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Jaipur : Practicing the art of patience in 'The Pink City'

Jaipur Travel Blog

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'Colour and Dust' #1

Help!  I'm under attack!  I'm being strafed by a citywide squadron of 'Indian Helicopters'.  Another one swoops in, it's rapidly spinning rusty rotor-spokes kicking street dust up into the air as it comes into land, cutting in dangerously close to block my progress down the street.  'Rickshaw sir?  Indian Helicopter.  Air conditioned!' the chirpy cycle-rickshaw pedlar... sorry, pilot, chirrups.  Indian Helicopters.  Cute.  Hadn't heard that one before Jaipur.  Yes, I may be under attack, but it's okay I beat them back with my 'British Tanks'.  The trusty soles of my feet!

Yes, there's no getting away from it.

  So you'd better get used to it.  Being a centre of attention.  One small but seemingly vital centre of attention for all of Jaipur's numbers-inestimable auto and cycle-rickshaw drivers, market stall vendors, chai-wallahs, shoe-shiners and menders, bazaar shop owners, barbers, bespoke tailors, tourist tack traders, gem-stone 'exporters' [see note below], tour guides, touts, sculptors, temple hang-abouts and purveyors of 'Culture', street kids, sweet kids, school kids, beggar babes in arms and their mothers, so-called 'students', would-be 'friends' and others and the occasional inquisitive cow... all of whom, by the way, know someone who lives near You in England/ America/ France/ The Netherlands/ Japan/ Australia/ Trinidad/ The Christmas Islands/ The Moon (etc,etc Delete as Appropriate).
Bike Bros :)
  No really.  Honestly they do.  'Isn't that just amazing!'  Even the inquisitive cow.  I asked.

And with my year long honed PRAT shields (Patience, Resilience And Tolerance) set to full capacity it all boils down to mostly harmless fun, an excuse to practice my terrible Hindi and a sore throat at the end of the day for one of as few words as I. 

Besides I am already an adept at delivering that archetypal Indian shimmy of the head - neither a shake nor a nod, but a fusion of the two - that can be interpreted as meaning 'yes', 'no', 'maybe', 'I don't know', 'excellent', 'what?', 'thank you', 'no problem' and many other things depending on... depending on?... well, nothing at all really.  Each party just takes their pick and carries on with what they were doing.

Religious procession that I followed for a coupla hours one day.
  I find one of these little shimmies often sufficient to discourage inbound 'helicopters' and their associates ahead of engagement.  Oh, and by the way, it never EVER means 'Yes, sir I know exactly where you want to go and how to show you how to get there.'

Jaipur is a city once contained within but now vastly expanded beyond the sporadic stretches of its famous salmon-pink coloured Old City walls.  These and much of its similarly coloured interior architecture garnering it the title of 'The Pink City'.  These walls no longer stretch the entire inner city circumference as one would imagine.  As with almost all such Old/ New City scenarios the ramparts, in large part have long since been overrun and run down to partial non-existence by a city bursting the 18th Century seams originally stitched by Maharaja Jai Singh II, or just having given up to the naturally corrosive laws of time and age.

The often beautiful, richly coloured architecture of Jaipur is set off beautifully by blue skies and sunsets.
  The main gates and their flanks are clearly subject to sporadic re-plastering, painting and restoration however they often still have the dank appearance of rotting from the ground up; an unfortunate consequence of the unusually high concentrations of ammonia that these historic buttresses are exposed to on a daily basis.  Namely, men pissing on 'em from dawn until dusk.  Yes, conversely to the norm, India's approach to a respect for cultural heritage could sometimes do with a little less of the ‘human touch‘.

Jaipur is a city that teems with the life of the bazaar.  It is one grand bazaar.  Let alone the arterial rickshaw flood of the main Chandpol Bazaar and Tripolia Bazaar streets that bisect the length of 'The Pink City' West to East, there are Gangauri, Sredeon, Ramganj, Surajpol, Johari, Bapu, Nehru, Kishanpol, Moti Katra and Indra Bazaars to name but.

Rickshaw (detail)
.. one, two, three... err, four...five...um? Six? oh, you get the idea.  There's lots of shopping to be done here for those so inclined, and air-conditioned coach loads of Silver Dollar tourists are bucketed onto the streets for precisely this purpose every day.

Make sure you walk 'The Pink City' at length and without plan.  The lane of marble carvers; flurries of fine white dust billowing into Khajane Walon ka Rasta from half-finished busts of Ganesha, Hanuman, Nehru and other Gods ancient and new.  The hammering and gleaming of the metal wares stores; the seductive smells and less seductive attendant fleets of flies around the stalls of brightly coloured, heavily sugared sweet stalls; stationary sellers (pens and little pads purchased to give out to the Kidz of India instead of the 'Das Rupees, Ten Rupees!' they perpetually pester for); the glitter and sparkle of the bejewelled resin/ plastic and glass bangle sellers; endless shops with their shrink-to-non-existence-the-first-time-you-wash-them T-shirts for tourists;  hardware stores; software stalls; the usual plague of mobile phone boutiques (arguably the first piece of silicon-chip era technology to have truly straddled the purchase power gap between Rich and Poor although to what truly positive end for either I remain uncertain.

The fabulously complex facade of the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) from where the royal ladies in purdah would stare down at street life from behind their patterned grilles.
'Your life need only be upgraded', an imaginary sales slogan skips across my mind). 

Big boiling blackened vats of dye bubbling on the pavement, their colours to seep deep into the saris that for me, in these early dust-dowsed days, colour India's face and soul.  Dip to the right, off the main road as you head from the externally fascinating Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) towards Sanganeri Gate and you will come across many a covered side street populated by the ad-hoc boutiques piled floor to ceiling with glittering rainbows of folded sari materials just waiting to have their splendours unfurled for all the wonder of the world.  The male owners of the shops kneel on the white cotton carpeting of their techni-coloured treasure troves whilst women and young girls (the latter often probably giddy with the prospect of attending or being the star player in a wedding) kneel, lie or sit cross legged, their eyes, smiles and hands fluttering and darting about, stretching out rainbows for their delight, dressed already so fabulously as to appear like a flock of butterflies settled upon a colourfully blooming buddleia tree.

A smattering of rain on a grey morning in The Pink City
  I love this sight endlessly.         

Colour and dust.  Already the bi-line that runs under my private movie title ‘Steve’s India Experience : Colour and Dust‘.  And as the life of the bazaar spills out onto the roads it is near impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins; where it all blurs and blends.  The colours and the dust.  All communities and societies of course are living, interacting organisms.  Eco-commercial systems.  Bodies of humanity.  Some reveal more at surface level than others.  England is vacuum packed, wrapped in many layers of external garments and the true blood flows lie several fathoms deep if you ever penetrate that far through our relative social, public inhibitions.

  India, physically, is a surface level existence.  A social organism with the skin peeled back and the visceral details revealed for all to see.  The flow of cells along its veins and arteries swirl all around you, stain your shoes and draw you in.  Everything interacting.  Everything as one.  And you must pick your way along whatever path you can eke out between it all. 

The pavement is a part-time sewer is a gutter is a kitchen is a workshop is a chat-stop spot that becomes a street of occasional convenience for a moped before it crumbles to the road (we think) where stand the wooden-wheeled wagons of marigold and other pooja-paraphernalia sellers who stand above the tide wrack wash of ladies (their sari fabrics and colours commingling with the dust once more) and their boys 'n' girls crouched at dirt level, blankets outspread with dust-spattered, exhaust-saturated fruits, nuts and veg for sale, tiny bulbs of garlic being endlessly peeled as they all try not to lose their toes to the wheels of the cycle rickshaws that careen along the road with the autos, cars, cops, bicycles, motorbikes, cows and occasional camel.

'The Little Brown Dress'
  Whether strolling without aim or following a musical religious procession as I do one day, it all ends up at one time or another in the swirling vortex of Everything That Moves that is Choti Chaupar roundabout at the city's heart.

As usual I notice I've focussed more on the details of 'the street' rather than say the sights of the city.  Apologies.  Appraisal of these can be found at the click of an alternative blog I'm sure.  I visited a coupla non-descript temples, the intriguing Hawa Mahal, skipped the City Palace on Cost Vs Interest grounds (i.e. it's RS500 /£6 if you're packing a camera and I had little interest anyway) but did head out on the local bus (RS7 / approx 10p each way) to the impressive Amber Fort (RS200/ £2.50 or so) with the Great Wall of China reminiscent stretches of fortified walls snaking all about the hills around and with its small but beautiful interior Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors).

The water-pot wallah.
  The 'Water' or 'Lake Palace' (that rickshaw drivers will endlessly implore you to visit with them) is clearly visible on route here.

I have many other thoughts of India that start to germinate in my mind whilst in Jaipur but it's far too early a day to just throw them all out at ya and I've taken too much of your time as usual already.  It's time to head back away from the madness, the chaos and pestering and importuning of the streets of Jaipur, skirting through a conversation and free chai with Pappu - a nice enough guy but connected to the gem trade by several confusing degrees of separation - to the sanctuary of the Hotel Sugandh Retreat and a cheesy Hindi movie ( Chori Chori Chupke Chupke ) with early era Rani Muckerji and that ubiquitous fake female Bollywood laughter once more the stars.

'The Bangles' 2
 

A chat with Niranjan, the hotel manager.  Niranjan apparently relating to the great god Shiva.  'Niranjan Nirakar'.  'Nirakar' : an idea or a thing, he tells me, something unimaginably, inconceivably large.  Like the pantheon of Hindu gods perhaps?  Like the Universe.  Like India maybe?  He talks of faithful repeat customers who return to Jaipur and his hotel year after year after year.  Obsessed with India.  We talk of a 'love for India' and how I too have 'wanted to be here for such a long time!'  'Yes' he concurs 'if one has some interest in the country [ his country] then it is beautiful.

Ladies stretching rainbows :)
'  The inference insightfully being that India, if approached by the ill-prepared or indifferent Outsider can be a place that quickly and sometimes devastatingly disappoints or even disgusts.  The fault lies here as much, if not more with the observer than with the observed. 

I recall to mind the countless 'India Trauma Victims' as I dubbed them when frequently met trekking in the mountains of Nepal.  Virtual day trippers to New Delhi and Varanasi on a blitzkrieg route across to the border and into more sedate Nepal who claimed often literal hatred for the place they stamped I.N.D.I.A, an acronym for 'I'll Never Do India Again' or, for the more biologically unfortunate 'I Nearly Died In Agony.

'Cow'

Niranjan recovers my attention.  'If a country has some sweetness, then it is okay.  It can be a good place.  Like England too.' he politely states with the usual Indian obeisance to their former colonial 'master' nation.  ( Continuing Indian love for Britain and all things British : The World's first recognised case of International Stockholm Syndrome? - Discuss students).  I agree 'Yes you have to come to a place with at least some small sum of love in one's heart often or the journey may be lost too soon to negativity.' 

My own journey here is yet young.  Those who know me know I came here with more than a backpack full of love and interest for India so I'm sure I'll be just fine.

Sheesh Mahal roof (detail)
  I muse as the distant whir of 'Indian Helicopter' blades fade with the coming of the night, to be replaced by the likewise chop and whir of my ceiling fan.
 
[ Warning :  To re-emphasise what you're likely to have read in many of your guidebooks be especially aware of the prevalence of 'import/ export' scammers in Jaipur.  Predominantly although not exclusively men claiming to be involved in the gem stone trade and in some way, shape or form in need of your assistance in running or establishing their business in your country... or just selling you hyper-priced cr*p.  There will be any number of avenues into the conversation they really desire to have and the truth; the crux of it could be a long while coming.
From within the Hawa Mahal.
  Any amount of people inviting you to their 'friends' for chai (tea) ‘now or later’ is almost guaranteed to be a preamble to a complex sales pitch that will see you very, very miserable and out of pocket should you ever be foolish enough to follow it through.  Sad really 'cos I bet, hmmm? let's say 1 in 40 of these approaches for a chat and chai might, juuuust might actually be genuine, but along with your PRAT shields always remember to have your Phoney Baloney radar set at high level too ;) ]

groovybob says:
thanx for that Steve..India has now truly called me.She has been opened to me thanx to you...
Posted on: Jun 14, 2011
Stevie_Wes says:
I'm glad India won you over James :) I had to leave when my visa expired in March 2010, and - if I'm honest - it was also time for a break. India is treasure trove of sensory overload, especially for the uninitiated, and can be an exhausting life experience. But one to be repeated I hope. As I sit here typing now in Britain and twiddling my thumbs, India above all other of the 31 countries of this particular Odyssey is calling me back, stronger and stronger every day...
Posted on: Jan 07, 2011
James1985 says:
great blog mate, i met a few people in India who were heading straight for Nepal. Most of these were israelis and brits who came from home and just were not ready for it. I went expecting the worst and it turned out to be great.
Posted on: Jan 06, 2011
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Colour and Dust #1
'Colour and Dust' #1
Bike Bros :)
Bike Bros :)
Religious procession that I follow…
Religious procession that I follo…
The often beautiful, richly colour…
The often beautiful, richly colou…
Rickshaw (detail)
Rickshaw (detail)
The fabulously complex facade of t…
The fabulously complex facade of …
A smattering of rain on a grey mor…
A smattering of rain on a grey mo…
The Little Brown Dress
'The Little Brown Dress'
The water-pot wallah.
The water-pot wallah.
The Bangles 2
'The Bangles' 2
Ladies stretching rainbows :)
Ladies stretching rainbows :)
Cow
'Cow'
Sheesh Mahal roof (detail)
Sheesh Mahal roof (detail)
From within the Hawa Mahal.
From within the Hawa Mahal.
The Bangles
'The Bangles'
Sari treasure troves.
Sari treasure troves.
The Kidz of Jaipur (Soiyel on righ…
The Kidz of Jaipur (Soiyel on rig…
No Entry (Rickshaw sign)
'No Entry' (Rickshaw sign)
The Wheel Fixer
'The Wheel Fixer'
Sergeant Peppers Lonely Suraj Ban…
Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Suraj Ba…
Moo!  (yeeees, its India there wi…
Moo! (yeeees, it's India there w…
Stevie in the Palace of Winds
Stevie in the Palace of Winds
A writhing tree sprouts from the h…
A writhing tree sprouts from the …
Market tinsel roof ahead of Diwa…
Market tinsel 'roof' ahead of Diw…
The Raj Mandir : Indias most famo…
The Raj Mandir : India's most fam…
Love is Life
'Love is Life'
Nehru on the wall.
Nehru on the wall.
A backstreet, abandonned interior.
A backstreet, abandonned interior.
Moped.
Moped.
The Big B and the marigold seller.
The Big B and the marigold seller.
Hawa Mahal (detail)
Hawa Mahal (detail)
The impressive Amber Fort.
The impressive Amber Fort.
Amber Fort decor (detail)
Amber Fort decor (detail)
The roof of the small but beautifu…
The roof of the small but beautif…
Jaipur
photo by: oxangu2