**NOTE: The following events were in 2017. Catching up on old posts before I leave for another adventure in a couple of weeks! Stayed tuned for new adventures soon!!**
Day 761 – 31 March, 2017
I’m prepared to admit that by the time I arrived in Jaipur I was in a foul mood. The night bus, coupled with arctic air conditioning, a sore neck, and general lack of sleep was probably the catalyst. I walked to my hostel from the bus terminal, which wasn’t far, but everything that had, on occasion, endeared me to India now became giant inconvenient nuisances. The heat and humidity that feels like a lead balloon took my breath away, not to mention the busy road throwing dust up into my face as I walked. My backpack felt like it was weighted with iron and I couldn’t locate my sunglasses so the harsh morning light was blinding. The smell of an open sewer was so intense it seemed to be part of the landscape. Also, this was supposed to be The Pink City, yet I saw nothing that was pink.
It was early morning so the hostel wasn’t able to check me in. In fact, the restaurant wasn’t even open yet for breakfast. There was a hammock strung between two pillars in the lobby, but when I tried to lay in it, one side came untied and all I could do was lie on the ground and sigh.
There was a white board with some recommended activities for the city with transportation cost. Aside from the old city, some of the other attractions were far enough away that the transport was going to be significant. As I considered myself somewhat of an expert in hostel operations at this point, I suggested they should have a list posted so that people could group together and split the cost. They disagreed. I basically told them they were idiots. I was in a mood, but I blame lack of sleep and coffee.
I knew I needed to snap out of it so I set out to walking. I didn’t really know where I was headed, but I needed some alone time and for some reason, I thought I would find it on the streets of Jaipur. I walked with purpose. Every rickshaw that motored beside me, coaxing me to get in, I said “no thank you,” even though it was inconceivable to most of them that I would choose to walk anywhere. People on the street would stare and often ask where I was going. I just smiled. Inside my head, I wanted everyone to shut up.
Eventually, I found myself standing outside of the decidedly Salmon City. I guess “pink” might be an easier color to translate than “salmon” but this was some downright false advertising if you ask me. I was irrationally irritated by this! I turned down an alley that was absolutely loaded with jewelry shops. I stopped at one stand with stacks of wooden bracelets piled high. Several saleswomen were seated behind the table and were matched one to one with the number of patrons. Each customer was stacking different color bracelets up their arms, with an average number of five. The workers were helping with different sizes and different color combinations. I watched for awhile until one of the stylists offered me a seat in front of the stacks. I chose a combination of 1 green and 2 cream-colored bangles with gold accents. Many of the ladies didn’t speak English, but they seemed amused that I had joined their shopping spree and we non-verbally bonded over our love of pretty things. Just when my saleslady was packaging my bounty, I accidentally bumped one of the bracelets to the ground and it promptly broke into 3 pieces. The two ladies sitting on either side of me stared at the broken bangle and just shook their heads. That’s when I noticed the sign (in English) to be careful when handling the jewelry. I bent down to pick up the broken pieces and as I did, my knee brushed the wobbly leg of the table, sending two more bracelets crashing to their death. Mortified, I made eye contact with the cashier who was thrusting my tissue-wrapped purchase into my hands and sending me on my way. I offered to pay and she just shooed me away. She obviously only wanted to get rid of me, but I found it humbling and it helped me shake the earlier bad mood.
I toured Jantar Mantar (a similar park for astrological observation as I had seen in Delhi a few days earlier) and the Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds. I still wasn’t entirely into it. I didn’t read anything about what I was seeing or really care that much. I wasn’t really in a bad mood anymore; it was more a feeling of utter exhaustion and boredom.
Through the adorned windows on the upper floors of the palace I saw people having drinks on the rooftop across the street. I needed to go there. For the first time all day, I had a goal. It took me about 30 minutes to exit the palace, try to orient myself as to what side of the palace I would find that cafe, and then to identify which one of the cafes was the oasis I had seen from above. When I finally found it and ordered some tea, I could breathe again. Well, not because the air was cleaner or less smelly or less humid, but because I needed a day to just relax. I sat at that cafe for the rest of the afternoon, drinking buckets of tea, reading my book, observing the gridlocked traffic below without being part of it. And what’s best there was a fantastic view.
In hindsight, my bad mood may have been in direct correlation to my outfit. Don’t ask. Laundry day.
The next day was so much better. I sat in the lobby of the hostel long enough that I finally found a couple of people going in the direction of the Nahargarh Fort outside of the city so that we could share a ride. A strong defensive fort for the city of Jaipur, it offers expansive views of the valley. On the way back, we also stopped to admire the Jal Mahal, a palace in the middle of a lake. You can’t help but think of India’s famous monsoons and how it wouldn’t take much to swallow this palace with one bad torrent.
Later that afternoon, I went to the train station to buy my onward ticket to Varanasi. The window was closed for the attendant’s lunch so as I was to be second in line, I sat down on the floor just next to the woman who was meant to be first. She and I had a nice chat about how she was going to visit her daughter in Delhi and how she missed seeing her grandchildren every day after they had moved for her son-in-law’s job. She wanted me to know she was Christian and talked about how important her faith was to her. She was mystified that I had been traveling alone for so long and couldn’t imagine why in the world I would want to visit Varanasi – didn’t I know that it was a 19 hour train journey? We had been talking for nearly an hour and a few other people had gathered in a line behind us when the window popped open and the attendant was back to work. India is seemingly caught in the middle of eastern culture and western rules, which is evident when urbanites try to assimilate western customs like waiting in a queue with the citizens from lower castes. A short bedraggled man pushed in front of us and began speaking to the cashier about purchasing a ticket. The woman spoke to him in Hindi, but he ignored her. She said something again and he raised his hand to shoo her away. Meanwhile, I was holding a uniform stance of a westerner who has just been cut in line, hands on hips, head shaking, deep frown. The attendant saw me and waved me to the front, ignoring the man who had walked in front of us. I demurred to the woman who had the right of way. She bowed her head and thanked me, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I hadn’t been there if they all would have continued ignoring her. I wasn’t sure if I would ever understand the relationship between the sexes and the castes.
That night I ate dinner at what might have been considered an “expensive” restaurant in Jaipur as a treat to myself. It came highly recommended for the food and the view and was chock full of tourists. I ordered a lime cocktail and thali with generous helpings of all the savory accompaniments, finishing with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce in a silver footed dish. The meal was fantastic and satiating, but listening to the conversations of the tourists at nearby tables made me cringe. Someone complained they found a hair in their food, which made me smile. Someone else was explaining how they couldn’t eat anything spicy so asked if they could just get some plain white rice. And another person still was complaining about the traffic and the smog and didn’t they [Indians] know not to throw trash on the ground. I couldn’t bear to listen to all the blathering. Why even come here if you weren’t willing to smell, taste and feel it?
I boarded my train to Varanasi on the third level of an AC car. The only snack I brought was a small box of pastries that I sought out on my way to the station. A few children were running and giggling in the aisle of the train car; they were wrestling and generally roughhousing as children are wont to do anywhere in the world. Their parents were trying to control the situation and were failing miserably. It was preventing me from sleep, but it was also kind of soothing. It was a connection from this world to another and a reminder that none of us are that different. Onward toward Uttar Pradesh…for at least the next 19 hours.