Sunday, 10 July 2011

Day 154: Jaipur (01/07/2011)

Somebody once observed that you cannot defy the laws of physics.

So the simple equation of not much sleep and a soporific train compartment rocking gently to and fro soon induced Clare to nod off. Agra receded into the distance and the pink city of Jaipur was still three hours hence. Time enough for her momentary doze to evolve into a full blown case of dribbly-head-wobbling as she dipped and reared like a slow motion head-banger.

Catching the first available auto-rickshaw from the station to Viniyak Guest House, we were greeted by Razwen, a pleasant and helpful soul in a sea of tourist traps. The painters were in and the hallways had the smell of school after the long summer break; disinfectant and white spirit.

After a late breakfast we took a circuitous route to the City Palace. Dancing lessons were underway in the central courtyard to the accompaniment of a squeezebox that filled the space with a haunting reprise that echoed off the walls. You can see too many palaces and after a while the shine wears off them a bit. Lovely gates, ornate plasterwork and fascinating stories are all well and good, but opulence must have been as tedious for the Maharajas as it can be for the tourists who see too much of it. The highlight is the 500kg of silver beaten into two giant amphorae to ship Ganges water to London with Maharaja Madho Singh for the coronation of George V. They are the largest silver items in the world and their aura is mesmerising.

More inspiring was the Hawa Mahal next door that is commonly known as the Palace of the Winds but more accurately described as a five storey harem. Maharaja Sawaj Pratap Singh erected it in 1799 to house his extensive collection of wives and significant others, out of sight of the great unwashed. Tiny doors open in the walls and the courtyards have filigreed lattices that enabled the occupants to look out onto the seething city scape without being observed themselves.

One door down is the Iswari Minar, a seven story minaret. You can climb to Jaipur’s highest point by way of a helter-skelter constructed in concrete as there are no steps. The city has 2.3 million people but as with much of Rajasthan, it is low rise and the Minar can be seen from some way off. Criminals were hung from the Minar’s roof as an example to others. Maharaja Iswari hung himself rather than face the approaching armies of the Maratha and 21 wives immolated themselves on his pyre, but these are happier days for the tower that is said to pierce heaven. The driver who collected us from the station earlier in the day was also the attendant at the Minar gate. We smiled the unspoken acknowledgement of a shared coincidence of outlandish proportions and went on our way for lunch.

Ganesh restaurant is next to Mr Big Shoe, left of Chandpol Gate, if you wanted to go. It is impossible to find but great if you do. Dinner is cooked on a charcoal bed. The temperature is controlled by an office fan that sits under the charcoals, driving them to white heat. Naan clings to the inside of the giant pottery tandoori and massalla, the secret ingredient is ladled into the mix in the final seconds of frying. Try the Ganesh Special with Honey Naan and Kasmiri rice. You will not be disappointed.

In the afternoon, we whizzed around the Tripolia Bazaar, fending off enthusiastic attempts to sell us everything from cutlery to air-conditioning units, before tuk-tuking home. Bollywood came to town as the driver became disenchanted with a life on the tarmac and opted for a high speed, adrenalin fuelled race down the pavements and colonnades of the quarter. Pedestrians dived for cover. Improbably positioned stalls selling fruit and veg exploded as he ripped the tuk-tuk through them. The obligatory pane of glass, carried by two hapless glaziers, appeared in the way, necessitating first the spectacular hand-brake turn and then the two wheel manoeuvre through the impossibly narrow back street.

Home in time for ginger tea, it only remained for us to observe that Scotty was talking through his arse.