We have been in India now for 19 days. The first leg of our trip ended last night and we said goodbye to Silje and Nicolai and hello to Sue, Daniela and Martin. It was extremely sad to see S & N leave the group, as they were such an important part of the trip dynamic. It reminded us all how close we have become in such a short time.
As we begin our second leg and I ponder how to summarize the last four days (two in Jaipur and two in Delhi) in just a few words, love and hate come to mind.
I left off last post with a bit of a teaser about our Jaipur Hotel, which was called the Bissau Palace. Most of the hotels we have stayed in have Palace somewhere in the title. And in fact we learned that some of the hotels in India are in fact Palaces converted into hotels. But up to now, while our accommodations have been better than any of us expected — Palaces they have not been by a long shot.
As we approached the outskirts of Jaipur we all noticed that the streets were cleaner, the traffic a bit more acceptable, and the store fronts amazingly colourful. There was excitement in the air as we had some free time in Jaipur and were all looking forward to the Old City Bazaar.
Our City guide in Jaipur was very knowledgeable about Indian politics, the caste system as well as the city’s history, so we had a first meeting planned with him after arriving at our hotel.
Following the instructions Al had from the Lonely Planet and map quest we arrived at what was supposed to be the location of our hotel. But there was no hotel to be seen and no one he asked knew where it was. Quick thinking by Al, he asked a tuk tuk driver who agreed to lead our bus to the hotel and within minutes we arrived at the most beautiful hotel we had seen thus far in India. As we walked through painted archways and past marble bowls filled with rose petals, we were mesmerized. Every inch of the walls in the hotel were hand painted with floral designs, and folk tale stories. I must be in heaven, I thought as I took out my camera to try to capture the beauty.
The dining room where we had breakfast (and some of the group had dinner) was formally set with bone china and beautiful brass and copper tea and coffee decanters. The employees (all men) wore red turbans and beautiful tunics made from patterned cloth. We felt like we were in another time.
We met with our local guide that evening in a room beautifully decorated, with display cabinets full of antique artifacts, jewelry and books. It seemed like the perfect setting to hear about how the caste system came about and how it evolved. We also learned about the government’s policies of affirmative action to try and undo the damage that the caste system has brought upon the untouchable class who had been destined to a life as street sweepers.
The next day we had a half day of touring and then were left to ourselves to explore the colourful street vendors and shops lining the streets of the old city. Jaipur is known as the pink city. All of the walls are painted a shade of pinky red. We were all sure it was red sandstone like all of the Red Forts we had seen thus far, but in fact a decision was made by one of the rulers to actually paint the walls this colour.
We all had shopping to do as Brett, one of the group, had suggested we do a secret Santa exchange, and Jaipur was the best shopping we had seen so far. Marc and I wandered the streets and bargained with the vendors and had a really great afternoon and evening.
This was the India I was waiting to see. For me this was the day I truly fell in love with India.
But it was short lived.
We left for Delhi the next morning and left our beautiful hotel and great market experiences behind and set out for a long drive to Delhi where we would have two free days to ourselves and where we would meet the new people and start the second leg of the trip. We stopped as usual at a local eatery on the way, and I just wasn’t feeling good about it. Personally, I was sick to death of dal of one description or another over rice or chapati. It all looked questionable and I just had no appetite for these terribly dirty places. Marc on the other hand seemed to be resigned and was quite enjoying the street fare.
Delhi is a huge city of 22 million, which means a lot of pollution and masses of humanity and their filth. Marc and I were really suffering from the air quality. We were both sick with colds and coughs which just don’t go away when you are filling your lungs with exhaust.
Our hotel was located in a middle class Indian neighbourhood and a group of us wandered the streets in search of some western food, and couple of drinks We found a bar at the corner of our street and had a drink, which always helps to deal with our surroundings. Marc sighted a Pizza Hut, and we decided that it was just what we needed to exit Indian culture long enough to regroup. It definitely did the trick!
Restaurant taxes have been a great mystery to all of us. Food is inexpensive enough, but by the time you add in 20% VAT plus another 20% state tax, and a 10% service charge, your meal doesn’t come close to approximating the price on the menu. Most waiters in restaurants also seem to have a problem adding up bills correctly (funnily, they always favour the restaurant and not the customer). Our meals in Delhi were actually better in that regard to other places, but this was grating on our nerves as well.
The next day we headed out for the Red Fort (every big city has one) and the famous Jami Masjid Mosque. I had had enough of both, and was following Marc like a zombie for most of the day. I had heard great things about the Bazaars in Delhi and was just waiting to get to that part of the day. After visiting both Fort and Mosque, we stopped for dosas on the street and eventually made it to the Bazaars.
Wow! The bazaars were completely over the top amazing. We decided to do it by foot rather than tuk tuk so we did not see everything, but what we did see was absolutely breathtaking. Unfortunately, I did not take very many photos as I was too busy taking in the eye candy. Each part of the Market is divided. So all of the sari fabrics are in one area, all of the ribbons, buttons and beads for decorating saris are in another part, eye glass shops in another section, vegetables etc in another. The amount of beautiful things crammed in each tiny shop was mind-boggling.
I could have spent the next week there, wandering the streets and looking at the amazing sights.
We were all (everyone in the group) by now sick with colds and coughs. My duty as hygiene monitor has been a dismal failure. Our bus seems to be an incubator for all of this, and I just knew it was only a matter of time before this turned ugly. And I was right. By the time we hit Jaisalmer the next day, there was more than our noses that were running.