Published: January 28th 2006January 16th 2006
Practicing my kite flying skills
Rajesthan - the abode of Rajas and beggars.
I arrived in Jaipur after my train journey tired but excited at the prospect of the rich colours and culture that this state is famous for. A rickshaw driver picked me up literally as I set foot on the platform and as I knew where I was going I went along. I managed to pary the usual story about knowing a cheaper hotel round the corner and got to Hotel Meghenwas, which was recommended by a friend. The hotel was quiet but, as I was to find, it provided a much needed haven of tranquility in Jaipur.
I took a rickshaw for the day firstly to the Pink Palace and Jantar Mantar through a seething mass of rickshaws, motorbikes, buses, people, cows, dogs and litter. Driving in Kerala had been interesting, this was madness! Vehicles and creatures pass with less than an inch to spare and play a devil's game to push into any available gap. The noise and dust was overwhelming. Ali's rickshaw has absolutely NO suspension, every bump (and there are many) went straight through my spine.
The City Palace complex was pretty with a wonderful collection of
Holy man in Pushkar
paintings and textiles. The entire city had been painted pink in 1876 just to welcome the Prince of Wales (Edward VII). Next door the Jantar Mantar is an astronomy park built in 1728 with a wierd and wonderful collection of structures including a huge sundial 27 metres high. It felt like a sculpture park rather than an ancient science park.
After a wonderful 3 hours exploring the palace and observatory I return to the rickshaw to be told off by my driver, Ali, because he was worried! He then takes me to the bottom of a hill over which is the monkey temple. " don't take too long!" says Ali. Monkeys line the path over the hill and grow even fatter on the peanuts that I give them. The temple is a little Shangri-la and peaceful until I enter one of the shrines and a priest demands a fee when I come out. Another priest gives me a blessing.
When I get back to the rickshaw ready to go back to the hotel, tired and a little harrassed, Ali suggests one more stop to see Moghul art.. I can't resist. It turns out to be an emporium manufacturing
Cooking street food in Jaipur
and selling fabric goods, bedspreads, cloths, table cloths, fantastic colours and designs and being tired I part with money. I feel a typical novice but the pressure to buy in these places is very hard sell.
I found my first two days in Jaipur extremely tiring. There were far more hassles and scams than further south. Rickshaw drivers are over friendly but thankfully the manageress of my hotel was down to earth and gave me some practical advice about dealing with it all. I still felt very frazzled at times though. Being a female alone in India IS difficult!
Fortunately I met up with a couple of Swiss girls and we shared a car to the Amber fortress on the hill above Jaipur. A wonderful palace and temple complex that was the predecessor to Jaipur. We also take the opportunity to fly kites in preparation for the kite festival the next day. I spent the afternoon exploring the noisy but exciting bazaars and visit the Hawa Mahal or zenana where ladies of the Maharaja used to watch processions below hidden behind screens.
I stayed in Jaipur for an extra day to take part in the kite festival.
Ghats at Pushkar at sunset
From dawn music was played and kites were flown from every roof top and park in the city. The sky was dotted with multicoloured tissue paper kites. I went to a local park to join in. I was made welcome and shown how to fly kites and using special mirrored string cut though other peoples strings sending their kites fluttering to the ground. I won a few and lost a few and in the process was photographed for the local paper and then interviewed on CNN for international television!
The next stop was Pushkar, a holy city, and no meat, eggs or beer is officially allowed within the city. Pushkar is set around a very pretty lake around which a series of ghats (staircases) lead down to the lake and from which people make puja for their future. Pushkar was quieter than Jaipur traffic wise but I found it to be a mix of holy men, tourist shops and beggars all calling to you to extract money. And again, despite being aware of the scams I was conned into giving money for a blessing and to buy food for a child who promptly went round the corner to sell
it. However the highlight of Pushkar was walking up to a hill temple before dawn to watch the sun rise and light flood the lake and the town below.
By now I was really tired with all the hassles and I considered moving to a different area of India as I was finding Rajesthan so stressful on my own. However I thought I would give it one more chance and I took an overnight sleeper bus to Udaipur. With bags filling the aisles and people the seats and bunks we set off on the 7 hour journey. Surprisingly I slept really well and arrived in Udaipur at 7am rather dishevelled but quite awake. I found the friendly and cheap (100 rupees, or 1.50!) Sudha guesthouse on Hanuman Ghat with wonderful views over the lake to the palaces on the other shore and in the lake. From the roof top restaurant I would write up my diary in peace every morning.
I loved Udaipur. The lake glittered in the sun and, although there were some tourist shops the hassles seemed less obtrusive. I also found the traditional miniature painting fascinating so after the obligatory tour of the palace I
Miniature painting with my teacher Chhgan Lal. My work and his!
found a small art school (the Village Art School) near my guesthouse and spent a relaxing and absorbing two days learning the art. My teachers were welcoming and by trying to copy their work I realised how delicate, difficult and time consuming the work was. The days were very happy and I had lots of fun learning a few words of Hindi and sharing chai with them. In two full days I painted an elephant, a horse and a camel, symbols for good luck, power and love. I stayed an extra day in Udaipur to take photographs of their work for a website and was invited to stay another day for a party. The painters often work 12 hours a day on fine detail so the occasional party was a common event to relax for a few hours in the countryside. I went along but was not prepared for the fact that the food (goat) would be tethered live ready for the feast. I managed to avoid the ceremonial killing and left early as the guys got happily drunk on Indian wine (rum).
I hired a car to drive to Jodhpur and invited the art school professor to come
My mottly looking camel, Morau
along to see the largest Jain temple in the world at Ranakpur. He had never been there although it was only a few hours drive from his home. The country scenery and farming areas was wonderfully relaxing after being in cities. Rajasthan is reknown for it's colourful dress of the women and the even more colourful turbans worn by the men. Ranakpur was also amazing with a maze of intricately carved pillars. I fund that I was following Bhawer Singh around the complex like a true Indian woman as he moved delightedly around the temple commanding "Come!" or praised the designs with "Nice work".
I moved straight on to Jaiselmer to go on camel safari with a couple that I had met in Udaipur, Sally and Reuben. Two days on a camel with a night under the stars sounded great. However after an hour on the camel (mine was the mangiest looking old man of the bunch) we all realised that we were getting aches and pains where it really hurts! However the spicy food prepared by Madan and the rest of our guides kept us going and I became proficient at making chapattis. The night lying out on the sand dunes was also magical as we tried to identify constellations and listened to the locals singing.
I am now back in Jodhpur, exploring the blue city with it's impressive fort. I think that I am at last getting used to the beauty and the ugliness of this part of India. I am coping with the smells, cows and open sewers compensated by the art and architecture and colourful people. Now I am trying to plan the next stage of my Indian travels.