Fatehpur Sikri Entrance
New Video - Well I have finally gotten around to uploading and linking to some videos - scroll to the bottom of the photos here and you can see Cindy and I (and a cow and a variety of rickshaws and tuk-tuks) fighting to get across the busy streets of Jaipur.
So we decided that, rather than take the train or a bus to Jaipur from Agra, we would spring for a private car with Murari, our betel-nut reddened taxi driver from yesterday.
We had agreed on a price yesterday (after being told by the guide who we tipped quite well that Murari needed a tip too since he “gives all the money to the owner” which is probably total BS. As the guide wasn’t coming for the ride and Murari could explain about Fatehpur Sikri, we figured that would be fine and a 10% tip (350 Rupees - quite generous for here) should make him happy (little did we know at the time…)
Fatehpur Sikri Mosque
As we were checking out of the Agra Trident Hilton, we struck up a conversation with a guy named Bill from Philadelphia. Ends up that he was on a quick India visit, having just come from Bali where his wife does stuff with Batik and other textiles and he convinced his friend Stephen, who is very well traveled, to join him.
They were heading to Jaipur as well, about to take a tuk-tuk to the bus station. Murari said it would be ok “if they gave him something” for them to join us as we had a big enough car so we offered and they accepted. They’re both nice, very interesting guys with Bill using his P.h.d. in religion to do grant writing for non-profit organizations and Stephen owning his own pharmaceutical marketing company which gives them both the ability to travel a bit.
Camel Cart on the way to Jaipur
Our first stop was Fatehpur Sikri, a very well preserved former capital built by Akbar to honor the holy man who correctly predicted that Akbar would eventually have three sons after losing all his children in infancy. When this came true, he was so pleased that he decided to build his new capital to honor the holy man from the village of Sikri and named if Fatehpur Sikri (Town of Victory). It was eventually abandoned for probably a combination of reasons including lack of water, political and religious issues, etc.
When I visited here in 1984, I remember local kids jumping off one of the towers into a large well covered with brilliant green mossy stuff. I really wanted to jump in (if I recall it was a couple stories jump) but chickened out, not knowing how deep it was, let alone what lurked in the murky depths. I asked Murari about this and he said, “No more jumping. Old man died so they stopped it.” Well there ya go, I was smarter than I looked in the 80’s
Rooftoop view of Hawa Mahal, Palace of the Winds in Jaipur
After a brief lunch stop, we putted down the not great, not terrible road to Jaipur. They are building a four lane highway which will make the journey much easier and quicker but all in all the road wasn’t too bad. I am not sure whether the camel’s and elephants carrying cargo down the side of the road will be allowed on the upgraded highway, let alone some of the incredibly overloaded tractors. Weirdly enough, there would be several footings for what looked like a large overpass in the middle of nowhere and then nothing for miles again.
At least they were actually working (unlike roadwork we saw in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia where rusted out tractors sat motionless by the side of the road). Getting into Jaipur was a bit of a mess with lots of traffic and the omnipresent blaring horns but we eventually tooled up to the Jaipur Hilton Trident and were greeted by another tall, dark skinned mustachioed man in a turban.
Rajasthani Guards at the Pink Palace
I paid Murari the remainder of the fare and what we thought was a healthy tip, double what we were going to give him since Stephen and Bill road along (not that it cost him anything…) and he was not a happy camper. I tried to discuss this with him but he just kept saying “No good! No good!” Even after Cindy gave him an additional 200 Rupees he was whining, and at that point I was pissed and ready to take back the entire tip.
At the end of the day, the only thing to do was walk away and he left pissed - oh well….
Silver Urns for carrying Ganges Water to England
The Trident seemed much nicer than the one in Agra and I was happily informed that, as a HHonors Diamond, we would be getting an upgraded room and complimentary breakfast (yay!) as well as chocolates at turn down service - screw the “upgradation policy!” :-D We decided to relax at the pool for the afternoon along with the dive bombing pigeons. Actually, Vijay (the pool man) had a large stick with a red flag on it with an outline of a pigeon which he swung mercilessly at the pigeons.
We decided to dine in the old part of town and so got a tuk-tuk and warily started the bargaining process with Raju, the 20 year old driver. He was a nice, young, smiling kid who must have been at least six feet tall and couldn’t have weighed more than 110 pounds (look at the picture of he and Cindy by the tuk-tuk).
We immediately liked him (au contraire to Mr. Murari) and quickly negotiated what seemed like a fair price. He spoke a bit of English and was very comical, rolling his eyes when he put on his mandatory “uniform” which is a tan, long sleeve shirt (and yep, on the way into town, a cop stopped us and looked to make sure he was wearing it, apparently a 100 Rupee fine if he is caught without!). He would continually turn around while weaving through traffic of cows, scooters, cars, tractors, etc and ask “How are you Maam? How are you sir?” By the time we made it into town (a lot further than we thought in the chaotic traffic, about 25 minutes) we had already decided we would use his services again tomorrow and probably the next day for touring around Jaipur.
Ornate door at the Pink Palace
We went to a recommended restaurant named Niro’s in Old Jaipur that has been around a long time and supposedly has very good food.
We sat down and ordered a couple of cold Kingfisher beers and our food and were talking and, very suddenly, I wasn’t feeling so good. All I had eaten was a papadum (spicy sort of Indian cracker) and a small bite of what looked like a lotus root pickle. Within about 20 seconds it went from not feeling so good to feeling like I had imbibed a large quantity of hallucinogens. I felt bad, I mean really bad like I wasn’t sure if I was going to pass out at the table and loose all control of bodily functions or if I should dash for the bathroom and splash some cold water on my burning head. I said something to my compassionate wife (who thought I was being dramatic until she noticed the sheen of sweat covering my body) as I got tunnel vision and looked around about ready to panic that I was poisoned or something. Hmm could it have been the little beggar kid who smacked my shin when we pulled away in the rickshaw without giving him money? Some type of hallucinogenic Lotus Root pickle (that miraculously didn’t affect my wife’s pristine, drug free blood).
Observatory Instruments at Jantar Mantar in Jaipur
A flashback to the 70’s? Bizarrely, as fast as it came on, it subsided and within a minute or two, I felt fine. It was the weirdest thing I ever remember feeling. After that, dinner was actually really good and the mango ice cream very refreshing. Raju took us back to the hotel to kick back and head out early tomorrow for sightseeing in Jaipur.
Observatory Instruments at Jantar Mantar in Jaipur
Raju our smiling tuk-tuk driver picked us up after breakfast and we headed through the traffic of the “Pink City” (which is Jaipur’s nickname) to the famous City Palace, a fairly massive structure in the old part of town, entirely surrounded by a very tall wall.
We started in the Hawa Mahal or “Palace of the Winds” which is a delicately carved, multi-story pink sandstone building built so that the Harem ladies could watch life in the streets from above without being seen. The wind does blow nicely through the upper floors and provides a nice view of the sprawl of Jaipur City beneath.
Hawa Mahal "Palace of the Winds"
Wandering around the Palace was next with several museum exhibits of nasty looking weaponry, textiles and paintings. Traditional looking Rajasthani guards in white outfits and red turbans laze around posing for tourist pictures and asking for money (pretty funny actually). The large silver urn in the picture here (actually there were two urns) was from the present Maharaja’s grandfather. He was so devout a Hindu that he actually would bathe himself in water from the Ganges river (holy river in India) and burn his clothes after meeting with the British in order to not “defile” himself.
When he sailed to England to attend Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, he brought the two urns filled with Ganges water, as well as retro-fitting the ship with an entire temple dedicated to Krishna - and we have to travel in coach! The horror!.
Hawa Mahal "Palace of the Winds"
After the Palace tour, we visited Jantar Mantar which is an observatory built by Jai Singh in the early part of the 1700’s literally meaning “Instruments for measuring the harmony of the Heavens”. It is a really cool thing to see (not that we understood a lot of it) but it has giant sundials, walk up sized “instruments” that measure the position of the celestial bodies, zodiacal measurement tools, etc. It is really an impressive place (I remember it from last time too) and walking around, while a bit hot and precarious in places (aka very steep steps and no railings) is pretty fascinating.
We take all of this stuff for granted, go to Fry’s and buy a $199 GPS that barks driving directions at us but it really all goes back to this kind of stuff figured out way before there were calculators, computers, etc. At least they didn’t have to put up with crashing operating systems ;-)
Rajasthani Doorman at the Hilton in Jaipur
Afterwards we went wandering the streets a bit and Cindy took a video of us trying to cross traffic (not always an easy task here - it’s not like there are cross-walks, signals, etc.) When we get to a fast internet connection, I will try to upload and link it in here. Needless to say, since you are reading this, we obviously made it across the street J . A refreshing dip in the pool followed by a lazy but tasty dinner at the hotel and we were toast. Tomorrow we will visit the forts.
Bhutan Update: - Well when we checked email tonight, we received an emergency email from Andy that our wire transfer didn’t go through.
I tried calling Kencho at Snow White and eventually got her on her cell phone in transit back to Thimphu. She sounded very nice, very fluent in English and told me not to worry and verified all of the banking instructions. I told her we would be calling Soma at the bank when he got in a bit later that evening (for us) and she said we could talk later. I talked to Soma and he explained that the first transfer bounced but they submitted it again with some modifications and that it should get to here soon. Soma actually called Kencho in Bhutan and they spoke which hopefully gave her a level of comfort (he assured her we have enough money to pay!) Hopefully this second transfer will make it from Amex to Bhutan National Bank by tomorrow, Friday the 13th! We shall see - I don’t remember having to work this hard to get into China in the early 80’s!
Autorickshaw meter (never used!)
Today’s venture via tuk-tuk with Raju was “Fort Day“ with visits to the Amber Fort and Palace, Nahargarh (the Tiger Fort) and Jaigarh Fort.
We slowly crept up the hill to the Amber Fort, wondering if Raju’s poor little tuk-tuk would make it but he persevered and got us there, suggesting in broken English that we might want to take an elephant ride to the Fort for the low, low price of 400 Rupees (about ten bucks). Having spent way to much time on an elephant earlier this year in Laos when tagging along with the Blank’s prior to our Mekong cruise, we opted out of the elephant ride and chose to walk. We’re not sure what the locals really think about westerners, but they must think we are big wusses because when we told Raju we were going to walk up (probably no more than 10 minutes up a paved path) he suggested we take a jeep. Every time we go anywhere to walk, the locals tell us it is “very far” and we should take a cab or tuk-tuk or one of the many other forms of transportation. Maybe it is leftover from the day’s of the Raj when the well-to-do English would come here on holidays with trunks and trunks of stuff and lots of servants.
Amber Fort Pond
Lady with Water at Amber Fort
Anyway, we walked which was much more picturesque and lively with lots of locals working on the ruins and carrying large buckets, etc. on their heads (see pix). We did see a few elephants on the way up - apparently in high season it is an elephant traffic jam (sounds smelly). The buildings were built as far back as the 10th century but the fort was basically built in the early 1600’s and is quite vast, up on a hill overlooking the surrounding valley. The early Rajput’s were very into military strategy as evidenced by their incredible proclivity for fort building around the Rajasthan plains. We wandered around the labyrinthine buildings climbing narrow stairs and inner hallways and gazing down on pretty courtyards, some with gardens, some with ornately carved buildings and others with mirrored, mosaics adorning the walls. It was actually really nice and since it is off season (i.
e. hot) it wasn’t crowded at all.
Ornate Columns at the Amber Fort
Jaighur Fort was a very bumpy ride across the way with nice views of the sprawl of Jaipur below. One of the displays at the fort is of the world’s largest canon on wheels, a fairly massive thing some 25 feet long that weighs something like 50 tons and could shoot an 11” canon ball 20 miles. It was never used since the valley was so well defended by the forts. The funniest part was that, on the sign similar to other’s posted all over the various sites in Jaipur, Rule #1 “No Tipping Staff” was conveniently
accidentally wiped out. The ticket taker graciously offered to tell us the history of the canon for a fee (we chose to read the well printed sign in English instead…) The fort has some great views down onto the Amber Fort and of the valley and was pleasant enough to walk around. At one smoky little temple, I took a picture of Kali and some offerings and, when I went to put some coins in the box, the gentleman showing us the little temple intercepted and pocketed them (wonder if Kali was watching…she is not known for her mercy).
The living quarters in the back of the fort were pretty interesting but I guess only the monkeys live there now.
Ladies at the Amber Fort
Nahargarh or the “Tiger Fort” should probably really be called the Pigeon Crap Fort as it was inundated with the little flying rats. It was interesting in that the Maharaja who had it built had nine wives and thus, the palace within the fort had nine two-storied apartments with nice paintings and architecture surrounding a courtyard. Unfortunately, the place has “gone to the birds” and has that lovely smell of moldy, pigeon poop everywhere.
After three forts on a hot day, it was time for the pool and a relaxing dinner before heading to the train station for our overnight train to Udaipur. The train leaves at 10:30 tonight so hopefully we can get settled in and then nap till morning.
Garden at the Amber Fort