The Pink City

Trip Start Oct 20, 2004
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Trip End Apr 26, 2005


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Tuesday, November 2, 2004

JAIPUR

We made it to Jaipur on Halloween, and we were feeling a bit like werewolves by the time we arrived. In addition to Andy's hairiness, we were moody and our stomachs growled. We resolved to eat upon arriving, and that certainly helped two of the three issues. Our late lunch set us right for the next several hours, so off we set to tackle the capital of Rajasthan.

Jaipur is a filthy, overwhelming city in Eastern Rajasthan, reminiscent of Delhi in its dirty chaos (though 'dirty chaos' pretty much describes the entire region). Jaipur is known as the 'pink city' because of its hospitable color; in 1876 Maharaja Ram Singh had the entire city painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII). There are - like all the big cities of Rajasthan - palaces, forts, and temples, some absolutely breathtaking. We spent the better part of two days visiting these attractions.

Our first stop was Nahargarh Fort, located on a hill about 15 kilometers outside of Jaipur. There's not much to see inside, as the fort has been neglected for the most part; its dark corners reek of stale urine and Indian teenagers lurk in the shadows, defacing the walls with their roughly carved initials. However, the sights from the top are amazing; Nahargarh easily provided our best view of the vast, dusty city. Having declined a local guide, we wandered around on our own, steering clear of the monkeys hanging out along the walls of the fort. It was nice to explore the fort at our own pace, without having to learn about why you couldn't see into (or out of) the windows in the women's quarters ("...the colored glass...the small holes...are so that a women can look out without anyone seeing her..." Those poor women...).

While attempting to enjoy the sunset and explore the fort, we attracted a record number of stares from others (Indian men mostly) - something we had become quite used to by this point in our trip. It's kind of amusing, but during certain moods the stares can be annoying; I got really sick of wondering if I had a horn growing out of my head. Andy received stares, too, but I think people were generally more interested in my horn - probably because I'm a western woman (and therefore "naughty" in every sense of the word). I heard that a good way to deal with the staring is to cast your eyes downward, but even doing that is frustrating and to an extent demeaning; I am a proud individual, ashamed of nothing, and therefore shouldn't have to divert my eyes from contact. Regardless, stares are a big part of visiting India, and Jaipur is no exception. Therefore, we did our best to ignore the blank stares and return them with smiles. In doing so our smiles were reciprocated by at least one group, a family from Calcutta, who bombarded us with all the usual questions: Where are you from? Who do you like, Bush or Kerry? (With an interjection of slight variation: "We Indians like Kerry very much. Bush is an angry man. Kerry is number one." The U.S. election was two days away, and the anti-Bush sentiment was unbelievable.) Is this your first time in India? How do you like it? (Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...). This was the most common exchange we experienced in India, and it happened over and over with new people in each city. And the photo-op phenomenon is something else! We were prepared for people to want our picture taken with them, as our last round-the-world adventure put us into hundreds of strangers' photo albums - particularly in China. But it was interesting being welcomed as part of other family portraits, something you'd never see at home. The welcome is genuine, and really counteracts some of the frustrating encounters that are inevitable while traveling. A bit of kindness speaks a powerful language when so much in the world is lost in translation.

The next day was full of power tourism at its best; we visited the City Palace complex and museums, the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds), another fort (Jaigarh), and a couple of temples within Jaipur. Finally, Andy and Pan Singh humored me by giving into my request to visit a gem therapist, something that had intrigued me since reading about it in two magazine articles and the Lonely Planet. A 'gem therapist' or 'crystal healer' (as opposed to a palm reader) is supposed to accurately pinpoint your past, present and future ailments and offer suggestions of natural stones that would be beneficial to your health. I don't know what I expected, as I've never put too much stock into this kind of stuff, but it seemed interesting enough to try.

The 'healer' invited us into his little office in the back of a tourist jewelry store, and asked for our hands. He looked pensively at each of our palms, offering us vague truths about our lives. He told us that we are married (and while staring at our wedding rings...imagine!) and that I have tendencies of being, at times, a stress-mess (who doesn't?). He said that Andy is good with money, and that I'll be fine financially as long as I stick with him. He also told us that we are a perfect couple (doesn't every couple want to hear that?). Everything he said was vague enough that we didn't really think much; however, once he felt that he gained our confidence, the little session quickly progressed into a very calculated and manipulative scheme. He began to prey on our emotions, and used my health as a base from which to scare us both, telling me that I'm not well, and that I don't take good enough care of my health. He confirmed Andy's perfection, telling him that he's the perfect man (I already know that) and that he's smarter than I am (hey now...). He vacillated between us, crushing my ego while inflating Andy's. All the while I kept thinking to myself: "this guy's a quack. Don't listen to him. He just wants you to buy into his nonsense. It's not real. You're going to be fine."

It was then that I nearly fainted. He was examining my palm for signs of my future; his face contorted slightly and then fell as if somebody just gave him some bad news. He paused for a moment, then said, "We don't tell people everything. One time I was sitting around with my friends, and a guy gave me his hand and asked for the truth. I told him that he was going to die. This poor guy became paranoid and was finally in an accident. But he didn't die; he only lost his leg. That was because he did most, but not all of the things I told him to do." Then he told us what we had to do: we needed to buy an expensive 'star ruby' which would strengthen and align my chakras, therefore preserving my health. He also told me not to drive.

This man sure had business sense. And I suppose he succeeded in the end; we did finally buy a pretty, low grade (i.e. cheap) star ruby pendant, though mostly because the experience was so unique and seemed incomplete without a souvenir. Afterward, we briefly told Pan Singh about our meeting, to which he basically responded by saying, "that guy is just out for money."

Following the reverse healing session, we went to Shri Laxmi Narayand, a white marble temple that has a very good feeling. The Hindu temple is fairly new (maybe 20 or 30 years old) with great friezes and stained glass windows. It sort of reminded me of a Christian church in its overall stature, and although the stained glass mainly depicts Hindu deities, there is also one depicting Jesus. One can't help but notice many striking parallels between the two religions. It is sad the way our world fights about differences in thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. However, we don't have to look very far beneath the surface to realize that the similarities far outweigh the differences.
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