21.11.2012 - 23.11.2012
Leaving Agra we were to take a 'local bus' for a 6 hour journey to Jaipur. We were all a little skeptical as to what six hours on a local bus would entail. I had visions of being packed amongst goats and chickens with my 20kilo backpack on my lap. The reality was not so bad - we had a seat each, there were no farmyard animals, the bus was mostly full of travellers and there was even a/c (in the form of windows that opened). Not bad as I believe the tickets were under £3 each. It was another early start however I managed to keep my eyes open for a short while. As we beeped our way out of town we passed a 'pond' (stagnant pool of black water and litter) around which several people, both children and adults, were taking a morning dump, some deep in conversation with one another ... Christine likened it to arriving at work and immediately taking a poo next to your colleague... a pretty accurate description I thought. We passed fields of crops with the odd farm worker scattered about, many of them women wearing beautiful saris sitting in the 'India squat' position - perhaps not the most appropriate of outfits for farm work but it certainly made for interesting and colourful watching. After a short while I closed my eyes and attempted to sleep. It was rather challenging as the bus driver loudly honked his horn every thirty seconds or so. That being said, the journey passed relatively quickly and by lunch time we were checking into our next hotel, the Jaipur Inn. This hotel was a dramatic improvement on the last one - the room was large and clean with a big bathroom, a shower that worked, a 15 litre supply of hot water at a time (about enough for a 5 minute low pressure shower), free wifi and a lovely sunny roof terrace.
In the afternoon we took a cycle rickshaw to the old city driven by a guy with thighs about half the diameter of my own, we felt a bit mean when he started standing to cycle until we noticed that that was the norm. We took a brief orientation walk around Jaipur - a city with an estimated population of 6 million. Whilst still pretty chaotic, compared to Delhi it was a breeze. We visited a small temple outside of which 3 men sat 24 hours a day to take turns in continuously chanting. We had a wander around the old city market stalls (again the height of organisation in comparison to Delhi) passing a 4x4 that had got stuck in one of the narrow streets, a man asleep in the centre of a main street, seemingly oblivious to the traffic passing him by and several farm animals tethered at the side of the road. As it got dark we made our way to a rather grand old-school cinema (the type with a curtain and birds in the rafters) to watch the latest Bollywood release 'Jab Tak Hai Jaan' (http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/movie-review-how-jab-tak-hai-jaan-gets-romance-wrong-523771.html). Tickets, a drink and popcorn came to about £2 and we took our seats amongst both locals and tourists. The film was relatively easy to follow despite not having subtitles and perhaps helped slightly by the fact that Zahid had given us a brief outline of the plot before hand.
For three and a half hours (with a brief interval) we were entertained by bad lip synching, Indian dancing, loud cheers from the audience and some interesting scenes of London (for example Olympic Rings shown on tower bridge in '2004', a tube that terminates at Stanmore pulling into Charring Cross station and a rather round-about on foot journey to Neal's Yard going south across Millennium Bridge and then under Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner. Chelsea's Albert Bridge also seemed to lead directly to Hampstead and the top of Parliament Hill was portrayed as a convenient meeting place...). Whilst thoroughly enjoyable, it seems that Bollywood certainly knows how to drag out the entertainment as only after numerous possible ending points did the film finally draw to a close at about 9.45pm by which time we were hungry and exhausted. We made our way to Moti Mahal restaurant on MI road where, over good conversation, I shovelled down a pretty good Paneer Lababdar.
After dinner, utterly shattered, we made our way outside to the waiting rickshaws. These were quite a step up from the tin cans I'd travelled in in Delhi - Jessica, Ole and I fitted comfortably into one that had a star patterned roof, disco lights and loud music and we chair danced our way back to the hotel, racing the other rickshaws and at one point going the wrong way around a round about (why not take a short cut if yours is the last exit?!)
The next day we didn't start too early (up at 8.30) and the three of us hired an auto-rickshaw for the day (unfortunately not a party rickshaw like we'd had the night before). It was a pretty bumpy ride swerving around several pot holes (more like small craters) and over bumps - after a few minutes I began to wish I was wearing a sports bra! We wove in and out of motor cycles (at least here most people seemed to wear something that vaguely resembled a helmet (at least the adults did whilst children bounced around on the back, heads exposed - mopeds in India are a family vehicle). Ravi drove us to the Amber Fort, stopping briefly at the Water Palace on the way where we were asked by an Indian family if they could photograph us with their children. We passed an elephant on the way, the first one I've seen - I was pretty excited and leant out the back of the rickshaw to attempt a photograph but Ravi laughed at me and said there'd be plenty more of those at the fort. Once the fort came into view he pulled up so that we could take photographs. After a couple of attempts on various cameras we got at least one passable one (initially he held my camera upside down, on Jessica's he managed to snap just our legs and on Ole's the fort was in perfect focus whilst we stood blurry in front of it.
Arriving at the fort, we had the option of walking to the top, taking a jeep or riding an elephant. We chose to walk (about a 10 minute climb), grateful for the exercise and skilfully dodging the elephant shit. Whilst I'd like to take an elephant ride at some point, the elephants we passed on our way up looked pretty sad, their 'drivers' sat atop their beefy necks seemingly kicking them behind the ears for control. We bought a combined ticket for the fort and some other attractions we'd visit later and climbed up to the main entrance. Inside there were not many explanations of what we were looking at but there were some great views of the surrounding hills and other forts. We looked down over the saffron garden before following a sign (one of the only signs) marked 'latrines'. As we entered, the guard told us that this was the "kings toilet, must not use". I laughed and assured him that we wouldn't, assuming he was joking.the smell inside however told us that he was not, this was indeed a serious warning. After later visiting the public hole in the ground outside, I started to wish that I'd gone in the kings toilet too! We spent a while longer admiring the architecture, patterns and engravings before leaving. On the way out we stopped for a coffee admiring the view. It was nice to be able to sit somewhere calm and enjoy a drink as India so far seems to have a distinct lack of cafe culture, the locals instead preferring to meet and sit at the side of the road breathing in the pollution.
After the fort we found Ravi (who'd kindly waited over 2 hours for us instead of the promised one) headed back into town. Deciding against the City Palace museum, we visited instead the observatory, Jantar Mantar, home to the worlds largest sundial, where we looked at several astrological tools with little idea as to what they were and barely understanding the technical language of the explanations. Next we sought out the beautiful Hawa Mahal, or the Palace of Winds, a facade of a palace with a view over one of the main squares built for the ladies of the court so that they could observe the goings on below without being seen. It took us a while to find and Ravi pointed us in the vague direction so we could make our way through the maze of passages on foot. One in particular stood out, that I have henceforth named Shit Alley - a narrow rather smelly passage way with small suspiciously brown hand prints along the walls that led out to the main market place.
After Hawa Mahal it was time for lunch. En route I was pleased to find a shop selling decent single postcards. I bought several including one of Pushkar (our next destination - in case I was unable to find one there) and another of the Taj Mahal as I'd seemed to have mislaid the stamped one I'd written for my grandpa before managing to find a postbox to put it in. Our choice of lunch restaurant was called LMB, a vegetarian restaurant also famous for its sweets, recommended by both Zahid and Lonely Planet India. It seemed popular as there was a 15 minute wait for a table and it was busy with locals. During our wait we popped out for a spot of shopping. Both Jessica and I bought some more Aladdin pants (at £1.50 a pair (after a spot of determined haggling) you can't have too many!) and Ole enjoyed shopping with girls as he was left unhassled.
Lunch lived up to expectations, I ate a Mali Kofta (mashed potato dumplings in a spicy yellow sauce). At 3.30, full to the brim, we headed back out to Ravi and his rickshaw to visit the final destination of the day - the monkey temple. It wasn't as far as we'd expected and there were certainly a lot of monkeys around. It was another climb to the top and we passed several animals en route not just monkeys but goats and pigs as well - the vast majority of them seemingly rather frisky. A brief goat courtship ritual (from meeting to mating via a bit of kissing in under 30 seconds) led to some giggles (not immature in the slightest - animal sex is always funny) and one monkey inspecting another's bum also quickly turned into something more (they cuddled afterwards which I thought was sweet). The temple offered a great view over the city - walking around it had been hard to grasp how 6 million people lived here, even in cramped conditions but from above we saw that the city spread out as far as the hills in the distance, the famous 'pink city' distinctly visible at its centre. On the way back down I threw a rather squishy banana that I'd had left over from breakfast in the direction of one of the monkeys (no 'do not feed the animals' signs here) and he peeled it swiftly and efficiently. Then it was back to Ravi's rickshaw and the hotel - we successfully turned down his offers to take us to his friends' shops. Dinner consisted of a vegetarian thali (I had aloo gobi, daal, something yummy and mushroom-y and too much chapati and then it was time for bed. Next stop Pushkar.