Day 144: Pretty in pink
Jaipur Travel Blog› entry 194 of 260 › view all entries
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Ed (Netherlands)
Ed's mild bout of diarrhoea two days ago had only been a teaser of what was yet in store for him. During the night he suffered from an attack of nausea as bad, or perhaps worse, as I had had in Agra. When the alarm went off he made the decision to stay in bed and leave exploring Jaipur for what it was. He had already been here on his 2008 trip, so it was not too bad to give it a miss this time around.
So I hopped in to Mukesh' car alone and we drove to the former city of Amber, the predecessor of Jaipur, 11 kilometres north.
Amber was abandoned in 1727 when the new city of Jaipur was founded 11 kilometres south, closer to water sources.
Most of the ancient city has disappeared, but the residence of Maharajah Singh, the magnificent Amber fort, is still standing and has largely been restored. This part-palace, part fortress is built on a hilltop, overlooking the small Amber valley. In front of the fort are some beautiful ponds and gardens, with an impressively steep and narrow road leading up to the entrance.
Ed had recommended me to take an audio-guide for my tour around the palace. Not only would this shield me from the calls of eager touts hoping to get my attention to sell a souvenir/postcard/elephant ride/guided tour, the audio tour is also (unintentionally) hilarious! The information is presented as if the building is talking to you, in distinct (almost mock) Indian English.
It took me about an hour and a half to walk through the entire fort and listen to all the chapters of my audio tour. I had really enjoyed it.
At the end of the tour I came to a series of souvenir shops and a branch of Barista Coffee. I was impressed, this was the first time I came across well-planned efficiency in India. Normally you will find souvenir shops and restaurants at the entrance, where touts will quickly diminish whatever small interest you may have had in these.
By putting these at the end of the tour, free of touts (who are not allowed inside the fort), it makes much more sense.
I must say that I enjoyed the Amber fort much more than the previous forts I had visited, the Agra fort and Fatehpur Sikri. Not just the coffee at the end, but also the way any non-staff and non-visitors are barred from the place. At Fatehpur Sikri and even the Taj Mahal, we were frequently harassed by so-called volunteers who wanted to guide us around or take our photos for 'free' (Free in India means that any monetary donation is entirely up to you, as long as it's over $ 10).
Plus that it is a very impressive building as well.
Looming over Amber fort is another fort, Jaigarh, built on a high cliff. Unlike the Agra fort, which doubled a residential palace, the Jaigarh's sole purpose was defence.
The Jaigarh is home to the largest cannon in the world, which I decided would be an interesting sight, especially since I already saw the reputedly largest cannon in the world in Moscow, two years ago. Had they wheeled it over? Could either one of these nations be lying and not actually have the largest cannon in the world? Guess what? Neither of them are. While Moscow claims to have the 'largest' cannon in the world, the Jaya Vana cannon in Jaigarh, is apparently the largest *wheeled* canyon in the world. And another fact in favour of this cannon, the Russians never got round to firing theirs. The Indians in fact did fire their cannon... once...
On the way back to Jaipur we stopped at the Jal Mahal, the water palace.
As I was taking pictures of the palace I was approached by some street kids and I did something I have never done before: I gave one of them money! I never give money to beggars. In my opinion giving money only encourages begging and I prefer to give my money to organisations that work on improving living conditions for these people in the longer term. That said, I often do give some money to disabled or homeless people who actually do something for a living, like selling drinks or a street musician.
This kid did coin tricks, and surprisingly good ones too.
Later Mukesh told me that children in India are entitled to free education, regardless of their parents' income or class. So this kid not being in school, was most like sent out by his parents to earn money. There's always two sides to every story. Not sure what is better, a lower caste kid wasting his years in school only to spend the rest of his days either unemployed or in low-income jobs, or this kid being street-smart, perfecting his English and landing himself a job as a tour-guide or travel agent.
Mukesh dropped me off in the centre of Jaipur, where I visited the Jantar Mantar. We had visited the one in Delhi a few days earlier, but the one in Jaipur is widely regarded as the most impressive of the five observatories Jai Singh built in the early 18th century.
Once again I took an audio tour, this time listening to an old man explaining to his little grand daughter how all the intricate instruments work. The kid must have been a whole lot smarter than me, because even after listening to the explanations I still couldn't figure out what each instrument was supposed to do.
Still, from an architectural and aesthetic point the Jantar Mantar was breathtaking.
Still, I wonder what they used to do when it rained.
Adjacent to the Jantar Mantar is the Jaipur City Palace. The ticket price included entry to the Jaigarh fort, which I had visited in the morning. For some reason doing it in the order I did was not eligible for any discounts though. Greedy bastards :-(
The hefty entrance fee did include an audio guide though, so for the third time today I donned a set of headphones and listened to the stories of days gone by.
This one wasn't as good as the previous ones though.
The last place I visited was the Iswari Minar Swarga Sal, the 'Heaven Piercing Minaret', a minaret erected by Jai Singh's son, who famously killed himself rather than facing the advancing Maratha army. His 21 wives and concubines did the honourable thing and committed ritual suicide afterwards. Did I mention yet I have some doubts about the habits of Indian royalty?
The mosque itself is worth a visit though. From the top you have great views over the frantic streets of Jaipur.
I must say that I quite liked Jaipur. The old city is not particularly beautiful (with the exception of the Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar and the minaret), and it is quite crowded with people and traffic.
I went back to the hotel to find Ed feeling a bit better. We played it safe and had dinner in our hotel, staying off the overly spicy food for now.
In the evening we went to the cinema. No Hollywood fare this time, but a genuine Bollywood film. While neither of us speaks Hindi, Bollywood films are generally easy enough to follow. I mean, they are generally not known for overly complex stories.
The reason why we picked Jaipur to see a film was the majestic Raj Mandir Cinema, a beautiful pink (obviously) cake-like building and considered to be one of the best places to see a Hindi film. After all, the theatre is an attraction in itself.
Just before we went over we had a nasty surprise though. We had bought the tickets yesterday, but I never checked the tickets themselves. Turns out they had given us tickets for the wrong screening. We had tickets for the 18:30 screening, but wanted to go at 21:30.
As we arrived at the theatre I explained the situation to the doorman and was gruffly told that he couldn't do anything about it, we had to come back tomorrow. I explained that we were off to Pushkar tomorrow, so we couldn't come back was there nothing he could do now? There wasn't.
I asked to speak the manager and the doorman grudgingly got a phone and called a number. I was handed the phone and in a not particularly friendly way was I told that there was nothing that could be done. I could come back to the box office tomorrow and try to get a refund or a ticket to tomorrow's show.
When I once again explained that this was not possible (somewhat losing my cool now) I was told that this was all my fault. If his staff made any mistakes printing the wrong tickets then it is my mistake for not checking it. “After all, you also check your money when you get change, don't you”.
Well, yeah, I had been too busy counting the money to notice I had been given wrong tickets.
Meanwhile Ed was talking to one of the other doorman, who seemed a bit more helpful than the first one.
I still didn't agree with the way things had gone, but we didn't have much choice. Besides, 2 Euros is not particularly expensive for a cinema ticket.
When we entered the theatre it turned out it was far from full. The cinema holds a staggering 1184 seats, yet only about 100 were occupied. I didn't understand why it had taken the best part of half an hour to get this sorted. Why does everything have to be so overly complicated in India? We had bought the tickets at the box office yesterday. But this was the pre-sales box office, which was now closed. It was still possible to buy tickets for tonight's film, but at a different box office, only meant to sell tickets from one hour to show time.
While you could still argue that it was partially our own fault for not checking the tickets, I am pretty sure that if you show up at a cinema in Holland with the wrong tickets (unused) and 90% of the seats are still available, they don't make such a fuss and will exchange the tickets for you.
But I guess that requires some sort of initiative and out of the box thinking, and I know from working with Indians that people here are taught to follow rules very strictly. If it's not in the rule book, it is not possible.
Anyway, on to the film itself. Perhaps it is best to copy the plot from Wikipedia:
The film is about bike gangs in Mumbai. Neil Nitin Mukesh plays the character of Nandu, a fighter who pummels his opponents in the ring blindfolded.
The film was enjoyable, despite its flimsy (and rather predictable) plot. I particularly liked the music. Normally I'm not a big fan of Hindi music, but the music in this film was mostly in the melodic rock mould, exactly my type of thing.
All in all a very enjoyable evening. I'm glad we were given the chance to see the film in the end.