Saturday, November 19, 2011

Jaipur – The Pink City

Just one of the stranger occurences - open urinals
 right on the main drags in towns
We drove from Agra to Jaipur, a fairly boring ride, but on the way, our driver, Rampal, was always on the lookout for photo opportunities for Frank: camels, elephants, monkeys, a bus with as many people sitting on the top of the bus as were inside it, and other unusual things that you don’t see here in America. 
The groom and two of his buddies trot down the center
 of a busy highway on the way to his wedding
Jaipur is another large city with lots of traffic and the usual mayhem.  But we did see an odd sight:  three men riding white horses decorated with the most ornate and colorful saddles – riding right in the middle of all the city traffic.  Rampal explained that they were headed for a wedding.  Apparently in India, the groom makes quite a splash by riding to the ceremony on a fancy white horse!
The following day, our Jaipur guide, Amid, gave us the full sightseeing tour.  It is easy to see why Jaipur is called The Pink City – everything within the old city walls is pink.  Most of the pink color comes from the local building material, reddish pink sandstone, but even storefronts and metal garage doors are painted pink.
The Palace of the WInd
First stop was the Hawa Mahal, aka the Palace of the Wind, a graceful 5-story structure with 152 windows.  The sole purpose of this building was so that the royal ladies could observe the action on the main street from behind stone “screens” without being seen.   The building looks like a giant peacock with a rippled roofline and protruding balconies that look like “feathers.”  Once again, the peacock, the national bird of India, integrates itself into the action.

Frank and Anne head for the Amber Fort on "Bowwan," the elephant

On to the Amber Fort, a terrific site up on a mountain overlooking the modern city where we made a grand entrance on a gentle elephant named “Bowwan.”  Of course, the elephant ride was ridiculously touristy, but too much fun to resist.  Up to the top of the mountain we rode, nauseously rocking with every ungainly step that Bowwan strode. 
Anne checks out the Winter Bedroom
Inside, the fort/palace, a beautiful courtyard led to one of the prettiest rooms we have ever seen, the Maharajah’s Winter Bedroom.  Every inch of the inner room and the pillared pavilion surrounding it was covered with convex mirrors and small polished silver devices – a sparkling sight.  Amid explained that the floors would have been covered with colorful carpets and that lamps in the wall niches would cast reflections around the room, resulting in a dazzling effect like a kaleidoscope.  On the practical side, the mirrors were supposed to reflect the heat of the lamps to keep the Maharajah warm during the cold season.    
We also saw the “wheel chair” used by the Maharani at festival time.  Apparently, her best gowns were so heavy with gold thread and semi-precious stones that she couldn’t even walk under their weight, so she had to be pushed along specially built ramps in her rolling chair.   Another part of the palace was specifically designed by a Maharajah who had 12 wives.  His large courtyard held 12 identical apartments to house each of the women and included hidden passageways allowing him to secretly visit any wife of his choosing without the other women getting jealous.  What a guy!
Shopping in the handicrafts store
We made the inevitable stop at a handicrafts shop, but actually had a good time.  Shopping here in India is quite an experience.  They have shelves and shelves of all kinds of textiles.  If you show the slightest interest, things start flying off the shelves:  scarves, tablecloths, bedspreads.  One after another is spread dramatically before you, usually flipped up into the air so that it floats back to the counter.  “We have many colors.  If you like one, why not two or four or six?”  These guys are remarkably tenacious.  Frank bargained hard, so at least we didn’t feel as ripped off as usual.  Unlike the Chinese who love to haggle and make it a game, many of the Indians act peeved when they give in to our price -- which only means they are mad because they couldn’t get the usual 5 or 10 times the true price!
Frank standing in front of the world's largest sundial
Our last stop of the day was at an astronomical observatory called Jantar Mantar with an open air assortment of astronomical instruments including the world’s largest sundial.  Frank was fascinated by the scientific instruments, but disappointed that so many of the instruments were related to astrology.  Astrology plays a major part in arranged marriages in India, so plotting horoscopes correctly was a big deal.  (Today it is done via computers.)
The bizarre Nehru Bazaar
The following day was a “freebie day” (i.e., no tour guide) so we chose to devote it to shopping and massage.  Unlike the typical tourists, we wanted to visit the bizarre bazaars.  Our driver Rampal seemed quite hesitant about taking us but eventually dropped us off at the somewhat daunting Nehru Bazaar, with an expression on his face like he might never see us again.  The bazaar was rough and dirty, and we were the only white faces around, but everyone was friendly, and we had a blast.
Anne had scoped out a recommended Thai massage place called Ziva Spa.  The masseuses were all Indians (Thai-trained, the manager assured us) but the place was spotless with all the amenities: soft lighting, soothing music, and nice “pajamas” to wear.  Neither one of us could believe it when our hour of massage was over.  What a nice respite from the craziness outside.
Women sell gold marigolds everywhere for "good luck."
Let’s take a minute to talk about what we have been drinking.  (India can definitely drive you to drink LOL!)  Frank’s favorite beverage is Kingfisher, the only beer we’ve seen here in India.  He especially likes the hard-to-find “Kingfisher Strong” variety, which sports an 8% alcohol level kick.  But India also offers a wonderful assortment of fruit juices including mango, papaya and guava.  Iced tea and real lemonade are also good, but Anne’s favorite cold drink is something called a “lassi,” a liquid yogurt drink available in many flavors like coconut and banana -- very refreshing and good for digestion too.  Another favorite of Anne’s is Masala Chai, a hot tea made from spices like cinnamon and cardamom mixed with milk and sugar – like an adult version of hot chocolate.
The Indian Swastika -- symbol of eternity
The swastika symbol is a frequent sight here in India.  You’ll see it in architectural design, in paintings, and they are even painted all over trucks and tuk-tuks that you see riding down the road.  Of course, the swastika is a design used in the past by many cultures, and if you ask the Indians about it, they assure you that it is not the same swastika used during WWII, but a reverse twist on Hitler’s infamous emblem.  In Indian culture, this reverse swastika has always meant infinity or eternity.
More faces of India:
Cobra charmer at the Amber Fort

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