So in between being chauffeured around the pink city by our newfound friends, we have also managed to squeeze in some more sightseeing in the past couple of days. Yesterday we made the most of our composite ticket and saw the Hawa Mahal and Jantar Mantar, as well as browsing round City Palace which is right close by.
Jantar Mantar was just as weird as I remembered it being – there is no other place in India where the expression on people’s faces as they walk around is one of confusion rather than awe. It’s basically a giant 18th century observatory: all these massive concrete structures are scattered around a big open square, and essentially each one just tells the time with varying degrees of inaccuracy. Kate was the only one of us who had any real idea of what the purpose of each thing was (mathematicians, eh), so the rest of us mostly just sat on a bench in the shade.
City Palace was next on the tour, and I definitely went there with an agenda in mind – to take some ‘Two Years On’ photos. Unbelievably, the same snake charmer guy who I’d had a picture taken with way back then was still there, still in exactly the same spot, possibly still with the exact same shirt on… Amazing. We also had an excellent first taste of Jaipuri shopping in a stall inside the grounds. Apparently they don’t get taxed because City Palace is a government building, so stuff is cheaper. Or that could be total rubbish that they spouted to make us buy stuff. Who knows. We had a great time though, tried our hands at haggling (I’m so off my game), and all came out of the shop rather pleased with ourselves. Tyler bought some girls’ trousers, Kate bought a sari for dumb people (i.e. already pleated), and Daniel took bartering to the next level when he offered to throw Kate into the mix if they gave him a better price. Such fun.
The Hawa Mahal was next (and last) on our list for that day, because Kabir and Suhan live nearby there. We accidentally got sucked into going into a jewellery shop before we went in – the owner bought our lunch for us and seemed nice enough – but we decided to go to the Hawa Mahal and have a think before buying anything. This turned out to be a good move because when we met the others outside they said that we should wait and go somewhere else. It also transpired that the guy had asked them if they wanted commission in return for making us buy stuff from him. Not cool.
So anyway we sped off in the car, with Tyler and Emma deciding to head back to the hostel instead, and went on a road trip to Nahargarh Fort. Both the boys said that this fort was their favourite place; that they always go there when it’s “nice weather” (i.e. grey sky and pissing it down). I’d actually never been there before, thinking that it would just be another Amber Fort or Agra Fort or Old Fort or Red Fort (there are quite a lot of forts in India), but I was pleasantly surprised. Once we finally emerged into the car park at the top, and released the breath we’d all been holding as Kabir careered round hairpin bends, pretended to fall asleep at the wheel, and used his horn instead of his eyes to look round corners, we realised exactly why they liked it so much. The view was pretty incredible: you never realise how big Jaipur is until you’re looking at it from atop a whopping great hill. Although it’s not exactly a pretty place, it’s still kind of amazing to see it all spread out beneath you. We clambered up onto the wall itself – some of us more gracefully than others – to get a better view (and for prime selfie time), and not for the first time felt incredibly grateful for life in general.
Eventually we had exhausted all the different camera angles, so went back down into Jaipur for some chai and some food. Mum has told me off for droning on and on about food on this blog, so I’ll just say that the food was great, and move on.
The next day we finished off the tourist sights, visiting the galta mandir – monkey temple – in the rain in the early afternoon, and Tyler and Emma went to see the Birla and Ganesh mandirs afterwards whilst we went off for a drive with Kabir and Suhan again. The monkey temple was (unsurprisingly) filled with monkeys, which were liked by some more than others (Daniel practically wet himself every time one of them so much as looked at him). We got slightly conned into making donations to various things on the way down to the temple complex – money for getting a bindi, money into a box for the lone cow standing in the corner, and one woman seemed to literally be telling us to just give her some money. Definitely caught out by lack of religious knowledge and no Indian friends to come to our aid. We didn’t take any pictures because we couldn’t be bothered to pay the camera charge, and mostly just wandered from sheltered spot to sheltered spot, having gone from being uncomfortably hot and sweaty for every day up until now, to being uncomfortably wet and sweaty.
That being said, we still enjoyed it there – the temples are pretty impressive (say it with me, better from the outside), and Tyler got the opportunity to make his best (worst?) Dad joke yet: we spotted a cow chowing down on a page of newspaper and Tyler wittily remarked that he was “digesting the week’s news”. Groan.
We made the long hike back up and then down the hill, stopping outside, but not going into, the neighbouring Sun Temple (we’d had enough of making donations to ambiguous causes). Shortly after that we went our separate ways: Tyler and Emma went to wander round the market, and we went to tear up the streets of Jaipur in Suhan’s car some more. On our way back from the Galta Mandir we stopped off at Amargardh, the slum community that I used to work in. Suhan obligingly came with me to the school to act as part translator, part bodyguard, and I was very happy to see Maduh Gee, the headteacher, again. I would have liked to go round and see if I could find the girls I used to work with and see how they were getting on, but I didn’t know how appropriate that would be, and I didn’t like to leave the others waiting in the car for too long. We stayed long enough for a chat and some chai, and then drove away, my curiosity at least partially stemmed.
We then went on a long and fruitless search for a cheap yet empty swimming pool, but after the second option failed we thought we’d just go for lunch instead (bearing in mind it was about 5 o’clock by this time). We’d arranged to meet the others at the Hawa Mahal at 6.30, so we scoffed our food and left, wonderfully, deliciously full. I had been hoping to meet my friend Rakhi, who was on the ICS programme with me, as well that evening, but unfortunately that plan didn’t come to fruition – and I’m not yet sure quite why. We waited about for long enough that it probably wasn’t a case of Indian timekeeping (i.e meet at 6.30 means starting to think about setting off at 6.30), and then went for a browse of the market. Kate finally bought some Indian shoes of the sort she’s been after since we got here, and hasn’t stopped mincing about in them since. She got them for a really good price, too, because Suhan and Kabir’s mates seem to run the whole of Jaipur. They knew the guy who owned the shop, and another one of their friends from the party the other night popped in to say hi as well.
After we’d had our fill of shopping (by this point I’d pretty much lost the will, I was tired and ill and losing my voice) we went on a swift chai run, and then headed back to the hostel, the first time in ages that we’ve got back at quite a reasonable time. It was definitely good to have a bit of time to chill out. Dan finally did some washing and informed us of the worrying fact that he’s only used 4 pairs of boxers so far this trip.
Just as we were starting to get ready for bed we were startled by the sound of multiple litres of water pouring onto the balcony outside our room. At first we thought it was just our first proper experience of what the monsoon really is, but it transpired that it was actually the water draining away from the ‘swimming pool’ (aka water tank) up on the roof. All the hostel workers were running in and out of our room for a good 45 minutes trying to sort it out, but to be honest I quite liked the idea of our balcony filling up with water – wouldn’t mind having our own personal swimming pool.
We’ve all grown quite attached to living in a hostel now; we like how sociable it is, how we have basically our own room, and the simplicity of it. I mean, Kate and I still haven’t figured out how to make the showers go hot (and it’s too late to ask now, 4 days into our stay), and the air con in our room is almost painfully cold, but it’s been a good way of making us all a bit closer as a group. Most of us didn’t really know each other before this trip, but we’re now comfortable enough to fart in front of each other. Not that I’m sure that’s a good thing.
I think none of us really want to leave Jaipur at this point. Partly because we’re having a great time, partly because we’ll miss the people we’ve met, partly because the hostel feels a bit like home… and partly because nobody is particularly thrilled at the thought of our imminent 14 hour sleeper class journey to Gorakhpur. I keep insisting that it will be an adventure, but somehow this doesn’t seem to fill anyone with enthusiasm.
I say if it makes for a good story, it’s worth doing.