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Published: January 2nd 2017
Window Into The Pink City
A view of Jaipur from a window in the Hawa Mahal.
I couldn't pay by card at the hostel. This normally wouldn't be a problem but India's cash crisis made sure it was this time. I was banking on it; Hostelworld had said that this hostel accepted credit cards but I'd been sold down the creek. Having to manage cash like gold dust in India just added another layer of travel stress I could do without. The joys of travelling huh? Well, there are downsides too.
It was early start for Andrii - my Ukrainian dorm mate - and I, as we caught our train to Jaipur. Before leaving we indulged ourselves in some pethi
- a soft, wet, coconut-like, rose-flavoured dessert famous for being sold at Agra's train station. At 7am I have to say that it was delicious but sickeningly sweet. We now have to somehow get through a whole box!
Trains are usually a pleasant ride - not the ones in India. Although it was an emptier train than the one I caught to Agra from Delhi and although I had the top two bunks all to myself, the bunks are hard and uncomfortable, despite being able to lie down with my newly-acquired travel pillow (the purchase
Havelis are old, sumptuous residences - this one right on the lake is arguably Udaipur's most beautiful.
of which was a brilliant idea). Regular rubber fumes, a lack of warmth in the morning, a lack of air-con in the afternoon and an old train that rattled like a cage ensured that the five and a half hour ride felt like forever. I was glad when it was over and quite frankly, I'm not looking forward to the next one.
After fending off a tuk-tuk driver trying to con us into paying three times the normal fare for a ride from the train station to the hostel, we use the prepaid autorickshaw service to ensure we're not ripped off.
When I was a kid, there was a widely believed stereotype going around that Indians were sly, sneaky and dishonest - unfair perhaps, but the stereotype has come to mind on more than one occasion here when dealing with the locals. Tuk-tuk drivers trying to overcharge you is not something unique to Indians - unregulated taxi drivers all over the world are guilty of that - but it's things like trying to give you change with an expired 500 rupee note, giving you an almost-finished toilet roll instead of a new one at the hostel and giving you
Hawa Mahal, Jaipur
The Pink City's most distinctive building.
instead of the promised four with your thali
that reinforces the stereotype. And it seems they have no shame when they're caught out either - well, they will feel a little embarrassed but will then try it on again with the next tourist, trying to gain any little advantage they can, deceitfully or otherwise. There's little sense of morals or ethics and it really leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
But perhaps such traits should not be surprising given the sheer number of people in this country and the fact that most have very little and that they've had to fight so hard for everything they can get.
I must say though, that India is a fantastic place to take photographs - there is just an overwhelming amount of interesting things to capture. There is so much happening, so much colour, so much activity - walking around the streets of Jaipur, it almost reminded me of Havana
And my wander was made even more fascinating in Andrii's company. A keen photographer, Andrii has a different approach to photography and indeed travelling, than I do. He is very much focused on portraits and as a result, people.
Udaipur By Night
Looking over Udaipur and Lake Pichola from the hostel rooftop. The City Palace is top left while you can see two palaces on the lake itself. The Bond film Octopussy was filmed on one of them.
He believes that he hasn't really experienced a place unless he has connected deeply with the local people, hearing their stories and opinions. I must admit that learning about a country through the stories and lives of real people who live there has provided some of my most rewarding experiences on my travels, from Mostar
. So perhaps I should make more of an effort. However, I'm a bit shy about taking photos of people in case I offend them and I'm also not the type that tends to chat to locals. I've found many conversations with locals to be hard work, especially with a language barrier and I don't personally tend to get a lot out of them, so I don't bother wasting my time. And especially in a place like India, I'm also extremely cynical about any local who wants to talk with me, assuming that it's some sort of scam. I tend to focus on getting a feel of a place, observing how people do things; naturally, simply by being somewhere, I will inevitably have interactions with the local people, which for me is enough. But it was cool and interesting seeing things from a different
Street Gateway, Jaipur
There were many 'ordinary' gateways such as this one on the streets of Jaipur which were just beautiful and really made you feel like you were somewhere exotic.
perspective. Andrii also took some great shots and got me thinking that I need to take more pictures of people - something I have always said I needed to do more of. To do it well however, I will probably need to invest in a prime camera lens. I've met a couple of people now who are really into their photography and it has been great picking up different ideas and tips - hopefully I can make use of them!
Probably because our hostel is in a tourist area, food hasn't proved to be as cheap as it was in Delhi
- but the local Rajasthani thali we had was absolutely delicious with the crispy-on-the-outside, doughy-on-the-inside, slightly greasy rotis being the best I've had in India so far - it was much closer in style to the Malaysian roti, which is my favourite.
As for the hostel itself, it has been the most backpacker-y one I've visited so far and is spacious, clean and has amazing hang out areas conducive to socialising.
They call the old part of Jaipur the pink city, but I reckon it's more like a clay/terracotta colour. Among The Pink City's highlights is the
The Pink City
Looking over Jaipur and the facade of the Hawa Mahal.
Hawa Mahal, or the Wind Palace. Basically a massive, five storey screen, it was built to allow the ladies of the royal house to watch over proceedings in the city. It is a very distinctive structure and is a little bit of maze inside. It was also completely packed with two massive groups of school children; but afforded some great views over the city.
The City Palace was just as impressive although the best result of the visit was being able to pay by credit card and save myself ₹500 of cash. I'm down to my last ₹1,800 of cash now and will need to find some more sometime soon. As for the palace itself, it is rather regal and I just love the architecture here, which different to anywhere else I have been. There are several buildings and pavilions within the complex, with the main palace being arguably the most impressive.
I wasn't about to pay ₹200 to climb the Iswari Minar Swarga Sal - a minaret - so I then walked around the many bazaars that Jaipur is famous for with the Bapu Bazaar in particular, which sells shoes, scarves and fabrics, being especially colourful. The square arcades
The Green Gate, Jaipur
Inside the City Palace.
that house all the shops also make wandering through the bazaars a much more pleasant - and much safer - experience than say, Old Delhi, although I still had to dodge cars, tuk-tuks, rickshaws and motorbikes walking down Khajane Walon ka Rasta, where all the marble and stone cutters ply their trade.
I ended up meeting some rather characterful girls that evening; Romanian Wana and Scottish Emma were your quirky Zooey Deschanel types and they joined us for a highly entertaining dinner. Afterwards, food and beer guzzling Canadians Ariel, Chelsea and Taylor all joined us for a drink at a sketchy-looking, sausage-infested, rooftop bar with a few local drunkards having their regular Saturday night out in the saloon of this tired hotel. The bar really was just some tables and chairs hastily chucked onto a roof that still had ladders and building materials scattered all over it. The Canadians were good craic though.
Jaipur's most famous sight is the Amber Fort, just outside of the city and which we visited the next day. The sun was hot, and there is less pollution in the air - it leaves you radiating! Like a stronghold from Lord Of The Rings
Courtyard, Amber Fort
The most magnificent of the Amber Fort's four courtyards.
however, the Amber Fort sits majestically on a ridge overlooking a lake, its golden sandstone glowing like some heavenly, magical kingdom.
The fort consists mainly of the royal palace which housed the rulers of the Rajput civilisation and dates back to 1592. The place can be divided up into four courtyards, the most magnificent of which is the third one. The Jai Mandir - the Hall Of Victory - is lined with silver carvings and mirrors, and some stately gardens. The place is a wonderfully decorated labyrinth and I liked how you were free to explore almost every nook and cranny; tunnels, staircases and long passages led you all over the complex, ensuring you popped out in the most surprising places. The last courtyard was surrounded by the women's quarters which housed the maharajah's mistresses and concubines and it was here especially, where things got really maze-like as it was designed to allow the maharajah to sneak around undetected. Overall, I was really impressed with architecture and the setting, which looked over the town of Amber and the Maota Lake below.
When we got back to Jaipur, we ran into a local guy we met on the street on
Bapu Bazaar, Jaipur
The most colourful bazaar in Jaipur is the Bapu Bazaar, selling womens' shoes, scarves and fabrics.
our first day and he was super-keen to take us out and drive us around New Jaipur in his 4x4. It was definitely appealing to have the opportunity to see the newer part of the city but the guy was almost too keen to take us for a ride; it just didn't feel right. It may well have been genuine kindness and enthusiasm to show off his city but with so many scams going on in India and having learnt at school never to get into a car with strangers, I just didn't quite trust him, which is sad. I also felt like New Jaipur would have been like any other city, which helped justify my decision even more.
Andrii went along though but was back within an hour; he was getting stomach cramps and the guy was nice enough to drop him back at the hostel. Maybe he was just a nice guy after all.
This cash crisis however, is really proving a pain in the ass. It's affecting everything I do, from how I book transport, how I book accommodation, paying for meals - everything. Which is what led me to having two very frustrating hours trying
A stonecutter preparing another work of art on Khajane Walon ka Rasta, where all the marble and stonecutters ply their trade.
to set up my first Uber to take me to the train station the next day. Cheaper than a tuk-tuk and all paid for by credit card, it made total sense to take an Uber to preserve money and cash. If there is one positive about this cash crisis, it is the fact that it makes you even more disciplined with your money than you were before.
Train times in India however are all terrible; the only choices seem to be early in the morning or late at night and they all seem to take at least twice as long as they should, to the point where moving from place to place is a tiring, uncomfortable mission that has you looking at where you can stay a bit longer just to give yourself a breather from the trains. If it isn't the chaos on the streets that gets you stressed, then it is the thought of having to catch and ride another Indian train.
Well, I had to take my next train at 6.15am and thus my request for an Uber - and everything worked perfectly! I paid about half the price I would've paid in a tuk-tuk and
Second Class Carriage
My train carriage from Jaipur to Udaipur.
got to ride inside a car rather than outside in the cold, breathing in tuk-tuk fumes while sharing space with my luggage. The best part was simply being able to farewell the driver without having to dig up any cash. It was perfect.
There weren't any sleeper class carriages on my train to Udaipur - I was travelling second class this time which just had rows of seats which sat three across. They were a bit crammed so I played musical chairs a bit to try and get a row with only me or one other person but had to sit in my reserved place when a shitload of people boarded at Ajmer. After sitting for the majority of the ride on an uncomfortable seat after which my butt started hurting about an hour into the journey, and with my rucksack on my lap stopping the blood supply to my legs, I finally managed to nab a window seat with about two hours to go and actually enjoyed just listening to music and gazing out at the rural Indian landscape which is about as dry, poor and polluted as I have seen. It really makes me realise how lucky
Udaipur By Day
Looking over Udaipur and Lake Pichola from the hostel rooftop.
I have been in the lottery of life.
I had noticed that the number of tourists around in all the places I have been - with the exception of the Taj Mahal - has been more sparse than I was expecting. This is because things just have a different scale here population-wise, in India. Delhi has 25m people - about the size of Australia in one city - Agra about 1.7m (more than my home city and New Zealand's biggest in Auckland) and even Jaipur has 3m. Whatever number of tourists are present, they just get completely diluted by the number of locals.
Except in Udaipur, this town of just 400,000 and where my hostel had a magnificent view over "the most romantic spot on the continent of India". Set next to a lake with an island palace and many a beautiful temple on its shores, this "Venice Of The East" has been drawing tourists for decades. While you still have to dodge errant tuk-tuks and motorbikes on its narrow, hilly, crooked streets, it still exudes a much more chilled vibe than the other places I have visited in India so far.
As for the hostel itself, it had
Bunkyard Hostel, Udaipur
The beautiful interior of my hostel in Udaipur.
one of the best views I've seen from a hostel as it looked out on to the lakes and the palaces around it. It also was a good place to chill and meet other people. With fellow Kiwi Katie, English Diane and Aussie John, we went out for dinner that night where I had my first bhang lassi
of the trip. Bhang
is basically Hindi for marijuana and it was expertly mixed into a lassi with strawberry jam to create a deliciously sweet concoction...which about an hour later delivered a real punch! I don't think I have been that stoned since my first visit to Amsterdam
. It was great though - anything remotely funny was side-splittingly hilarious although the ability to perform basic functions slowed right down to a crawl. Having only had about three hours sleep in the previous twenty-four, it also made sure I got to sleep pretty easily.
I had a walk around the town the next day, which is nice and small. With the narrow streets and the buildings built right on top of each other, it has a real favela
feel although dodging the motorbikes flying past uncomfortably close was a real annoyance. Although not as bad as
Streets Of Udaipur
The colourful, narrow alleyways of Udaipur.
Jaipur or Delhi, there is still the hustle and bustle that reminds you that you are still indeed in India. I do wonder how long will it be before I get over India's chaos and all of its frustrations. It took me about two weeks to get over the way things were done in Cuba
- I've got at least another six weeks of it to go in India.
I took in the beautiful Bagore-ki-Haveli and the impressively intricate Jagadish Temple which reminded me a lot of the temples I saw in Cambodia
. Indeed many of the temples in Cambodia are also Hindu temples, explaining the similarity in design. The only other notable achievement of the day was managing to find a working ATM with a queue of just four people. I really needed the cash so I got out another ₹6,000 - I would've got another ₹2,000 more but the people behind me started getting impatient.
I had worked out what my plan was for the next week or so but when it came to booking the trains, I discovered I was a bit screwed - the trains I wanted to take were all sold out. Things then
Blue House, Udaipur
This is just a normal old house, yet it is so beautiful.
became a bit of a logistical nightmare as I tried to work out an efficient itinerary that wouldn't cost too much. In the end I decided to stay in this rather peaceful part of India for another couple of days as it was the best solution to my problems. I then worked out that I would have to leave the train network for a while and hit the inter city buses, which are more expensive but perhaps safer and more comfortable. I almost prefer buses - especially if they are as comfortable as the ones I took in South America - and with your luggage stowed away and with nowhere for potential thieves to run and hide, you have peace of mind about your possessions.
But first, there were two more highlights to see in Udaipur.
The first was a Rajasthani dance show which showed off local music and dances. It was cool to see some local culture and costumes although the dancing wasn't the most coordinated or synchronised that I have ever seen. The best was saved for last however as a 70yr-old lady managed to dance with an ever-increasing number of pots balanced on her head. By
Balancing Act, Udaipur
This 70yr-old lady was mightily impressive balancing all these pots on her head while dancing during a local cultural show.
the end, she had pots stacked to about 1.5 times her own height balanced in her head!
Second, was the City Palace. Parked on the lakeside and with beautifully intricate towers and balconies, it looks the epitome of Indian royalty. There were shades of the Alhambra
about it too. It was another awesome reminder, in a different way, that you were indeed in India. As for the exhibits in the museum, they were mainly just objects used in the palace back in the day; lots of paintings, a few horse carts and a silver collection. There was also a wedding pavilion and a massive sun ornament.
As splendid as Rajasthan has been, one thing annoying about the place is how dry it is alcohol-wise and Udaipur is devoid of any nightlife. You can still get beer, but it's expensive! £2.50 for a can of beer is pricey for India, considering my budget is about £10 a day. Just as well there are bhang lassis to compensate!
But after five days in Udaipur and eight in Rajasthan, it was finally time to move on. There is definitely more to see in Rajasthan but with long distances to cover and
City Palace, Udaipur
The gorgeously intricate facade of Udaipur's City Palace.
nothing else in the state standing out to me as something I haven't seen before, I also had the lure of the beaches and the south pulling me away. But on the way south, I first had an awkward side journey to make...
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