RAJASTHAN PART 3
Jaipur – the city & people, January 01, 2016
I woke up early; jumped out of bed, put on the only sweatshirt I had brought and headed off to the terrace to shoot the sunrise. You can’t miss the first sunrise.
I locked the door behind me and made for the lift with my camera. The terrace was on the fifth floor. Once I reached – thankfully there was no one there. The hotel staff lived on the terrace – but they were still sleeping. The sky was beautiful. However, it was still quite dark. Should I get my tripod?. I ran to the lift – dashed into my room and got the tripod. I returned and still – no one. Phew! It was so incredibly quiet and beautiful. I set up my camera for the sunrise and waited as I watched the sky slowly change colors – from the dark of the wee hours to red-blue & orange of the early morning. Soon I was joined by a couple of hotel staffs – who’d occasionally cast their nonchalant glances at my camera screen to get a glimpse of the new-year-sunrise picture-to-be. But they were more concerned about their bowels than my infatuation with a Jaipuri sunrise. They queued outside in the cold for their turn to take a dump. So although the sunrise was quite breathtaking – the air smelled like shit.
Walk over straight to the end of the street and you reach the main road. Right at the intersection is located Mewar travels; a travel agency for interstate, intra-state and sightseeing tours. From googling I had learned that there was something like a city-tour for as low as 200 rupees. The bus would take you to about ten locations in the city. And with just one day in the city – that sounded like the best thing. And the hotel staff just confirmed the existence of such a service. I walked over to these Mewar guys and luckily they said they could accommodate me and charged me a premium of 50 rupees. When you’re travelling – be prepared for such a thing. However, I regretted not having bargained for that 50 rupees. We all learn, you see.
I had had a breakfast of bananas. And more bananas. Not the terrific start to a year you’d expect. Neither a typical holiday breakfast where people subject themselves to mortifying degrees of indulgence. Unlike most I decided to stick to the most basic essentials when it came to food – never lusting for one thing or another – well – until I tasted daal baati choorma in Udaipur.
After the sunrise shoot I wasted little time getting ready. I gathered the essentials – tied the laces and dashed out. I bought the ticket. The bus was late by half-hour – In-its-own-Sweet-Time (IST).
The bus pulled over eventually. On the other side of the street. A very-pink and gaudy looking rickety double-storied bus with lots of bells and whistles in the front. It looked – funny? I reached the terrace – and no seat. I had to sit on a metal bench at the back for – probably someone with a big meaty ass – but personally – I found it very uncomfortable. The terrace was infested with couples – and it looked more like a breeding ground. I was expecting more families and groups of friends. So this is it, huh? This is how the first of the year looks like? Things got worse as the bus started to move. There was no shade over me and I was sure to go with the wind. My hair was a mess and my lips crumpled. Soon I was joined by another couple. So now we were three people on that little bench of theirs. The couple decided the bench should be dragged to the very back so that we had a place to rest our backs. I wanted the bench to be where it was – people seated ahead of us would act as a bulwark against the mini-storm from the front – I surmised. I was thinking of them as fellow comrades against a devastation of our own making but they were far too much in love to realize that. That is how it is with couples – they treat every dissent as an invasion of their turf – their love castle and they unite against you. So until the first destination on our day tour arrived we sat the way they wanted – the wind blowing us right and left while the three of us majestically rested our backs on cold metal bars. And when the lady realized her hair was going in all directions – most of the times in her man’s mouth and sometimes in mine we decided it was time to change course. And by that time the sun too was out and shining in all its Rajasthani monstrosity.
Our first stop during the tour was Birla temple. A white structure that shines like the Taj. Also known as the Laxmi Narayan Temple, the temple is built on raised platform at the base of Moti Dungari hill. The temple is surrounded by greenery and is a stunning piece of marble architecture. The central hall houses the deities of Narayan and Laxmi. We were given twenty minutes to visit the temple which was a lot for me. Something really interesting happened. You can’t enter the premises wearing shoes. I was wearing my new puma shoes for the second time. And I was apprehensive of leaving it outside. But I did not want to return without visiting either. I left my shoes near the entrance and said to myself I would return as soon as possible. I kept telling myself you won’t find the shoes when you return. I went in, leaving the shoes there – glancing at them for one last time. I went inside and rushed through the temple. I did not want to lose my shoes right at the beginning of what I was hoping would be an incredible day. When I returned – my heart skipped a beat – the shoes – my new puma-shoes, the only I had brought on the trip – were not there! This is it? Is this how my new year starts? After all that people talk about Jaipur’s hospitality – this is what had to happen? I was so sad. Disappointed. I looked around – mostly at men and their feet. I walked over to a place with lots of shoes. Maybe it’s there. And it was! I was so happy. They were not gone. Nobody had taken them. My shoes. No. Jaipur was great. As great as it ever had been. I realized – I had missed the obvious sign that said – don’t leave your shoes at the entrance.
The next stop was Albert Hall – Albert Hall was built in the year 1876 to welcome Prince Edward of Wales. The foundation stone was laid on February 06, 1876. The museum was also named after him. The museum is said to be the most extensive and the oldest museum in Rajasthan. The building is situated in Ram Niwas Garden outside the city wall and opposite the new gate. It was designed by sir Samuel Swinton Jacob and he was assisted by Mir. Tujumool Hoosein. The museum was opened as a public museum in 1887. It is also called the government central museum. Maharaj Ram Singh initially wanted this building to be a town hall, but his successor Madho Singh II, decided it should be a museum for the art of Jaipur and included as part of the new Ram Nivas garden. The museum has a rich collection of artefacts like paintings, carpets, ivory, stone, metal sculptures, colorful crystal works etc. I asked the couple (the bus couple) if they could help me get a ticket as the women’s queue was shorter. They did. So nice of them. Then we toured the museum almost together. Things were getting better.
After the palace I was quite psyched to go to Hawa Mahal. Hawa Mahal was built by Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1799 has about 950 sit-outs which was meant to be a window for the women of the royal family. This is the reason why the Hawa mahal is connected to the Zenana Mahal – the women’s section of the city palace. The Mahal was designed keeping in mind the mukuta, the crown, of Lord Krishna, interestingly the five-storied structure has no terraces and is connected by passageways. But these guys did not stop the bus. The a-holes kept on driving! When I asked, they said. It’s on the way sir. We do not stop here. So the Hawa Mahal that I wanted to visit more than anything else here in jaipur, we had to drive past it. The bus stopped at Jantar Mantar – which for most of us seemed like an incredible waste of time so we decided to stay back and shop.
I went around the Jantar Mantar bazaar. I wanted to buy something that would remind me of Rajasthan but something not too expensive. I bought a Rajasthani Pagri & a t-shirt with Rajasthan written across it. The pagri cost me fifty rupees and the t-shirt seventy five rupees which was pretty cheap by any standards. I would not be wearing it. I’ve decided to keep it as a souvenir. By the time we left Jantar Mantar most of us were really exhausted. I was sitting at the metal-bench at the end of the bus and the open-air was no fun. And not the couple had moved to the front. It was past noon and the sun was really harsh – I was really exhausted of the heat. I had had two fruit salads and an ice-cream for lunch.
From Jantar Mantar we moved over to a handicraft store by Rajasthan State Tourism Corporation. These guys sell stellar quilts and sarees. That’s what I spent most of the time looking at. Yes there were paintings and other knick-knacks but we did not have much time. I bought a set of three ceramic elephants – green with white, yellow, golden and red decorations on it.
After the store, we left for Amer. The bus was supposed to wait for one hour at Amer and then take us to Jal Mahal – the last stop. We divided ourselves into groups. I was leading a pack of 10 as I had already been there. I forgot to tell them I had not been to the Sheesh Mahal. And I had not realized they were expecting me to take them there. When we returned (thanks to me) we were late by over two hours. People in the bus had been to the Sheesh Mahal and returned on time. We went to the Jaigarh fort and ended-up taking extra two hours. Actually the one hour we were given was to visit the sheesh Mahal. People were like – alright, but where was the sheesh mahal? I was quite scared and did not speak much all through the ride down the hill. Once we were up on the bus things started getting better between us. The Jaigarh hike had brought us all close. We all gathered in the front deck. I asked people if they could give me Titanic Poses. It was fun.
And this is how I could not visit the Jal Mahal or the Sheesh Mahal, the driver was angry and drove carelessly for the rest of the commute. And it was quite dangerous for us as tree branches slammed to the deck. Ah the iceberg in the movie! But we enjoyed more than others did. And I made two friends – Deepak & Sanjana – two incredible people – young, crazy and madly in love.
Most of the people I met on the bus were staying at Sindhi Camp. We decided to go to Nahargarh and Bhangarh fort the next day. We were five to six people. Me, Deepak, Sanjana, Kiran (and her husband) and two other people I do not remember the names of.
Me, Deepak and Sanjana were the same age. We deiced to meet again and explore the city. Somehow Deepak had managed to borrow a motorbike from a friend in Jaipur. Deepak and Sanjana asked me if I could join them in the evening. Could I join them? Of course yes! I did not have other plans for the night anyway.
I went back to the hotel room, changed intro fresh clothes, took a brief shower, charged my batteries, and tried to copy the days photos. As I copied the photos. The card developed an error and the computer asked me to format the card. I tried again but got the same message. I was really very worried but knew better than to tinker with it. I left it like that and used another card. I could look after it once I was back.
I was ready before they called. I went to these Mewar guys where I met a few others from the bus. Nahargarh and Bhangarh got cancelled. Deepak & Sanjana eventually backed out. They had a genuine problem. They were planning to return to Delhi the next day. Preferably by the evening. So they would have to return the motorbike in the morning. If they left for nahargarh and bhangarh they would have had to overstay. And these guys had come to Jaipur without telling their families. So that could be quite risky. We decided not to insist. The other four said they too had to leave for Delhi the next night and would only be able to go to Nahargarh. To me – using an entire day for Nahargarh did not seem like a judicious use of time. So I cancelled. I was scheduled to check-out the next morning. I had the option of checking out of my hotel and throw the luggage in at one of these friend’s hotel the next morning and go to Nahargarh and leave Jaipur at night or to leave Jaipur in the morning for some other incredible place.
Deepak and Sanjana were ready very soon. They came over to hotel mewar. They reached a final decision – Deepak and Sanjana – would go back to Delhi the next afternoon – the four other friends would leave for Nahargarh the next morning and would spend another day at Jaipur. Me? I still hadn’t decided.
Deepak and Sanjana are incredibly cool people. So we were an incredible trio that decided to have some serious fun that evening. We were triple riding that day. With two helmets. I was sandwiched in between. Since Sanjana was sitting behind me – I thought she should wear the helmet – but she did not – she said she never had. So we carried it. Our first stop was World Trade Park. It turned out we were pretty late – we could not enter. But the architecture and the exteriors were impressive. We had raabdi. Raabdi is a traditional Rajasthani drink. It is served hot in the winter and cold in the summer. The basic ingredients are baajra and curd. The ingredients are heated until a soup like consistency is reached – it’s like a much thinner daliya. If there was one thing that I did not like about rajasthan it was this (no, there are more to come). In fact, none of us liked it. What if this is camel milk guys? Yuck. We had the audacity to ask. It wasn’t camel milk. Thank god for that.
We did not have anyplace particular to reach so we just rode about Jaipur eating all that we could. We wanted to end the night with some heavyweight non-vegetarian food but had to settle for fast-food instead – among other things we had – chowmein, golgappe, burger, pav bhaji, an orange, little heart biscuits, chai and bread-omelet.
We returned quite late. I do not remember the exact time. It was fun. The best part about it was that it was so unlike me. Solo-travel changes you. You start talking calculated risks. You start to trust people. It does not always work out the best. But you learn that the world is an incredible place and not everybody wants to hurt you. I had never quite said yes to life and therefore had always circumvented around its possibilities. Now that I had begun to accept it. Life started to change. I don’t know how. It was a night I would never forget. It was the best new year night for me so far. Yes it was not as dramatic as I had imagined but it was more than what I had expected. Besides I am still in touch with Deepak and Sanjana. What more could one ask?
I was scheduled to check-out at eleven hours the next day. We met a few travel agents around Sindhi Camp I asked where I could go from Jaipur. Someplace not too far and reachable in three to four hours.
He said – Pushkar and Ajmer.