The Pink City they call it. We would have gone with Terracotta Town. But that’s just us.
We arrived at 12pm after an six and a half hour journey from Delhi. When looking into the train system of India, it can be a little daunting. We got all the info from the Man in Seat 61 which gave a great breakdown of the classes (all eight of them) and we followed the process of registering with IRCTC via Cleartrip. That process is long winded and bizarre, but when it finally works, it becomes super simple to book seats online. Our first taste of Indian train travel went pretty well. We zig-zagged through the thousands of people talking, sleeping and begging at Old Delhi and found the closest number to what our train number was meant to be and headed for the platform. With the help of an Army Officer were taken to the carriage for 2AC our choice of class. The attendant made sure we had our sheets, blankets and pillows in the side berths we requested and we drifted off to sleep being only briefly woken as the chai wallahs would tread the aisle calling Chai! Chai! Chai!
We grabbed a prepaid auto rickshaw from the train station and headed to our new abode, Zostel Hostel. A rare find in India. Normally, it is guest houses, home stays or hotels, but when we found a real life backpackers, we booked it. And it is one of the best hostels we stayed in so far. Our first priority was food, so on the advice of the staff we went to Thali House veg restaurant for a thali – rice with a few different currys. We were taken there by the wheeling and dealing tuk tuk driver Khan (+91 97857 36097). Eid Festival had started today to celebrate the end of Ramadan so he was in an especially good mood. Still uncertain about just getting a driver to take us place to place again, we decided to give it one more go and asked Khan how much to see a few places. “It’s my festival, I don’t charge you anything, you pay me what you think it’s worth.” Hmmm
We went for it and he took us to the city palace that, compared with Delhi, was pretty well maintained and guarded by the bright red turban wearing guards. We wandered around for an hour or so before crossing the road to Jantar Mantar. If you purchase a Composite ticket here, it gives you entry into almost all of the big sites including Amber Fort, Albert Hall, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar (Observatory), Nahargarh Fort, Vidyadhar Garden and Sisodia Rani Garden. We went in and spent only fifteen minutes amongst the peculiar shape that measure the skies constellations, but there wasn’t much effect at 4pm in the afternoon so we left thinking maybe it would be worth the visit at night. But it could also be a lot more creepier then with groups of leering guys again.
We we were dropped off at a gate into Hawa Mahal, where once inside we got the same feeling as the monuments in Delhi. The place was full of packs of salivating and feverish young men armed with camera phones. The worst thing was, with all the different levels and individual rooms, you couldn’t get away from them. As soon as we would find some solitude in an area, heads would pop around the corner, while eyes would peer over balconies followed by the subtle Click! Click! Clicks! of their phones. After a brief lecture to one group making them delete their photos and telling them to think long and hard about their actions, we left.
As we were dropped off at Zostel, Khan insisted we go to his house for dinner to celebrate Eid. His mum was cooking, so how could we refuse. At 7:30pm we were picked up before being driven through the outer suburbs of Jaipur. When we arrived, with a small toot of the tuk tuk horn, we were confronted with the bright eyes and gleaming smiles of 15 children. That’s 30 eyes and lots of teeth if your trying to do the math. Khan has only 2 daughters but with brothers, sisters, cousins and older generations under one roof, it meant there were 22 children all up and of that 3 were boys. We were welcomed into the house where we were taken to Khans room to sit on the bed in front of our audience of smiles and whispering. The girls flocked to Sarah, each biding for her attention while the boys and I discussed the one thing that translates through the language barrier, cricket. Khan disagreed when I told him I look like Ricky Ponting (as a joke) and said earlier in the day, while I had my cap on, I looked like Alistair Cook… Probably neither.
The kids were ushered out to make room for us on his prayer rug to eat. We had earlier been asked what food we would like in the traditional Indian manner, Veg or Non-Veg. Hoping to get a couple of recipes we asked if his mum had started cooking, unfortunately she had. But we went downstairs to see finalising the meal by rolling out the chapatis. Siezing an opportunity, we asked to have a go. Once again surrounded by giggling smiles of the family, I crouched on the tiny stool and wrecked a chapati. Well at least they all it was funny. I finally managed to roll one and then left it on the fire for too long, so burnt a hole in it. Sarah’s go. She took to it a lot quicker than I, but I cannot commentate as I was handed a tiny baby and made it cry. We went up stairs and ate a delicious meal surrounded by Kha’n’s children and aunties. Full and satisfied we said goodbye to the smiling children and headed to bed.
The following day we organised Khan again to take us to Amber Fort, Jal Mahal and Monkey Temple. Amber Fort is 11km away from Jaipur so we first had wiggle our way through the now, somehow flooded, streets of the city – past the wandering cows, the busy pigs, the relaxing camels and then, of course, an elephant.
The fort is quite spectacular perched on the hill. Khan warned about guides and pickpockets before we climbed the stairs on up. It was pretty packed with mainly local tourists, but the groups of guys had diminished, replaced by family’s of up to 5 generations. Almost immediately two guys came up and asked me for a photo. I queried them, asking if the wanted a photo of Sarah. The looked puzzled and shook their heads. No, just me. Maybe we were wrong all along and the lingering groups of men were actually interested in me. Probably not, but I was flattered. Or maybe they thought I was Alistair Cook. We will never know. We spent almost two hours in the temple going from building to courtyard to tunnel to balcony. We both really enjoyed it, maybe things were looking up!
We stopped for one photo of Jal Mahal which is sat all alone, out in the lake sorrounded by hills. Next stop was monkey temple. We were dropped at the bottom of the hill where a group of children asked us to hire them as a guide. We wandered up alone against their requests and horror stories of attacking monkeys, Sarah’s least favourite animal species. We were left well alone as a couple behind us made the mistake of buying peanuts to feed them. Within two steps up the hill, they were mobbed and the bag was stolen by the little critters. We wandered up past the monkeys playing and fighting, as they do, until we reached a tiny temple perched on top of the hill overlooking Jaipur. It was okay but not when some more guys arrived and started being inappropriate again. It also was not monkey temple. We walked down another path where a lady ran up, put a red dot on our heads and then demanded money. We ignored her and walked further on until we noticed, in the distance another temple, but with a car park full of buses at the bottom. Wondering why we were taken to the wrong place, we gave up and headed back.
Back in the tuk tuk we said we wanted go somewhere for lunch. We asked for somewhere cheap and local like the Thali restaurant we went to yesterday but Khan said it was touristy now and instead took us to a restaurant that, after perusing the menu, we left, as it was the most expensive place we had seen. Khan said he took us there because it was clean to western standards. Finally he got it when we said local and dirty so he took us to Mohans. It definitely wasn’t dirty but it was local and when the paneer butter masala came with dhal makhani, were were happy. It was delicious. Unfortunately we didn’t get a picture of what it looked like in the beginning, only the aftermath.
We were taken to a textile shop by our request . Here, Sarah perused the shops for fabrics while I sat drinking tea. I’m not sure what was in it, but I took Sarah saying “hese are nice to be we should by these. I sat with owners to begin one of my favourite pastimes in India, haggling. I sat telling cricket stories about the owners favourite players, Dean Jones and Don Bradman. He liked the stories but didn’t like the price I offered. Eventually we agreed a price for some fabric at less then half the price including shipping. I was so impressed with my efforts I gave myself the nickname of The Raggler (Rad Haggler) then Sarah came over and asked why I bought them.
“Didn’t you want them.”
“No they just look nice.”
“But I just saved £100.”
“No Wade, you spent £80.”
We said goodbye to Khan, paid what we thought it worth (by asking the hostel how much individual rickshaws would be) and headed to the hostel for some cold beers and some chicken face soup we had bought in Montenegro. We sat chatting to our fellow travellers who were all feeling the same way with the groups of men and how India takes some getting used to. It was good to hear it from other people.