9th Feb 2010 - 10th Feb 2010
India (Part 2): Jaipur & Dodgy Roads
Day 4 – Jaipur & The Amber Fort
Today started with a traditional breakfast. Or, more accurately, was made up of a couple of traditional breakfasts from different parts of the world combined in a non traditional way. Porridge and pakoras. Yum.
First stop today was the Palace of the Winds. This is a bizarre, almost 2-dimensional structure which is 5 stories high but extremely thin: it looks a bit like a film set from the side view. It was designed for the ladies of the City Palace: all the windows are all shuttered so that they could observe life in the City without revealing their faces. Being so thin, it probably also provided a safe haven to allow them to escape from the frisky 250kg King whose huge shirt we saw yesterday. No idea why its called the Palace of the Winds though.
From there to Amber (pronounced amer, silent “b” according to Lonely Planet. No idea why, seems a bit silly to me) to visit the magnificent Amber Fort. This was the original capital of Rajasthan before the guy who built the Taj Mahal moved the capital to Jaipur. To get there, we took the cheesy tourist option and ascended the hill on the back of a painted elephant. Yes, really. Not the most comfortable ride, but you get a great view and there’s something quite cool about arriving in a huge fort on elephant back. The fort itself is quite magnificent; it’s a huge sprawling construction with a myriad of passageways, staircases and rooms. There is a turn after every single door, so that no-one could peek into any room. Without our guide to show us round, I think we’d still be there; Hampton Court Maze has nothing on this. Some of the architecture and decoration is quite amazing and there were great views of the surrounding city and countryside, including the second longest wall in the world. You know the longest (and if you don’t, look it up).
On the way back, we visited the obligatory carpet shop and jewellers, to allow the shopaholics in our group an opportunity to waste money on pretty things that look nice in India but will inevitably sit gathering dust in a cupboard for all eternity. Being a hardened non-shopper, I sat outside watching the world go by and taking photographs, safe in the knowledge that while Becca had gone inside, I had all the money safely in my pocket.
Becca and I then spent the first part of the afternoon walking through the various markets and bazaars in Jaipur. I love doing this when we visit new cities, you get a real feel for a place. The colours, sights, smells and general hustle and bustle were fantastic, and the whole place was full of smiling faces. As always, people try and sell you stuff, but here a “no” is generally greeted with a smile and acceptance and you don’t get the perpetual hassle of other parts of the world. We also passed the old city gates; the old city of Jaipur is walled, and entirely painted pink (hence its nickname, the inventive “Pink City”). This is a tradition that started in 1876, when the Maharajah at the time painted everything pink as a sign of hospitality to mark the visit of the then Prince of Wales. It looks quite cool.
The rest of the day before dinner, we just spent relaxing. Becca indulged in her favourite pastime (sleeping) while I read my book sat by the pool, and again later in the hotel bar with a beer while the resident musicians played (a sitar and drums – very chilled).
Day 5 – Jaipur to Agra
Today was the first big driving day and therefore our first real experience of Indian roads. They can only really be described as slightly mental. Well, really mental actually. Although that’s coming from a European perspective where we are used to more discipline. The rules of the road here (if there are any) appear to be mere guidelines at best, to be followed only when convenient. A few of our experiences from today’s trip:
• If there is a barrier between lanes in a dual carriageway, it seems acceptable to go the wrong way until there is a way of crossing to get into the correct lane. The first time we experienced this, we were in the same outside lane as a truck coming the other (wrong) way at speed. There was a collective intake of breath from everyone as the apparent game of chicken drew to a conclusion, but our driver sensibly decided to swerve at the last minute. Fortunately the truck didn't swerve the same way. What fun. However, you soon get used to it and by the third or fourth time this happened, I was feeling quite blasé. Our driver was quite old and wrinkly, so he obviously had well honed survival instincts.
• It soon became apparent that wing mirrors are an inconvenience to be avoided. After all, they make your vehicle wider, meaning that you cannot get through those seemingly impossibly narrow gaps. And, who needs them when anyone coming up behind you will inevitably blare their horn to let you now they are there? Virtually every vehicle we saw had mirrors that were either folded in, or had been knocked off (deliberately or otherwise, I cannot say).
• We passed a wedding party. This consisted of two open-backed trucks – one crammed with about fifty people in a range of wonderfully bright clothes and big smiles, but no apparent room to move, or even breathe. The second was full of all sorts of furniture, with a bloke sat on top holding it all in. This was the dowry being transported to the ceremony.
• Cows have right of way. In Hinduism, they are a holy animal, and it’s considered very bad form to hurt them. They seem to know this and so pay no attention to traffic whizzing by as its swerves round them. Elephants also have right of way. I don’t think that this is a religious thing – its more that they are very big and very slow and will always come off best.
Anyway, the point of the journey was to get to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. It took about 7 or 8 hours in total but this included a couple of stops on the way. The first of these was at Keoladeo National Park, which is teeming with birdlife. We hired some bikes and spent a merry couple of hours pedalling around and looking at wildlife. The bikes were a little strange, with very low handlebars close to the seat so you end up sitting up dead straight with your arms at waist level. It took me a minute or two to get my balance but then all was well. We saw a plethora of brightly coloured birds as well as some antelope, and it was nice to stretch out legs and get a bit of exercise.
The second stop was at Fatehpur Sikri, which is an old fortified city that the capital of the Mughal empire in the late 16th century. However it was abandoned after only fifteen years as the water supply was dodgy. You’d think that’s the sort of thing you’d check out before spending 10 years building a city, but apparently a prophecy is far more important than mere water supply when deciding upon the location of a capital city. Anyway, it’s amazingly well preserved, and is now a World Heritage site. It has got incredibly detailed decoration on the walls, and the red sandstone makes it very photogenic in the afternoon sun.
Not much to report about dinner. I had my first (and thankfully only) dose of Delhi Belly, so didn’t eat anything. Becca had curry, which may not surprise you. We then had an early night in preparation for tomorrow’s early morning visit to the Taj Mahal.