India: Oct 13: Jaipur

We spent most of the day walking in Jaipur. Jaipur's a much larger city than Agra. We knew this, but we didn't realize quite how large Jaipur was until we tried walking everywhere. For instance, the area inside the original city walls, a.k.a. Old Town, is enormous. We spent multiple days within it, including half of this day, and didn't manage to walk down a tenth of the streets. If you wanted to choose one city that we visited on this trip for shopping, Jaipur would win by a wide margin.

All of Old Town has been converted into markets. It's nicely laid out in orderly rows. There's some housing above the stalls. Most markets are themed. For instance, when we first entered Old Town, we walked past a long array of people carving and selling marble statues. A bit later, we found the spice market. And we found many markets devoted to textiles.

I enjoyed Jaipur's markets much more than Old Delhi's or Agra's. Jaipur's were less crowded, probably due to the quantity of space available, and simply generally more pleasant, at least if you can avoid the people constantly asking you to browse their shop. Jaipur shopkeepers were more aggressive than those in most other towns we visited, with the exception of Jodhpur, whose shopkeepers were comparable. By the end of the day, we realized that although the city is certainly more comfortable than Agra to walk in, the distances are much larger, making it advantageous to take rickshaws often.

In addition to being larger than Agra, Jaipur's much more technologically advanced. For instance, we discovered a high-tech shopping mall selling products as advanced as flat-screen televisions and digital cameras to the fraction of Indians who can afford such products.

Anyway, onto the particulars of the day. I took a good number of pictures to document the sights and tastes.

The Morning (Outside Old Town)
We started the day, after being woken by construction at 9:00am, by walking toward the city center. Along the way, we stopped and had a late breakfast. The joint was such a hole-in-the-wall that, had it not been mentioned as acceptable by Lonely Planet, it wouldn't have occurred to us to consider eating there. Inside, we sat upstairs, where they had what they called air conditioning but meant a fan.

Our waiter talked with N for a while, telling his life story. I heard it in translation. Here's some highlights: He grew up in a village and was married at fifteen to an eleven year old. He believes people should get married before they begin flirting. Flirting begets rumors, and rumors in a village are bad because they lead to doubts, and doubts can make it more difficult to arrange or even manage to prevent a marriage.

After breakfast, we stopped in a cybercafe to research our travel options (bus, train, plane) for the rest of the trip, then started exploring Jaipur proper. While walking, we ran into Ali, a rickshaw driver we met the previous night, and chatted with him briefly. We found and looked around the aforementioned electronics shopping street/mall. Then, to fulfill N's and J's needs, we located a coffee shop, Barista, one of the only two coffee shops in the city. (There are two chains of coffee shops in India, both just getting started, and generally no independent ones.) It was clean and cool, a nice escape from the noon heat.

By this point, we were near Old Town. We walked in. Throughout all this walking today, but most especially in this area by the walls, we were offered rickshaw rides. One cycle-rickshaw driver cracked us up by claiming his rickshaw was air-conditioned! (I imagine he simply learned that series of sounds tends to attract tourists.)

Afternoon (Inside Old Town)
We walked parts of Old Town and browsed the markets. J negotiated, very effectively in my opinion, for a pair of sunglasses. Also, while in India, we saw many cows in the road. In Old Town, I saw a cow walking down the raised sidewalk in front of the shops, occasionally stopping and turning its head. I only wish I was faster with my camera so I could have a picture of a browsing cow.

We climbed a minaret. From the top, I took many pictures of the city and its setting. The minaret, surprisingly, didn't have steps to the top, instead having a continuous ramp which wound around the tower many times. On the way down the minaret, J complained that it was too dark to see. Indeed, it was pretty dark, but not that dark--J said, "Oh, I guess I should take off my sunglasses."

We stopped in mid-afternoon for a pretty good, late lunch at Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar (LMB). It's also a sweet shop; we picked up a large box of assorted interesting Indians sweets that we ate gradually over the next week or so.

After "lunch," it was about five p.m. and we returned to the market so J and N could look for / bargain for clothes they wanted. We then took a rickshaw to the train station to book tickets for the next leg of the journey. Our rickshaw driver had style: to avoid making a turn across traffic, he crossed the intersection, drove a hundred feet, made a U-turn (which was easier there), then back at the intersection made the equivalent of a right on red. Pretty slick. (A diagram would make this clear, but I'm not going to bother drawing one.)

At the train station, we learned we'd have to stay in Jaipur a day longer than I'd planned. Not even the tourist quota--the Indian government reserves some seats for foreigners--had seats available on the day we wanted. The following day was also sold out, but the tourist quota managed to get us seats on that train.

From the train station, we walked to our hotel. A kid who happened to drive a cycle rickshaw walked with us and chatted. In general, we got into lots of random conversations with rickshaw drivers. For instance, earlier in the day a different cycle-rickshaw driver--a teenager--walked alongside us for a while. He was sharp and spoke multiple languages but had to work this job to raise money for his family. We encouraged him to use his intelligence for better things. He told us he's making sure his brother stays in school.

Of course, throughout all these evening excursions, I kept taking pictures. Don't forget to look at them!

Evening Adventures
We washed up and decided to go to a fancy bar at a four-star hotel (Rambagh Palace) for drinks. After negotiating with many rickshaw drivers, a cycle-rickshaw driver agreed to take us at a good price. This was the start of an interesting adventure.

It's a long way to the bar/hotel, and the rickshaw driver made it even longer by meandering for a while in roughly the correct direction before we realized his uncertainty meant he didn't know where we were going.

During this time, he talked. A lot. He wanted to drive us around the following day for free. The deal was that he'd bring us to some merchants, we'd wander around a bit, not necessarily buying anything. He'd get a kickback from the merchants and he'd split that kickback with us. Obviously, we shouldn't tell the merchants the plan.

We declined. He kept pushing. Given that we were going to a fancy hotel for drinks, he probably thought we were wealthy.

In addition to being annoying, he was also cheeky. N had already lied and said she was married. Nevertheless, he asked her out. N berated him, telling him how inappropriate that was. He complained he doesn't meet many women.

Incidentally, he looked sixteen, though claimed he was twenty-two years old. He said all the cycling keeps him looking so young.

Eventually we got to the hotel, where we ran into Ali once again.

The first place we went to for drinks and snacks, with seating available in a railroad car, was aptly named Steam. (Given our late lunch, we didn't want or need a real dinner.) We then went to another lounge in the same hotel complex: Polo Bar. Decorated with polo memorabilia, it was also aptly named. Oddly, it was more expensive than steam. (It's a bit surprising to have a price differential between bars at the same hotel, isn't it? I guess the British decor allows them to bump up the price a bit.) Whereas Steam was happening, Polo Bar was empty, perhaps due to the price differential.

After drinks, we wanted to return to our hotel.

Despite us saying we didn't want our annoying rickshaw driver to wait for us outside the bar/hotel and warning him we'd be there for hours, he did. Honestly, we would've been happier if he wasn't there. Then he took us a long, non-direct way back to our hotel, still pushing his scheme to defraud some merchants.

If there's anything positive that can be said about the ride home, it's that we got to see another aspect of India: some (poor) people sleep in the streets. (The weather actually makes it reasonably comfortable.)

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