Published: July 21st 2009June 1st 2009
Jaipur is the gateway to Rajastan...a huge transport hub and shopping mecca, it is known as The Pink City after the painted city walls. In reality it's more a dirty salmon colour, and the heavy pollution in the intense heat don't really help my first impressions! We hook up with a young rickshaw driver and his ever-present sidekick, who takes us to a good, cheap guesthouse and offers his services as guide for the evening. We decide to go along for the ride, but as we head off, the pair's enthusiastic high-fives leave me concerned we're being taken for a ride. Ritch tries to negotiate a price for a couple of hours, but our new friend refuses to talk money, saying only that we pay at the end what we think is correct. Uh oh.
He drives like a maniac, even by Indian rickshaw standards, flinging the vehicle round sharp bends and into non-existant gaps at high speed. His hero-worshipping friend is obviously thrilled as he perches up front, arm slung round his idol's shoulders, gazing at him adoringly after each near miss. He takes us to Galta (known as the Monkey Temple, due to hundreds of resident macaques) just
in time for sunset. We walk up the steep hill to the temple, remembering advice from Japan to avoid any potential mad monkey eye contact. Macaques are not my favorite of our monkey cousins, but we're armed with a bag of nuts to throw to the cuter ones and to divert the scarier looking ones from our path.
The view from the top is underwhelming: the pollution that shrouds the sprawling city also swallows the setting sun long before it reaches the horizon. I'm distracted by a little girl who is cackling with laughter as she torments a tiny, terrified kitten. She alternates between hugging it almost to death, before throwing it like a deranged shotputter. I try to stop her and explain that it's cruel, but she just laughs at me and continues her torture games as we leave. We're hustled all the way back down the hill by street kids with Del Boy patter, before being stopped by a snake charmer who exchanges photo opportunities for a couple of cigarettes. Then the kids all want cigarettes too, and look at me like I'm some kind of evil moron when I try to tell them why they can't
We get back to our hand-holding rickshaw buddies and ask to be taken to a good and cheap local restaurant. He doesn't let us down with his choice...the basic looking canteen is packed full of families, and the veg curries, dhal and naan served are delicious. We're pretty happy with his guide services so far, but on the ride home, he starts with a full on sales pitch about where to go and what to do tomorrow...an itinery that seems pretty heavy on visits to relatives' shops. We remain noncommital, and when we get back he's predictably unhappy with what we know is very generous payment for a couple of hours work. He gets really sulky, and we end up paying a bit more just to get rid of him, so I can't believe it when he's waiting for us the following day. When we tell him he's wasting his time, he pulls a massive strop again, and I wonder aloud if this method usually gets him repeat business but am ignored...business discussions clearly no place for a female.
I'm finding men's behaviour really difficult to deal with and I know my patience is running out.
It's a strange combination of either being totally ignored, with questions always directed to Ritch and any response from me disregarded, to the other extreme of leering and drooling. Even though I am always swaddled with clothing despite the 40+ degree heat, I am treated like I'm running round town naked. There is a term used in India for sexual harassment, both physical and verbal..."Eve teasing", a quaint name that I think says a lot about how seriously women's rights are taken.
We head to the city palace and Janta Mantar observatory, a weird and wonderful astronomy park filled with sculptural devices for measuring time and space. It still looks futuristic today, let alone nearly 300 years ago when it was built. The stargazing Rajput leader Jai Singh created five of these observatories across Northern India, and also invented many of the devices still used to keep time and predict the annual monsoon. It's a fascinating place, but a large group of men seem to find following me about far more entertaining. They giggle like idiots as they 'discreetly' take photos of me on their mobile phones...it's so irritating and I hate being made to feel like this.
We had planned to spend the afternoon wandering the famous bazaars, but the attention continues out on the street...it's unnerving to have men block my path to ogle and we're both close to losing it now. Despite the incredible heat I am also coming down with a cold; my head starts pounding, the colour drains out of the world and I feel like I'm going to faint. Ritch gets me into a rickshaw and we head back to the hostel to cool off.
After an fortifying lunch of delicious dosas (crispy rice pancake filled with potato curry) we're ready to face the streets again, but we're just not feeling Jaipur...we decide that we need to get out of cities and find a place where we might get the chance to fall for India. So we head to a travel agent to buy bus tickets to Pushkar for the following day, but even this is more hassle than it really should be. When we stop at traffic lights waiting to cross a busy junction, a couple of girls with filthy faces and tangled hair ignore everyone but the white girl: tugging on my arm, demanding money. There are so many
desperate people begging for survival in India, but you just can't help everyone, and I'm obviously less inclined to help when bullied. If I have money in my pocket to spare then I more often than not share, but today all I have is a 500Rs note for bus tickets...the girls are so pissed off that one of them starts pinching me really hard!
I have had enough of this city. I feel sick and tired. And I am thinking about getting a burkah.