It's Salmon, Not Pink!

Trip Start May 31, 2006
Trip End Jul 11, 2006

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Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Greetings from the dusky and dark pink capital of Rajasthan...Jaipur!

We left our palatial surroundings of the Oberoi Amar Villas yesterday mid-morning and were quickly brought back into Indian reality as we were driven to the bus station (more or less shack) in Agra and boarded what seemed to be a bus. I think this was the first time anyone at the Oberoi had ever had to purchase bus tickets or drive anyone to the bus station. I think they are used to dealing more in private jets as opposed to deluxe buses. Regardless...the bus had AC and ran fine. It wasn't the finest trip ever and it seemed that many times their was a good chance of us dying...but we made it safely to Jaipur in around six hours.

We were warned before hand of the massive influx of Walla (rickshaw) drivers that would approach and try and scam you. The guidebooks even said to be prepared for drivers to board the bus at the first Jaipur stop (not the main terminal), tell you that you've arrived at the main stop and try and get you to come in their rickshaws. Sure enough this was the case as two friendly Sikh drivers tried to convince us to join them. We thoughtfully (and by thoughtfully I mean we were total assholes) declined his offer and continued to the main stop. In reality the influx of drivers wasn't too bad, although you did see them all running at the bus as soon as we hit the station. I think Bombay has really made nothing come as a surprise to us as time and time again we are warned about these places but find that Mumbai was far far worse.

Anyways our driver from the Umaid Bhawan Guest House arrived shortly after us. We booked this place on a whim as it was in both Rough Guide and Lonely Planet. All I have to say is that I'm quite impressed. This place is a former mansion in a nicer part of town. The people are incredibly friendly and very accommodating. Our room is very nice and clean. The entire place is an architectural fantasy. Be sure to check out the pictures I put up. We arrived later in the day and spent our first night having dinner on the rooftop terrace and relaxing. Dave's friend joined us (also named Dave but spelled Dev) and will be traveling with us until the end of the trip.

Jaipur is known across the world as "the pink city" because of the fact that the old city is entirely painted pink. Jaipur is a more recent creation as it was built by its namesake Jai Singh in 1727. It was painted pink in 1876 as a gesture of peace and hospitality to welcome and honor the Prince of Wales (eventually King Edward VIII). The pink atmosphere has remained to this day. The old city itself is totally encircled by a pink wall; within this wall lies most of the major attractions of the city. The city is one of the few in India that is noted for its excellent urban planning. Within the pink city, blocks are divided into rectangles with each region having bazaars specializing in certain types of goods or crafts.

So the day began with Justin and me venturing around the corner to the house of Kripal Kumbh. We read about his famous blue pottery work and wanted to take a look at it. We were greeted at the door by a friendly 80 year old man. Kripal Kumbh was born in Jaipur and has spent a good deal of time in the US. He has been back here in Jaipur for the last thirty years teaching and making beautiful pieces. His stuff was not terribly expensive so I was able to get a few nice things.

When we returned to Umaid Bahwan, Dev had called up and ordered a private car to take us around for the day. It wasn't too expensive and with the temperature expected to reach a balmy 100+ I also agreed that this was a good idea to have a ride with A/C. Justin wanted to forgo the car and just set out to explore Jaipur's old city for the day. The rest of us decided to venture a little further away at first and then work our way back into town.

Our first stop was the Jaigur fort, perched high above Jaipur and the Amber fort on a large green hilltop. It wasn't originally on our itinerary but we decided to check it out as it afforded us some grand views of the Amber fort below. It also houses the world's largest wheeled cannon. Let me tell you it was very exciting...The most important event during our journey to Jaigur was by far the Camel ride that Jesse and I took from one end of the fort to the other. Make sure to check out the video of it raising us up. These things are crazy! They are much bigger than I had thought...for some reason I had just figured they were horse size but Camels are much much taller. It wasn't too uncomfortable to ride but they are quite slow. We've seen them more and more around Rajasthan as they seem to replace oxen a lot as the mode of transport and pulling power for many people.

Our driver took us next to the Amber Fort (pronounced Amer...or so we're told). This is a beautiful fort/palace located about 11 Km from Jaipur. It was built in 1592 and served as the former capital to the Rajput Jaipur state until the building of Jaipur itself was completed a few hundred years later. The climb up the hill to the fort was a little intense in the heat...we should have considered the elephant ride up for $10. The fort was a maze of passageways and staircases. We worked our way around the building finding beautiful little areas, especially the Sukh Niwas or "Hall of Pleasure". The fort also had great views of the small (slightly dried up) lake below where many elephants were bathing. The small intricate designs found all throughout the fort were quite beautiful and very indicative of the Rajput style of architecture that can be found throughout the states grander residences.

Our next stop was for lunch. A the suggestion of Dev's uncle we ventured to the Rambagh Palace, a property now run by the Taj Hotel Group. I had no idea what to expect, but this former Mahraja Palace was just about as beautiful as the Oberoi in Agra. What made it even more fantastic was that this was actually a former palace. It's built on 47 acres and overlooks immaculately kept lawns. Our escape from Indian reality once again...

After a fantastic lunch we headed into the actual "pink city"...I guess (as Ross would say) I would describe it as more of a salmon color...but check out the pictures and take a look for yourself. The city palace closed today at 2 we didn't get a chance to see that other than a quick picture at the gate (after basically bribing the guide). We went across the street to the thing most of us wanted to see most, the Jantar Mantar.

Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur, was incredibly educated. One of his pet projects was to understand the vast expanse of space. During his lifetime he established five of these observatories, the last and grandest was the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur. From the outside it really looks like a random conglomeration of sculptures, but once an explanation by a handy dandy guide was given, we could see all the intricate and scientific thought that went into each of the structures. It was interesting as many of the pieces revolved around the signs of the Zodiac. Jai Singh had brought in experts from all over the world, including the Middle East and even Europe to help build this last observatory. He wasn't satisfied with the lack of complexity of some of the first structures so he built more complex and larger ones as time went on. The largest sun dial, measuring nearly 30 meters, measures time in four second intervals and is 100 % totally accurate to this day (as was everything). There are even structures that are used to predict and calculate the eclipses.

After the observatory we were totally wiped out from the sun, but we made our way walking through some of the main bazaars. I wasn't really in the mood to shop or deal with any of the hawkers but we looked around for a bit. We actually even ran into Justin and then all decided to leave the Pink City and travel up in the hills again to the Galta Temple. We had read much about this temple but weren't sure if we were actually going to be able to visit it. It's known commonly as "the Monkey temple" because so many monkeys are running around the place. This was in fact quite true and Justin bought some monkey feed and before he knew it...about 10 of them had approached, diverted his attention and then one came from the side and ripped the bag out of his hand spilling the nuts all over the place. Smart little assholes these monkeys were! The temple itself towers 3 Km over Jaipur and really was a unique place. Dave, Dev and I even went into the temple and were given bindi' can check out my cool red dot in one of the pictures. I am supposed to have good luck now so we'll see how that works out.

After the monkey temple were made our way down one of the main boulevards outside the old city to check out some of the famous gem shops. Jaipur is famous for its gem's and we stumbled across one that seems to be quite famous as it was visited numerous times by the British Royalty and Bill Clinton. They had some amazing pieces but sadly most were out of our price range.

After a nice dinner and a quick rickshaw haggle we made it back to the Umaid Bhawain Guesthouse for a night. We are off again to Delhi in the morning to catch the famous Himalayan Queen train up to Shimla on Thursday morning. Justin will be leaving us and venturing to Jodhpur before heading home to the states in a few days.

So until next time!

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