Ok so this is a pretty long one, but I promise if you stick it out and read to the end you will find a funny story!
We spent two days in Jaipur, and the first was a lazy day of planning (what can I say, the wifi pinned me down). In the afternoon we ventured out to visit Vodafone, where I got Beth and I set up with a SIM card for one of Taylor’s extra phones, so we can access maps and Trip Advisor if we are without wifi, and it has proven useful for getting in touch with our driver and travel agent. From there we walked towards the market. None of the auto-rickshaw drivers could believe that we actually wanted to walk! After a couple of weeks of time spent on planes, trains, and sitting in cars, we needed to stretch our legs a bit. We stumbled upon a watch and sunglasses store where Beth got her sunglasses tightened, and I got my first pair of real Ray-Ban sunglasses! I justified this purchase in several ways: a) the large nosepieces of the sunglasses I had brought were giving me zits, b) they were so big I was going to get huge raccoon-eye tanlines, c) they hurt behind my ears, d) the new ones I bought were cheaper than I could get them at home, and e) they are polarized! So many good reasons!
After shopping, wandering, and snacking, we went to Chokhi Dani, described to us as a “Rajasthani Cultural Experience.” Well, it was an experience alright! We were greeted at the door by a young girl and boy who marked our heads with red powder and rice, then waved us on inside. After paying admission, we entered the main area.
I’m not entirely sure how to describe this place… it was part cultural show, part theme park, part carnival, part India-Disneyland. The grounds were filled with small pavilions and stages, displaying every sort of activity from dancing, fire-breathing, tight-rope walking, magic tricks, a puppet show, and elephant, camel, donkey, and cow-drawn carriage rides.
All the employees were dressed in traditional Rajasthani garb, the women bedecked in jewel-encrusted saris, and the men sporting turbans and loosely-fitting shirts and pants. Not sure where to start, we grabbed some corn which was rubbed in lemon, salt, and chili powder. My lips were burning with the heat – both temperature and spice!
As we wandered past the corn stand, things started to feel weird. We couldn’t help but think about the tent city we had seen on the other side of the highway on our way in…. how many people employed at Chokhi Dani lived there? And why did the fire-breather smell distinctly of gasoline? As soon as the tight-rope walker fell off, Beth and I were ready to move on.
Our dinner consisted of a complete meal of various dishes, breads, and dessert of condensed milk ice cream. The spread placed before each of us was more than I could ever eat in one sitting, but what I tasted was delicious. After dinner we wandered in a maze, and did some shopping at the market, where we found some beautiful thread-covered bangles. As I’m not usually a fan of bangle bracelets, these were a nice and soft alternative. If you’re really in to bangles, don’t come to India, because you will leave with an empty wallet and a bag full of bracelets! I’ve definitely seen thousands in my few weeks spent here.
The next day we got up and moving much earlier, making our first stop the Amber Fort. Since being in Rajasthan, we’ve seen many forts, as the area is known as the Land of Kings, and these kings often commissioned these projects to create jobs in times of drought.
The Amber Fort was a great place to visit because unlike many other historical places, most of the grounds are open to exploration. We climbed narrow staircases, and peered in all the nooks and crannies.
The architecture and decoration once again drew me in and I took tons of pictures.
On the way back from the Amber Fort we stopped to take pictures at the Lake Palace, of which half is below water. No one is allowed inside, which is too bad because a boat ride out there would have been fun!
Our driver then took us to a “textile factory”. We saw a demonstration of how they make hand-printed, vegetable-dyed fabrics. While the process was interesting, and the fabrics beautiful, there was no way that all the textiles in this store were produced in the tiny workroom.
We had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant in the heart of the old city. You can see now why Jaipur is known as the Pink City, as all the buildings are a salmon-shade of pink!
We wandered the market afterwards, and ventured into the back-alley textile shops. I knew we had wandered out of the tourist zone when people stopped inviting us into their shops. I’ve never seen so much fabric in one place as I have in India, and the colours are always vibrant.
Our final sight-seeing stop in Jaipur was the City Palace. Despite our best efforts, we had walked the wrong way for about 15 minutes, so we succumbed to the offers from the bicycle rickshaw drivers and had them take us there.
I was pretty tired at this point in the day and was feeling some sightseeing fatigue, but took some nice shots of the Palace and checked out the textile and arms museums.
That night we were set to depart Jaipur for Jaisalmer on a 12-hour train, so we made a good meal a priority. The rooftop restaurant we went to served me one of my favourite meals so far: tandoori chicken! After eating so many curries, and rich, saucy dishes, it was nice to bite into a chunk of roasted chicken. The thunderstorm cut our meal a bit short, but it was still one of my favourites so far.
Jaipur, however, wasn’t one of my favourite places. While the tourist sites were very nice, the city itself was very congested and EVERYONE honks their horns, constantly. This is common in India, but I’m still adjusting to the fact that horn-honking doesn’t mean road rage, as it does in Canada. Jaipur is also a common tourist destination, so there are hordes of people trying to sell you stuff.
Our trip out of Jaipur didn’t help… while waiting on the platform at the train station we attracted the most stares yet, none of them friendly. We braced ourselves and boarded our sleeper class car (for those who don’t know, sleeper class is one of the lowest classes of rail cars in India… a consequence of not booking early).
Taylor, Julie, Beth and I were booked into lower and middle bunks. By day, the middle bunks hang down to form a backrest for the lower bunk. By night, they are raised up and everyone packs in like sardines to sleep.
To our surprise, there was an entire family sitting in our seats when we boarded the train. Some pretty ridiculous communication ensued…
“Excuse me, I think you are sitting in our seats.” Response: blank stares.
“Number 1, 2, 4, and 5 are our seats.” Response: family invites us to sit with them. “Where? There is no space.”
“These are our seats. Are they also your seats?” Response: India head bobble, indicating yes, no, or maybe.
“Can we see your ticket?” Response: they finally got up and moved.
This was just the beginning. Many of our neighbours were staring at us rather intensely (we’ve since learned to ignore these – but it’s challenging when someone is staring every time you wake up). Beth, Julie, and I settled in and tried to sleep while Taylor kept watch for a while. After a few hours, Beth woke up with a man sitting at the foot of her bed. Taylor managed to shoo him away. An hour or two later, Julie woke up with a man sitting at the foot of her bed. Another hour later, after having moved to a lower bunk as lookout, Taylor woke up and someone was sleeping in his bunk! The last straw was when we woke up yet again to ANOTHER family sitting at the foot of Julie and Beth’s beds. More ridiculous communication.
“Excuse me, these are our seats.” Response: head bobble.
“You’ll need to move to your own seats.” Response: head bobble.
“This is my number (Julie gestures to seat number), what is your number?” Response: head bobble.
“We are trying to sleep here, on our seats.” Response: “yes, yes, ok,”
“No! Not ok!” Response: head bobble.
“NO. NOT OK!!! YOU NEED TO MOVE!” They finally moved.
Needless to say, this was one of the most trying experiences we had in India so far. Finally, the sun rose and we rolled into Jaisalmer. Exhausted and ticked off, we set off on our next adventure, and eventually managed to laugh about the whole experience.