a thing during our short ride with him.
People like this are one of the reasons why I decided to travel! Tipping generously he was gracious and thankful. Meeting real people is just as important as viewing the ‘must see’ sites in my opinion.
We washed down a cold refreshing mango lassi drink from a clay cone like mug, smashed it (apparently this is customary) and headed to the unique Raj Mandir. When it was first established this was the biggest cinema in Asia. Inside its decor remained true to its time and I was shocked at how big it actually was. Tonight’s film was NH10!
Within the first 20 minutes it was quite apparent that this wasn’t the Bollywood experience we were expecting. Older Western tourists left in disgust as brash beatings and vulgar violence emitted from the silver screen. Accustomed to this type of film we continued to watch the story line pan out. This film was very much like a Quentin Tarantino movie. Lots of blood, killings and a subtle underlying message empowering female women and dismissing the negative connotation of inter caste marriage. It wasn’t quite what I expected or wanted from my first experience of a Bollywood outing. I’ll be sure to catch another motion picture before I leave India.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world”