India Holiday – Day 5

After a late night, we had a relatively early start, setting off to the Amber Fort at 8:30, to be there in time to get our planned elephant ride to the fort, up a steep cliff side.

The queue was fast moving and our guide for Jaipur was both friendly and competent, which was nice. The tens of very persistent hawkers were slightly less so, but we just treated them as part of the ambience. After the same hat, guide book, elephant figurine and “excellent gift idea” consisting of cheap pens has been pushed in your face for the umpteenth time, it does get a bit tedious though 🙂

The 30-minute elephant ride itself was great! Elephants have a pleasant slow rythm, that was only interrupted when our elephant – 35-year old Chumpa – stopped to have a 30-second piss that sounded like a sizeable waterfall happening underneath us. There are 123 elephants working here going up to the fort in a constant stream, all female, and they go on doing this until they retire at the age of 50!

The 17th century fort itself is imposing, with ornate carvings, sophisticated plumbing for both heated baths and “air conditioned” rooms, not to mention bedrooms and entertainment spaces for the Raj and his 12 (!!) wives. Imagine the strife, rivalry and competition that would cause; in general, Hindus do not allow multiple wives (only for the Raj), and I think that’s a good idea.

After the fort, we went to the Wind Palace in downtown Jaipur. It is an impressive-looking structure but it is only a facade that is 1 meter deep – designed for the ladies of the palace behind it to sit in privacy to observe city life, processions and such.

Jaipur itself is a mad, Indian style city, but at 3.5M people is much smaller than Delhi and also feels both cleaner and nicer, relatively speaking of course. The air is certainly cleaner, allowing for both nice sunshine and views uninterrupted by thick smog. In the evening, huge numbers of stars are visible, something I have been looking forward to.

On the trip, our guide took us to a jewel maker; Jaipur is known for employing something like 80,000 people in the cutting and polishing business alone. “Just know that it is my duty to take you here, but not for you to buy anything”. Good advice: My kind of guide!

The jewel crafting we saw was interesting but we did not really want jewelry and instead toured the huge selection of other craft items also for sale and ended up buying a lovely bronze Natraj sculpture that will look great at home. It is one of Mamta’s old wishes to get one of those, so mission accomplished 🙂 The sculpture that I really liked was more than a meter tall and cost several thousand dollars, not to mention it being a bit awkward to find a spot for in the house, so we passed on that one…

The Jantar Mantar is an old observatory, Indian Style: it is full of instruments to measure solar positions, time and celestial positions with great accuracy – all mainly in order to develop accurate astrological predictions. Talk about confusing accuracy and precision 🙂 Anyway, the structures are impressive – the huge sun dial that can show the time with 2 second precision is rightfully in the Guinness Book of Records.

At the City Palace we had lunch in the local cafe (and even though there were Western dishes, it was impossible to resist the temptation of the delicious native dishes) and then toured several separate areas of the palace. The Indians make a big deal out of the fact that Prince Albert visited it in 1947 for the Independence, but the highlight for me was definitely the armoury: a couple of rooms full of interesting weapons from the 19th century and earlier, ranging from the ornate to the truly lethal.

Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the Palace, so I have no pictures – only of the outside, which is beautiful in all its pink/terracotta glory.

Here, we also went to a small arts/crafts place where artists exhibit their goods, and ended up buying a couple of drawings. The artist spun long stories about just how fine the drawings are and how long they take to make (8 days, 6 months, …) but I think that is exaggerated by a few orders of magnitude. Or maybe it’s elapsed time, with lots of other stuff also being done at the same time. Either way, beautiful stuff, and an educational half an hour.

Finally, we went to a place that does “block printing”. It is a technique that is used to print layers of patterns on natural cloth, and we were shown examples of this. They also produce carpets here, and we got a thorough look at just how much work it takes to first hand knot each individual knot, then cut, scrape, clean, wash and burn the product until it’s both smooth and somewhat dirt/spill resistant.

We also looked at several carpets made from wool, silk and even camel hair. Because camel hair is quite thick, it undergoes a lot of different treatments before it can be used in a carpet – and the results are stunning.  My favourites are the silk ones though, but the colours are very delicate, and I’m not sure the several-thousand-pounds-price is worth it over the more boring £50 carpet from IKEA we have. It’s certainly a big investment to make.

For me, the real treat was upstairs, where they sell fabrics as well as custom made garments. I decided to get a custom-made suit and 6 tailored shirts – I hope they will be nice when I pick them up tomorrow!

The tour of the day was long but excellent! And we went back to the hotel to collapse for a few hours, to get energy for the evening. Here, we went to a restaurant with live music and dancers and enjoyed a Rajastani Thali – delicious in its variety, although not very spicy! Iain was completely rapt with the dancing and music and even joined in for a bit; it was lovely to see the gleam in his eyes…

Perhaps the dancers mistook him for a girl, with his smooth face and long hair? Our guide today did the same earlier, repeatedly referring to Iain as “she” and “her”, until Mamta gently pointed out the mistake 🙂

Here in the capital of Rajastan, I can truly say that India is not a relaxing place to be. It’s manic in its intensity of sound, colours, people, noise, tastes and smell – from sewers to fresh mangoes with everything in between. The assault on the senses is intense and interesting, but very tiring.

Tomorrow is a free day: time for a massage, a bit of shopping, and some time in the pool…


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