On our first day off from working at Help in Suffering we decided to try and see some of the sights of Jaipur. In the early hours of the morning, I had a bit of a funny fainty spell and felt rather sick and dizzy (typical when we were just about to have our day off!) which I think was down to the change in diet. Beth and I (both keen meat eaters) opted to be vegetarians during our time in India for both ethical, cultural and “Delhi belly safety” reasons. However, the Indian diet as a vegetarian is quite low in iron, which as women we rely on much more. Luckily Beth thought to bring some vitamin tablets so a daily boost seemed to help the situation. One thing that sprung to mind when I was sprawled on the bed in my birthday suit (it was frankly too hot to wear anything in bed), was frankly how incapacitated was… I really hoped I wouldn’t require Beth’s assistance as I physically wasn’t capable at that moment of making myself decent (and that would have definitely taken our friendship to new levels neither of us was ready for!!). Thankfully I was fine by the time Beth came around at half eight and we ate breakfast which consisted of seasonal fruit from the market (Kela – bananas and Aam – mango) accompanied with yoghurt (Which is Dahii in Hindi) and some honey.
The Amber Fort was the first stop on our hitlist of Jaipur sights, this was the palace of the last Hindu king who died in 2011. The fort was built gradually over several decades by several sets of royalty and is beautifully set in the hillside opposite the army fort which has been nicknamed “The great wall of India” which from photos you can definitely see where it got its namesake. It has a number of incredibly well maintained symmetrically patterned gardens growing saffron and tropical flowers which smelt amazing. The fort was built to give a fabulous view and tourists can trek by elephant up to the fort. We were pleased to see that thanks to the time and care put in by Help in Suffering and a few other organisations the elephants looked a lot healthier and happier than reports had shown a few years previously. Although these elephants are still not in an ideal situation, to be working in the heat of the afternoon taking tourists up the fort, big changes have been made to ensure the health of the elephant is maintained which we had read about, but were happy to see it was true for ourselves. We decided to walk up to the fort as frankly the elephants were wildly expensive and we still felt a little uncomfortable as animal welfare advocates, supporting this trade. So, lathered in sun cream, hats and sunglasses donned and bottled water in hand, we began our ascent. On the way, we were met by a tour guide who offered ( for a fee of course) to show us around the fort. He was very insistent on taking photos of us and kept taking Beth’s camera and directing us to get the best shot so we have our trip well-documented thanks to him! He also did an excellent job fending off the Indian tourists who seemed more keen to take a photo with us than of the tourist attraction they were supposedly there to see! Being British, we found It remarkable how much of a stir two white girls created, as, In England where we are used to every colour and creed known to man, it’s completely normal to see ethnic minorities doing their shopping or visiting a tourist attraction along with everybody else and nobody bats an eyelid.
After the fort tour, we were deposited at the gift shop where there were a number of humorous books e.g. What would Ghandi do? And Hindu for Dummies accompanied with a DVD version of the Khama Sutra which the shopkeeper seemed incredibly keen for us to buy! We politely declined and commented that such erotica would not be sold in normal shops back home to which he seemed rather surprised. We then spent time explaining that just because we show a bit more skin and don’t have arranged marriages doesn’t mean we’re all brazen hussies which seemed to be a conversation we had to have a lot over the course of our trip! After this unusual encounter, we went to see how they made the vegetable dye which is used for everything from wall decorations like those decorating the palace to the clothes everyone buys in the market. Shopping for Saris here was quite a pleasurable experience as we got to sit on a comfy seat, we were made chai and the shopkeeper dressed us up and fitted our Saris for us. It was a very different experience compared to that of the Bazars in the pink city which were incredibly chaotic. However, we did essentially pay for the experience as the Saris were around the 18-pound mark which for India is expensive, but nevertheless, we were both happy with our purchases, even if we had been slightly ripped off!
Our guide then took us to a local café for some lunch which was amazing! For only 50p in English money, we had a sort of potato flat cake stuffed with cheese, cauliflower, onions and chilies which were incredibly tasty. The guide then preceded to invite us to his friend’s wedding which seemed to weirdly be happening a lot! In fact, that was our third wedding invitation from people we’d only just met. I can’t lie though I would have loved to attend an Indian wedding as from what people say they are huge, colourful affairs all about eating, dancing and celebrating all whilst in a Sari ( arguably one of the most beautiful pieces of clothing) which I could definitely get on board with!
We thanked our guide and set off in a taxi back to the Bazaars of the Pink City where we were meeting our friend Julia for a girly shopping excursion, it was her last day in Jaipur and our last opportunity to see her before she flew home to Germany. On the way back to the Pink City we passed the water palace Jahl Mhal which is a beautiful palace floating on it’s own little island out in the middle of a lake and can only be accessed by boat. The place is not open to tourists but is good to admire from a distance so we asked our taxi driver to make a pit stop so we could take a picture. So we pulled up, ran out of the taxi, vaulted a low rise wall and took a picture to say we’d seen it then quickly ran back to the taxi before he changed his mind and decided to drive off!
After some confusion (as there seemed to always be in India) we found Julia and set out on a mission not to be fleeced by the shop keepers who really do see pound signs when they see western tourists. Julia, however, was rather handy to have around as she’d been around the Bazaars with Indian tourists so knew what to pay for most things and argued very …..Germanly to get good prices. I have to say though, shopping in the bazaars is an interesting experience, they solicit your custom along the main street but then proceed to squirrel you upstairs into the store room where they literally throw clothes at you ( most of which you neither want or have asked for) and make the most horrendous mess.
Unfortunately for us we then met the dodgey fellow who took us for chai and offered us a ride home on his bike a few nights earlier. He greeted us with “ahhh my friends you must come, let me show you my shop” to which we had no choice in the matter as he practically frog-marched us in. He then wouldn’t let us leave until we bought one of his pashminas and when I said I had already bought one elsewhere for a fraction of the cost he got incredibly angry. I refused to buy anything from him but Beth got coerced into buying a pashmina at “a great discounted price just for friends” for 18 pounds. It’s safe to say we avoided “our friend Sunny” from then on!