Well, it has been a long time, hasn’t it? My last post was almost a month ago, and here I am, sitting at home in England typing away again. My surroundings could not be more different than they were. It’s cold here, of course, and greener than I could have possibly remembered. But I’m home. I would have posted this final piece a long time ago, if it wasn’t for my old iPhone’s sudden decision to give up on existence and cut out. That was on a bus heading into Jaipur a second time. We’ll get there, eventually.
Last time I left you, I had just arrived in Jaipur for the first time. We’d already had an eventful experience in the five minutes between getting off the bus and finding our hostel (the Moustache Hostel. Would recommend.) As the bus crept past the Sindi Camp flyover, a group of men noticed Leander and I through the window. They started to run after us. For some reason, we found this a little unnerving. When the bus came to a stop in the bus-park, surprise! They were standing at the door to the bus. “Where you going?” “Rickshaw?” Because we were the only tourists on the (quite nice, A/C, government run) bus, they had immediately formed a group to try and get our business. As it happened, we did want a rickshaw, but not from them. I can’t quite remember why. So we pushed past them, ignored them, joked at them, and did everything we could to politely get them to leave us alone. But they were a new type of rickshaw drivers. They kept coming. When we had made it outside the stand, we picked out our own driver from the people waiting outside. As it turned out, he happened to be Muslim. Our little crowd of competing drivers began to shout and bully our driver as we made to move off. Apparently we had been picked as “their” customers. Just as we moved away, one man in particular (the most aggressive) pointed at me and shouted “this driver – he’s Pakistani. He’s Muslim. He’ll shoot you.” Welcome to you, too! After travelling in India, if there’s one thing you realise, it’s that no matter how badly you are treated Indians will treat each other far worse. Racism, sexism, caste-ism, class-ism, discrimination for religion and political affiliation are present everywhere you see. Anyway, we arrived at our hostel quickly and easily after that. No one tried to shoot us.
Jaipur is a great city. After coming from Agra and Varanasi, each street felt so clean, each roadway so wide, that it hardly felt like the same India. The colour of the Pink City made it seem like a reconstructed Marrakesh (no prizes for guessing what the colour was). The small shopping alleys were easily accessible, and the shopkeepers were less pushy than in Agra (shopkeepers anywhere are less pushy than in Agra). It was lively and bustling and somehow also laid back.
And it was hot. Everywhere I went in Rajasthan, locals I spoke to would all ask me “why are you here in May?” May is the foreign tourist off-season for a reason: the wind is dry, the humidity is slowly rising and the temperature can reach nearly 45*C. You have to see as much as you can in the morning (or evening, if that’s your style) and then crash out for the rest of the day. There isn’t really another option, unless you power through the peak-heat of the day. But no one is that insane.
Jaipur is full of sights for the discerning tourist. We visited the Jantar Mintar (a series of building-sized astrological ‘instruments’), the Howrah Mahal (much smaller in real life), the Albert Hall and the outside of the City Museum all in one day. The attractions – along with the various specialised shopping areas – are all conventionally located in the area in and around the Pink City. So far, so hyper-touristy. The next day, we took an Ola-Cab rickshaw to the Amber Fort. After blatantly lying to/convincing the man behind the ticket desk that we were students, despite not having student cards, we got in for less than half price. Who would bring their student card to India? The fort itself is very pretty – like a combination of moorish, Ottoman and medieval European architecture. It helped that a kindly guard decided to give us our own private tour, explaining the use of each of the rooms, until we made it absolutely clear we didn’t want to pay him as we were only following him because he had told us to. The guard had a gun, so we left very quickly.
On the 21st, Leander and I took an overnight bus to Udaipur. We had a bit of a rush finding the bus – at nine pm, in the dark side streets of Jaipur, with only vague directions and fifteen minutes to spare. But it was fine. We got the bus.
Udaipur has to have been the most beautiful city I saw in India. Its whitewashed walls rise above and encircle two lakes; the streets are clean and relaxed. Everything is tranquil. We spent two nights in the city, with a room overlooking one of the lakes, wandering around the roads and seeing tourist sights. I even had a shirt tailored. Udaipur is home to a stunning palace seemingly sitting on the surface of one of its lakes – apparently where parts of ‘Octopussy’ were filmed (not that I’ve seen ‘Octopussy’). Almost every restaurant shows the film in the evenings, yet somehow we managed to end up watching ‘Moonraker’ and eating Thali. It was a great Thali.
After Udaipur came Jaipur. By this time the days were averaging forty degrees, so we decided that it was the perfect moment to take an eight hour bus ride without air conditioning. Cue eight sweaty and slightly uncomfortable hours wedged into the back of the bus before we jumped out in Jodhpur. But we saved three hundred rupees (£3.70/$5). That’s what really mattered.
In Jodhpur, I walked into the hostel dorm to find one of those coincidences you can only come across whilst travelling: there were two friends (Carla and Phillipo) who I had first met in Varanasi, travelled with to Agra, and then came across again in Udaipur. They weren’t even travelling together – we had all taken very different routes since parting at Agra station, and somehow we were all back again in one room.
Jodhpur is another wonderful city. Where Jaipur has the Pink City, Jodhpur has the Blue City. And it is something else entirely. The flush of colour through the streets is completely captivating – the walls, the clothes and faces flower with vibrant life. Every corner is a photographer’s paradise. We spent a few days wandering the city, visiting its fort, finding our way into the least touristy restaurants we could find. Leander tried – and failed – to book a train to Varanasi, whilst I planned to make my way back to Jaipur and then on to Delhi by bus. I’m very aware of how much I’m skipping out now – especially in comparison to my early posts – but the detail is beginning to slip past me.
So. I left Leander on the 27th and picked up a bus to Jaipur. My phone finally died, after surviving duct-tape-surgery in the second week. I can’t really blame it, to be honest. By the time I reached Jaipur – another eight hour, non-A/C ride later – I had no energy for more touristic activities. I spent those next few days finding gifts for friends and family. I went to the Raj Mandir cinema – which I absolutely recommend seeing. And then I was off to Delhi for the last five days of my trip. After backpacking and generally bumming my way across northern India, staying in Arinjay’s middle-class home again was slightly strange. I had a compulsive urge to do everything and pay for everything myself.
My time with Arinjay was a great counterpoint to everything I had been doing previously. With him, I was able to see how the other half of India lives. We went out partying. We ate western-style food (though I tried to stay vegetarian) and saw some touristy sights. I’ve got to say thank-you again to him and all of his family.
And then I flew home. I dipped down through English clouds and saw grey June weather. Being home takes some getting used to – everything from the temperature to the colours to our cultural ticks. I’m re-calibrating, slowly.