Pretty in Pink

I’m finally in Rajasthan, where I’ve wanted to visit since I returned from my last India trip. I love the architecture here, and the surrounding hills are lovely. 

I arrived in the evening at the Rani Hahal hotel. Of course the rickshaw wallah tried to get me into a different hotel (where he would get a hefty commission), but sometimes, having reservations can be handy. The Rani Mahal is a beautiful building with spacious, clean rooms decorated in typical Rajasthan style. It’s a bit far from the center of town, but I was happy with it nonetheless.

My room an the Rani

The next day I hired a driver for the day through the hotel. It was pouring rain and I didn’t feel like getting soaked in a rickshaw. So we headed off first to the Birla/ Laxmi Narayan Mandir. The Mandir is a beautiful Hindu temple constructed with white marble, with intricate carvings. From the outside, the temple doesn’t look that large, but the inside is cavernous. It’s not exactly an ancient building though, as it was constructed in 1988.

Laxmi Narayan Mandir

Next up was the Albert Hall museum. This building was an interesting mix of Rajput and English architecture, and inside was an equally interesting assortment of carpets, paintings, sculptures and textiles. They were really nice to look at, but in large quantities, my interest wanes.

Yup. That pretty much says it all.

Afterwards I went into the gates of the old city. In 1876, the ruling maharaja had the whole city painted pink in preparation of a visit by the prince of Wales (I found no reference as to why pink and not some other color). Homeowners associations may not exist here, but everyone in the old city still has one choice for exterior paint color: pink.

Within the city walls are the Jantar Mantar, the City Palace, Hawa Mahal and several bazaars. The Jantar Mantar is a group of astronomical structures/instruments built by Jai Singh, a local ruler, in 1728. Apparently he was so into astronomy that he built five of these collections throughout northern India.

Jantar Mantar structure

The City Palace was also built by Jai Singh and has been built upon over the years. It remains the residence of the Singh royal family, and their quarters are blocked off. There’s still plenty to see in terms of stately architecture and museum items.

Palace gate. Girl not included.
“None shall pass!”

I looked in the old city for the Hawa Mahal, but couldn’t find it to save my life. Or a nearby restaurant that looked good. In defeat, I returned to the car and driver and had a late lunch without seeing the Hawa. But I think I saw a good amount without it, and was satisfied at the end of the day.

After lunch we stopped at the Jal Mahal, or water palace. It was a summer home for the royal family, in the middle of a scenic lake with a beautiful backdrop. And closed to visitors.

Last stop was Amber (pronounced “Am-mer”) fort. Amber fort is a majestic mix of yellow and pink sandstone with white marble. This was really the crown jewel of Jaipur for me. Grand courtyards, towering walls, giant doorways, inlaid stone artwork, and spectacular views made it definitely worth the trip.

Fear and Non-Loathing in India

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Do something every day that scares you”. I would say I’m definitely doing that, just by being here.
What am I afraid of?
Bodily harm. Being robbed. Killed. Gang-raped. Or all of these at once.

Coming down with some multiple drug resistant illness, or something like chikungunya.

And there’s also a lesser fear – more of an underlying wariness really, of being ripped off or overcharged for things. 
Other than being careful about when or where I roam, there’s not much I can do about the first things, and aside from being moderately cautious about my health and eating habits, I have equally little control about the next. 
As for being overcharged, well, even if I’m overcharged a dollar or two more for something just for being a tourist, in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? To me, not really. And to someone who is struggling to survive, that charity may make a huge difference.

These fears aren’t something that keep me up at night, and they certainly haven’t stopped me from coming here. Knowing that I have little control over these things helps me to relax to a degree. As a teacher once said “Don’t worry. Everything is perfectly out of control”. Yet I would be lying if I said that the fears didn’t exist.
With each day, and with each time that I do something that brings that fear upwards in my consciousness, the smaller that fear becomes. There is still a great deal of goodness in the world that the media ignores. I have already seen so much kindness and generosity during this’s trip, and have faith that it will continue as I go onward. The media ignores this goodness to a large extent, and we’re encouraged on a daily basis to be afraid. Part of my hope for this trip is to continue whittling away at that fear. I’ll let you know how that goes, if it’s not apparent at the end.

I made it to Jaipur tonight a bit late to do any exploring, but I’ll post more colorful, exciting things next time.

And cockroaches. Definitely cockroaches.

Disconnected in Delhi

When planning this trip, I decided that while in India I’d treat myself to a nice hotel once a month instead of the backpacker/budget accomodations that I usually go for. And since the budget places in Delhi seem to be on the sketchy side, I decided this was the place. 

In the US, $80/night gets you a wide range of hotels, from the dingy dump to a nice, comfortable, yet generic place. Here, it got a very nice hotel. Ritzy, schnazzy, hoighty-toighty, whatever you want to call it, this was it.

Upon arrival they took my luggage through an X-ray machine and then brought it to my room. The lobby had dance/”uncha-uncha” music playing and was quite sleek and modern. My room was spacious and plush, and the bathroom had a tub large enough to throw a party in (well, a few people anyway). I took advantage of the bath despite the hot and humid weather. I guess you could say I’m a sucker for being in hot water. The room also came with an incredible breakfast buffet including continental and Indian dishes.

I must admit it felt odd to be in such luxury in the midst of poverty around me, and I’m still keeping it in my mind to think about. I will say that this body appreciated it. The first day that I planned to go out, my body said “Yeah, no. Not going to do that”. Since I had been dealing with stomach issues the last few days, I listened, and rested the whole day. It made a world of difference, and the next day I had energy to walk all over town.

The hotel is on the very outskirts of town, but near the Delhi metro. Delhi’s metro is awesome. It’s like the London Underground, only cheaper. They even say “Please mind the gap”. For less than $5, I got a three day pass that took me anywhere in town. The cars are clean, air conditioned, and they even have separate cars for women, which is nice when things get crowded.

So the first day I walked through Chandni Chowk, a major shopping street, to the Red Fort. Built by Shah Jahan in 1638 to 1648, the Red Fort is a magnificent example of Mughal architecture. It’s’ built of red sandstone and marble, with pietra dura stone inlays and intricate carvings. An easy place to spend a few hours. Afterwards I walked by the main Mosque, the Jama Masjid, and through Chowri bazaar, a street with stationery shops covered in grime, electrical wiring, and lots of people. Not something I’d do at night time.

Lahore Gate of the Red Fort
Photobomb by pigeon and chipmunk
Closeup of stone inlay

I went further by metro to the Janpath area of town to visit the National museum and the Gandhi Smirti. Sadly, the Gandhi smirti was closed for some reason, but the national museum was an interesting trip.

Today I went to the Qutub Minar complex. The first buildings in the complex were created by ancient Mehrauli sultans, and then later rulers built the rest. The large tower, the Qutb Minar, was started in 1193 by Qutb-ud-din. Unfortunately he never got to see its completion, as he was impaled during a polo match. Later rulers finished the construction with the tower topping 73 meters in height.

After wandering around such beautiful structures, I decided to make that my last tourist stop. Fatigue was lifting its head again, and I didn’t see how visiting more buildings would have been more enjoyable. So I called it good, stopped on an errand, and went back to the hotel.
The errand is a long story in the search for getting a local SIM card for my iPhone. Let’s just say it hasn’t been successful, and I am without a working phone. But I have had wifi at the hotels, and in some ways, it’s not so bad to not have connectivity 24/7. So I remain disconnected – sort of.

As one last note, I’m putting in a charity plug. One of the things I’ve noticed is that my observations about the trash here may not have been correct. It seems that plastic water bottles don’t get recycled as much as I thought. I see them everywhere. Of course the problem is multi factorial, but between seeing the bottles and suffering ill effects from questionable sources, I really see how important clean water is for so many in the world. I found an organization trying to change this, so I’m putting in a plug for them. I get nothing out of it, other than knowing more people may have access to clean water. So here’s my fundraising campaign, contribute if you’d like.

See you next time from Jaipur!