After an eventful day yesterday, Shannon and I retreated to our room only to find an uninvited guest. He was about 2 inches tall and 5 inches long. Shannon wanted to bring him home but the hotel manager informed us that he was of the dangerous variety. He called housekeeping, who came rushing in with a long broom made of elephant grass and swatted our guest from the vent. He scurried to the bathroom. We heard a loud thud, and that was the end of his short lizard’s life.
Operation Bengal Tiger was in full effect this morning, spearheaded by Papa Tiger (aka Dr. Paul Springer). We succeeded in mixing up the seating arrangements on the bus, but that only lasted for half the day. As we headed out on our tour, Jaipur greeted us with rows and rows of terra-cotta buildings giving the appearance of order in the chaos. It was a refreshing sight compared to the rugged concrete jungle of Mumbai, where high risers intermingled with tarped covered tents. According to our tour guide, Jaipur with its 2,000 central market (shops) was the first planned city in Asia. Jaipur sits on the third largest desert in the world, the Thar Desert.
Our first destination was the Wind Palace with 953 windows. We were told that the windows allowed the women of the palace (who were not allowed to go out during the day), an opportunity to see what was going on in the “outside world”. As our bus was getting ready to leave, a salesman made his last attempt to sell us his goods. His hand got caught in the door of the bus, which caused quite a scene. We then rode up toward Amber Fort surrounded by a 7km (over 4 miles) wall. The Fort was built during the 8th and 9th century, and was situated on the historic Spice Route. Because the conquering ruler was Mogul (Mongul), he had seen the construction of the Great Wall of China. As a result, the wall surrounding the city reminded Teagen, Paul and Rich of the Great Wall of China, and was an awe-inspiring site. The fort was equally majestic, and was built on the crest of a mountain, with a large lake below. One fun fact, was the fact that the king allowed his 5,000 elephants to bathe in the lake as a way to regulate the temperature in the water. There was a deep Islamic influence in the architecture, mainly from Iranian traders who frequently interacted with the local tribes. The first European visitor came to the city in 1494 and the Iranian traders slowly lost their influences.
From the air, Jaipur looks brown and barren; however, the Fortress was covered with beautiful tropical trees and flowers. Our guide told us that these plants were imported from Australia in 1970 mainly for tourists and special guests. The palace at Amber Fort was majestic with its beautiful and intricate marble construction and architecture. It is the second most famous building in India after the Taj Mahal, receiving 50,000 to 60,000 visitors per day. Archways were decorated with beautiful geometric designs that shimmered in the sun light. According to Islamic traditions, it is not kosher to paint human figures so all decorations were of geometric shapes.
The highlight of the trip was the elephant ride up to the palace. Elephants are animals of great reverence in Indian culture. They symbolized masculine energy and good luck. We divided up in pairs and hopped on top of the elephant carriage. The seat was slippery and was difficult to maintain balance as the elephant sauntered up the stairways, while photographers’ booming voices urged us to look at them for pictures. As soon as we got off the elephants, these photographers rushed in with freshly printed photos of our ride trying to get us to buy them. “Money” is the code word for tip in this tourist attraction, from the elephant trainer to the floor sweeper.
Leaving the hectic market area, we found solace in a sacred temple where Shiva has his 9 incarnations. We had to take off our shoes and all leather-ware. One of the priests blessed us with a dab of red paint on our forehead. We later learned that the dot on the forehead that so many Indians have symbolizes 2 things. First, women often wear a ‘bindi’ on their forehead to signify that they are married. These bindis come in many different colors to allow coordination with the perfect outfit. Secondly, it is also a customary practice to dab red paint on the forehead of guests as a way to welcome them. In the Hindu tradition, ‘a guest is a god’.
We toured the Summer Place, the Mirror Palace and the Mansingh Palace, where the king kept his 12 official wives, 38 sons and over 900 servants. We wondered about the fate of the king’s daughters and were told that they were simply not recorded so no one knows how many he actually has. After the tour, we had an ‘elephant-off’ at the exit gate between Teagan, Dr. Springer and Manjeet. Dr. Springer dominated the competition with his elephant calling ability.
We mixed it up during lunch today at the Hotel Glitz Jaipur. Teagan, Eric, Julia and myself got to choose four dishes from the menu for the whole group to try. Best vote goes to the Butter Chicken, selected by Julia. After lunch, we continued our tour of the main City Palace in the scorching heat, so hot you can ‘cooked an egg on your thigh’. We learned about the lineages of the maharajas or ruling class of India. We also saw the world’s largest sundial. Then we split up into small groups and visited the different shops in the market plaza outside the palace gate.
For dinner, we tasted South Indian cuisine at a restaurant called Sankalp. We had a special treat of ice scream that came in 3 yummy flavors, including strawberry, chocolate and VA-NIL-LAAA. It was a nice way to wind down from the torturous heat of the day. Thus far, we fell in love with the people of Mumbai, admired the buildings of Jaipur and looking forward with anticipation to Ranthambore, Agra and New Delhi.