Rajasthan Part 2
Jaipur-the arrival – December 31, 2016
But it was far. I guess the hands of the clock start to drag around the moment of heightened anticipation. As if to test ones patience. And things that had not been so far in the realm of time, in the realm of reality, suddenly appear to be surreal and eons away.
Walking the streets of Delhi, somewhere near Gaffar market, I once said to my friend – This place feels like Jaipur although I’ve never been there. Is it like this?
Yes, He said.
And it was like that.
The train pulled-over. The usual sounds and smells of an Indian railway station filled the compartment. Jaipur Junction. The station was opened in the year 1875 and is situated in Hasanpura. Compared to what I am used to in Delhi, I found Jaipur Junction to be quite small and laid back in time.
Jaipur was like that.
It maintains an old world charm. Despite being the capital of Rajasthan the city has managed to retain an aura of the bygone era.
Jaipur means the ‘the land of victory’. The city was founded by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in the year 1727. Initially his capital was Amber which lies at a distance of 11 kilometers from the city. The first planned city of India, Jaipur, is an architectural splendor. King Jai had a keen interest in mathematics and science and he sought advice from a Brahmin scholar from Bengal. The city was divided into nine blocks and out of which two consist the state buildings and palaces, whereas remaining seven blocks were allotted to the public. In the year 1876, when Prince of Wales Albert Edward visited Jaipur the whole city was painted pink to welcome him. Today, Jaipur is known as the pink city. However, the pink is not the astounding pink you would expect but is rather a subtle orangish hue of pink – if pink at all.
As I walked out of the station – I was hounded by rickshawallahs and autowallahs… like I would have been in Delhi or any other city attracting a plethora of tourists. However, Delhi rickshawallahs and autowallahs don’t like to take no for an answer and can be the most annoying and arrogant lot, especially when they’ve sensed you’re new to the city. Whereas Jaipur rickshawallahs and autowallahs can annoy you only as long as you entertain them… if you keep walking however, nose pointing to the sky, they tend to drift away to others (but keep walking like that for too long and you certainly end-up drawing some attention in a subtle humors way).
First, there was some confusion with the hotel location. The reservations details said Hotel Metropolitan. Plot no. 26, Vivek Nagar, Station Road, Jaipur. Whereas part of the text casually mentioned Sindhi camp bus stand. With the little research I had done – I knew one can find budget hotels in three areas – Station road, Sindhi camp bus stand & Bani Park. Now, was my hotel at Station road or Sindhi camp? Rickshawallahs were more than willing to drop me there (wherever that was) for price ranging from 40 to 100 rupees. So I thought why not take the local bus?
Now crossing streets in Jaipur might require a bit of tact. Vehicles seem to dart at you from all the eight directions. And you have nowhere to go. Now this is one respect in which Delhi is easier. Not any simpler or better, Delhi at least, can have a more predictable melee of vehicles. Traffic lights make driving a nightmare in Delhi and walking preferable. That’s one way we promote health in Delhi if you set aside how we demolish the same with our high levels of pollution (thanks to driving). Jams are a different story.
I managed to cross over to the opposite of the Railway station and kept walking ahead. When I have no idea where to go I have a tendency to keep walking. Others have a tendency to stand still and think. But I think doing that literally leads you nowhere. But you can make your call.
Jaipur from a tourists perspective can be divided into three parts. The old city, the new city and Amer & around. The old city is towards Northeast, the new towards the south and Amer at extreme North. I was in the west of the city. Near the railway station. I had a hotel booked for me and I had little idea where it was. And I had just decided to take a public transport to get to the hotel. To make matters worse, I didn’t have a smartphone and fancy maps.
After successfully dodging all rickshawallahs and autowallahs I was headed to a local bus stand. The idea was to go to Station road, which, if my common sense had not already given way, should be the very road I was treading (station roads are notorious for being near stations. Why else would they be called station road? But for some weird reason most Indian towns and cities seem to have a Mall road but never a corresponding mall). When I was told that station road was indeed that very road, I was a little disheartened to find no hotels in sight.
Will you take me to Vivek Nagar then?, I asked a buswallah.
No Vivek Nagar near Station road! Where do you want to go?
How about plot. 26? Do you go there?, I asked.
And he started to leave.
Wait? How about Sindhi camp?
It was an empty bus (honestly, it wasn’t even “half full”). Except for me, the driver, two passengers sitting just behind me and an old local puffing away at his bidi sitting at the last of the bus. The driver stopped the bus midway, emptied his bladder, filled his bottle (with fresh drinking water), bought bidi, cleaned the windshield, waited until it was dry, made a phone call and hopped back in – all in a matter of fifteen nonchalant minutes – without any of the three passengers as much as twitching the nose. And I did not want to be the one playing social advocacy there on my first visit so I just kept quiet. Besides the driver had been particularly kind to make sure I was well inducted to local politics as soon as I stepped in with my visible baggage. Tourists have to be patient listeners. That’s one important takeaway.
The place seemed to have a different approach to time. Had this been Delhi things would have been different. First, I would not have been able to board the bus – sorry no room to even put your foot sirjee! A madamji would have shouted – kidhar ja rahe ho bhai sahab! Oho!! Another behenji would have wailed – aae haae – tameez hi nahi hai. Second, the whole of Delhi seems to have a patience threshold of 2 minutes 35 seconds, after which lord-save-the-driver. It starts with simple enquiries like – bhai kya ho gaya? And then quickly escalates to – behenchod pagal ho gaya hai? Baap ki bus hai? Itni der tak rokk kar rakha hai! Oye chala oye! And then it would have led to something really bad. Since most people in Delhi have contacts they don’t usually hesitate to break into a nasty brawl. But this was not Delhi. This was Jaipur. And it was amazing in its own unique way.
I reached Sindhi camp bus stand. And besides hollow-eyed teenage travel-and-accommodation agents tugging at my elbows, navigating to my hotel was rather easy. The hotel was at the very end of a street. It had a chic look. And I couldn’t have been more excited to throw my bag and head out for some lunch and sightseeing.
I pull the glass door that I later realize said push in bold conspicuous blue letters and walk into the reception. The reception is bright and welcoming. The receptionist dull and unamusing.
I have a reservation.
Your name sir?
Nawal Keshri. Through OYO premium.
Alright sir. Give me a moment to confirm.
Oye chotu! Sir ko 203 leja… sir ek minute. Ye details bharne hain. Aap apni ID de dijie main photocopy karwa kar wapis de dunga.
I was given a room at the end of a long corridor. The room was impressive. And considering I had to sleep alone – the bed quite massive (and so cozy). I put all my devices on charge and hurried into the bathroom to take a quick shower fighting all urges to take a nap. It makes little sense to sleep much when travelling. I could always sleep when I got back.
Besides, eating was a priority now. I was growing hungrier by the minute. So I packed my photography gear and headed out for the last sunset but before that – some food. I had Parathas. Not the best choice. But I wanted to save some money. It cost ten rupees each and I had four. Then I took a bus to badi chaupad, from where I was told I’d get a bus for Amer – which I did.
Amer was the capital of the Kachchawa Dynasty for over 150 years. Amer was abandoned when Jai Singh decided to move to Jaipur for whimsical reasons kings have. A small town of about 4 square kilometers, Amer houses two of the most popular tourist destinations of Jaipur – the Amber fort and the Jaigarh fort.
Now two forts offer a fantastic view of sunset and the city below – the Nahargarh fort and the Jaigarh fort. Nahargarh is about six to seven kilometers away from Amer (as I’ve been told). So I decided to go to Jaigarh instead. Jaigarh is a steep hike from Amber fort which houses the famous Sheesh Mahal. I did not want to miss the sunset so decided to skip the Sheesh Mahal. A choice many would describe as bold, brash and downright stupid. But hey, the sun goes down – I have to wait another year – the Sheesh Mahal – it stays there, right?. And it’s not Mahal – Mahal like Taj Mahal. And given the time – I couldn’t have had both. So you see.
It took me about twenty five minutes to reach Jaigarh. I had to run as the ticket window closes at five in the evening. From there I took a motorbike taxi to badi topp (the largest canon there is) which is the highest point at Jaigarh and offers a stunning sunset view. The view was spectacular. For the first time in a long time – I could see as far as the horizon. It was every bit worth the effort. The sacrifice. The breathlessness. The tiresome hike. Everything – the peace, the beauty, the simplicity of the moment – was divine.
What better way to celebrate the last day of a year than to see the last sun go down? Till the very end. And to be present in the moment. Although Jaipur was not as cold as I had expected – it still was cold enough and because I have a thing for winters it felt incredible up there. I had some quality me-time. And once the sun was down – and so were most of the people – I started to leave. Started – because there was still a hell of a lot to see – from the highest point you can walk down to another tower – which offers a view of the road that takes you up all the way to the Nahargarh fort. As two roads converge into the horizon – it makes for an incredible picture. It was all the more quieter as compared to the canon-area – Oh well, did I tell you Jaigarh also had one of the most prolific and best cannon foundries in the world? The canon is pretty famous – so it is always quite crowded – but once I went to the other part of the fort – it was relatively deserted. There were a few crazy guys with unmistakable haryanavi accents still running around – apart from them – well – there was not another soul. And truth be told – I was more scared of this gang than consoled by their reassuring presence.
The descent was an unique experience. I was one of the few left at the fort. The best part about the descent was the quite. The fort is safe but is huge and you can’t find many people. One can come across guards stationed at a few posts but apart from that it remains deserted in the evening. After dark – it just gets better. I was alone and walked for about thirty minutes in absolute darkness. It felt quite eerie and scary, especially after all those bhangarh fort stories. But then… it was also incredible. I walked as slowly as I could, soaking in the quite of the evening and gorging on the fresh air which New Delhi completely lacks, listening to exotic songs of the crickets. Once you reach Amber the isolation is lost but the view just gets better. I took more pictures. This time of the beautifully lit city below and the Maota lake.
I was out of the fort in about ten minutes and reached the marketplace. The marketplace is dotted with small eateries and a café coffee day if you feel like snacking. But I realized I was getting late and was quite wary of the traffic so decided to leave as soon as possible. Looking back I seem to regret it. I should have had tasted the local sweets at least. I decided to go for a public transport. I had to wait for about half an hour for a bus. Buses to this part are few and far apart and those that do come are seriously crowded. Travelling by bus might not be the most comfortable option but it does save a lot of money. And since I was travelling alone and did not have many plans for the night, it was the best choice for me.
I crossed the bazaars – but did not know their names. I crossed Jal mahal which was on the way – a palace located in the middle of the Man Sagar Lake. It looked gorgeous in the night sky. Sad I could not get down- I should have had as you’d see – I hoped I would go there the next day but as luck would have it – I had to return without visiting Jal Mahal or Sheesh Mahal at all – why? Well that makes for an interesting story in itself.
Meanwhile, the bus literally crawled through the city, thanks to metro-under-construction (so Delhi!). I got down from the bus and decided to take the metro instead. Now, don’t glee at the thought of metro in Jaipur. The service is very poor. And my smart-ass trick did not work here – I brought my Delhi metro traveler’s card along – you know, just in case… but it did not! So the subdued-embarrassed me had to buy a token instead. And obviously as I later realized – all the odds were stacked against its working. Why would Delhi government let its revenue seep into Rajasthan? So I dismissed my madness simply as travel euphoria.And now take a token to where? I had no idea! Google again. Sindhi camp. Oh well, yes, isn’t that where my hotel is?
If you’ve travelled in Delhi metro, you know the baffling number of stations we have… so I thought it would be wise to ask, “didi Sindhi Camp station kis line mein padega?”. And the didi was like – Kis line mein? Bhai yahan ek hi line hai! Seedhi! Oh, what a relief! So people of Jaipur boast of a metro without having to withstand the horrendous confusion it brings with it? How cool is that! And then for a few brief moments I was struck with the vision of bringing metro to my hometown – Jamshedpur. In honor of Mr.Nawal Keshri, the man who changed Jamshedpur forever (and for good), the local papers would proclaim years after my death. But then I shrugged off the idea and decided to live in the moment instead – which translated into action meant taking selfies and photos of the metro token (without getting caught because there is a fine for taking pictures inside the metro). And why not? This was my first Jaipur metro ride (for two stations at an arm’s length). Oh, by the way, in case you’ve been wondering what a metro is – it is Indian lingo for the metro train – like subway or tube.
When I was leaving Delhi I had all these ideas of a happening new year eve. New town – hottest club – I’d be the solo-explorer-mysterious-looking-beer guzzling guy at the bar I-haven’t-seen-you-before-do-you-come-here-often types and then some hot desi chick would come and offer me another drink (which I would humbly deny, after having so much to drink). If I have another drink sweetie, how am I going to remember to save your number? Well then would I dance with her instead? She would ask. Cool. But just one song, alright? And then – do you want some fresh air? Me too! Let’s go to the balcony. Romantic walk. New year hugs. And then we would head to my hotel for a good night’s sleep. Period. The guy at the reception would try to stop us. I’d tip him. Wink. Wink. Good morning. And then. We’d never meet again. Not even names. But that was not to happen. Not this year. So I went to the nearest non-vegetarian dhaba and ordered butter chicken and butter naan for takeaway. And a soft drink – what an incredibly stupid way to spend 270 rupees when on a budget trip. And all this butter! Koi ni… new year eve hai yaar, chalta hai. Wait! Also I need to get a pastry. Looking for a pastry at ten in the night I finally realized I had chosen the wrong place for a new year eve (bhagwaaaan!). It was almost impossible to find even a pastry in this town let alone some willy-nilly, poky-poky, hanky-panky. So this new year – which was supposed to be the most happening- ever – I ended up doing what billions of people do every year and what I and my family have always been doing – watch the goddamn TV!