To give you some idea why Rajasthan - the Land of Kings - had always been a big part of my India travel plans, here are some quotes from the LP guide. (Also known as The Book by travellers - make sure you pronounce the capitals - and "your Bible" by sneering touts.) "A legend come to life... magical towns and cities... whimsical, magnificent palaces and forts... collection of small, fierce kingdoms... living by ancient, violent codes of chivalry and death before dishonour". How could I resist that?! My travel plans changed a lot as I read through The Book, but Rajasthan was always a given.
I had planned to travel on from Agra by train, but my route through Rajasthan was very much on the Tourist Trail, so it was well-serviced by buses as well. This was handy, as the buses were often more convenient and frequent. However, the flip-side to joining the tourist hordes was the even larger army of annoying touts. As well as being (mostly) very pushy and conniving, they also exhibit a complete lack of imagination. Almost every single one approaches you with the same old lines... "Hello friend... What is your good name?... Where
A pigeon's perspective from the Iswari Minar Swarga Sal
Pigeons seem to be steadily invading every major tourist attraction in Rajasthan.
are you from?... Ah, very good country"... before launching into the spiel of whatever he's selling at the time.
For the first few days, I managed to be very polite to all of them. After that, they started to get to me and I'm sorry to say I was quite rude for a bit. After this, I relaxed and started to have a bit of fun with it all. Whenever a particularly persistent-looking tout approached me, (you can spot them by the horns), I'd tell him, in Spanish or Swedish, that I didn't speak English. Better yet, I'd just let fly with as many Spanish-sounding words as possible, "Casa pero margarita el matador austa la vista porque cerveza?!" The moments of stunned confusion this bought me were always enough to slip away. As well as being a very effective way of dealing with tout pressure, this also proved a great way of maintaining my sense of humour... =P I heartily recommend it to anyone travelling in India.
My first stop was Rajasthan's capital - Jaipur. To be frank, Jaipur was a disappointment in a lot of ways. It's known as the 'Pink City' because in 1876 the Maharajah
From my hotel's rooftop restaurant(every hotel or guesthouse in Rajasthan seems to have one - even when there's nothing much to see).
had the entire old city painted pink, (a colour representing hospitality), to welcome the Prince of Wales. Apparently the tradition has been maintained since then, although I didn't see many pink buildings around. Jaipur felt like a city that had seen better days. At times, you caught glimpses of its faded grandeur, and could almost imagine it in its heyday. (Imagine the city-equivalent of an aged beauty queen who wears too much make-up & perfume and that's Jaipur.) Mostly it was just dusty, noisy and very busy.
It was on these busy streets that I began to perfect my road-crossing technique. The thing is that if you stand and wait for a clean break right across the big streets, you'll be waiting for a long long time. So you have to set off across as soon as you see a small gap open up. The trick is to keep a surreptious eye on the traffic just in case, while appearing to be completely oblivious to it. This puts the onus on the bikes and autos, who will mostly just swerve around you, if you walk steadily across in a straight line. I've been slowly refining this technique, and think
And no - I didn't pay these kids for their photo. =P
I've just about got it down now. =P Of course, now that I've said that, I'll probably be hit by a bus tomorrow. (Just joking Mum, I'll be careful!)
During my walks around Jaipur I did go to see some of the 'sights'. While these were not hugely impressive, they did have some very cool names. First up was the Iswari Minar Swarga Sal
, (Heaven Piercing Minaret), which gave a great panoramic view of the whole city, (and confirmed that it's not really a Pink City at all). The only other attraction I visited was the Hawa Mahal
- the Palace of the Winds. Not a palace at all, this is essentially a five-storey screen, with hundreds of little alcoves through which the court ladies could look out at the street below. The times required them to observe strict purdah, so they led a somewhat cloistered life within the palace. The opportunity that the Hawa Mahal
provided, to observe the life and processions of the city below, must have been invaluable.
I didn't stay in Jaipur long before catching another bus on to Jodhpur. As well as being home to the riding pants of the same name, Jodhpur
contains the mighty Meherangarh
, (Majestic Fort). Also known as the Citadel of the Sun, (Jaipur's not the only city with cool names), Meherangarh
looms dramatically over Jodhpur's blue Old City, (which is genuinely blue, not like Jaipur's false advertising). I've never seen a town so completely dominated by a fort or castle. My time in Jodhpur was similarly dominated by Meherangarh
- either visiting the fort itself or moving around the town to see it from different angles.
The price of admission to the fort includes a brilliant audio guide that really brings the place alive with a perfect blend of historical facts, anecdotes, and quotes. The best of the quotes was another of Kipling's, (and he was spot on this time), when he called Meherangarh
"the work of angels and giants". This perfectly sums up the two aspects of the fort - the delicate, ethereal palace inside and the mighty walls and gates that protect it.
Among the stories related by the audio guide was one about a holy man who was evicted from the hill the fort was to be built on. A little put out at having lost his home, the holy man cursed the
entire project, saying that the provision of water would always be a problem. (Not exactly an imaginative curse considering Meherangarh's
location - perched on a huge rock in the middle of a desert.) The Maharajah's advisors decided that a human sacrifice was required to atone for the holy man's eviction and to counter his curse. A man volunteered, (so the story goes, perhaps this involved some 'persuasion'), to be buried alive in a little space between the fort's walls. I took a photo of the plaque that honours his sacrifice. There were a number of these sorts of stories that made walking around the place a lot more interesting.
Again, I only stayed in Jodhpur for a couple of days before I uprooted again and moved on. It's exhausting - packing, travelling, and then having to find a new place to stay every few days - particularly in Rajasthan's heat-shimmering and tout-thick streets, but there's just so much to see! Next blog: the sandcastle-town of Jaisalmer and barely surviving death-by-camel in the Thar Desert...
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