After a brief few days in Pune where I completed my last interviews at Vadu and tried to stay cool in the unbearable heat, Steph and I were back at the Pune airport again. It was Thursday April 25th, at 12:30 in the afternoon. I had just had a quick lunch of Dahi Bhalla Papri Chaat at Kadhai before the cab came and picked us up. We boarded our Spicejet flight at 3:30, along with the Indian masses that ride on that airline. It was a pretty typical Indian scene, families with many carry on bags, their thermoses of chai, and all talking louder than the poor flight attendant trying to do her safety presentation. I was pretty terrified by the turbulenece once again (remember Mom when I was the one calming you down on our flights). While Steph was conked out I tried to take deep breaths to keep myself from grabbing her arm in terror. I was relieved to touch ground. When we arrived at the airport in Jaipur we took a pre-paid taxi to our hotel. I was surprised at how calm the roads were, expecting to be ambushed right away by the chaos that I had heard Jaipur to be. The taxi brought us down this lovely residential road and stopped in front of a bright purple and blue building: the Hotel Pearl Palace. We entered the reception and checked in with the lovely manager, this very calm and shy but helpful man. We were shown our room and opened the door to a massive bed with a red and orange sequined bedspread and the towels arranged into a swan. The walls were covered in a mural depicting a typical Rajasthani village scene (Jaipur is in the state of Rajisthan for all of those back home).
After settling in for a bit we decided we would explore the area around the hotel until dinner time. Little did we know there was basically nothing to do in the immediate area, and the “Old City/Pink City” was definitely not in walking distance. Every rickshaw driver on the street noticed us walking around aimlessly, and every one slowed down to offer us a ride. Offer actually sounds to nice – they basically aim to bully you into getting into their rickshaw. “What madam, you don’t like Indians?” “Come madam, I can take you to so-so temple where there are 1000 elephants.” “You must be German madam.” After getting caught in an intersection with five rickshaws around us Steph and I turned back for the hotel, one rickshaw following us back the entire way home. Steph has some more difficulty saying no to vendors and rickshaw drivers. Any one who knows me would not be surprised to hear me put a driver in his place. “Goodbye sir.” I would say to them, waving them away with my cranky mask on my face. “Whyyyyy madam,” You get the picture.
Steph and I had an extremely relaxing dinner at the Peacock Resteraunt on the roof of our hotel. We split two 650 ml King Fishers, naan, mushroom/pea curry and an Indian chaat curry (chickpeas, potatoes, and tomatoes with lemon dressing). For me we ordered a vanilla icecream to split, which I just consumed all of (for some reason here in India I always want to have icecream). We sat on the roof terrace enjoying the breeze, the ambiance, and the freedom of travel. Until the mosquitos came and then it was off to bed.
The next morning we woke up and had breakfast back out on the roof. We had brown bread (cardboard basically) with scrambled eggs and mint tea. Steph ordered real filtered coffee, yes real as in it was not Nescafe. It smelled delicious. We rickshawed to the Pink City at 8:45 in the morning, not really thinking about the fact that nothing in India really opens until 10 or later. The old city is enclosed by these massive pink walls, hence the name of the Pink City…the streets were entirely empty, all fo the shop windows closed. Walking past all of the empty stalls I could not imagine what this place was like when everything opened. I wasn’t sure I wanted to face it, but the shopping in Jaipur is supposed to be fabulous. We found our way to what we thought was the entrance of the City Palace, and stopped to buy bottles of water as the sun was already pretty intense. Out of nowhere came this small man who was extremely eager to talk to us in English. We said that he wanted to speak with us so he could learn more about our country and culture. Maybe we could have some chai with him so we could talk? We had time to kill, so we shrugged our shoulders and agreed. We went around the corner and we slipped into a small shop where the locals were having their breakfast and chai. We talked about mediatation a lot and about learning to be present rather than always thinking about what you need to do or what you are going to do next (something I have problems with!) We also talked about Indian versus American consumerism. He did not seem to see how Indian culture is becoming increasingly consumerist with the growth of technology and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Steph tried to challenge him on this. He was born and raised in a village outside of Jaipur and has only been in the city for the past five years for university. He had never really been exposed to foreigners until living in Jaipur, hence his fascination. However, he seems to have fallen right into the way of life here – he offered to bring us to the factory section of the city so we could see where the jewelery is made and so that we could buy straight from the producers themselves. Clearly he had a connection to a shop and was cleverly picking up tourists and making them feel like they were getting to see a real side of the jewellery industry. Depsite the fact that we were part of this sneaky plan, it was actually pretty neat. We went through the backstreets and sat in this man’s shop to see where he made earrings and dragon bracelets. The man was from Kolkata and half-clothed was bathing himself, doing all the hacking and gagging people do here in the morning to remove flem from the body. He had a very kind face though. As we sat on the floor of this shop our new friend kept talking to us about mediatation, religion and science. I wasn’t super invested in the conversation, and neither was Steph, both starting to grow weary of our new friend.
We then walked around the corner to his friend’s shop. We sat down in the small air-conditioned room across from this young man behind a counter full of rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces. etc. I asked him what is name was, and he responded with “Chili Chocolate”. I had expected this man not to know any English at all, let alone to be a wise ass. I told him my name was “Kentucky Fried Chicken” and he responded by saying that he was a vegetarian…This was off to a very strange start in deed. He told us that three things in his shop are free, “Tea, Toilet and Time”. If we didn’t buy anything that was fine, we could still have our money and he would still have his jewelery. The following hour and a half was like a comedy sketch ,with the duo slowly pulling out every single piece of jewelry there was in the shop and creating a “Maybe Tray” and a “For Sure Tray”. We were not to rush through looking, and we did not need to decide, just put the jewelry in the appropriate trays. We were brought chai even though we said no, I could really not handle any more chai at this point. Chili Chocolate told us that he does not drink chai, only beer. He told us about his travels to various jewelry shows in the USA and Europe. He spoke Spanish fluently and knew about many places in Amsterdam. Finally, I bought a bracelet and a few gifts before we proceeded to leave and see other sights in Jaipur. As we were walking out another Indian man was escorting a couple from NYC that were staying at our hotel into the shop. See, clearly a scheme. I was of course a bit afraid I had been scammed, but the bracelet still looks bright and silver more than a week later so I think I am ok. The friend took us to a nearby Buddhist temple but at this point we were just done with him Steph and I just nodding along as we talked our ears off. He wanted to go to lunch with us (probably commissioned by certain restauraunts), but we decided to lose him by finally going to the City Palace.
We meandered over to the City Palace, buying tickets for the Indian student price wit our Alliance ID cards. We were both practically melting under the heat but still managed to enjoy the beautiful pink walls of the palace, the white gateways with intricate green and blue details and the peacock courtyard with amazing mural doorways. We wandered through the textile museum and evasdropped on tour guides telling tourists about the massive kings that wore these garments. Desperate to escape the heat we found a rickshaw over to the area around the famous Raj Mandir cinema where there a few resteraunts recommended by Lonley Planet. First we found the original Lassiwalla stand and had delicious plain lassis from ceramic mugs along with all the locals. We went across the street to a vegetarian resteraunt, both unable to stomach much but naan and idli, but thankful for the escape in the air conditioning. After cooling off for over an hour we went back out into the heat to catch a rickshaw home. We hopped into a bike rickshaw peddled by an incredibly old man who was working very hard to get us down the road. Once back at the hotel we napped and then sat at the Peacock resteruant journeling and drinking chai and fresh lime sodas.
In the evening we decided we wanted to go out to Choki Dhani, a Rajasthani village theme park where you can get dinner and watch traditional performances such as dancing and puppetering. We found a richshaw right in front of the hotel who initially wanted to take us from 350 rupees each way, and then agreed to take us for 350 round trip if we would go into a store on the way where he was commissioned. In the middle of our 20 km commute we stopped at a fabric factory where we ushered inside, offered chai and told that the fabric was imported to the U.S and Britain to companies such as DKNY and Dolce & Golbana. We were brought upstairs and plopped into “Indian chairs” while they threw all sorts of materials on the ground in front of us. I ended up buying some pillow cases and Steph bought a scarf. We came back out to the rickshaw driver with our purchases in hand, telling him we hoped he was paid extra because we bought things. This young man was also 20 years old, and is to be married in two years to a girl named Neha from Agra. He says he really likes her. We chatted a lot during the ride, mostly about how we were going to show up for his wedding and about Bollywood actresses.
Choki Dhani was absolutely hysteriacal. Have you ever been to a Medieval Times? Same idea, except for Rajasthani style. The layout of the place was a quaint village, lit with low lights and performances happening in various pavillions and small stages. Steph and I made our way immediately to the dining hall, where we were sat on the floor on pillows next to an entire Indian family. There were large plates made out of banana leaves on the table in front of us and ceramic mugs filled with butter milk (yuck). The small banana leaf bowls were filled with various dals, bhajis, etc. the waiters continuely making rounds to fill our plates. Steph and I didn’t know what we wer eating most of the time, but it was all incredibly delicious. They were serving us so much that we had to place our entire upper body over our plates to stop them from putting more on it. On of the young waiters was insistent that I drink the butter milk, but I did not. After dinner we were pulled into the pavilion to dance with young women twirling in traditional Rajasthni dresses. We watched a puppet show, a magician, purused the artisan section, watched another traditional dance where young children are dressed in tribal outfits and make expressions that look like they are having seizures…We had our hands hennaed, we explored fake caves and came across a massive T-Rex which we did not know was native to India. Steph paid to take me on my first ferris wheel ride ever. They wanted us to get in separate baskets so that the weight would be evenly distributed, but I was too scared to go alone (in retrospect though isn’t it more scary to think we were more at risk of tipping out…?) It was in truth a pretty janky ferris wheel, but the view of Jaipur at night from the top was incredible! I treated her afterwards to a cup of chai which we drank on the couch section along with all the lounging Indian dads (what amusment park in the U.S do you have an area where you can just straight lounge?). We finished the night with kulfis, an Indian popsicle that is undescribable. Most people think it tastes like frozen chai. Our rickshaw driver, and new friend, was waiting outside for us, watching a movie in the neighboring café with all the other rickshaw wallas. He brought us back to the Hotel Pearl Palace safe and sound by 11 pm.
The following morning after breakfast we met our rickshaw driver again and headed to the Amber Fort outside of the city. By 9 am it was already sweltering out and it was difficult to imagine how I was going to muster up the energy to move around this massive fort under the hot sun. After a steep 15 minute climb up the hill alongside the elephants we entered to fort and bought our student tickets. The inside of the fort was more of the same archtecture that I described earlier, with one beautiful mirrored wall which we took many photos in front of. A security guard came over to us and indicated that he wanted to take a photo of us in one of the mirrors. Steph let him take her camera, and we waited while he positioned the camera just right to get our reflections in the mirror. Afterwards he motioned for us to follow him and he gave us a tour of…the old latrines…Yes he showed us all the old bathrooms, smiling to us as he pointed to them and said in English, “toilet”. He motioned to Steph to peer into a well, and she jumped back at the sight of dozens of bats clinging to the walls. The tour ended there with him asking for tips for his latrine tour and us refusing.
From the Amber Fort we drove to the Monkey Temple (it has another name I can’t remember but it’s famous for being chock full of monkeys). Steph was keen on going there, I on the other hand was not as thrilled to hang out with more monkeys. They are not shy and you often lose your water bottle around them. The climb up to the temple was endless, and we weren’t even sure where it was. I opted to dit down when we reached the top of a hill and told Steph to go without me. I realized after two minutes that I had not placed myself in a good situation. Two young men came over and started asking me questions, and when an entire group of them came walking up over the hill I leapt up immediately and began walking quickly down the other side in search of Steph. I had an entire gang of boys in tow, some attempting to ask me questions in English and others just snickering. It was the first time during the entire stay here in India that I felt very unsafe. There was no one else around except for me and all of these young men. I was tired and weak and paranoid with fear. Finally the temple came into view and I rushed through the entrance, past the baths and into Steph’s arms. The boys had veered off behind me to cool off in the baths – they probably never had any malicious intents, but I was so relieved to be back with Steph again. Dripping sweat we walked back up the hill under the blazing sun to the rickshaw, me snapping at any young man who said “excuse me madam…?” I was thrilled to see our rickshaw driver friend waiting for us at the bottom of the hill.
He dropped us off at the famous Raj Mandir cinema, a building shaped like an enormous cream puff. We purchased tickets for the only film showing, a horror movie about witches. To satisfy our hunger and kill time before the the film we had another lassi at Lassiwalla and went to a cute café called C’est Bon where we got our fix of Western food and Wifi. We each had an enormous sandwich with mushroom tiblets and all the possible vegetables we could add. At 3 pm we headed over to the cinema. The theater smelled like bat poop and we were crammed in the back rows with all of the locals eating their parathas with ketchup and answering their cell phones in the middle of the movie. There were no English subtitles on the film, and it was really hokey, with witches obtaining their power from their long braids…We left the movie early, after sitting through more than 2 hours of it.
Back at the Hotel Pearl Palace we hung out in the common room (we had already checked out) where we sipped in chais and took turns using the communal shower. A skinny man in a Hawaiian shirt entered the common and began whining to us in this oddly familiar yet unidentifiable accent. I realized that I had heard his whining once before in Darjeeling! He was the man who had bitched about Varanasi and Kolkata to us while we were enjoying a relaxing dinner at Sonam’s Kitchen! Now he was complaining to us about train travel in Rajasthan. Unable to listen to him for one more second, I asked him if he had anything positive to say about his experience in India. He did not respond to this questions and continued complaining, Steph and I both tuning him out. I struck up conversation with a Swiss German couple who were also headed to Udaipur that evening. We had a relaxing dinner of naan, Indian chaat salad, dal makhani, a King Fisher, ice cream and mint tea. Our rickshaw walla took us to the train station a bit before 10 pm. We promised we would come back to India in 2 years for his wedding. I asked him how much I should pay him for this brief ride (rickshaws in Jaipur do not have meters). He smiled at me and said “As you like madam”. So I gave him 50 rupees, which was about 5 times more than the ride cost.
Our train was of course delayed. First it was supposed to be 15 minutes and then that turned into an hour and one thousand mosquito bites on my legs as we waited in the grime that is an Indian train station. It smells like urine and feces and there are rats everywhere. Men who stand near us and just stare at us, prompting me to snap at them twisting up my cranky face. We boarded the train at 11:30 pm. Fortunately the 3 AC compartment had individual curtains. I slipped into my bed, pulled the curtain and drifted in and out of sleep.
(Post about Udaipur is still not complete - sorry!)