Published: December 24th 2009December 24th 2009
The thing that I somehow accidentally left out of my last blog about Amritsar, when I was describing the town, is that despite, or perhaps because of, its slightly more affluent population, it seems at least as superstitious as Delhi. As well as a “homoeopathic hospital” and a “homoeopathic doctor” there were a few others which were spelled correctly. I don’t know what goes on inside a homeopathic hospital but I imagine it’s something like this
(external link, may be slow if you’re on a slow connection, not really relevant anyway). Anyway...
After arriving back in Delhi I wasted a few more days hanging around. When I remember the beginning of the year where some of the most memorable cities were places I only stayed for one day, I realise I’m not moving around as quickly as I might any more. I’m still enjoying the travelling, but would like some place to “settle down” for a few weeks. I’m still hoping to do some volunteer work in Dhaka in January but not sure if it’s going to happen. Besides it’s only two-and-a-half months till I have to be back home! There’s still so much of India I won’t
Jaipur - old city
a fot entrance through the walls
get to see.
Anyway, after that I took the train down to Jaipur, the capital of the desert state of Rajasthan. I’m lucky in that this is the perfect time of year to visit Rajasthan in terms of weather. It gets unbearably hot in summer, and in winter (now) is a bit chilly at night but pleasant during the day. Jaipur is a pretty city of about three million, large enough to have enough to see and do but small enough to avoid strangling itself with congestion. I ended up staying in a nice hotel, although at 800 Rupees per night (almost $20) it was a lot more expensive than normal. Like many other hotels in Jaipur it had WiFi which is a real novelty in India. It also had the Australian Network which I haven’t been able to find anywhere else so it was nice to see Australian TV again.
Jaipur is a popular place for tourists and middle-class Indians to go shopping, particularly for artwork, jewellery, etc. The annoying thing here is the constant hassle from touts trying to take you to their “cheapest jewellery shop” or such-like. It’s here I learned a trick about getting
Jaipur - old city
one of the several entrance into the old city
rid of auto
and cycle-rickshaw drivers who seem to think that walking is a sin. What you do is walk on the right hand side of the road, ie into the majority of the oncoming traffic (of course Indians like all Asians drive on all sides of the road and other places). You then use the traffic-dodging skills which you’ve obviously learned if you’ve been in Asia for more than a few days and haven’t been run over yet, and walk as far out into the traffic as you dare. This makes it impossible for the cycle-rickshaw to walk along next to you shouting “why you not come in my rickshaw? I take you anywhere, Golden Temple, Monkey Temple, Fort, market, only 150 rupees. Only 100 rupees. Which country you from? Hello? Why you not come in my rickshaw? Come in my Indian Helicopter. I take you jewellery market, good price, no cheat........” Of course, this doesn’t work all the time and doesn’t work for the people who accost you on foot.
Like, I think, most other cities in Rajasthan, the inner part of the city is walled, and there’s a fort in the middle. Actually there’s a number
of forts around Jaipur. It’s known as the “pink city” because of the pink walls. There’s a lot to see and I didn’t see all of it, partly because of the WiFi and Australian Network in the hotel, and partly because I didn’t at first realise how much there was to see. I spent two days wandering around the old city and buying a few Christmas presents and souvenirs to mail home. It would of course have made more sense to buy them before flying back to Australia a few weeks earlier but my backpack was too full then and I wasn’t in Rajasthan.
I walked up the back of Nahargarh (Tiger) Fort from the city one day. There’s a cobbled path winding up the side of the hill, which isn’t too bad, but a bit tiring in the afternoon sun which still gets hot even in the winter. Lots of kids came running out asking for their photo taken. Women hanging out laundry in the back of houses waved shyly. There are women in India, it can be easy to forget this. A group of boys was flying kites, small, incredibly lightweight contraptions that seemed to be made
Jaipur - old city
typical street with shops on the side. This was a Sunday, so quieter than other days
out of a small twig (or maybe it was a thick piece of grass?) and plastic. They were very stable and flew high over the city. At one point the boys gave me the string, to fly the kite. I held it for a while, but there wasn’t really that much skill to it. These kites seem popular all over Rajasthan (and where I am now, in Varanasi too) so I guess they’re big all over lots of India just not the places I went to at first.
At that point a group of young men came past and asked me to walk up with them. They were university students but only one spoke any English and one other had a few words. The English-speaking one was a politics student and kept saying things with numbers in them like “In India only 30% of people speak English”, or “the average wage in India is ...” (I forget the amount, he’s got a better memory for numbers than I do). I assume they were speaking Hindi, although I think there is a Rajasthani language too, but I’m not sure which is more common in this part of India. At the
Jaipur - old city
kids playing cricket in an empty area just outside the city wall
beginning of the walk the English-speaking one and said something about his “girlfriend” and the girlfriend of one of the other guys.
Later the conversation turned to marriage, as it invariably does in Asia. Again there was the the usual surprise that someone my age could be unmarried. I explained that we don’t have arranged marriages in Australia. One of them who didn’t speak English turned to the politics student and with that “ask him about...” look, said something in Hindi, with the words “sex” and “girlfriend” in it. Given that he didn’t speak any English, even though it’s common to mix in English words for anything vaguely new or foreign it still seems strange that sex is such a foreign concept that they feel the need to use the English word for it.
The politics student laughed but declined to translate.
“Didn’t you say you have girlfriends?” I asked
“I don’t,” he pointed to the guy who’d just asked the question “He does”.
“Oh OK”. So is he going to marry her?
There was a look of genuine seriousness. “His parents will arrange someone else”
“Oh. He can’t ask them to arrange for him to marry her?”
this lassi shop was selling lassis and chais in those little pots, which were thrown away after one use
they’re from different castes”
“So what will happen?”
“They will have to break up in a year or two”
Like young politics students all over the world, he seemed to think he’d be able to change the world. After again his short, dictionary, description of the caste system in India, which obviously isn’t anything like the reality, he explained that a marriage between the wrong castes could never be tolerated in the villages or even in cities like Jaipur.
“I think the Western way is the better way” he said “I don’t like the caste system”. Then he talked about how his generation would try to change it.
I pointed out that the most effective way to change it, if that’s what they wanted to do, would in fact be to marry whom they wanted, particularly if they were from the wrong castes, but even he couldn’t really see this.
So I wandered around the fort, which had some OK architecture and artwork. It was a good place to get away from the throngs of people, with scrub reminiscent of drier parts of Australia, a few tourists spread out over a large area, and an Indian couple making out
Jaipur - old city
a stone carver carving something out of marble
behind some bushes. It also gave a good view over Jaipur. I wanted to get an auto
back, but there were none for hire there, so I ended up having to walk all the way back down the hill. I passed a group of about four cows, walking down the cobbled track. People say cows can’t walk downhill well, but these ones can. When I passed, they followed me for a while at the same pace as me. I then got a cycle rickshaw back through the old town back to the hotel.
I also did a tour of the city which took in the Albert hall, an ornate building with a rather comprehensive museum in it with surprisingly few dead animals for an Indian museum, but a whole room on Egyptology, and some nice Indian stuff; some modern temple, which didn’t allow photography; the Maharaja’s palace with a museum of Rajasthani history; and another fort, this one much bigger than the previous one, with walls running over the hills like a mini-Great Wall of China. They were good and there’s a lot to see in Jaipur. The palace had all sorts of cool displays of traditional clothes, weaponry,
Jaipur - old city
typical Indian urinals, I don't think I showed you a photo of one before so here's a gratuitous photo.
etc., and kind of bears out the story that in Colonial times and even in Indian times up until Indira Gandhi put a stop to it, the Maharajas lived a very affluent, globe-trotting lifestyle. The Fort was like a rabbit warren and I only wandered around about half of it before worrying I wasn’t going to be able to find my way back to the tour in time. It also has an “underground” escape tunnel (I think much of it is just bricked in on one side and dug into the hill on the other side) large enough to take horses through. We saw other things too but I forget them all.
The worst thing about Jaipur is the touts. People - foreign tourists and Indians - come to Jaipur for shopping. Rajasthan is the place to get silver jewellery and all sorts of handicrafts. There’s heaps of shops, selling all sorts of good stuff cheap, but the downside is they try every trick to get you into their shop. I found one “temple” that turned out to be a very colonial-looking, un-temple-ish, building, with a “priest” who was keen to tell me a few basic facts about Ganesh
and then take me to their “showroom” selling handiwork supposedly made by widows whom the “temple” looked after. I also had one guy who insisted he just wanted to chat and practise his English, and after wasting about an hour with him realised that what he was trying to do was get me to import silver into Australia for him. I didn’t hang around long enough to work out exactly what the scam was, perhaps it’s like with carpets from Turkey, where they get around Australian import tariffs by getting various people to each import the two carpets allowed tax-free as personal items, which they then collect from the helpful Australians and sell in their Australian shop; or maybe their story, like in Thailand, where they’d then try to rip you off by selling you jewellery for more than it would cost in Australia.
The buildings are overrun with monkeys. I hear that this is worse in other parts of Rajasthan. This is because monkeys are sacred because of the god Hanuman. This impunity leads to them becoming more and more bold, with, I hear, them sometimes even raiding people’s houses for food. Some places have dogs or wire
Jaipur - old city
pretty common sight in much of India
mesh to keep away the monkeys. On the other hand, the traffic in Jaipur is more orderly. The local English-language newspaper reported on the numbers of people that had been fined this year for traffic offenses. The thing that surprised me was that I didn’t think half these things were offenses anywhere in India - things like more than two people on a motorbike, riding a motorbike without a helmet, driving on the wrong side of the road, etc. Of course for every one fine that finds its way into the statistics there must be dozens of people let off with lower, informal, bribes. It does actually seem to be reflected in the traffic, which is much more sane than in other parts of India outside Rajasthan. Part of this is because Jaipur isn’t too large (a bit larger in population than Brisbane), so it doesn’t have the same sort of congestion that Mumbai has (about the population of Australia).
After this I took an overnight train to Jaisalmer, in the desert in the west of Rajasthan. It was an overnight train journey, somehow I ended up sharing my train compartment with five Sikh soldiers. They got off at
Jaipur - old city
people and a calf waiting for a bus. This is near the market, that's why there's women there.
a military base about half an hour before Jaisalmer. They didn’t speak English. I think the Indian army operates mainly in Hindi. The sun came up just as we were going through Jodhpur, another popular city, so even though I haven’t really been there I have seen its train tracks at sunrise. The train tracks are pretty much like other train tracks in India - massive, with kilometre-long stations, and guys defecating on the tracks, away from the stations.
Even going through the desert there were still quite a few small towns all over the place. But the population is definitely not as dense, which makes it a bit nicer. I ended up spending the first night at Jaisalmer at a guesthouse which a tout on the train dragged me along to, but left the next day because the reason for their ridiculously low prices was clearly that they expected to be able to bully everyone into taking their camel safari. Heaps of tourists come to Jaisalmer to take camel safaris and the competition is fierce, and annoying. You can’t walk one minute around the old city without having this conversation:
Them: “Hello, which country?”
Me: “Hello” - keep
Jaipur - old city
red dye for sale in a dye shop
“Hello! Stop I only want to talk”
“Sure you do. I’m busy”
“No really I’m just being friendly, Indians are very friendly”
Indians are many things, most of them good, but ‘friendly’ is not one of them. “OK, well nice to meet you”
“Where are you from?”
“Oooh very good country. Ricky Ponting.”
“Oh yes, Ricky Ponting. Hallowed be his name. And you? Are you from Jaisalmer?”
“Yes. How you like India?”
“Well it’s very scenic but it’s annoying the way I can’t walk anywhere because people like you keep trying to sell me things.”
“No sell! Just talk! Oh you have to understand Indians are very friendly.”
“Hmm, Australians are friendly, we don’t try to force people into our shops.”
“Oh yes I know it’s very bad, I tell them all not to do this thing”
“Good. Well I should be going, nice to talk to you and all that.”
“So, umm where are you staying in Jaisalmer?”
“Oh, very good hotel”
“It is? No, it’s horrible”
“Yes, very bad hotel. We locals know that they don’t treat tourists well”
“But you just said it’s a good hotel”
“sorry my English is not so
Jaipur - old city
heading up towards Nahargarh fort
“Anyway I better go now”
“So what work do you do in your country”
“I work in I.T.”
“you know, I.T. - computers”
“ah, I.T. computers. Where you get your necklace?”
“Oh, you know it comes from here, from Rajasthan?”
“So everybody tells me”
“Maybe you want a bracelet to go with it. Come with me for five minutes, I show you my jewellery shop”
“No buy, just looking, you my friend, just looking”
... walk away.
Or the ending can be replaced with “you do camel safari yet? ... you have to, beautiful, I camel driver, no much money, economic crisis you know...”
It’s pretty annoying, and unless you can avoid even turning around when people yell out things like “Hello Sir” or “What are you looking for?”, you won’t be able to walk a kilometre in less than an hour because of everyone hassling you. Still, it would be a good place to go shopping, in some ways better than Jaipur (e.g. better English from the more tourist-savvy shop-owners), but with less variety or competition. There’s some weird shops too. A “Government-approved Bhang Shop” (apparently marijuana is legal in areas where
Jaipur - old city
a photo for all thos who think India is too messy
it’s used for religious purposes, in other places it carries a minimum of ten years imprisonment if you get caught by a bribe-resistant cop), and the grandiosely-titled “National Egg Centre” a one-room shop which does sell eggs but probably isn’t a national centre for anything.
Jaisalmer is different from many Rajasthani cities in that the fort is a living fort. People live in it and it’s cram-packed with tourist stalls and restaurants. Still I don’t want to give the impression that Jaisalmer is somewhere like Bangkok or Bali. It’s still mainly Indians, although some of them are Indian tourists from other states. People still live fairly traditionally, and even in the old city outside the fort you can walk for a while without seeing other tourists. I guess in summer there’d be few visitors because of the 50 C heat. Apparently only Brahmins and Kshatriyas castes are allowed to live within the fort, to this day.
There’s a lot of very fancy havelis
- houses made of intricately carved sandstone - in the old city outside the fort, and within the fort as well. Within the fort there’s a complex of seven Jain temples. I got a guide
Jaipur - old city
boys jostling to get their photos taken
for a couple of dollars to show me around the fort, so I don’t know if any of this information is correct, but he told me that there’s no Jains left in Jaisalmer any more. One of them has a Ganesh figure in it, because apparently the Jains were fleeing persecution somewhere else and the Maharaja or whoever gave them the building to use but insisted they honour some of the Hindu deities too. The artwork in most of the temples is really intricate and some are colourful too, using only vegetable dyes. Some have lots of jade (?) carvings of whichever tirthankar
the temple is devoted to. These all look the same to me and all look a bit like the Buddha - slightly weird. They have their eyes open, which apparently signifies something about the sect (or caste?) of Jainism they belong to.
The guide also took me up to places on the wall of the fort where you get a good view over the city and the surrounding countryside, but unfortunately my camera battery went flat. There’s plenty of other things to see within the fort and it’s worth wandering around for a while. Unfortunately all
Jaipur - Nahargarh fort
looking back down over part of the city on up
the tourism puts a bit of pressure on it and apparently it’s in danger of falling apart. But of course without tourism and the military, this part of Rajasthan would die completely. In ancient times and really right up till Partition in 1947, this area was a thriving trade route. Now of course the Pakistani/Indian border is closed (except in Amritsar, far to the North). Strangely I didn’t see many soldiers in town, I guess they’re stationed closer to some other town. Outside the temples a wizened man in a turban was playing the same few notes over and over on a strange instrument like a zither and chanting, over and over, “Woman happy. Man happy. Everybody happy”, while grinning strangely and expecting people to give him money. (This isn't the guy in the photos).
I did end up doing a camel safari out of Jaisalmer, but I’ll put that in the next blog since I’m getting behind again.
There are more photos below