Installment #5 - November 3, 2000
We arrived by taxi at the Agra Fort train station at about 7:15PM Friday, and were immediately surrounded by porters offering to carry our bags. We negotiated a price of 50 rupees (the exchange rate is about 45 rupees to the dollar) to carry the green monster and our two other bags to the platform, and put them aboard the train when it arrived.
We shared a four-bed compartment with a young Scottish couple who had just come from Nepal. The compartment was screened from the aisle by curtains. There were cables under the lower bunks to which ones baggage could be locked. Someone had left an open bottle of water that had spilled, and water sloshed back and forth across the floor. Rita asked the car attendant if he could wipe up the spill. His answer: "No". She persisted and he gave her a sheet that we used to wipe the floor. [I guess you had to have been there.] The green monster would not fit under the bunk, and blocked most of the aisle between the bunks.
We were each given a sheet, a blanket, and a pillow. We made our bunks and slept until the car attendant woke us at 3AM for our 3:45 arrival in Jaipur. I manhandled the green monster off the train and handed it over to a porter, who led us on the long walk from the station platform to the taxi stand. The first hotel we tried was full. The Umaid Bhawan had a room, and we collapsed on the bed to complete our nights sleep.
The same taxi driver who had driven us from the train station returned later in the morning and took us to the Pink Citythe old walled city area of Jaipur. We visited the Hawa Mahala major Jaipur landmarkand the astronomical observatory, then returned to spend the afternoon at the hotel.
The Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, is little more than a facade that was built in 1799 to enable ladies of the royal household to watch the everyday life of the city. It is located in the old part of the city that is also known as the Pink City because, in 1876, Maharaja Ram Singh had the whole city painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales. The tradition has persisted and the town is still mostly pink.
On each of the next two days, I took a morning bicycle rickshaw ride to the old city and spent a few hours exploring the town on foot. These were wonderful opportunities to observe city life from up close, almost all of our previous views having been from the window of a fast-moving taxi. Indian cars and auto rickshaws seem to be built for short people, and I have to slouch or bend into an uncomfortable position to see much through the windows of a taxi.
As I walked, I saw shopkeepers sweeping the sidewalk in front of their stores; men sitting in groups drinking tea and reading the newspaper; children crouched in front of their door washing dishes in a basin; women doing their laundry, also crouched in front of their door. I could see into some residences, where someone might be watching the TV that seemed to be about the only furnishing. In some cases, it appeared that three or four people were living in a one-room residence with no kitchen or bathroom facilities. Cooking was done over a fire in front of the room. The drainage ditches that ran down one or both sides of every street served as storm drain, sewer, and toilet.
I passed a popular sidewalk restaurant where groups of men sat in a circle on motor scooters and shared a meal. One of the cooks mixed batter in a bowl on the sidewalk, about two feet from a fresh pile of cow dung. I passed monkeys making their way from one building to the next on the telephone wires, and wondered if they had learned to avoid the bare electric wires. I passed temples filled with worshipers housed in commercial buildings along the main streets and small side streets.
Skinny street dogs scavenged for food along with the cows, goats, and pigs that also roamed the streets. Although cows are sacred to the Hindus and are allowed to roam freely, I noticed that shopkeepers do not hesitate to hit or kick or holler at cows that come too close to their wares. I saw a man and a cow meet in an alley too narrow for them to pass; the man repeatedly hollered at the cow until it backed out of the alley and onto the main street.
I bought a kilogram of bananas (10 rupees), and then sat in a park to eat some of them. I carried the peels and looked for a trash can with no luck. But I did find a few goats who were happy to finish off my garbage.
I saw an army of street sweepers: men, women, and boys armed with bundles of straw that were used as brooms. They would sweep the dust and trash into piles that were picked up by women with large burlap sacks. Other sweepers picked up manure and other muck with something like a curved garden trowel, and deposited it into the carts they pushed along the street. A third category of street cleaners made their way along the gutters, removing obstructions to the flow of waste water. Yet despite this large-scale effort to clean the streets, they seem always to be dirty. It seems to me to be impossible to stay ahead of the people who dump trash out the front door onto the street, the vendors who toss their waste into the gutters, and the animals that use the streets and sidewalks as both scavenging grounds and bathroom.
In spite of the dirt and poor sanitation, the city is a friendly place, filled with smiling people going happily about their business. Despite the many opportunities for conflict resulting from crowding and heavy traffic, I saw only one altercation. It was between a middle-aged man and a 30-ish woman, and both were restrained by the crowd. They exchanged angry words in Hindi, then left in opposite directions, the woman turning back to throw another barrage of red-hot Hindi.
One evening, Rita and I dined in the rooftop restaurant at the Jaipur Inn. Rita was disappointed to learn that there was no elevator to lift us the five stories to the roof. We enjoyed a pleasant meal and watched the fireworks celebrating the final day of Diwali.
We found Jaipur to be a quieter and less-polluted place than either Delhi or Agra, with nice views to the surrounding mountains. Our four days passed quickly. Next stop: Udaipur.
Click on the thumbnails below for a larger view, then use your browser's Back button
The Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds,
is a major Jaipur landmark
Allen standing on the rear of the Hawa Mahal Rita waves from the rear of the Hawa Mahal A view of the Pink City from Hawa Mahal This astronomical observatory, the Jantar Mantar, is
one of five observatories built in the 1700's. Scales
and star locations etched into marble made accurate
timekeeping and eclipse prediction possible. The
observatory was interesting to see, but no explanation
of the principals on which it was based was available.
This early morning market scene is from the
old city area of Jaipur
The Iswari Mnar Swarga Sal, or Heaven Piercing
Minaret, in the old city
As I sat in a city park having a snack, I noticed
that I was being watched not only by the chipmunks
(one on each side of the tree in this picture), but
also by a family of rats who were peering out from a
hole in the tree.
Green Monster Opinion Survey!
Alright, armchair travelers, it's time to weigh in on on the issue of the green monster! Allen, who writes these episodes, is obviously put off by having to haul the thing all around the subcontinent. ("The green monster would not fit under the bunk...", "I manhandled the green monster off the train...") But it just as obviously contains the items essential to Rita's travel. So cast your vote below! The results will be forwarded to Allen and Rita on the other side of the planet, and we'll never have to listen to Allen's griping again!
(It's too late to vote in the Green Monster Opinion Survey, But it has been left here anyhow, for your reading pleasure)