Sunday, May 18
I woke up on Sunday morning around 5am and took a 6:10 express train to Jaipur. This only took a few hours. I reserved a seat in an air conditioned car, and the experience was better than I expected. My car was only about half full, and the seats have more than enough legroom. Moreover, there is complementary service on board the train: first newspapers were distributed, then bottled water, followed by tea, breakfast, and more tea. The ride to Jaipur was scenic as well. I guess that Rajasthan is more or less a desert. On the roads and in the fields along the train tracks were a number of camels.
In Jaipur I stayed at the Hotel Pearl Palace. This is just a two star hotel, but it ranks among the best hotels I’ve ever visited. It really was quite beautiful. The floors are marble, and there was local art and craftwork throughout the open buidling. On the roof is a terrace overlooking the city, and a restaurant whose food was excellent. Both the hotel rooms and the restaurant food were so cheap that I have no idea how this family-run business turns a profit.
After checking into the hotel and having lunch on the roof, I walked into Jaipur’s historic old city, which I believe had just reopened after the tragic terrorist bombings that occurred the previous Tuesday. The walk was was about a half an hour, and the decision to go it on foot instead of in an auto rickshaw proved a mistake. The men I passed on my walk were anything but nice, with many professing their love for me and my hair, and a few of the making sexual comments. I guess that a memo had just gone out the day before stating that all different-looking male tourists traveling alone were homosexuals…
Nevertheless, the old city was quite nice once I was inside of it. The grid-like street layout contains bazaars and housing, and goods-sellers seem to be grouped into sections, i.e., you don’t have one pharmacy on a street, but rather a street filled with several pharmacists. Somehow I walked out of the bazaar and into a neighborhood of stone masons and sculptors. House after house was filled with artisans rendering marble images of various Hindi deities.
Monday, May 19
In the morning I returned to the old city, this time without incident. I walked through the central area and headed out one of the rear gates. Here you find yourself in the desert and looking up at a ragged, fortified ridge. Slightly up the mountain is the Royal Gaitor, a collection of the cenotaphs of Jaipur’s Maharajas. I went here thinking, “cenotaphs! There must be carved inscriptions there.” Well, there was no text carved into stone, but virtually everything else had been cut into Rajasthani and Italian marble. Some of the work was very exquisite.
There is no entrance fee for the Royal Gaitor, just a camera fee if you want to take pictures. However, once you come in, you are given a tour guide, who walks you through the monuments, including stories of terrible polo accidents, a 7-foot-tall Marahaja and his 18-inch… well, you know what, and the Hindu pantheon. My tour guide seemed disappointed that, unlike the Maharajas, I had no wife and only one “girlfriend.” He proudly rattled off the numbers of wives and concubines (“girlfriends”) that each Maharaja had had over the past 250 years.
At the end of the tour, the guide asked for a tip, the minimum amount is set at Rs 50. I had no problem paying that, but I don’t like this whole idea of tipping after the fact in this manner. Why doesn’t the monument just charge a higher admission fee up front? It’d all works out the same way in the end, I bet.
My next stop was the Museum of Indology. I headed here because I had read in two guides that their collection had a nice sampling of manuscripts, and I hadn’t seen any manuscripts in Delhi. Unfortunately, this museum isn’t what I had expected. The building houses the eccentric possessions of one private collector, who keeps everything from inflation-era German Reichsmarks to old door locks to temple swings. Everything is behind glass, and photography is prohibited. Like the Royal Gaitor, one is presented with a guide upon entry (who afterwards asks for a tip, but at least this time it came as no surprise, and I already had my banknote ready). One room in the museum did have a number of manuscripts, but most were stacked on top of each other or unopened. I couldn’t see any of the South Indian palm leaf manuscript books that were there, but there were a few nice Sanskrit examples. Half of the collection was devoted to Urdu and Arabic books, but I only focused on the Devanagari, because the tour guide became rather impatient if you spent very long looking at any individual item, as it slowed down his route. My tour guide also wasn’t able to answer any questions, saying that he really wasn’t an expect on any of the items, but rather that he had just memorized the script of what was on display.
As the afternoon sun reached its hottest point, I headed back to the hotel. In the Internet room lounged a couple who quickly picked up conversation. He was a Texan traveller, and she was a German from Cologne. We had a bit in common, so we chatted for a few hours, and then went into the old city to walk through a few streets at sundown. Twilight’s colors play well with the stone wash used on so many of the “pink city” buildings. In front of one temple was some sort of fest, which included two elephants. I was overjoyed to finally get to see an elephant up close (this is, of course, why I really came to Jaipur…), although the animals did not look so well. I know that this elephant overjoy is such a tourist cliché, but I have to allow myself something. Unfortunately, my photos from the encounter turned out a little blurry.
After having pet the elephant, we rode back to our hotel for dinner, which for the two of them needed to be rather quick, as they had a 10:30pm train to catch. After they left, I struck up a conversation with a group of three Germans from Hamburg in India for a friend’s wedding. So all in all, I spent the evening with four Germans and one American, who were the first people I’ve managed to have a real conversation with all week. God bless the Germans!