Having pretty much just stumbled our way into India, our plans were flexible and we decided that we needed to head out of Delhi and do a quick lap of the Golden Triangle, the well trodden tourist path between Delhi, Jaipur (nicknamed the Pink City) and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.
“Jaipur is beautiful! The city of love!” the booking agent at our hotel enthused. Well, it was going to be something different at least. We asked for a quote for a driver to take us through the triangle, requesting specifically that we only wanted the driver and we would organise everything else ourselves. Naturally we received two quotes, one for just the driver and another ‘all included’ version with hotels recommended by the agent. We just used booking.com and found our own accommodation, technology is a wonderful thing.
Leaving our bunker at the hotel we were introduced to our driver and the white Suzuki emblazoned with ‘tourist’ on all sides which would be our ride for the following three days. It’s extremely difficult to go incognito in India, if not impossible.
Leaving Delhi I had some good opportunities to snap some photos from the car. By setting a high ISO and high shutter speed you can stop the blur and it is a good opportunity to get some passing shots of life. It was difficult to get such photos walking around normally, but the car provided a level of anonymity.
Shortly after getting out of the main part of the city our driver pulled over on a busy highway against a guardrail, with another few lanes of busy traffic on the other side. He had to pay a fee for changing states/districts/something but he chose to make the dash to a little roadside office on the other side of the highway rather than taking the long way as we sat nervously while big trucks flew past. Soon we moved on, but that didn’t make us any safer.
Road safety is just not a thing in India. The statistics are mind boggling. One person dies on the roads every four minutes. It has 1% of the world’s automobiles yet 15% of the road deaths. All up over 200,000 people die every year on Indian roads. And it is not difficult to see why. Lane markings are a mere suggestion and generally ignored, as are speed limits. Driving down the wrong side of the road is a semi-acceptable thing to do. Cars will weave within millimetres of big trucks. And these trucks don’t look like the modern unit you’ll see on American or European roads, they look like sheds with wheels and probably brake like one too. In all the travels I’ve done, it’s the most fear I have had doing something mundane. Probably another reason why we were so exhausted, those constant shots of adrenaline leave your nerves shot by the end of a day. There are wrecks left by the side of the road everywhere (see below).
Above: On the plus side the trucks are colourful. Semi-completed buildings littered the landscape, It was hard to tell if they were abandoned projects or just slow moving. Riding on the back of a van down a major highway is an acceptable thing to go. The tollways had a curious list of exemptions signed. And finally a genuinely surprising request from a truck for other drivers to use the horn - trust me, they don't need encouragement.
During our road trip, our drive made a phone call and said that he was just organising where to meet our guide. We didn’t want a guide, but we were being given one and it was annoying. Chancey wanted to immediately say no to it, but my politeness was giving in. The driver said the guide was free and included.
We arrived in Jaipur, passing the Amer Fort and then working our way down a winding road towards the main town, getting close up looks of tour buses coming the opposite way through the windscreen and passing elephants walking downhill. The town itself wasn’t what I would call pink, more of an adobe or a red ochre type colour. We really wanted to just check into the hotel and relax for a little bit, but the driver was insistent on ticking off some sights. I should have insisted back the other way, but India had not yet evaporated all my niceties and I gave in. We met our guide and in the 40 degree heat we walked in to see the City Palace. Being polite I followed the guide but he just had a way of bypassing the things we were interested in and telling us about things we weren’t. I didn’t even realise I walked straight past a snake charmer – something Chancey really wanted to see, and we had to double back. And that’s why guides suck, you don’t get the opportunity to go at your own pace and really take in what you are seeing.
And truth be told the palace itself wasn’t stunning either. For a palace it seemed lacklustre. We wandered through some displays but we were over it pretty soon. The guide next wanted to take us to an astrological museum of sorts but Chancey and I had agreed that we didn’t need his service. If he was included with the tour he’s already been paid right?
We told him thanks but we would not be needing him and he seemed upset. We walked back to the car park and a tense argument ensued between the guide and the driver. All we could understand was ‘free and included’ which got said a few times. Our driver had a guilty look on his face. The guides work for the tips – so I guess the interpretation of a free and included guide is very different in India. It was a tense situation and one I should have cut off in the early stages. We asked to go to the hotel so we could relax.
The hotel we had booked had seemed like a fun idea the night before, it was kind of themed like an Indian palace. Certainly parts of it were nice and old-India opulent, but the room was tiny and poorly lit. Our double bed was two singles pushed together. It had a pool but it had a strange odour and bits floating in it. We pushed, determined to see some of this city. We went into the centre of town and walked through the market streets. Like Delhi, the smell of urine hung in the air. The markets had much of the same stuff and we didn’t really get what the fuss was about this city. If you saw it in pictures you might think otherwise, like when elephants walk down the road and monkeys run overhead on the buildings. But as I’ve said about India, it is all best at a distance. We retired to the hotel again. When we were back in the room we could smell something strange. At first we thought it was the water and then realised it was our clothes. Our clothes literally smelt of shit just from walking around.
The following morning we set out for the Amer Fort, the main attraction of Jaipur. And I have to say this one was actually worth it. It’s an impressive building from the road and there are walls from the fort that extend across the mountains, looking something like the Great Wall of China.
The fort is reached by climbing the stairs/ramp up the mountainside, which can be done by walking or by riding an elephant. This was probably the only place in the world where I have ever had to wait for an elephant jam to clear.
The elephants weren’t the only animal attractions. This three legged dog had no troubles jumping up on to the walls around the walkways, while another dog found itself hassled out by the monkeys around the building.
There was an open area where people milled around, but the main fort itself required a ticket. As per usual there was no big sign saying ‘tickets here’. There was a small metal sign tucked under a tree pointing to a ticket booth hidden away under one of the alcoves, but like the Taj Mahal it didn’t look legit. Anyway, we got our tickets and explored the fort. It was fun to walk around through the different rooms and hallways and to find some quite places where we could appreciate the view and the building away from the crowd. Chancey had an appalling coffee and I had an equally appalling lemonade before we returned to our driver back down the hill.
And that’s where we will leave Jaipur for now! I’ll save the drive to Agra for another post.