India: Oct 14: More Jaipur (City Palace, Wind Palace, and Bollywood Movie)

These pictures complement the following description of our sight-seeing adventures. Much of the coolest sites I actually didn't take pictures of; hence, in this entry the narrative is probably more interesting.

After we got up, we had to switch hotel rooms because the one we were in was reserved. The new one wasn't anywhere near as extravagant. We had breakfast, then shopped for a cell phone simcard for J and N in the electronics shopping mall we discovered the previous day. Our day as tourists really started and we found a cycle-rickshaw to take us to the City Palace. Our rickshaw driver was a little kid; I guessed he was twelve years old.

The City Palace houses a few museums. The textile museum had many items with incredibly detailed embroidery, all labeled in English :). Some of the items were old polo uniforms. Apparently Jaipur had the world's best polo team from 1930 to 1938.

The armory museum had guns, though the emphasis was clearly on swords and daggers. Some looked nasty. One was very wide; another twisted; another serrated.

The art gallery was an example of extremes. It had huge Persian rugs hanging from the ceiling, including some 57 feet by 15 feet. At the other extreme were religious books written in minuscule handwriting.

By far the coolest part of the City Palace was the Friends of the Museum section. The artists within this section are among the best in Rajasthan within their respective fields. We saw miniature drawings where the utensil used was a single hair, yielding amazingly fine strokes. Another artist made crisp paintings using metal ore (hence acid free) on acid- and oil-free paper, paper actually recycled from old property deeds.

One artist made intricate rosewood boxes by chiseling cavities, pounding a thin, hard wire (copper, steel, or brass) into the resulting channels, then sanding the resulting box. This is the same trade as his brother and father. We saw some of his father's pieces: they had even more detail and were incredible.

One guy made acid-free paper by hand in various colors. One doesn't see hand-made paper much anymore. His paper felt like fabric.

After seeing everything in the City Palace, we left to continue on our sightseeing route. Our young driver was waiting for us outside the palace. At this time, he told us he was fourteen and had been pedaling a rickshaw since he was eleven. We had him take us to the Hawa Mahal, a mere three blocks away.

Although the Hawa Mahal, the so-called Palace of Wind, was designed to let the wind in through the screens, there wasn't much wind for it to catch (or, if there were, it wasn't very effective about it). The architecture was somewhat neat. Regardless, we explored this site fairly quickly.

After the Hawa Mahal, we embarked on a long, futile, dusty search for the kid, who we thought would wait for us again. Ah, well. We got to see the kitchenware section of the market before we gave up searching and found another rickshaw to take us away. We tried going to Lassiwalla (more on that on another day) but it was sold out. Instead, I indulged J and N as they went textile hunting.

Eventually, they found a booth they liked and spent a while bargaining. It was neat to hear; I learned a lot. Cloth that is 100% cashmir is so soft and thin that it can be pulled through a ring. When cashmir burns, it smells like human hair. The merchant, in demonstrating that his cashmir was real, claimed that this test is better than the ring test.

This particular merchant doesn't bother checking to see if money is counterfeit unless the customer is a black African such as a Nigerian. He said this policy is because he's been burned in the past. Also, he isn't poor--he bragged about a recent American customer who bought thousands of dollars of merchandise earlier in the day (or was it the day before?). He even counted out the U.S. bills for us. Holy crap! For what it's worth, I don't think this helped his bargaining position one iota.

While we were there, a supplier from a village came in to sell him more pieces. He bought them at about a tenth of the price at which he'll end up selling them. Middlemen.

In the end, J and N bought a number of pieces for a goodly chunk of change, and we headed off to dinner.

We ate at a decent place, Natraj Restaurant. I liked how they gave us warm water with lemon with which to wash our hands. It felt like an old ritual.

After dinner, we got a rickshaw to take us to the movie theater. First, however, the driver took us the wrong movie theater. (There are two theaters in Jaipur.) Then, we corrected him and got to the correct theater, which turned out to be only a couple of long blocks away from the restaurant.

Why did we go to a theater? I was convinced by N that we should see a Bollywood movie, naturally over-the-top, in one of the most over-the-top theaters in the country. Although the theater has only two levels, it's huge and has a really wide screen. I found that despite the lack of subtitles, I could follow the movie reasonably well. (I got a few explanations along the way but these weren't actually necessary.)

The movie, though not unusual for a Bollywood film, had more revealing clothes than I expected would be allowed to be shown in Rajasthan, especially given that the lines for movie tickets were segregated by sex. (The seats in the theater--or at least the seats in the part of the theater we were in--were integrated, meaning the three of us got to share popcorn. :) ) While waiting in line (and over dinner), N told us good stories about the soap opera lives of movie stars and about the history of Indian cinema. And the movie was definitely over-the-top. Not only were its colors saturated but the editors even added (clearly intentionally) sparkles in the lead actress's eyes.

Oddly, I don't seem to have written down the name of the movie.

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