I got to Jaipur yesterday afternoon, and after walking to the guest house from the station (and telling about fifty rickshaw-wallahs to bugger off on the way), I crashed out, and went to sleep for pretty much the rest of the day. Then slept all night. Then had a lie-in (well, as much as you can do when the muezzin at the local mosque is singing adulation of Allah around the neighbourhood at 5:30 in the morning). I am, in short, knackered.
The train from Mumbai up to Jaipur, a 2 tier AC sleeper, was really comfortable – I shared my berth with an elderly Hindu gentleman who insisted I share his dosas, a middle-aged Muslim gentleman with a voice like an angry cat being dragged through gravel that went straight though me, and another gentleman of indeterminate nationality who seems to have been travelling most of his life. All in all they were an easy bunch to get on with – every so often I’d get a pat on the knee from the old Hindu chap, I think he wanted to look after me. He reminded me of several people I’ve encountered so far in India – on numerous occasions I’ve bashed my head good and proper on low doorways, as obviously India isn’t designed for the taller man (or maybe just the clumsier one) – as I’ve been standing there with stars in my eyes, people have rushed up and started frantically rubbing my head for me, often a tag team of two at a time. Before I had a short haircut I did it a few times, and by the time they’d finished rubbing my head I looked like Edward Scissorhands, hair all over the place.
I started exploring Jaipur today then, what with all the sleeping, quite late in the day. The other reason for this was that the heat is quite oppressive now, and it seems like you need a while to psyche yourself up before going out into it. I went for a coffee at an Indian Coffee House – sort of like Starbucks in that they’re in every town, but nowhere like Starbucks in that they’re mainly frequented by locals, the paint on the walls is chipping, there’s a separate ‘Women and Family’ room, and the coffee is a fraction of the price of Starbucks – ten rupees for the ‘Special’ Coffee, a very pleasant, smooth brew. So the Starbucks comparison was useless then, but I’m investigating product placement for this blog and I’m wondering if they’ll pay me money. Starbucks Starbucks Starbucks. That’ll do it.
After the Indian Coffee House, I took a stroll through the Pink City – the main reason Jaipur is famous. It’s laid out according to ancient Hindu town planning laws, sort of like a smaller version of Milton Keynes, without the roundabouts, and with dung instead of concrete. And real cows. It’s a great place to get lost in, and yet again, you find whole streets dedicated to particular trades – one street of electronics, one street of jewellers, one street of textiles, and so on. This is yet more proof of how completely Hinduism is a part of everything here – streets are dedicated to trades partly because people’s sub-castes, or jatis, put them in the same place as well as dictating their trade. Mind you, Tottenham Court Road is like that as well.
I also got to try out some Hindi, and people seemed to be impressed as they grabbed me and shook my hand when I used it on them – probably to say “well you butchered my language there mate, but thanks for trying”.
So, my conversations today went pretty much along the these lines:
- “Namaste, Jantar Mantar kahaan hai?” = “Hello, where is the Royal Observatory?”
- Answer comes in high-speed Hindi. I haven’t got the foggiest what the guy is saying, but fortunately he’s doing a lot of gesticulating and pointing, so I assume it means:
“Royal Observatory? No worries mate. Down there until you get to the end, then take a right at that big cow, then a left, and you’re right there. By the way, nice Om T-shirt you’re wearing there – did you buy that in Goa? Thought so – bet you paid too much. My brother has a shop just nearby, he will do you good price.”
- “Shukriya” = “Cheers mate!”
So with these useful directions, I eventually managed to find the Royal Observatory, the largest set of astronomical, and astrological, equipment built by Sawai Jai Singh II – including a huge sundial (when I say huge I mean a hundred feet tall). All very impressive, pictures follow soon. Now I’ve seen some of the sights of Jaipur, and the to-do list for India is getting smaller, which is a good job. I’ve got the overpowering urge to go and hide in the mountains until it’s time to go to Hong Kong.