Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jaipur (India)

Along with Delhi and Agra, the pink city of Jaipur in Rajasthan makes up India's Golden Triangle. We both lost our tempers a little by being accosted immediately off the train by a particularly persistent autorickshaw driver who followed us for a good 20 minutes despite our repeated attempts to discourage him. I would like to blame our initial disorientation on him. Eventually we reached our heritage hotel, which proved to be a perfect haven. I especially appreciated the softer bed (for Asia) in a beautiful room, working air conditioning, and quiet little courtyard when my head cold made me take the day off.

For sightseeing, we headed to Jantar Mantar, which looks like a cool arty sculpture garden (Julie) or the most awesome skate park ever (Richard)! It is actually an astronomical observatory built by the maharajah of Jaipur in the 1700's and includes the world's largest sundial. It was worthwhile to spring for the official tour guide, who besides being able to tell us how each structure worked, also related the importance of astrology in Indian culture.

The City Palace is where the current maharajah resides (in a closed section). Different exhibits included the royal hall for public audiences, elaborate textiles, and really nasty-looking weapons... with a back scratcher in the same case! Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed in the rooms with the really beautiful decor.

The cheapest way to get into the city from our hotel was taking the local stop and go bus. Staring is common and unabashed in India, and our fellow passengers were no exception. No one wanted to sit next to the foreigners. Eventually, as the bus continued to get more and more packed, they decided that we were at least better than the guy with the bag that emanated flies (also very abundant in India) who kept falling asleep on people. As a result, a couple of men were practically sitting on my lap!

We also took the opportunity to take in the latest Bollywood film at the Raj Mandir Cinema, which with its pink and white architecture, makes it look like a 6-year-old girl's birthday cake. Richard did not know that the 3+ hour long film would not be in English and was under the misconception that I told him otherwise. The audience rushes into the theatre as soon as the doors open, and you soon find out why - the film starts showing immediately, no 10 minutes of trailers for cushion. Khatta Meetha (as far as we could tell) revolved around a goofy engineer trying to expand his construction business. His attempts to fulfill a contract to build a road were severely hampered by an employee with a slapstick inability to do his job (i.e. the comic relief). The government official monitoring the lack of progress is an ex-love interest. The complex side stories also involved his more successful thug-like brothers involved in shady political dealings who marry off their sister to the biggest monster of them all. For a film with children in attendance, the mafia-like scenes were surprisingly violent. The requisite song-and-dance numbers were hilarious and extravagant, including a random pirate ship! [Sorry, folks, I did not see Nigel in this one!] Everything works out in the end - the engineer and official get married, the bad brothers go to jail ... except for the sister, whose husband passes her around his friends, and then she gets beaten to death for trying to escape (!).

In Jaipur, we also caught a ride with the cheekiest autorickshaw driver. Crossing the road during traffic, we were able to negotiate a decent price. However, he still outwitted his buddies on the other side of the road (who we were heading to) and flaunted it. Over the course of our 15 minute trip, he managed to stop 1 time for the toilet, 1 time to buy something, and 4 times to ask other buddies for directions! For the last few meters, Rich actually had to direct him. Occasionally, he would just glance back with this giant "yeah, I have no idea what I'm doing" grin and continue on with his erratic driving. We found it pretty amusing... and maybe that is just us settling into a good attitude for India.

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