Trip Start Jan 09, 2005
16Trip End Sep 01, 2005
After 17 hours listening to the rhythmical run of the Jaipur Express we arrived at our destination, the red city. I exchanged e-mails and handshakes with my chaperones from the previous night and headed for the entrance to meet the proprietor of the Pearl Palace, Mr. Singh. You see I have learnt quickly to book accommodation pre-arrival, this might sound obvious but when traveling to many destinations finding accommodation is usual a task performed on arrival. Now I do this not primarily to avoid not having somewhere to stay (but this too is a fair good reason to book ahead) but to escape the charms :o) of the infamous Indian tout - a pleasure you can often do without after a bone shaking sleepless trip.
They're a predatory breed, lying in the recesses of train and bus stations, waiting on bleary-eyed tourists to emerge dazed and tried from an overnight bus or 20-hour sleeper,
(less) train ride. The problem has caused such a negative impact (financially and emotionally) on tourists in Rajasthan that the government have begun to introduce 'tout free' internal zones in train stations, but beware once you pass the divide your enter their domain, where they will charm, harness or co jowl you into their auto rickshaws, once inside you're at their mercy!!!! So to any future travelers to Indian, be prepared, either book accommodation before you depart or make sure you know exactly where you're going otherwise you find yourself on the end of a tout's barbed fishing line.
[Just a quick insert on this topic - you simply must be aware of their scams because more often than not their simple eagerness to gain a fair can often be to their determent. For example (I write this at a 10 day lag) we flagged a rickshaw in Bikaner and the guy quoted us 50 R to the hotel and onto the bus station, at that point two other drivers pulled up and suddenly a downward spiraling tendering frenzy started till we reached 10 R. Then just as we were walking away the original rickshaw driver desperately jumped out and offered 5R - jobs a good one!
Enough of this - Jaipur, as a city its pretty unassuming, well it's got the world's largest sundial! - Picture to follow :o). It's probably the dirtiest and more disheveled a place as I've witnessed (so far), the traffic is mayhem, rubbish is strewn everywhere and a black dust populates the air, impregnating everything and everybody. However when you wipe away the grim and investigate the bustling narrow alleyways you catch a glimpse of the city's real character. Workshops and vendors occupy the grumbling old city walls while beautifully colored sari's thread the paths alongside camels and pedal rickshaws. Beyond the tourist shops and Internet cafes you can a sense of inertia about many of the practices and everyday routines. It's like a fusion of ages, an integration of technology with age-old techniques and methods.
I meet some fantastic people here both foreign and Indian and found an oasis in the form of the 'Pearl Palace', a beautiful and spotless hotel nestled in a quiet back road, for 300 R (about 4 pound) it was a bargain. I had a marvelous few days here and many wonderful experiences but there are two in particular would like to talk about; firstly at the risk of pontificating to much about the virtues of Indians let me assure you there are many who simply view tourist as transient commodities that necessitate maximum exploitation and will stop at little to do so, you just need to make sure you an have minimal contact with these and you differentiate between them. The first is a short example, my rickshaw broke down so we needed to go to the local mechanic, as with all Indian's you're invited to drink 'chai' and meet the family. As the mechanic worked away his brother sat on a tiny stool welding a motorbike together. After the work was done the chai arrived, just then the brother stood up cleaned down his seat and presented to me, I immediately refused but he insisted I sit on it to have my chai, when I sat on it he poured the chai and then returned to welding the bike while sitting on the ground. I was humbled by their humility and kindness, it's just a small example but it is so indicative of the ordinary people here. After a couple of more chai and photographs we left two hours after we first arrived.
Then second example I find embarrassingly funny but sure if you can't laugh at yourself and enjoy your experiences life becomes dull. I had grown friendly with the rickshaw driver Razok, after our day's tour of the obligatory sites he invited me back for chai and to meet his family - why not. We rove down his district and turned up a narrow alleyway, now it was far from a slum but the only positive thing I could say about it was that many of the houses were made from concrete. As we drove through the alleyway we seemed to amass a shouting and smiling entourage of running kids, by the time we arrived outside his house there must have been at least forty. I literally couldn't get out of the rickshaw until Razok cut a path through the beaming kids, each one wanting to shake my hand and introduce them. Eventually I sat down on the spotless floor of Razok house and meet each member of is family while a crowd of inquisitive eyes peered through the doorway. After some chai we went to go outside to go on the rooftop and watch some kite flying/fighting. [Yes that's right kite fighting - the kite festival is a huge celebration were friends and family gather on the highest rooftops dancing, drinking and fighting kites. The aim being to cut your opponents line enabled by the coating of string in glass dust and the dexterity of the flyer who can you skill and agility to wear down an opponents line or simply brute strength by flying a large kit extremely high thus creating huge tension on the line and a razor sharp weapon]. As we emerged into the evening light a crowd of shouting guys waved us up to their roof, at this stage nothing was perturbing me so I climbed the first two story's of the house and let them haul me up the third, I was immediately greeted with a flurry of handshakes, introduction and cheers; it appeared my arrival was hailed like some huge advantage to this rooftop (some chance). After about 25 introduction I was handed the line of a kite maybe 250 feet in the air and instructed to start drawing in the line so as to cut the line of our opponents who resided on the rooftop about 60m away. To the cheers and roar of the crowd I pulled in the line as fast as I could that is until I entangled in my feet, I then heard the ultimate insult in kite flying from our opponents 'Vockata' (I think) meaning I cut your kite. I was left with a hollow kind of feeling and a limp line of thread watching our talisman float tamely into the hands of some smiling kids. I thought I'd be tossed over the side as quick as I came up it but was greeted with smiles and 'no worry man' when the condolences were finally over I was handed the line to a huge kite that was send soaring into the air by a guy spinning the line in a memorizing manner. I was directed to let in ride up about 200 ft and then hold the tension with everything I got (obviously my previous demonstration impressed none of my new found buddies!). Our kite was flying high in no time and our nemesis next door needed no invitation to attack our invader. Our superior tort paid dividends and we screamed 'Vockata' as I sliced the line of the would be champion, in all the elation and celebration of the felling of our enemy I let go of the line. The situation was rescued through the shouts of a kid and either my luck or divine intervention I redirected the kite back into patrolling the airways above us. After three more victories I retired as all great champions do, at the top!
It was then my turn to demonstrate my dance skills, I was mortified, a huge circle gathered round and clapped and cheered as I was cajoled into the middle of the circle to dance with one of the other guys who obviously was the local John Travolta (btw it was all guys on the roof and it wasn't the blue oyster neither - this is Indian, guys dance together - OK!). I give it my best and the crow appeared to love it, but it gets worse LOL. I had my shades slotting into the neck of my T-shirt and I was getting the usual 'cool shades', 'cool trouser' etc, Indian people are so straight forward, they'll come up on the street to you and say "Great clothes' "You train man?' without a flinch. Anyway I was then made under much duress may I add (I swear) to put on my shades and dance!!!!!!! I'm affronted just saying it :o) but I just left threw any introversion or nervousness I had into the wind of that evening and danced, laughing all the time to the lyrical beats of the Hindi hits the stereo system pumped out. It was wonderful all self-consciousness or awkwardness was lost in the joy of the moment and the amazing welcome these guys gave me. After maybe three hours of further dancing and kiting I had my picture taken with each and everyone of the 25 guys n the roof, it was quiet funny actually because only one guy had a pair of shades so each one of them borrowed his shades for the photos!! I was unable to leave without promising them I'd go to the latest Bollywood release with them that evening - but that another story.
Thanks again to all who have written to me, I appreciate each and everyone and will respond to all of them but I might be a wee tiny bit slow. Hope all are well and I look forward to hearing from you all!!