Jaipur (31 December 2013)
It had finally come to the last day of the year. Time flies whenever it finds me enjoying myself, as if enjoyment is illicit and time wants to make sure that I never enjoy enough. The year always used to stretch like Mister Fantastic when I had a job. And when I stopped having a job it flitted by like Quicksilver.
The last day of the year, and the last proper day of my eye-opening journey in India, was spent in Jaipur. The driver brought me to the Hawa Mahal in the morning to meet S. I had a little stroll in the area while waiting for him.
I had never seen a city that pink and it made the city all the more distinctive. I heard that the city was painted that colour to welcome the then Prince of Wales during his visit in 1876. The colour was not removed after that visit and the city has remained that way since. What I am really curious about however is the colour of the city before they turned it pink.
Jaipur was founded by Jai Singh II, a Kachwaha king. The origin of this line of kings however lies 10 kilometres away in the area called Amer, or Amber. A series of hill forts was built there and the royal family lived in them until the new capital of Jaipur was built. It should be a coincidence that the area is called Amber and its buildings are painted yellow.
It was a cold morning and very foggy. The main topic of discussion in the city that day seemed to have been about the unusually cold weather that winter. And it was in this cold foggy weather that I had to join the queue out in the open for more than an hour to get my elephant ride up to Amber Fort. I was running a fever and shivering. If only I had brought some paracetamol out with me that day.
To be honest I was really not too keen on going on that elephant ride to get up that hill. I was alone and it was not all that fun going on such a ride alone. Moreover I was merely going up a hill fort, not travelling through wilderness, so that elephant ride would not have been all that exciting anyway. The idea of queuing up for more than an hour in the cold further ensured that any excitement I might have had would vanish into thin air straightaway. But since it was all paid for I tried my best to be patient.
The elephant ride ended somewhat quickly. It was not the most exciting thing I had done in India, especially since I had been on elephant rides before, but I have to admit that it was a pleasant change from using the car.
The mahout, I was told, was paid pittance by his employers. He therefore relied on tips to feed himself and his family. I have never understood the point of making people rely on tips to survive. I do get the part about rewarding good service. But should it not remain just that, a reward? The employers use their employees to make profits by charging customers for the services performed by those employees. I do not believe that the responsibility of feeding the employees should be passed on to the customers.
S was already waiting at the Jaleb Chowk, the first courtyard inside the fort, when I arrived. He had gone up by another way with the car. There was a requirement for all visitors to immediately leave the platform which they had hopped onto upon getting off the elephant and I was not even allowed to take a quick picture there. Apparently accidents had happened because people were hanging around on that platform for too long. I suppose it had something to do with everyone clustering there and making a hell lot of noise to annoy the elephants. People seem to enjoy doing that, annoying usually tame animals till they lose their temper. It is almost like a challenge to them.
The fort was just so pretty. It was prettier than grand, unlike the Mughal forts which were grander than pretty. If I were a king I would have preferred a home that was prettier than grand.
The highlight for me however was the very ornately delightful Sheesh Mahal. This is a hall of mirrors and when I heard that I was going to visit it I had imagined that it would be something like Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors. I thought that the one in Amber Fort was more tastefully done. Small mirrors were fixed onto the walls and ceilings to form part of the lovely designs covering the building interior. They did not slap huge slabs of mirrors onto the walls as if they needed the world to know how wealthy they were or so that they could see their own reflections all the time.
Passing by the Man Sagar Lake, after leaving Amer, I saw the Jal Mahal, a palace built right in the middle of the lake. It seemed like a really lovely and even romantic idea to have a palace built right in the middle of the lake.
Back in the pink city, I was brought to visit the City Palace. The descendants of the former kings of Jaipur still live in the Chandra Mahal although the rest of the palace, including a small part of the Chandra Mahal, is now open to visitors.
One advantage of being a king in ancient times is that he got to spend as much money as he wanted with no qualms whatsoever. I am thinking of the Taj Mahal especially. In Jaipur’s City Palace, there were two sterling silver urns on display in the Diwan-i-Khas. They are the world’s largest sterling silver vessels according to the Guinness Book of World Records. In 1901, the then Maharajah Sawai Madho Singh II, travelled to London to attend Edward VII’s coronation. He had those two urns made in order to take some water of the Ganges with him to London. He believed that drinking foreign water was a sin. I wonder if wastefulness was a sin too.
Next to the City Palace is the Jantar Mantar, a collection of astronomical instruments. It was built by Jai Singh II who wanted to understand the skies. The instruments are apparently used even today to calculate auspicious dates. The Brihat Samrat Yantra, a huge sundial, can be used to tell time to an accuracy of 2 seconds. That was definitely very amazing.
S had asked me if I would like to skip the Jantar Mantar since there was no sunshine to demonstrate the instruments with by the time I had finished my visit at the City Palace. It was late afternoon by then and winter after all. Again, like Abhaneri, I am glad that I had insisted on visiting it. Even if I had no way of knowing for sure how all the instruments worked, it was still interesting to see them.
After my visits had ended, S decided to take me to a gemstone workshop and a carpet shop. I had told him that I was not interested in shopping at all but he seemed to think that I should go anyway just to have a look at the products. I obliged him since I had seen all the places listed on the itinerary and it was still early, even though I was still feeling unwell. I was absolutely uninterested in the gemstones at the workshop. What would I want gemstones for anyway? The shopkeeper was however quite adamant that my mother, wife, sister or some other female relative would need something at his shop. I have always found it very odd whenever perfect strangers represent themselves as being more knowledgable about my family than I do. In any case he was quite disappointed when I insisted, truthfully I should add, that no one at home wore that sort of jewellery. Maybe they would wear them if I bought some for them? Good God some people need to learn to accept rejection better!
S looked awkward after that episode at the gemstone workshop although there was no outburst of any sort from either the shopkeeper or me. He decided to skip the carpet shop but requested that I helped the driver out by visiting this shop owned by one of the driver’s friends. The driver had promised his friend to take me there. It was just a short detour, and the driver was actually quite a nice man too, so I agreed although I wished that people would not go around agreeing to things on my behalf without getting my consent first. And of course I did not buy a single item at the shop which by the way sold souvenir clothes.
Although my day in Jaipur ended in quite an awkward manner, it did not spoil my impression of the city at all. It was a lovely place with some beautiful buildings. The pink colour was definitely distinctive but all the same I think I would have much preferred another colour for my own walls. Maybe yellow. I only wish that I could have seen more in Jaipur. I know that there is more to see.
It was New Year’s Eve and my Singaporean travel agent had paid for dinner for me at the hotel. Unlike the Christmas Eve party in Varanasi however, this one seemed like quite a big party. Big and noisy. Actually I needed rest, a long and quiet rest. I was too sick to feel hungry and I even bothered to go downstairs to find out about the dinner only because it had been paid for. But the scale of the party repulsed me. I headed straight back to the comfort of my room.
With that my journey in India ended. It had been quite a journey and yet I had only seen a tiny fraction of what India had to offer. Although I was most fascinated in Varanasi, every single stop on this journey had been wonderful and eye-opening. My senses need to be jolted from time to time and India provided me with more than ample opportunities for that. This journey has also made me quite curious and eager to see the part of India where the Indian culture that exists in Singapore today has its origins. I returned home with a sick body but a happy mind feeling most alive.