Once on the train we didn't escape attention either. While Jim hid on his bunk, Becca and I were subjected to such strange and persistant questioning from an inquisitive Buddhist meditation teacher that we nicknamed him "A-Level question man". Bizarre inquiries included: "How is the Indian-Pakistan crisis viewed by people in Britain?"; "What is the European view of Turkey joining the EU?" and my favourite, "What is the Christian concept of God?" Thankfully we escaped unharmed and aquitted ourselves relatively well.
Along with Delhi and Agra, the Rajasthani state capital of Jaipur forms the so-called golden triangle of must-see sights in northern India. It's known as the Pink City after the special wash used on the buildings in the old quarter of town. The houses and shops are mainly made of local yellowish sandstone, but were painted rose pink (the traditional colour of hospitality in Rajasthan) when Prince Albert came to visit from England in 1876. Apparently Bill Clinton's visit in 2000 saw another round of sprucing up too.
Although there are quite a few sights worth visiting in and around Jaipur we had allowed ourselves quite a limited time in the city, so we thought we would sign up to another government tour. As our organised trip around Delhi had been so sucessful we had high hopes. The guide book did describe the trip as an efficient, if rather rushed way to see the sights, but we thought we'd give it a go.
Twenty-eight year old Raj was our tour guide; what he lacked in knowledge he generally made up for in enthusiasm. On boarding the bus he urged us all to "check our backsides" for our seat numbers. Only when we looked perplexed did he elaborate - the numbers were scrawled on the back of our tickets. We set off at speed to "do" Jaipur.
Our first stop was the white marble Lakshmi Hindu temple - it was only in the 1980s and is dedicated to the godess of wealth. All was going well - we wandered around and then took some photos from outside. Next we made our way to the old city via one of the city's most iconic buildings the Hawa Mahal or Palace of Winds - or so we thought. To the disbelief of many of us the bus, we sped straight passed the building as Raj instructed us to grab a snapshot out of the window! The guidebook did say the palace (which was built so the Mararaja's wives could observe the goings-on within the city, behind the elaborately carved stone screens, without being seen themselves) was best seen from the outside, but it would have been nice if we'd been able to stop the bus at least for a second.
Hurried snapshots over, we travelled to the nearby Jantar Mantar - another of Jai Singh II's open air observatories and similar to the one we saw in Delhi, but this was slightly more elaborate and had special structures for the precise reading of horoscopes. Sat in the shade outside the building we caught a glimpse of our first snake-charmers their plaintive pipe playing rousing their charges from their slumber.
One corner of the City Palace is still home to the Maharaja of Jaipur and his family and judging by the way Raj spoke of them in deferential tones they still wield some power and influence in the area. Their former home and surrounding museums are impressive - we particularly liked the pair of the world's largest silver containers - they're each over 1.5 metres high and have a capacity of 8182 litres. They were made in the palace for Madho Singh II who was so distrustful of the water in London that when he went to the coronation of King Edward VII in 1901 he had the containers made and filled with water from the Ganges to take with him!
The rest of our hectic sightseeing tour provided us with more intresting stats - the largest canon on wheels in the world at Amber Fort and possibly the first passenger-led mutiny at a government gift shop. The three of us refused to get out of the jeep after our tour of the beautiful Amber Palace to "just look" at another load of tat - we were so stubborn the Indian tourists decided they'd had enough too and so Raj huffily agreed we didn't have to watch another block-printing display (I wander how much commission he lost?) and we sped off down the hill - leaving a very startled, indignant shop assistant behind us.
Our journey to Jaipur was interesting. After waiting for nearly three hours at Bharatpur station for our delayed train we'd attracted quite a crowd of onlookers. The more daring of whom would occasionally sidle up to us and ask where we were from and how we liked India etc, while the vast majority just stared at us shyly.