20.01.2016 - 21.01.2016
Another pre-sunset start for us on our second day; we got up at 6am to catch a local bus to Jaipur, the third destination in the Indian Golden Triangle and our first venture into the state of Rajasthan. To gear me up for the journey I got a trusted masala chai for 5p from a street vendor who told me I was rich of heart.
Traversing the 250km from Agra to Jaipur took around 6 hours and the coach was pretty comfortable. The seats reclined to a decent angle, there was plenty of leg room and as far as we could tell, no insect infestations, rabid dogs or faeces; which left us questioning our preconceptions. The only annoyance was the broken power socket just beside my knee; essentially a hole to the outside, that smacked my legs with cold, polluted air for the duration of our journey.
As we approached Jaipur centre, a group of young men took a liking to Lauren and I and felt the need to wave and wink at us through the window. One particular floppy-haired Indian fellow eagerly chased the bus and continued to wave and wink at me. I briefly considered the opportunity for an Indian sperm donor but luckily I came to my senses and realised he was a bit too short for me. I want tall, foreboding offspring to fight off any killer-robots that may be manufactured in the future.
We arrived at Jaipur Inn and we all gasped with glee; a home-stay with a very relaxed, homely, boho feel. Our eyes were treated to brightly coloured Indian glass, tiles and textiles and a warm, open atmosphere. Another treat was the weather; the temperature increase from Agra was palpable - up by 6 degrees. We couldn't quite discard our long sleeved tops and trousers just yet though as modesty (in both clothing and actions) was still expected, particularly around holy and spiritual sites. So as before, knees, shoulders, cleavages and (with difficulty) potty-mouths were to be concealed. We enjoyed a light lunch at the Inn's café and made our way out into the colourful streets. With Raj leading the way, we negotiated the diverse markets, avoiding the aforementioned menagerie, the deep and irregular gutters, the unknown smelly puddles and the begging children. The vibrancy I’d always associated with India but hadn't yet seen in Delhi and Agra was now pervasive; the spices, the kites, the machinery, the buildings, even the horses were vibrantly decorated.
After posing for a few photos with some locals (our pseudo celebrity status is quickly becoming apparent), Raj took us to a rooftop where we watched the sun set over the hustle and bustle of Jaipur's traffic. We spotted an elephant join the busy carriageway and then make its way onto the wrong side of the road. The drivers did an amazing job at avoiding it, mind you I think if I was driving a tuk tuk and an elephant appeared in front of me, I'd give it a wide berth too.
After a quick stop at a lassi shop, four of us head to the local cinema Raj Mandir to see the epic period blockbuster Bajirao Mastani. Of course the film was entirely in Hindi but the musical score, energetic dancing and classical acting (along with Raj's occasional translation for the complicated bits) made for a comprehensible plot, and oh did we bloody love it. The film was over 3 hours long (why scrimp on the good stuff) and had an interval for us to visit the urine-scented wash-room and get ripped off for some refreshments (almost).
Feeling energised by our first Bollywood experience we briefly forgot the sore throats, aching heads and tickly coughs we'd been fending off. We met back up with the group for a late dinner in a local restaurant that only serves thali. Thali is a round platter with a selection of small different foods. An Indian tapas or mezze if you will. The food was, as always, delicious and probably the spiciest meal we'd had to contend with thus far, which actually helped our sinuses. That evening we both had little to no sleep which I am blaming entirely on Lauren's angry, relentless cough.
We woke up on our second day in Jaipur feeling like shit; both nursing full-on head colds. But, the tour awaited and we certainly weren't going to waste our day moping about (as much as we might have wanted to). Raj introduced us to our tour guide for the day who's name sounded like (but definitely wasn't) Delipsingh, so we naturally monikered him Lip-Sync. On our way to the Amber Fort, we had a quick photo-stop at the Hawa Mahal; basically intended as a massive tinted window, built in front of the palace so the royals could watch what was happening on the street without anyone seeing in on them. Bunch of peeping Toms.
The Amber Fort itself was another impressive defensive structure and UNESCO World Heritage Site that started being built in 967 BC and then was continually built-on and renovated right up until the 18th century. In and around the fort were plenty of cute puppies, goats, elephants and a Trafalgar Square-esque volume of pigeons. The fort had some amazing sights to behold, my personal favourite being the ancient wheelchair that the wives would use if they were too tired to walk around (to be fair their opulent outfits alone weighed over 2 stone). On the walk in and out of the fort we were mildly harassed by touts selling what we called 'crapestries', wooden stamps, puppets, weird hats and fans. They shouted things like '10', 'two for '20' 'only 10' but Raj told us that they meant dollars and not rupees.
Next we stopped to look at the Jal Mahal aka the water palace which unfortunately you can't go and visit, but you can peer and wonder at it from the mainland. We also got to see some funky coastal birds that Lip-Sync named for us (obviously I've forgotten them all).
Well and truly Mahal-ed out, we next visited a cut and finish workshop downtown where precious gems such as amethysts, rose quartz, emeralds etc. are graded and filed using manual processes and machines. After watching some of the artisans hard at work, we had a snoop around the jewellery shop to see some of the finished work. Although tempted, Lauren and I and our not so glamorous state of beings didn't buy any shiny things, but Mona purchased an amazing multi-stone ring that Elizabeth Taylor would be proud of.
We were then taken to see anther famous Indian craft; block printing. This is where handmade wooden stamps with vegetable based paints are used to print patterns both simple and elaborate onto a whole range of materials. We watched the craft in action and then some of us got our clothes adorned. Lauren was wearing my yellow shirt (now infamous in our group) and had one of the breast pockets printed with an elephant. Once again we were escorted into the shop to see a whole range of block-printed clothes, sheets, table clothes, pillow cases, throws etc. The gentleman who I'm presuming ran the whole show gave a very impressive sales pitch and we made all the right noises at the goods exhibited. I even ended up loosening my purse strings and buying some silk pyjamas.
It was at this point that I really felt like someone had smacked me over the head with clay pot so our tour-mate Jack very kindly passed me some pseudo-ephedrine to perk me up. Which did just that and gave me a real spring in my step for a few hours. Ahhh drugs. After a buffet lunch (hot toddy for me thank you - mixing alcohol with strong medication is a great idea), we had a siesta and were rudely awakened by a wedding procession outside in the street. A very loud mini orchestra of drums, tubas, trumpets and god knows what else led an army of brightly dressed Indians through the roads of Jaipur. And by the looks of things the wedding party had taken some pseudo-ephedrine too as they were all dancing like maniacs; both the youngsters and the old folk were really giving it some welly. Not one boring great-aunt Beryl in sight.
Now fully awake we walked up to the hotel rooftop where some of the group were finishing their Bollywood dance class. We were both a little annoyed that we didn't do the class but we thought the group wouldn't appreciate being sprayed with snot at every gyration. A little while later after working up an appetite we went to a posh-ish restaurant called Sheeshas where I had a delicious spicy dahl meal. We ended the jam-packed day by climbing up to the top of the building and watching some fireworks over Jaipur's cityscape where we ended up arguing over whether the disc-shaped skyscraper opposite was in fact a rotating restaurant or not. Jaipur; you've been legendary.