Misc

Jaipur & Starting the Journey North

posted by Stu 0 comments
Culture, the main reason people head to India, the most diverse country on the face of the earth it is cheap, easily accessible, and one of the best places in the world to travel. In short, India is a dream destination for a multitude of reasons. But, India is also excessive in what it offers. You could travel the country for a decade and still find somewhere to go, or some corner left untouched. And so what has happened is that over the years a ‘tour’ has been developed for tourists wishing to experience India. Commonly known as the golden Triangle, tourists tip up at Indira Ghandi airport in Delhi, spend a few days getting fleeced there and feeling the poverty, and culture (if you can call it that) they then visit a couple of UNESCO sights, and head off on the air con express to Agra. They spunk over the Taj Mahal, sip some chi, get the shits and then move back West to Jaipur. To be fair Jaipur is awesome. Completely unrepresentative of India it is probably the most tourist driven place in the North. Infrastructure that defies the rest of India, hotels that ooze western comfort and shopping malls seen no where else on the sub continent except in Mumbai. The gateway to Rajasthan (our favourite Indian State) Jaipur has a fort on a hill, some half decent Raj era buildings and a huge breathtaking palace. Not quite the best in India, but close. Throw in some camel rides and expensive elephant rides and tourists then head back to Delhi, face booking pictures of how they travelled India and with a lasting memory of of the country.

My opinion is different, Delhi is home to some half decent sites, all of which are completely dwarfed in the rest of India, Agra is amazing, genuinely and so is Jaipur. But representative of India they are not. Its like going to Blockbusters, hiring 3 dvd’s and then claiming you saw every DVD Blockbusters had to offer. And it’s a real shame, the golden triangle serves up two great places and Delhi, but in India there are hundreds of great places and almost all the best places are the ones rarely visited by anyone else.

We planted ourselves in Jaipur for two main reasons, the first is that we head North, deep into the north and wanted some time to feel cleanliness, good food and a bit of Western lifestyle. The second reason is that coming to Jaipur from Agra we could arrive into Delhi later in the day meaning we had to spend less time there. Genuinely, we arrive into Delhi around 8pm and leave the following day around 10am.

We all love Jaipur, it’s impossible not to like it. The first day we arrived around 3pm and so spent a lot of time doing nothing. The second day went as follows:

7am – We got up early on the advice of Mr Singh the hotel owner who claimed the temperature would hit fifty degrees.

7.30 – We hunted down bananas for breakfast and took an auto to Hawa Mahal (breeze palace) it cost 60 rupees. Once there we realised it was shut until 9am. We took some pictures and jumped on a bus to Amber Fort. It cost 10 Rupees for me with kids being half price.

8am – We arrived at the fort and just sat on a wall with the behemoth palace on a hillside behind us. Truly a sight to behold.

8.30am – The kids raced elephants to the entrance of the palace a few hundred metres away. It was 40 degrees already. But it was a dry heat and we are well accustomed to it, throw fifty degrees at us and we can cope in dry heat. Bang in a bit of humidity and it wipes us out. Thankfully the humidity was gone for now.

9am – After mooching around and realising we weren’t actually that arsed about going in, since wed been last year we chilled back down to the road.

9.15am – We were headed on a bus to water palace.

9.30am – Photo opportunity at the palace, a stunning square building surround by a square of water. Absolutely gorgeous.

9.45am – After a bit of negotiating the kids took a camel ride. The initial price was 1000 Rupees, the final, agreed price was 200 Rupees all in (about £2)

10.30am – We returned to Hawa Mahal and walked around the pink city. Even though it isnt pink. It’s basically a myriad of streets and alley ways with every single store selling goods such as silver, cloths and jewellery.

Midday – Lunch and time to relax in the roof top restaurant.

2pm – Sat in a cinema watching Total Recall.

It was by and large probably the most relaxing day we had had since leaving the UK, there was absolutely no pressure on us at all. Everything worth seeing we had seen and everything worth doing we had done. We simply had the freedom to do what we wanted without any feeling of obligation, and, since we was staying at one of the best hotels in India (backpacker) and the owner was someone I had got to know last year, the ties of vegetarianism were removed. For the first time in weeks the kids had the entire menu at their disposal and no surprises we all chose Chicken from the tandoor. It was a one time meal of garlic marinated chicken tikka pieces slow cooked in a clay fire, served with wood fired chapatis and mint/masala dip. It was the best meal I had eaten this year and Charlie agreed. Now of course we are back to being vegetarians which is actually easier than eating meat when in the North of India. I have spoke before about how India has the best vegetarian cuisine in the world and everything with meat is simple a modification of a meal usually made without it. We ate at a wonderful restaurant called the peacock restaurant which was in the hotel we were staying (Pear Palace) Lonely Planet calls the restaurant arguably the best value place in the country, with mains being served up from 50 rupees to about 250. (50 pence – £2.50 ish) As an absolutely stunning Indian woman did a dance Charlie commented “Dad, how proper nice are Indian women” He knows I think Indian women are amongst the most beautiful in the world anyway “They are well better than English women” Was his follow up comment.

Funny thing is, I was reading the Sunday Times of India and there was a pull out, at first glance it looked like people looking for love, then I realised it was called ‘matrimonial’ I am not joking, it is parents advertising their kids for marriage. “Light skinned girl, 26 y/o looking for boy similar age, officer, engineer, doctor’ I digress, but a few of the adverts were looking for ‘white skinned boy’ and I wondered – You don’t often see Indian people outside of the big cities courting. Marriages are clearly a hashed effort of attaining status, combined with escaping poverty and it makes sense. But is love something you can choose? Anyway, I also read in the paper that we had been part of a world record – Back in Allahabad when power was out for the whole of Uttar Pradesh, turns out it was off for the whole of the North of India leaving 600 Million people without power. To put that into perspective, its like the entire USA losing power, It was the biggest power cut in world history.

Anyway once it was time to leave Jaipur we had to head to Delhi. It was a necessary stop on the journey North and the only alternative was an 18 hour bus journey, something I wasn’t going to put the kids through, A train – Yes. A bus, no.

I had bought the tickets the day before and laughed as the guy told me it was a super deluxe fan-dango ultra modern bus. Seriously, every bus in Asia is super deluxe and without fail every single one of them is pure antique material. If your seat is bolted to the floor you are lucky and if the seat reclines then put the lottery on because you are on a roll. I am talking about the whole of Asia, its absolutely ridiculous and so understandably I laughed when I handed over almost 1000 Rupees for the six hour journey. We usually cut out the middle man and I bought direct from RSTC which is the Rajasthan government bus at Sindhi Camp in Jaipur.

Alas, as we sat eating Bananas and tic tacs at 7.45am a bus pulled up. It looked like the sort of bus rock stars go on tour in, brand new, blacked out windows, LCD seat back tv’s. It was only the 8.30 to Delhi. Our bus, I was absolutely gobsmacked, the 6 hour journey pretty much flew by. However, yet again a woman sat next to Charlie threw up. Me and Abi by now had a real laugh. Charlie couldn’t believe his luck – We couldn’t believe how funny it was.

I was sat watching a South American movie on the iPad – City of God, and really engrossed since it had subtitles. Abi shook my arm, Charlie wanted me. “Dad, is this Delhi” I looked out the window and saw sky scrapers, world class hotels, shopping malls and western brands everywhere. It was Delhi, but certainly not the Delhi we remembered. I was perplexed, and the more we got into Delhi proper the more I noticed a completely different city to what we remembered. The streets were spotless, the grass well kept, traffic obeying rules, no horns – What had happened to Delhi?

Of course, as soon as we got off the bus reality bit when the rickshaw driver asked for 1000 Rupees to take us 3km. I know a bit of Hindi and told him that it was only 3km and that he should accept 50, but I would give him 80 if he accepted right now. If not we’d get the metro Of course he took us, and as we sped past India Gate I saw people playing cricket, it was 30 degrees and so for us by now comfortably cool and I wondered just what had happened. Streets that before were cobbled were now paved, rubbish that lined the streets had been replaced with landscaped beauty, crumbling buildings were now modern, chic places that wouldn’t be out of place in a Western city and everything seemed so much more relaxed.

It became very apparent very quickly that the capital city of India, home to 12.6 million people, a place that I claimed lacked identity, had reinvented itself as an ultra modern ‘new city’ As we walked round later in the day we were excited, there was an aura of refreshment, of revitalisation. Had Delhi finally become the ‘New Delhi’ it purported some fifty years ago. I can’t answer that yet – But we’ll be back soon to find out, and honestly – none of us can wait.

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