Craig and Ross in India.

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February 13th 2019
Published: February 13th 2019
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Blog # 4 (February 13, 2019).

Think Pink – It’s Jaipur.

Did you know that Shampoo was invented in India in the 1700’s ? The word itself derives from the Hindi, “champo”, a fruit and herb extract for cleansing the hair. I contemplated this information as I showered this morning, as the shampoo in our hotel room was frickin’ awful. It was more like cold porridge than shampoo. It’s not as if they haven’t had a few hundred years to perfect the bloody stuff. Oh, well.

We have just spent time in Jaipur, having flown from Jaisalmer on SpiceJet. (Their motto is “Red, Hot and Spicy”, but if this refers to their food, it really should be “Brown, Cold and Heinous”.)

Upon arrival in Jaipur, we grabbed a pre-organised cab to our hotel. Jaipur is the capital city of the state of Rajasthan and was the biggest city we had yet encountered. This meant traffic mayhem! Our cabbie said that to drive in Jaipur you need three good things: good horn, good brakes and good luck! I thought, oh, he’s not going to push out against that bus, I mean, surely he………oops, yep, he did…. He’s not going to come out and cut off all that on-coming barrage of tuk tuks, motorbikes, cycle rickshaw and trucks?? Maybe he will wait till…..oops, yep, he did….Here comes a motorbike heading straight for us, yikes…..whow, missed him by inches….

We passed a great bally-hoo of dancing sari-clad women, music and fairy lights galore and people in silver carriages drawn by lavishly decorated horses. This could only mean one thing. Cabbie said to us:

“Now is wedding season” in Rajasthan. Many marriage ceremonies, this one see here. ….Are you married, sir?”

Ross shot me a stern glance.

I replied: “Oh, yes. I have a beautiful wife. We have four children. Two are doctors. One is a judge, and one is a clown - his stage name is “Tony Abbott.”

“Your wife - she is not traveling with you, sir?” asked cabbie.

“No,” I replied, “she hates traveling with me. Says I’m psycho. I think that’s bit rich, coming from her.” Cabbie looked in the revision mirror nervously, then returned to the important job at hand - getting us to our destination alive.

Our hotel (Umaid Bhawan) was another lovely heritage place, in the quiet Bani Park area of Jaipur. The next morning, we met Mayur Hada and driver Yugi, who would be guiding and driving us for the next two weeks or so. Mayur – as predicted by Brent and Shirl – is a charming fellow with a passion for and deep knowledge of India. He even laughs at Ross’s jokes. On our first day, we wandered the various bazaars and markets with Mayur. Really interesting. All the different types of teas, spices, big sacks of red chillis and lumps of bright yellow dried turmeric. Men dealing gemstones, coins, fabrics. Then the absorbing fruit and vege markets, selling some familiar but also some really weird shit ! Mayur told us some fascinating stuff. For example, I was occasionally seeing swastika symbols about the place. Nazism? Here in India? No, not at all, said Mayur. Here in India, this is the original swastika, with four dots around it – a Sanskrit term for auspiciousness and good luck. In Hinduism, the arms are pointing clockwise. But when the Germans appropriated it, linking it to Aryan dominance, they – intentionally or not – initially inverted it and lost the dots. This, said Mayur with a grin, was the antithesis of good tidings. This configuration meant bad tidings….

With Mayur as our engaging guide, - and Yugi as a remarkable rally driver - we visited the major city landmarks. Each major city in the state of Rajasthan has a whimsical moniker due to the predominant colour of the buildings. Hence, Udaipur is known as the “White City”, Jodhpur the “Blue City” and Jaisalmer the “Golden City”. Not to be left out, Jaipur is called the “Pink City”, thanks to the many pastel pink and terracotta-coloured buildings here. We first explored the wonderful old city area (the heart of the “pink city”), marked by huge terra-cotta gates at four points, and partly encircled by crenulated walls of the same hue. We enjoyed the City Palace and its courtyards, gardens and royal buildings. We then visited the second most photographed building in India – Hawa Mahal (Palace of the winds). Resembling a giant slab of intricate beehive-type honeycomb, and glowing orange in the late afternoon sun, Hawa Mahal is a site to behold. It is a red-pink sandstone edifice built in 1799 . It was constructed by the maharaja of the day so that royal Rajput women could observe daily street life from the tiny, intricate latticework windows, but people below could not see in. Women back then (appear to have led a cloistered life, and indeed this theme has been hard to shake (as I noted in the previous blog).

Much of the next day was devoted to the incredible Amber Fort/ Palace complex (pronounced, “Amer.”). This is one of the most popular sites in India. There were lots of tourists. The Palace is a huge amber-coloured sandstone and marble fortification on the side of a hill, with robed and saddled elephants trudging up and down, delivering eager tourists. Inside the expansive fort grounds are various magnificent buildings. All again built by the maharaja of the day. One of special note is the Sheesh Mahal, a fantastic structure covered in tiny inlaid mirrors all over the ceiling and walls (check out my pictures below). After much exploring, we then drove higher up the hill to the very top, to ancient Jaigarh fort, with its walls extending off into the distance. Like mini Great wall of China. It has spectacular views of Amber fort below and into Jaipur in the distance.

As at most tourist spots, there were touts loitering around the entrance to Jaigarh, although with Mayur now with us, they tended to shy away ! At one point, a cow wandered past and Ross suggested that we dress as cows to evade the touts. To blend in!

Each day, we tended to do our own thing for dinner. The Lonely Planet highly recommended a place for dinner called “Peacock”, on top of the Pearl Palace Hotel. So, the two of us grabbed a tuk-tuk and set off across town towards it. The traffic was horrendous, but we made it intact, paid the driver and ascended to the restaurant. It did indeed look lovely, but imagine our displeasure to learn that no alcohol was served there. That was not to our liking (!), so we left and entered an eatery in a hotel that we saw across the road. It, too, admitted that it also did not distribute the biochemical output of anaerobic fermentation. The waiter at this second joint told us that this was because we were in a residential area. I failed to see the connection, but, hey, we were in a foreign land with their customs. So, we wandered back out onto the street and aroused the interest of a tuk-tuk driver slumped in his vehicle, half dozing. We told him of our dire (!) predicament.

“What the waiter said is true,” he said. “I know a good place not far from here, great food, serves alcohol. I can take you for 100 rupees” ($2). A con, a tout? Well, let’s see. He took us to a very nice place and even waited out front while we checked out the menu. It met our approval, and the tuk-tuk driver then said he would come back at 9pm to take us home. He didn’t even ask for any fare yet. Sure enough, one bottle of wine and a hearty meal later, we saw him re-appear to deliver us safely back to our hotel. Again, this re-affirms to me that most people here are kind and helpful.

Mayur took us to the wonderful Raj Mandir Theatre, the most impressive in India – a lovely place- , to see a Bollywood movie. (well, up until intermission, when we went off to dinner). Although it was in Hindi, we got the gist. The audience really get into it. It was a great experience. Every time the heroine made a decisive speech, or slayed an adversary, the audience would erupt in applause, cheer and fling popcorn into the air. When there was a dance and song sequence, the audience would sing along. Gotta love the Bo­llywood dance sequences.

Before leaving Jaipur, we checked out the Galta ji (monkey temple), an amazing old temple complex that has been more or less left to the ravages of time – and a colony of rhesus macaques that now squat there. Check out the photos below. We are now headed East by road towards some national parks. Goody !! We got out of Jaipur in the nick of time, as anti-state government protestors forced a shutdown of the main East-bound highway after about 11am.

Food footnote #4: Lonely Planet reckoned that a place in Jaipur called Nero’s did fantastic butter chicken. Not having had that in India yet, we caught a cab there to try it out. Yep, it was the best butter chicken we have ever had! For dessert, I tried cardamon kulfi, the Indian ice cream. I enjoyed it, but it was the first thing he’d eaten that Ross was less fond of.

Well, bye for now,

Craig (and Ross)

More pics below, click them to enlarge.

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