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Published: November 13th 2018
With whatever momentum the trip had gathered thus far, the next port of call was Mumbai, the nation's largest city, and the beating heart of India's economic engine, synonymous with Bollywood, and one of the best examples of the legacy which remains from the British colonial era. The city is best described as an urban sprawl, and although a metro network is under construction, the evidence appears to be that it is a much-needed part of the city's transportation network, given the extent to which Mumbai's infrastructure creaks under its own weight, a city where the population count has created a few social shortcomings in its wake. A city tour of Mumbai can prove to be really insightful, especially if the tour involves exposure to both extremes of the social scale as mine did. Famous landmarks include the gateway of India archway, Bombay High Court and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station, in all its architectural splendour, but the symbolic nature of this city tour happened to include an area where public laundry was being carried out in one area which seemed to create a hypnotic warren-like labyrinth effect of clothes lines, hanging laundry, washing pools and the occasional small store / kiosk,
all in one culturally-packed zone of activity. Other attractions included Jain temple, Chowpatty beach, Crawford market, Boot House and Mahatma Ghandi's former house (now museum), all of which were a precursor to the second part of the trip which was loosely termed 'slum tourism', and a dip into the scuzzy underside of India's hardest living and working conditions, where workers toiled away endlessly in sub third-world conditions, creating fabrics, recycling glass, plastics and general trash, and even used bare hands to strip out components of once-functional machinery. The term of phrase 'eye-opening' applies here to a vast extent, but the workers appeared to be largely unphased by the presence of visitors and carried out daily duties with almost a mechanical sense of duty involved, suggesting that this area of the city best fits the description of 'Slumbai'. Back in central Mumbai, a good bet for a morning market stroll is Coloba causeway market, where streetside stalls exist from the unofficial starting point of Leopold café, a venue mostly frequented these days by foreigners, and a place visibly affected by gunfire from terrorists in Indian history's most recent terrorist attack which served to tarnish the safety reputation of India. Moving on
from Mumbai, the 4th leg of the trip was also the most hotly-anticipated, as much background reading about the 'pink city' of Jaipur had only served to heighten the anticipation as to what exactly Jaipur entailed. The rapturous welcome was there in the form of a hotel (Welcomtraditional heritage Haweli) with spectacular interior décor, easily possessing the most seductive hotel visuals encountered on the entire trip. The sightseeing centres around the city's chief sights, fortunately laid out within relatively close proximity to one another, namely the city palace, the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds), Jantar Mantar (instruments for astronomical observations), Laxmi Narayan Temple and the central museum, also confusingly known as 'Albert Hall'. A whirlwind tour of these spots was a true feast for the senses, and the imagery sprang to life thanks to the alluring colour schemes of hues of pink and ochre, leading this visitor to believe that they had stumbled across a kind of 'Marrakech of the East' city, which was no less captivating than its African counterpart. Further afield though lies another of the area's amazing draw cards, and Am(b)er Palace / fort is the kind of perfectly-poised structure where views both immediate and of
the surrounding area are the kind of experience which validates the return airfare alone. Constructed of red sandstone and marble, the attractive, opulent palace is laid out on four levels, each with a courtyard. It consists of the Diwan-i-Aam, or "Hall of Public Audience", the Diwan-i-Khas, or "Hall of Private Audience", the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace), or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over a water cascade within the palace. Hence, the Amer Fort is also popularly known as the Amer Palace, and is an easily achievable half day trip from central Jaipur, as well as being one of the area's few must-see places. If it is shopping which you seek, then Jaipur has a few options conveniently clustered in one area centring around the GT Central mall, flanked by the World Trade Centre, an almost futuristic-looking building which, to the relief of the budget shopper, is not all high-end goods at high-end prices either. For souvenirs galore, head to the Bapu bazaar, which is an enclave of stalls lining the road, and although you'll encounter the usual attempts made by storeowners to haul you into their shop, the visuals and the experience alone make the pestering seem much more bearable. The only other constatation which can be accurately made about Jaipur is that it would be pure lunacy to miss out on such a unique city during your stay in India, so 'miss it at your peril' is the only sound piece of advice here.
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