Jaipur was one of my favorite cities on the trip to India, which (I hope) explains why this post has taken the longest to write. It was also the city that took the longest to get to — 13 hours, to be exact (but who’s counting) — thanks to protests and barricades from India’s Jat caste.
We left Agra at 5 a.m. with the hopes of passing the barricades before they went up, which was very much wishful thinking on our part (and didn’t work). After spending the morning doing touristy things around the city, eventually our tour guide devised a plan to take the back way — the way literally no bus had ever gone before — to reach our destination. We made friends with locals who helped guide us on motos and trucks, passing through small Indian villages with locals in awe of the caravan (there were a few other tour buses in our pack).
Children ran out of houses and woke up parents to show them the odd sight. Men played games, read newspapers, and napped on cots in front of houses, while women sat with children, walked (and worked) through fields. All of them waved at us. Even though we were in the middle of nowhere, the architecture was still intricate and the saris still sparkled. It was incredible to see life outside the cities, with all the animals and simple beauty surrounding us. (Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, photos from inside a moving bus just aren’t that great, so you’ll have to take my word for it.)
Eventually, finally, we reached Jaipur. Too exhausted from the voyage, we went to the hotel restaurant and quickly retired to our rooms, which were filled with green marble.
But, bright and early (which was not all uncommon on our trip), we packed into the bus and transferred to tuk-tuks, which were ready to take us up to the Amer Fort. The fort reflected against the lake; from the top we could see a whole village behind it. Goats roamed and elephants were (sadly) pulled along. We met up with our guide of the fort (who is the longest working guide there and previously guided Bill Clinton), who showed us the hidden passageways and symbols and the best places to take photos. The most captivating part of the fort was the Hall of Mirrors, which no photo will ever do justice, with mirrors and gemstones sparkling against the sun.
When we descended from the fort, we started our shopping endeavors (finally!). I was most excited for Jaipur because I knew that’s where we were going to go to the bazaar, and out first stop was Rajasthan Textile Development Corporation (which has some questionable TripAdvisor ratings, alas), where we were shown how they make, trim, and clean the rugs, before seeing one get set on fire (if it goes up in flames, it’s not real wool), and buying probably too much cashmere. The experience was so much more interesting than going to just any store, since we were actually able to see the process in action.
Later that afternoon, it was time for the bazaar, which you can probably understand the ambiance of if you’ve ever seen Aladdin. Shopkeepers stepped out of the stores with clothing, scarves, saris, and tourist knick-knacks, shouting the prices or simply saying, “Very good price!” If ever we passed by something, the prices would get lower and lower and lower until finally they were worth it — for example, a pair of pants for 200 ruppees, or 1,40€. One euro and 40 centimes. (For comparison, a baguette à la tradition costs me 1,20€.) We followed the noise and the bright fabrics through the bazaar, mesmerized by the chaos.
Our last stop of the day was Birla Mandir, the Hindu temple in Jaipur. The beautiful white marble building has sculptures of inspirational figures from all disciplines and religions (Jesus, Socrates, St. Peter, and Zarathustra, to name a few) engraved on the columns. Photos weren’t allowed inside the temple, which was filled with beautiful stained glass of scenes from Hindu sacred texts. This temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu — Hindu temples are each dedicated to a different Hindu god, with many dedicated to Shiva (the destroyer) and Vishnu (the protector). The only Brahman (the creator) temple in the world is in Pushkar, where we went the following day. Unlike a church, there were no pews, but the focal point remained the main alter, where a god (these are not seen as sculptures; rather they are the god) sat behind ropes and an offering table. We walked through the temple as the sun began to set and the light against the white marble turned orange; the temple inspiring greater enlightenment and an open knowledge of all religions rather than just one.
These sentiments continued to the next day, which was perhaps the most sacred of the trip. To be continued. ♦