Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Travel Tales: India, Day 4 in Jaipur

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for me. And it is good here. My tastes are adapting to life in India. I, who have not had sugar in my tea for more years than I can remember, am happy to sip multiple cups of very sweet Masala Chai. The kids can now be called addicts of the same :) My Bircher Muesli and low fat milk forgotten, I tuck in happily into Puri-Bhaji and Parathas.

The guide comes exactly at 8 am. A knowledgeable man; I am glad. Our first stop is Amber Fort (Um-Bér not Am-ber). We are booked for an elephant ride up the little hill and we wait in a long queue for the same. The elephants work only for a couple of hours each morning so we have hurried to get there in time, but others have hurried even more. I enjoy an interesting conversation with two women travellers from Israel. In fact, I am rather surprised throughout the trip at the number of Israeli travellers we encounter. And the French too.

Our ride is ready finally. The kids are having a hoot on the good man, who thinks nothing of speeding at 200+ kms/h on the autobahns while I squeak pitiably, is visibly nervous and hanging on to the sides with white knuckles. I giggle at his rather endearing fear :)

The guide gives us a detailed run through of the fort. It takes a full two hours. The kids tire of it. However, I am fascinated. It's been 25 years since I came here last. Is age a requirement for appreciating old things? I hear the jingle of the anklets of the Rajput princesses, the clinging of their bangles. I see the swirl of their skirts as they hurry through covered corridors. I see the colourful turbans of their men, the clanging of their swords. Their ego, their pride, their courage, their machismo, their cruelty. What would they think, I wonder, of these throngs wandering through their hard fought lands? I am distressed to see graffiti on the makes me sad.

The guide offers a lunch stop but we aren't hungry as yet. We go to see Jantar Mantar and are duly impressed. A snake charmer sits outside. My snake phobia makes me cringe while my kids egg me on "Just see mum, just a peek!!". I feel nauseous at the thought.

We head to the City Palace next. We see the outside halls, the giant silver water containers and the museum but the rest of the palace is closed for a film shoot. The dear man disdains to gawk at the stars, but I crane my neck to get a glimpse of Aishwarya Rai, a very beautiful actress. She is hustled in too fast for me to see her. I am quite disappointed.

We are starving by now. We ask to be taken to Lakshmi Mishtaan Bhandar, a restaurant with good reviews in our guidebook. Its a vegetarian place, very reasonably priced. We ask for the Rajasthani Thali, which, when it arrives, surprises us by its size. It is the best thali meal we would eat during our trip. We all make a game effort but in spite of our near starving condition, the kids and I make only a small dent in the plate before us. My man has a good appetite and he gets value for his money (and ours too!!!).

The guide takes us to a shop in spite of our asking him this morning not do so. We think of refusing. But he has been good. We feel obliged. We are shown carpets which seem to cost a lot. Then a handloom shop where my good man buys some silk ties and I, a tablecloth. They are excellent but the prices seem too high. We tell ourselves that we shall learn to say "No" more firmly.

The guide leaves us and we ask to be taken to the bazaar. My man decides to sit in the car, he is not one for the shops. The streets are teeming with all kinds of traffic. I am having trouble crossing. We latch on to other crossers and dart across, looking, I am sure, ridiculous in our fear. The kids and I enjoy a nice wander through the streets but I do not find any interesting shops. Has the driver brought us to the right place? I think not; Jaipur is supposed to have a great marketplace. We want to explore further but my waiting man makes me feel guilty and we return back quickly.

We stop at the Birla temple on the way back. Pristine, in beautiful marble, it is very peaceful. I sit on the floor remembering childhood visits to the Birla temple in Calcutta and in Delhi. I miss my mother. I notice that walking barefoot in the temple and getting my feet dirty doesn't bother me anymore.

The kids and I shun dinner and opt for an early bed. My man wanders down to the bar again and finds some snacks. This has been a very long and tiring day.

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