Wednesday, January 6, 2010


We arrived at Jaipur's train station in the afternoon. Our tuk-tuk driver seemed very nice and gave us his phone number in case we wanted to set up an all-day tour with him. He even had a little "recommendation" book that a few other tourists had written in, stating that he is, indeed, an awesome all-day tour guide. We never did get in touch with him again though. When we pulled up to the hotel I was surprised at how nice-looking a place it was. It was clean and well kept with a solid, un-chipped paint job and a green, grassy front lawn. I hadn't seen grass for nearly a month. Although the air in Jaipur wasn't smog free, it was much cleaner than in New Delhi. I could actually feel the warm sunshine on my back as I walked up to the building and it made me melt a little. Sunshine is one of those things that is thoroughly under-appreciated when you have a steady supply. And when it's gone you may not realize you even missed it until it's beating its warmth down on you again. Very nice. When they showed us to our room I was surprised once again. It was a nice big room with a big, comfy bed and a window offering a view of some green shrubbery. There was supposedly even hot water. The hotel-guy showed me how to get hot water. It was a very complicated process. I had to turn on the hot water knob to get hot water. Very tricky stuff. But once I had it figured out (I'm a quick learner), he gave me a very enthusiastic hi-five. He even shouted "Hi-five!" I was greatly amused. We took it easy for the rest of the day and and ate lunch on the sunny lawn that was conveniently set up with tables and chairs. Closer to evening we discovered the one downside to the place - the toilet. As you might have heard, they don't use toilet paper here in India. At least, it's not at all common. However, all the toilets we'd encountered up to that point had a nifty little attachment on the back of the bowl that sprayed water to clean you off instead. It works surprisingly well and we both agree that we haven't felt so clean after a trip to the bathroom than here in India. But this hotel was missing that little butt-sprayer, so we were forced to resort to... other, more direct measures. You catch my meaning? Ugh. This is why there is a little spigot and bucket next to every toilet. After all, you can't clean properly without a supply of fresh water. This is also why they really do use their right hand for just about everything in India. Shaking hands, eating, giving or taking money, giving or taking anything really. All done with the right hand. I think you can understand why, yes?

The 26th was Thanksgiving. We had no turkey, stuffing, or mashed potatoes and I was a little put out about this. But I suppose being in India on an extended "vacation" kinda makes up for it. We did call our parents on Skype to celebrate though. It wasn't actually Thanksgiving day in the States yet when we called, since we're off by about 11 hours. But it was nice to catch up with everyone quickly. We left the hotel around noon and took a tuk-tuk to the City Palace. The tuk-tuk driver was, once again, very nice and gave us his phone number with offers of all-day tours. Perhaps this is a recurring theme in Jaipur? The City Palace cost us a whopping 300 rupees, or $6.00 USD each to get in. It's funny how quickly your mind adjusts to the pricing range of whatever country your in. If I had paid $6 for an equivalent site in Europe I would have been praising its incredible value. But $6 in India feels somewhat closer to a rip-off. The City Palace was the old home of the Maharaja of Jaipur and is now contains a few small museums and is primarily a tourist hot spot. We first went into the textiles museum which had some really gorgeous examples of clothing that the nobles and royalty wore back in the day. You could see a strong East Asian influence in some of the pieces, and many were woven through with elaborate gold embroidery. They were really beautiful and I wish they had allowed photos inside. The weapons museum was kind of neat too. Some weapons had jade, or jeweled handles while others looked to be made purely for practical purposes. I loved the katars. Such a unique weapon. The Palace is also home to the world's largest silver vessels, Guinness Book approved and all. The two huge urns are about five feet tall and can hold 4000 liters each, apparently. But the most impressive aspects of the City Palace were the buildings themselves. Everything was painted a deep, burnt salmon color and had white trim. Lovely domes-capped corners and archways; delicate latticed windows; inlaid marble accents. It was pretty. The people who worked there were dressed in British inspired brass-buttoned tops and wore red turbans. While inside the textiles museum one of them came to offer us a tour (for a price of course). He started the conversation by commenting on how I looked like an Indian lady - I was wearing a short, turquoise dress over a pair of jeans with my Turkish scarf flipped over my shoulders. It was my attempt at a salwar kameez using my Western clothing. Then he smoothly segued into the tour offer, which we politely declined. After finishing with the museum we stepped outside, where we saw him one again. He offered to take a photo with us, which I thought was very nice of him. Here we had built up a little report with the guy and he liked us so much he wanted to be in one of our pictures! So Chuck stepped up next to him where they were immediately joined by another Palace employee. Yay, pictures for everyone! I snapped the photo. The man looked at Chuck and asked "You have something for me?" Ah, nothing in life is free, huh? Yay, tips for everyone! So we learned not to take photos with the guys who work there unless we were ready to pay up. After our little experience we saw a white family happily taking turns snapping a bunch of pictures with one of the workers and we laughed secretly to ourselves. Once finished with the City Palace we made our way towards the Hawa Mahal. We saw the tuktuk driver who had dropped us off just outside the Palace - turns out he had been waiting for us so he could take us to wherever we wanted to go next. Gah, I hate it when they do that! We certainly didn't ask him to wait, but I felt a twinge of guilt none-the-less. We told him we just wanted to walk around the Old City and he seemed mostly happy enough to let us go our own way. There was a snake charmer along the way and I had to get a photo. I had always imagined snake charmers as guys who sit around playing for their snake all day long, just because they liked playing tunes for snakes. But it's a job, and the charmers are working for money, just like everyone else. When they see a tourist approaching they whip open their reed-woven snake basket and start playing. The guy we saw was not hesitant with his snake at all. He lifted the top off as if it were something as innocuous as a bucket of ice cream (although I might have to contest just how innocuous ice cream really is) and the snake sort popped right up, staring at the guy as he immediately began playing his instrument. There was no sinuous scariness involved. Just a snake and a guy playing his flute-gourd. As soon as I took my picture and handed him a tip the snake was back in his little basket and the show was over. Looking back now, it was all so fast I can hardly picture it! The Hawa Mahal was an interesting building. It's where the noble ladies used to sit and watch the goings-on in the streets below without being seen themselves. While there we noticed a trio of white Europeans, one of whom was wearing a thin pair of strawberry-patterned pajama pants. I've found that in India I feel uncomfortable wearing very tight shirts that hug my figure, or form-fitting workout pants, and I am very aware of how publicly affectionate Chuck and I are. Hand-holding and kissing in public, even between married couples is uncommon in India, so I avoid doing it myself. Even though we draw a lot of attention just because we're white and different, I like to try and avoid drawing even more. So when other people - especially white people - are dressed in attention-drawing clothing I notice it a lot. I can't imagine how she felt comfortable dressing that way, and it was a very strange feeling to have because if I had been in Europe or the USA I think I would have just thought that she had cute strawberry-patterned PJ's on. And the way we notice foreigners is strange too. I almost feel racist, but whenever we see other white people we get all "Oh my gosh, white people!" We very rarely interact with or acknowledge each other, but we definitely notice them. It's so strange! I got some bangles from a shop just outside the Hawa Mahal. Silly me though - I didn't bother trying them on and it wasn't until that evening that I realized half of them were too small to fit. Having already noticed how much smaller Indian women are than me, you'd think I might have thought of this. Nope. We headed off to find food after that, and nearly walked into the courtyard of a grade school. Some motorcyclists were lounging around nearby and tried to tell us we were going the wrong way. We're so leery of trusting anyone in India that it wasn't until we actually saw the children running around that we realized they were telling us the truth. We had to walk past the group of motorcycle men as we headed back, but they laughed good naturedly and pointed us through a shortcut that led to the street. This brought us smack dab into the hustle and bustle of Jaipur's raging bazaar area. Everywhere we walked we were shouted at: "Only 100 rupees!" "We have many shoes!" "Look here in my shop!" "You would like puppets?!" "Where are you from?!" Along with the shouting the vendors would step into our path and shove their goods at us, hoping to entice us through brute force. Thankfully, I was in a good mood that day and was having a blast just experiencing the crazy atmosphere. There was clothing, quilts, shoes, jewelry, food, pots and pans, knick-knacks, puppets, gems and stones, keys, etc. I only stopped into one of these shops, and that was after I had walked down the road twice already. I didn't pick the place for any reason other than it was one of the last clothing shops and if I wanted a tunic-top it was now or never. Once we stepped inside the 8x10 foot space they drew a curtain between us and the busy street and started in. He began pulling top after top out of their clear plastic wrapping and unfolding them for me to see. I specified that I wanted long sleeves, so he narrowed his selection to just long sleeved tops. I finally asked how much a black one with a sequined neck-line was. My jaw just about dropped when he told me it was 800 rupees. That's like $16 USD!! Which is so funny because it's really not that much. But when in India... I told them I'd take it for 200. They pressured me and pressured me, trying to convince me that it was just such a good quality tunic and there were so many yards of fabric used, etc. When that didn't work they tried to get me to buy a cheaper top. Chuck, being the stronger of the two of us in this type of situation, saw that I wasn't into any of it but was unable to just get up and walk. So he took my hand and pushed his way through the dividing curtain (which somehow really does make you feel like you're not allowed to leave) and began walking. Seeing his chance at a sale of any kind disappearing, the shop-keeper quickly began dropping his price as he followed us out of the shop. He finally offered 250 rupees as we were about to cross the street. What the hey - 250 it is. So I got me a brand-spanking new tunic-like top for $5 USD! I like to think we did a good job on getting ourselves a good price, but who knows. At one point I stopped to take a photo of a great view of the Hawa Mahal and another a vendor commented on how I looked Indian. I wondered vaguely if they might consider this a bad thing, or just very uncommon as it was something that had been pointed out twice that day now. But I decided to take it as a compliment. Another person asked me if I was Australian. I figured that "Yes" was a good enough answer, given that my Mother is full-on Australian and asked how he guessed. He motioned at my arm and told me that it was "the dots." It took me a split second to figure out that he was referring to my freckles, which I found to be hilarious. I can't recall anyone ever having called them dots! I love it. I have lots of dots. Our next shopping experience was was in the much more relaxed food section of the city. I wanted to get some nice loose-leaf tea and finally chose a shop after walking up and down the street twice. He quoted his prices in kilos, and since I have no idea how much a kilo of loose tea ends up being, I didn't know how much to get. He showed us the kilo bag and I quickly realized that it was a ridiculous amount, so I went for a quarter kilo or so. He told us it would be 100 rupees and measured it all out using an old-fashioned balance scale. Then he charged us 150 rupees... What the hell?? Fine, we paid 150 but were not happy customers. Then he had the audacity to try and sell us a packet of chai masala for another 100 rupees. No way dude. Instead, we found the same amount of masala for 50 rupees at another shop down the road. Hah! We sure showed him. And in case you're wondering, chai masala is the spice mix that is infused in the typical Indian tea recipe. Usually it's a blend of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, peppercorn, and cloves. Boil this, milk, and you tea together to make some delicious masala chai. Starbuck's chai has nothing on the real thing. I love the tea in India! We were tuckered out from expending so much of our energy defending ourselves against aggressive vendors, so we made our way to the tuktuk area and found a driver. Chuck asked him to if he knew where to find something called bhang lassi. What is a bhang lassi? This is where I may get us into trouble, but here goes. Bhang is, according to Wikipedia, a "preparation from the leaves and flowers (buds) of the female cannabis plant." This preparation can then be used, among other things, to make little balls called golees or put into the yogurt-based drink known as lassi. Although marijuana is illegal in most of India, the state of Rajasthan said "No way man" to the Indian "man" and has continued to keep it legal. It's not only used spiritually, but also medicinally and as a sleep aid. I don't get the impression that it's often used to just "Get high," though. In fact, I don't get the impression that many people even know what it is. So we asked this tuktuk driver if he could take us to get a bhang lassi, and he obviously did not know what we were talking about but was unwilling to admit that to us. We tried another tactic and asked about getting a special lassi instead, as we read they are sometimes referred to as such. Recognition lit his face and he eagerly had us hop in his tuktuk and carted us off. He dropped us at an open front shop littered with broken, red, cone-shaped clay cups stained white with the dried residue of the thick lassi drink. We nervously order up two special lassis, not sure what to expect. They hand us each one of those clay cones, filled with the thick, white, sweet lassi. It's actually surprisingly good stuff! Very rich, not too sweet, and almost a little meal all by itself. However, we are 99% sure there is no bhang in our drinks. I still felt shady standing there on the road drinking what was supposed to be a cannabis-laced drink. It didn't help that a dirty woman and her pant-less child came begging money from us toward the end. We chose to ignore them, tossed our apparently disposable clay cups in the garbage oil barrel, and flagged down a rickshaw to take us back to the hotel for the night. I hate having to take bicycle rickshaws, but how can you tell the poor guy "No" and then take the tuktuk behind him? I'm sure he needs the money just as much as the next guy. He didn't know where our hotel was though, and stopped to ask an old man walking down the road. Chuck, being the polite fellow he is, thanked the old man for his help and shook his hand. This got the guy so excited and happy that he just started chattering at us, not even waiting to see if we understood, which we did not. I managed to pick out the word "jersey" which he repeated a few times through his beard. Our smiles and nods seemed to be good enough for him though, so he enthusiastically shook Chuck's hand again and we headed off. The rickshaw ride was just as guilt-inducing as expected. Our driver strained against the pedals, standing upright just to get more leverage. Traffic passed us by as we slowly made our way across town. He even had to get off and walk the rickshaw up a slight incline at one point. I felt awful. I probably shouldn't though, if only for the fact that as a lot of people don't really like pity. I can't help how my US culture colors my thoughts and feelings I suppose. But we made it back eventually! We stayed in for the rest of the evening. We discovered that one of the guys who works at the hotel speaks a fair bit of Japanese when he brought us the food we ordered in. He seemed to like to just start speaking to people in Japanese without any indication that they might understand him. All I know of Japanese is "wakarimasen," or "I don't understand" which I used a lot with him. He was fun! He tried to teach us some Japanese and we would promptly forget it. Very nice guy.

I tried to wake up super-early in the morning on the 27th so that I could call my Mom's and wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. At 5:00 AM India time, it's 6:30 PM EST, which is right when everyone would be enjoying the Turkey-Day festivities. But when the alarm went off there was no way I was going to be able to wake up - not even enough to just call them on Skype. I felt guilty about that when I woke up later in the morning... I couldn't even just call and say happy Thanksgiving?? Terrible family-member I am, huh? I think maybe they're all nice enough to forgive me for that though. I wore my new, 250 rupee top that day, hoping it was more Indian than my turquoise dress from the day before. The plan for the day was to go see the Amber Fort just outside the city. We had to search around and do some bargaining but we finally agreed on a price for the ride with a tuktuk driver hanging out near our hotel. 300 Rupees round trip. The ride out there was amazing! Not in an "Oh, it's so beautiful" way, but in an "Oh my gosh, I've never seen anything quite like this" kind of way. The road was incredibly bumpy and pot-holed, and lined with excessive piles of garbage. There were more stray dogs, cows, and pigs than I could count rooting through the garbage to find something tasty. Or edible. I've seen cows just eat pieces of paper in their hunger. Small herds of goats being moved down the street by their owners, a few roaming chickens, and some donkeys hauling bricks added to the already impressive range of animals that we saw. Then there were the typical sights: street carts with veggies or yummy cooked foods, people squatting or sitting in front of their home or a shop, just relaxing, other people working to sort out piles of rubble, one kid running around buck nekid. To be honest, I thought the ride was great! It summed up all things that I find so far out and strange about India quite nicely without that slum-y feeling. And at the end of the ride, once we were on the smooth stretch of road leading to the Amber Fort we saw elephants. Not wild elephants mind you, but ones with colorful painting on their faces and down their trunks, with a rider on top in a precarious looking basket. They lumbered slowly down the road, some lucky enough to have a branch in their trunk to play with. They were huge! Bigger than I was expecting. Sometimes we'd have to slow down in order to pass one and we'd get an up-close view of the way their loose skin pulled back and forth over the muscles underneath, looking almost as though it was draped around their body, unattached. And when they peed - as we were privileged enough to witness just once - it's as though someone turned over a bucket of water. It's doesn't stream out, it all comes crashing out at once in a big splash. Just thought I'd share that... At the Amber Fort I knocked my head on the short doorway leading through the front gate and got a bit of a chuckle from the onlooking hawkers. I admit, I was embarrassed, but I think I laughed it off adequately. I was also immediately distracted by the large languar monkey that was chilling on top of the garbage can just inside, not 15 feet away from us. He was picking through the garbage languidly as I got a few photos. Then he slinked (slunk?) down and sauntered out the front gate. Like the elephants, he was bigger than I was expecting - maybe the size of an 8 year old kid with extra-long limbs. He looked like he would probably win if you picked a fight with him. Very cool! The main part of the Amber Fort is at the top of a hill, which is great if you're a fort, but sucks when you're a tourist. Once inside we caught our breath and purchased tickets. The fort really wasn't very beautiful in my opinion. It seemed to be more a practical fort than a decadent one. Which, once again, is good if you're a fort, but not so exciting when you're a tourist. The prettiest section was the Shesh Mahal, or the Mirror Temple. Every inch of it was covered in thousands of small, round mirrors and tiles. I suspect that it makes lovely plays of light as the sun spills into the temple. Outside the temple I managed to knock down a young toddler on accident. I say it was all her fault though! She ran right into my leg, knocking herself over in the process. Then she had the gall to run crying to her Dad! But really. I felt so bad that I had knocked her over, and I didn't know what to do. I apologized profusely and I tried to help her back up as she started to cry, but luckily her Dad quickly took over. He picked her up and tried to console her, finally resorting to making exaggerated accusatory glances in our direction. He was sure to give us a smile when she wasn't looking though, as if to let us know he wasn't serious. At least I hope he wasn't... Other than the temple, it was mainly a labyrinth of narrow passageways and small rooms that we were allowed to explore freely. We didn't go very far through those, not wanting to get lost. Before we left we checked out the tunnel that led to another fort - Jaigarh Fort - to see the bats. It's dark so you can only see them if you have a flashlight or take a flash picture. There was a group of 4 or 5 Indian guys in the tunnel with us that were funny. One of them in particular seemed to be rather nervous about the bats. He would sort of run across each length of tunnel, ducking his head and laughing. I couldn't tell if they were just being goofy or if they were seriously scared that the creatures would come swooping down on them. Either way, it gave me a chuckle. Back at the tuktuk congregation point we stopped for a bite to eat. One shop had some awesome looking pakoras. Chuck got a chile pakora and I had an aloo (potato) filled one. He smashed it into the plate with his palm and covered it in a red and green sauce for me. In the US that would be a big no-no, but here it works somehow. I had no problem with his hands being all up in my food. So strange. And delicious - that was a good pakora. We stopped for a quick photo opportunity at the Water Palace and went back to the hotel. After a couple hours respite we decided to try the bhang lassi thing again. We had done some reading online after our last experience and had gotten some tips on what to ask for. We wanted to go to the government bhang shop. To our surprise, the guy who had dropped us off at the City Palace the day before was waiting for someone in need of a ride just down the road from our hotel. Well, I suppose it wasn't that surprising seeing as that's where we had found him the first time. We all remembered each other and greeted each other with happy recognition. We asked him about the government bhang shop and he knew exactly what we were talking about. All right! Our research had helped! When we tried to negotiate a price for the ride to the shop - because you always negotiate price before hand - he told us it would be a "friendly price." Hmmm, we were not sure how exactly we felt about this. Chuck tried to insist upon a price, but tuktuk-man insisted right back that it would be a "friendly price" or "whatever you'd like to pay" as he elaborated. Chuck definitely did not like this, but I was both loathe to be rude and interested in seeing what happened so we got in. There was a faint awkwardness in his movement as he pushed himself away from his position leaning against the tuktuk, and a faint odor of alcohol wafted past us as he scooted into his seat up front. Uh-oh. Then he handed back his Bacardi Breezer and asked if one of us could hold it. Hilarious! I know there are probably many people that would sit there and say "You should have said no and gotten right out," but we're in India! And it's a tuktuk and no one goes over 30 miles an hour and my calculations of the possibility that the worst scenarios would happen came out to be pretty low, so I took his bottle and held in my hysterics. After driving us to just a few streets away he stopped. "Maybe you can wait here with my friend and I will go get you the bhang lassi," he told us. When we told him we'd rather he just take us to the shop directly he said that they may not serve foreigners and that he should go ahead and get it for us. This was quickly becoming suspicious, but we said okay. I figured that talking to locals was what you're supposed to do while traveling, right? Here was a chance. We got out of the tuktuk and headed to a shop at the top of the steps we were parked in front of. As soon as we saw that it was a jewelry shop our suspicion deepened considerably. There is a well-known scam in India - and especially Jaipur - called the "gem scam." Jewelry shops and strange behavior seem like perfect companions for such a scam, so we were on red alert now. We took a seat in the small, sparsely filled shop and were introduced to two other friendly men. We were offered tea which we declined as politely as we could. We all tried to make small talk, although the Indian men ended up doing most of the talking - I often find that I have nothing I feel is worth contributing in some situations. When I did speak, I tried to use my hands a lot to emphasize my words. I read that Indian people, like Italians, are very expressive with their hands. I don't think I did a particularly good job. People came and went and we met maybe four or five men that night. One asked me why I was dressed like an Indian woman, and after I stumbled over my answer and giggled like an idiot he seemed to sort of dismiss me as not worth talking to and turned his attention to Chuck for the rest of his visit. We were offered tea once again and I decided to be polite and accept, although Chuck still declined. I drank slowly, and only after I saw that one of the other men was drinking his tea as well. Even then, I only pretended to actually take sips for a while. I'm so sneaky! After a while I got bored with this and just drank it. One man left and another took his place. We asked the newcomer about getting bhang in Jaipur. He told us there is a government shop and that it's really easy to just go up and order a lassi or a brownie. We specifically asked him if foreigners were allowed to go there and he said "Yeah, sure, it's no problem." Chuck and I glanced at each other knowingly upon hearing this bit of information. What was our tuktuk driver up to anyways? We hadn't seen him in 30 minutes, yet his tuktuk was still sitting where he had left it. We got into a conversation with that same fellow about how Indians think with their hearts and Americans think with their head. He seemed to think that the Indian heart-thinking was not that great a thing because it can easily land you in a bad or unprofitable situation. I pointed out that Americans thinking too much with the head is not very good either though. He eventually got bored with us and was replaced by yet another guy. He invited us to a party that night which we were in no way interested in going to. We told him that Chuck had to attend to some business online at 8:00, so we wouldn't be able to come. After a few minutes silence he asked "So, were you discussing business with Ali?" Ah-hah! I knew it! The trap is finally sprung! Business my foot. "We have an export business here," he started. He explained all about how there's a "loop hole" in the Indian tax laws that they can use to export gems out of the country. The idea is that the foreigner mails a few thousand dollars worth of gems back home as "gifts," thereby avoiding the hefty export taxes an Indian business man would have to pay. Then they fly you home to pick them up and deliver them to their contact that just happens to live nearby your home city - whether it be Alaska of Israel. The helpful foreigner is promised $10,000 in appreciation for his help. They can afford to give this much because they'll be saving so much money by avoiding those nasty export taxes. From what we read, as soon as the gems are in the mail they suddenly want collateral. One man's account claimed that when he refused to give them his bank account numbers they locked him in a hotel room for 3 days without food and water until he finally agreed. Of course, the gems aren't actually real and no one ever gets their $10,000 for being such great help. Instead, people end up being robbed of thousands of dollars and no course of retribution. But we were not going to be falling for that. We told him we weren't interested in business, that we had to go, and got up and walked out. We hailed another tuktuk but before we managed to talk to the driver, the half-drunk driver who had dropped us into this whole situation showed up wondering where we were going. He had been gone an hour "trying to get us bhang lassi," and suddenly pops up as we want to leave. Of course, he claimed he had just gotten our lassis and they were waiting for us. I don't think so. Chuck asked him to just take us back to the hotel. When he turned in the opposite direction we jumped out of the tuktuk in exasperation. Does he really think he still has a chance at tricking us into giving them a bunch of money?? For some reason we got in his tuktuk yet again when he promised he would just take us back. Luckily, he did. Outside the hotel he apologized profusely and claimed he had nothing to do with, and didn't even know about any "business." I'm 95% sure he was in on the scamming, but I honestly am not sure whether his apologies were a complete farce or not. He was very convincing. Either way, we were planning on avoiding him for the rest of our stay.

On the morning of the 28th we found ourselves peeking around the fence of our hotel to scope out the tuk-tuk situation. We saw one waiting for weak-willed tourists about a block away and hesitated momentarily. Dashing down the street in the opposite direction we managed to avoid any awkward confrontation, thankfully. We caught a moving tuk-tuk on the big road at the end of the street instead. Moving tuk-tuks are the best because the drivers aren't willing to stand around waiting for naive people to pay them triple to price for a ride. They're doing honest work for honest pay. A tuk-tuk pulled up and asked where we wanted to go. When we told him "MI Road" he just shook his head no in a zombie-like manner and drove off. What the heck?? I have to admit, I was a bit offended by this. I kept wondering if it was a personal slight - such as being white maybe? Funny to feel that way, but you can't help it sometimes when you're so obviously the minority and everyone stares at you. I chalked it up to being an issue with the direction. Maybe he was headed in the opposite direction of MI Road... But the next tuk-tuk was happy to take us. We had ourselves a delicious meal at a dirty, small restaurant. I got some mutton curry which was excellent. That mutton stuff is good. We saw a couple little roaches hanging out on the wall, but didn't find it nearly as revolting as we would have had we been in another country. The waiter was amusing, too. He seemed happy that we wanted our food spicy and was very grateful to us as we paid and left. We headed toward the Old City area to get a picture of its surrounding pink wall. Jaipur is called the Pink City because when the Prince of Wales came to visit in 1853 they painted the whole town a burnt-salmon pink color in welcome. No idea why they chose this color, but it gives them a nice story to tell. The wall that surrounds the pink Old City has seven huge entrance gates, each further painted in swirling pastel designs. So I wanted a picture, naturally. On the way we met some young Indian guys who chatted us up. After about five minutes of broken conversation they asked if we wanted to come to their house. Eeeps! I know in Indian culture friends tend to make it to the come-to-my-house stage much much quicker than in the western world, but that's a behavior I didn't feel comfortable breaking. We smiled and told them "Not today, we have to go see the Monkey Temple," and continued on our way. I felt a little bad at the slight look of disappointment that crossed one guy's face. Maybe they meant well, but I was too nervous at the idea to want to find out. I got my photo at the gate and then we grabbed a tuk-tuk to the famed Monkey Temple in Galta. We were dropped off at the foot of a hill, amongst a dirty settlement of concrete buildings. There were quite a few goats and cows hanging around, and a few people were selling bananas and nuts for the monkeys that would be waiting up ahead. Unfortunately, I talked Chuck out of buying any right then, assuming that there would be more sellers at the temple itself. It turned out I was wrong. But we made our way up the stone path that zig-zagged up the hill, keeping our eyes open for the monkeys. We were very aware of how alone we seemed to be. There were only 5 or 6 people in sight of us, which is very strange for India. Usually your pretty much surrounded by people. We saw a few monkeys dashing across the rocks just off the foot-path, but I was disappointed that they weren't hanging out en-mass. There was one that I deemed Old-Man Monkey. He was very pitiful looking, really. Just sitting there with his legs pulled up to his chest, his head buried in his knees, seemingly tuning out the rest of the world. Quite frankly, I think he was depressed! Poor guy. As we crested the hill, my monkey-wishes were fulfilled. There were about 20-30 of them hanging out in the path, or on the concrete wall that edged the path. Some had just been given bananas and were busily chomping away. There were a few young monkeys that were so cute! One was clinging to its mother's belly while he watched all his friends jumping and running around the rocks. We discovered they can be territorial when I suggested Chuck walk close to one. He flinched at first, unsure of what was going on. Then he lunged and swiped at Chuck's feet, making him jump back and sending a clear message. Good to know. After the novelty of the monkeys wore off we continued on over the hill and back down into the little valley that the temple is nestled into. It's a mystical looking place with a bathing area (the water is dirty) and a courtyard with a temple on either side. I had seen a sign before entering the temple complex stating that there was a camera fee that we would need to pay at the office, so I kept my eyes peeled for an office. I never saw one, but we were approached by an overly-charming young guy claiming to be the camera official. He whipped out a pad of authentic looking, carbon copy papers printed with proper-looking Hindi writing. He filled in some info and I paid him 50 rupees and hoped that I wasn't just scammed. We checked out one temple (forgetting to take off our shoes, whoops) and then the other across the way where a few "very helpful" people were congregated. One of the men began giving us a tour without our asking him to, and when we tried to stop him by saying "No tour no tour," we were assured it was fine because he was the temple priest or something. So we followed him and let him talk, wondering when he would be asking us for money. He took us back to a locked door and opened opened it to reveal a small shrine. He chatted on as he rubbed our wrists with a dab of sweet-smelling oil and marked our foreheads with a thin orange line of paint. This was apparently the appropriate time to ask for money. He pointed to a little dish at the feet of the of statue whichever God or Goddess the shrine was devoted to. Chuck dropped in a 50 rupee note, which I thought was rather generous of him, but the temple priest guy tried to insist that we should pay 50 rupees each. I told him that was all we had and apologized, although I was in no way sorry. He only objected once more before seeming to find contentment and led us back to the temple entrance. He gave us a chunk of...something as we left. I have no idea what it was and his hand signals weren't helping. We ended up feeding to the monkeys, which might have bee completely sacreligious of us, but had no other monkey food. The monkeys were everywhere just past the exit gate to the temple complex. They could be found on the sidewalk, barren lots, and the concrete walls and structures that surrounded the area. The ones that we fed were all very gentle and polite when taking food from us. Their little human hands with finger nails just blew our minds away. They're so human-like when you look for the similarities. We saw a couple of scuffles - mainly chasing accompanied by loud monkey-screams. I saw one mother monkey with a very deep gash in her thigh. It looked to be about an inch deep and you could see her muscle was split open too. She didn't seem to take any particular notice of it and just went about life as usual. I suspect it will probably kill her pretty quickly though. We had to fight off a tuk-tuk driver while feeding the monkeys - you're always having to politely say "No thanks" to some one when in India. When we headed back up the hill to leave, two 6 or 7 year old boys decided to latch themselves to us. When we stop for a break - which was really an attempt to see if they were actually following us - they sat down next to us on the railing, talking with each other as kids do. I tried to talk to them a bit but they spoke little English. When I found an unopened chewing tobacco packet on the ground and picked it up to show Chuck, I was sure they were going to use it once I threw it back. I suppose I could have pocketed it to keep it out of their hands, but I didn't. Sure enough they picked it up and tried to show us what it was. I kept making faces and saying "Yuck" in an attempt to show them my feelings on the matter. They ripped it open and poured the red tobacco in their mouths. Gross. Six year olds chewing tobacco. Whether I had dropped that packet or not though, I'm sure they would be chewing tobacco as soon as they could. These kids didn't appear to have enough of an education to learn even English, and God knows where their parents were. I doubt they'd be teaching them that "chewing tobacco is bad for you and can give you cancer" anyways. The kids never really bugged us, or begged though. They just followed us as they chatted with each other. We were also asked by three boys in their late teens if they could get a photo with us. That cultural difference between the sexes made itself apparent, as the boy sitting next to Chuck put his hand on Chuck's leg, while the boy sitting next to me made sure to not touch me at all. Chuck was a very good sport about it though, and didn't make any ballistic American-esque homophobic scene. I wish I had gotten a picture on my camera with them! I'm always so wierded out at being asked for a picture that I forget to ask the favor in return, though. We made it back down the deserted hill without any real problems and waited forever to catch a tuk-tuk on the side of the busy road. We decided to order in Domino's pizza that night for dinner, since our Japanese-speaking hotel friend also worked there. We were astounded at how expensive it is! It's pretty much the same price you'd expect to pay in the US. How does that work?

We went to MI Road again on the 29th. We liked the place we had eaten at the day before so much that we went back for more. They made it not-spicy this time, though! It wasn't nearly as good which was a bummer. Oh well, we still had one more day to try again. We got lost trying to make our way to a site called Jantar Mantar. It's an astrological park and is full of strange contraptions that track the time and planet positions and stars, etc. We ended up in a less-than-residential area of the Old City. By less-than-residential I mean that it looked as though people were trying to live where there aren't any actual homes. There were some chickens, garbage, clothes on lines, no apparent exit except the long road we had just wandered down, and more than a few curious people starting to look our way. I tend to like to think the best of people I guess, so when a little kid came running up to us and pointed down a long alley as the way back to the main road, I was ready to follow him. Chuck, however, was not and we decided to just turn around. I have no idea if the alley led to an exit - it probably did. But there's always that possibility that someone was laying in wait for people like us to come wandering through. I have to admit that the likely-hood of that being the case seems so small to me, but better safe than sorry. With a bit of help from shopkeepers we finally found the Jantar Mantar, thankfully. I was so on edge and annoyed by the time we got there that the first five minutes looking around the place were enough to make Chuck stop and set me straight with a hug. He's so awesome. When I was feeling better we took a look at all the strange creations. They were very large structures built into the ground and immobile. I had hardly a clue what each one did, and no idea how one would read them. But they were certainly interesting looking. The biggest one looked about half the size of a football field and supposedly could tell time to within two seconds. After 15 minutes there we tried to find a nearby temple but gave up after finding ourselves in a cow-patty strewn area that smelled of urine. So instead of temples, I try to find bangles. None of those either - everything was closing for the evening. Looks like the day is done for us, so we wave down a tuk-tuk and agree on a reasonable price with the elderly driver. As we near the hotel Chuck decides to offer him more money if he can take us to get a bhang lassi. We're still trying to get that stupid bhang. The guy - like so many before - acts as though he knows what we're talking about about, but it soon becomes apparent he doesn't. He tries to convince us to stay in the tuk-tuk when we arrive at the hotel, hoping he'll find someone to ask about the bhang lassi. There was no one to ask though, and feeling badly, we got out after a few moments. I could see panic and desperation in his eyes as he took the money we owed him for the ride, his mind working to figure out how to take us to the "bhang lassi" so he could make that much again. It was like we had dangled a carrot in front of him on accident and then snatched it back. I could see his regretful resignation settle in as he realized we had decided not to search for the lassi. I felt so badly after I saw that look.

We checked out on the 30th and left our luggage at the hotel while we went back to MI Road and the restaurant we liked so much. We made sure to ask for "spicy" this time and the waiter guy got that surprised look on his face that they tend to get when we ask for spicy. I suppose they expect white people to ask for non-spicy. It always makes me feel a little good inside to see that look. Almost like admiration. The electricity went out for 15 minutes while we were eating, but since the restaurant has no front wall there was plenty of light to see by. After lunch I took us to a bangle shop I had seen a few times as we passed by in tuk-tuks. I got 40 simple metal bangles, in six different colors, for 80 rupees. I thought that was pretty decent! Oh, and I made sure they fit this time. We had to bargain hard to get a tuk-tuk to take us back to the hotel. He only gave in to our price when we turned and walked away. He took us in an unusual direction through the Old City. When he stopped on the side of the busy road we were a little annoyed and wondering what was going on. After about three minutes of waiting we started to get out. He hurriedly told us "No, no no! I am waiting for a friend. Very quick." So we settled back in again, only to find we really didn't trust this guy and his friend, whoever he might be. So we did get out, against his protests. He didn't take us anywhere near where we had asked him to, so there was no need to pay him anything. We found a very reasonable older tuk-tuk driver that got us back to the hotel with no problems. We ended up giving him more than the agreed price because we were grateful to have found a fair and honest driver. Having to constantly struggle with drivers who want to take you to their shop, or want to charge you out the wazoo, or even make you sit around while they wait for their friend is annoying. We relaxed on the front lawn of the hotel until our train to Bikaner was due. We goofed off with the Japanese speaking guy who worked there for a bit. We would type things into Google's translator and see if he could read the Hindi or Japanese translation. I wrote a few Christmas letters. Chuck found some train and hotel information about one of our next towns. Finally, at 7:30 or so we grabbed a tuk-tuk to the train station. Since there was apparently no departure board we had to ask around to figure out where which platform our train was at, but people were helpful enough with that. Our train was pretty cool! I mean, it was still an old beast, but I think that's probably why I liked it. It felt like something that the English gentry would have traveled around in back in the day. It was an overnight train so we had booked ourselves in a sleeper car. Our two seats that faced each other folded down to meet in the middle and make a bed. Above that was the second bed where I slept. There were thick curtains that could be pulled across the whole sleeping space and they handed out sheets, blankets and pillows. We got to watch all the families around us getting ready for bed. I remember being amused by one woman who was brushing her daughters waist-length hair while she winced silently in pain in front of her. It was the most comfortable overnight train I've ever been on. I managed to sleep soundly just about the whole trip.

1 comment:

  1. You have not seen exact India!!! Just seen commercialised tour-agent promoted things!!! Hope you will know what to see!!!! And feel good!!! May be!!!! But what made you to chose the places you chose to visit!!!! Its pity!!!!! Anyway!!! You can always come again!!!! Best wishes!!!!!