2008- Entry 5: Jaipur to Delhi, India

The rain that greeted us the morning we started out from Agra dissipated before we reached the semi-arid region near Jaipur. We made a stop at the old fort, and yet another residence for Akbar and his minions, at Fatchpur Sikri. You are dropped off about 1 1/2 kilometers from the site because they do not want cars and taxis etc that close to the monuments. As I reached the road, I recalled that I forgot to ask which way to go to get there! Well, remembering one of my favorite sayings, “When you don’t know where you are going, any road will take  you there,” I  made a left on a hunch and started walking.

It wasn’t long before the “tour guides” descended on me! I settled on Jessip, his English was the best and I loved his whole affect—- about 30, clipped mustache, his black shirt buttoned to the top despite the heat, walking ramrod straight, a no-nonsense attitude,  and  he using his umbrella as a walking stick in such a fashion as to remind you of a British Raj!

The fort and mosque are made of sandstone and marble, as are most of the monuments in this part of India. It covers a fairly massive area. There is a section outside of the fort that is older and in need of reconstruction, but the structures have an interesting look to them. The most engaging thing about the monuments here is the residences of Akrar’s three wives. Goldilocks would have no trouble here—- wife number one had a comparatively huge residence; wife two had one somewhat smaller, and three had something like a 17th Century version of a studio apartment, albeit in a high-rent area! Don’t feel so bad for her though. Her apartment at one time was studded with jewels!

The huge mosque on the grounds was built to honor a famous seer who predicted that Akbar would have a son, which he later did. My guide tries to get me to buy an offering of fine silk cloth to lay at the tomb of the old seer so that he will look favorably on my request. I’ll bet he would! I somehow couldn’t shake the feeling that “fine silk cloth” would make its way back in the shop like releasing the caged birds in Thailand or the flowers purchased to leave at the feet of the Buddha in Luang Prabang! We moved on……. it also wasn’t happening at the mosque where sellers were hawking objects embedded with “semiprecious stones” that could have been plastic for all I’d know!

Jessip is vaguely annoyed that I want to walk back to the parking area rather than take the 5-rupee bus—— that also takes you right to the tourist souvenir shop! NO thanks! He’s been a good guide, however, so I gave him a good tip.

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When we left Fatchpur Sikri, we stopped to eat in this restaurant that boasted wonderful food at a good price. As I walked in, I was hammered by the searing heat—- despite the work of 16 ceiling fans, it was just this side of suffocating. The group of waiters seemed happy that someone had finally come in to break the monotony and ennui. There are just so many times that you can rearrange the table settings to look busy. I ordered peas paneer, vegetable samosas and nan bread. All, surprisingly, absolutely wonderful. I drank a bottle of water and a soda water to replenish after the walking in the heat of Fatchpur-Sikri.

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As you enter the 200+ year-old gate into Jaipur, you are immediately aware that this is going to be a different experience of India than you expected. There are the new and old parts of the city. We checked into the Jaipur Inn that is eclectic in decor with a hint of back-woods bungalow with tropical colonial embellishments. I actually love the place although that is not my immediate reaction to it.

There are about 20 New Zealander youths there doing research and trekking. I had to laugh. They descended on the morning breakfast buffet like locusts! I had to wait a half hour till the staff could catch up enough to have food available for the rest of us! Nice kids though.

The first night we are hit with a blackout that lasts about 45 minutes. The hotel manager is mortified! Not to worry, it’s all part of the experience of India.

Pradeep, my driver, and the tour guide, Ajay arrive at 8:00. As I sat in the car, Ajay said cheerily, “Now I have your whole day planned out for you. You just sit back and enjoy it.” I squinted an eye in his direction and handed him a list of places I wanted to see in Jaipur. It included his sites plus a few more, so not too much off the mark. Now this could have been a tragic meeting here, but by the end of the day we were good friends!

The Amber Fort is the most impressive structure I think I have seen yet after the Taj Mahal. It is a fort perched forbiddingly on a steep hill with a nine-kilometer wall that crowns the surrounding hilltops. No wonder the Moguls did not try to take this stronghold! You can go up the hill by elephant, but as I have done elephant rides several times before, we drive up to the top by a back route. The fort is a marvel of construction with every effort put into recycling and capturing all the available rainfall. It even had a water cooling system! Fresco paintings cover the walls—- the colors created with crushed precious and semiprecious stones. Imagine crushing up emeralds to create a base for the green paint! Now THAT is rich, Bill Gates! One of the Raj’s queens had a room covered in pieces of mirrored glass. When the candles were lit for entertainments, it must have been a beautiful sight!

I end up taking so many pictures here that by the end of the day if Akbar the Great himself walked down the street, I would have been hard-pressed to lift the camera to take the shot.

In the early afternoon, we go to the amazing Hawa Mahal. A tall pink with white trim structure in the heart of Jaipur. This overly ornate facade with all its windows and balconies reminds you of an immense pipe organ. The queen and her ladies would view parades from this building as they could not be seen in public.

We ended the day walking through the bazaar with its crowded streets.
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The next day we head out of Jaipur. You need more than two days here. You could easily spend a week in the city and environs. As we leave, there is a parade of sorts. They are celebrating the Hindu festival of Shivringa. All the young men participating are dressed in saffron-colored outfits and carry something resembling two small covered bowls at either end of a pole. They are in fact, WALKING nonstop to the city of Haridwar in the north to collect waters from the Ganges. When they return, they will pour this water over the rock at their local temple that symbolizes the oneness of the universe. Now, keep in mind from Delhi to Haridwar is about 120 miles….. so add about 100+ more from Jaipur!

Didn’t take too many more pictures from Jaipur to Delhi. I was feeling rather mellow and  just took it all in. Or maybe it’s just that the “oddity” that seems so compelling when you arrive, takes on a more familiar look when you see it day after day. Lots of truck stops with men repairing their vehicles, eating, sleeping on cots or bathing in the trough. Far too many areas of squatter housing—- domiciles made of anything available mostly plastic sheeting– makes Turkman Gate seem almost Beverly Hills.

Back to the Broadway Hotel for one final night. Unfortunately, arrive back in Delhi on Sunday evening, and all the monuments and museums are closed on Mondays! In a way it is OK. This way I’ll still have some places to visit when I return. Besides, I am just about monumented-out!

I take the last morning to return to the Lodhi Gardens. It was warm and shirt-soaking humid, but I couldn’t have cared less. I love those gardens. The rest of the day I spent wandering around Delhi with Pradeep looking for classical Indian music in the bazaar across the street from the entrance to the Red Fort. Even with the Red Fort closed, the streets are packed with cars and people. After a drop-off at Cannaught Circle, I walked back to the hotel one last time through the Turkman Gate area. Somehow the fetid smells do not bother me that much. In a way, I will miss them.

Off to the airport in the evening heading back to Bangkok. All along the route we see the Shivringa worshipers walking with their poles trudging on to Haridwar. Many walk silently, focused on one more step. So different from the chanting, high-energy dancing parades of young men we saw in Jaipur the day before.

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The last picture I take in India is of an old female beggar with a melanin disorder and, I think, severe cateracts in both eyes. Though her vision was very limited, she looked out at the world with a piercing gaze as if she were able to see the future. So many of her apparent ills treatable with the right channeling of resources— another personification of this exploding country.  I can’t help but think that so much of what I saw over the past week was the new taking over from the old. I saw living representations of life unchanged for literally a thousand years existing side by side with new road work or the construction of a  factory. And we know the direction this “progress” always takes. In twenty years this will be a very different country from the one I have journeyed through in my own limited way in my own limited time. I am glad that I had the opportunity to see it before it all  disappears. There were times when I took pictures with an inexplicable sense of urgency. Perhaps this is the reason why.

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