Friday, May 4, 2018

Jaipur to Bundi

Jaipur was madness that created all kinds of sensory overload and gave me the "smack in the face" introduction to India that I was expecting.

First the Khumbu cough was reeking havoc with the both of us. When Raj dropped us off at our hotel in Jaipur, after a 4 hour card ride from Delhi, I do think he thought "what contagious disease are these two foreigners going to give to me and my family". I did have "new coughing sounds" overnight Caitlyn told me in the morning. She also noticed I did not stir to much and was a bit scared because she thought I was dead. And we are off and running....

After breakfast we headed out to visit the Amber Fort and the City Palace. As we passed through the city wall all the buildings came alive in pink. I was looking at a pink city. This goes back to a visit in 1875 from the then Prince of Wales and painting the city was a tribute to him. They have maintained it ever since. 

We picked up our English speaking guide, Vijay and headed to the Amber Fort. I am not a huge fan of guides and the expected "tip" after he has done his job.  He was knowledgeable and gave great insights into the history of the fort and the people of the time. There was the option for an Elephant ride, I passed. After a few hours in the fort it was off to the City Palace. Like most palaces in the world that are open to the public this is just a revenue generator for the royal family. Their living quarters were off limits and security was tight. We were told that once in a while the 18 year old son would make an appearance and wave to the people. How nice of him. The place was as you would imagine. Huge and over the top. Honestly I was more interested in the cobra snake charmer that was on the street when we arrived. It could not be any more cliche but I loved it. An old white bearded man sitting in his colorful robes and turban, playing a flute while a black cobra rose from a wicker basket in all its scariness. I gave that dude a tip.

The tour of the city was a good introduction to India. A massive fort of historical significance, a city palace that displayed the disparity of wealth in the country, a city painted pink to honor its masters of the time and an old snake charmer. It was what came later in the day that destroyed most of my sensibilities. 

We went for a walk to gather some fruit and have a look around the neighborhood which instantly became an introduction to the sheer madness of the street of Jaipur. Cars and motorcycles continuously blasting their horns as they swerved in and around each other. More times that I could count cars were passing each other on the wrong side of the street. When I asked Raj he told me Side view mirrors were folded in "because they might get damaged. We don't really use them"  Rear view mirrors were for display and hanging things from. In this city it was all about the horn.

It was one of the main intersections under the highway that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was not so much that traffic was coming into the massive intersection from 5 different directions. It was the sheer quantity of it. All the while pedestrians were forgoing the sidewalks to walk along the side of the road then quickly dart through a small space in traffic to cross the street. The continuous flow of people walking on a 45 degree diagonal through the main intersection as hurtling masses of machines swerved to miss them was more a real life video game than real life. What came next, within a 5 minute span, made me realize I was not in Kansas any more.

First came the cows. They appeared suddenly and sauntered around the streets adding to the confusion. If a car hits a cow it is a serious offence and there have been reports of cars swerving into each other to avoid them. Wait, look there are camels pulling carts followed by guys on horseback. Then as a few dogs started to bark, here come the elephants. I think they were offering rides to tourists and locals alike but whatever, it was a masterpiece in madness. Cars, trucks, buses, motos, tuk tuks, bicycles and pedestrians mixing with cows, camels, horses, dogs and elephants for the right of way. I honestly expected the wicked witch and her flying monkeys to swoop in. We ate our bananas and oranges and stared in disbelief.  

Pushkar was a quick 2 hour stop on the way to Jodhpur. Raj dropped us off in front of the market and off we went. Caitlyn was feeling better but I had lost my voice and sounded like a horse. Rajasthan borders Pakistan and the Muslim influence is obvious. The market was colorful and busy but the cough we were suffering through was taking its toll. We found a great little coffee shop and sipped cappuccinos and idly watched the market happen. It was nice break on the road trip.

 Jodhpur is all about the Mehrangarh Fort that overlooks the city. It was stunning. There was a great sign posted for tourists telling them that selfie sticks were forbidden. I am guessing more than one person has plunged to their death. Inside the fort also seemed like a place where locals came to hang out. At one end of the fort there was a view of the city. This time the city was mostly blue.

At dinner at the OM hotel we sat on the rooftop patio with a night view of the Mehrangarh at sunset. The Masala chicken, rice and paneer, onions and tomatos were exceptional. After dinner we went for a night walk around town. There was nothing to see and it ended up being a game of survival in the narrow, dark winding streets.

Udaipur was founded in 1567. It sits on a series of lakes and rivers and is surrounded by the Aravali hills. It was the nicest place so far.

Yes, there was a palace to view and yes we went. I am sensing a pattern with the towns of Rajasthan. After the for we wandered around town taking pictures. This was also the first time we had the opportunity to chat and spend time with some of the locals. There was a nice river viewing area where people were just enjoying the day. Groups of boys were swimming and diving off a small ledge and they yelled for us to take their pictures. A couple of the boys came over to chat and they ended up following us around. Lots of people wanted to chat and take photos with us. They would call over family members and introduce them. It was really nice to stop looking at forts and start talking to people.

This being India our tranquil and enjoyable dinner was overshadowed by what we thought we migrating birds. When one came close and it was an obvious large bat. It made sense as the flocks, if that was a bunch of bats are called, appeared just as the sun was setting. You could not count them as the line stretched as far as the eye could see down river. India continues to surprise.

The day in Udaipur was fantatic. Then we went back to the hotel and the entire place lost power and of course AC. Welcome to Indian reality.

Bundi was a shit hole. At one time this was a hot stop for tourists. There were many restaurants and coffee shots but they were all closed. It's off season but Raj told us that people do not come here as much any more. It showed and could be considered the town that time forgot. We wandered the narrow dirty streets and came across a huge and bustling street market. As we entered monkeys were climbing and hoping from the buildings to the street booths and back. "Nope" was all I heard behind me as Caitlyn had already turned around and was heading back to the hotel.

I left her at the hotel and headed up to the old fort. The heat was searing but the uphill hike felt good. I paid my 500 rupees and entered the oldest and most run down place imaginable. There were quite a few workers doing what looked like restoration but ultimately I had the place to myself. As I wandered one of the workers opened locked doors for me that opened into wide courtyards and rooms adorned with frescoes. They were old and faded but nice all the same. The same worker then lifted a door in the floor that lead to dark concrete steps. He smiled and said "hidden passage" to which I replied "Is this where you chain me up and murder me?"  He laughed and we both walked down into the main courtyard near the entrance. He must of told the other workers what I said because they all laughed. A few came up to me, patted me on the shoulders and said "enjoy the fort".

They gave me directions to the peak of the hill which the fort stretched to. I had to follow the wall to various points and there was a trail that lead the way. Off I went. A hike to the top of a mountain surrounded by a 500 year old fort, and I had the place to my self. What could stop me now? Monkeys, freaking monkeys could stop me that's what. No sooner had I passed through the last of the scary ruins to the path I came to a bend in the wall and the trail. There scattered along the trail, in the grass, along the wall and everywhere I looked were a troop of monkeys. Not a troop, more like hardened street thugs. I stopped and as they were startled one of them stood up and stared at me with his evil monkey eyes. I turned around and went home. Monkeys 1, Ken 0.

That night we watched part 1 of Ghandi. The whole time I was plotting my monkey revenge. I would climb the fort trail in the morning and we would settle the score. I woke up and drank my coffee plotting my attack. Raj arrived and we left Bundi early. Lucky for the monkeys otherwise there would have been trouble

The first few days gave me incredible exposure to the history and pageantry of Rajasthan. It's many temples, forts and palaces are reminders of the kingdoms who historically challenged for the area but it's monkeys are just gangster a**holes. Through it all, the kindness of the people was always evident. The notion that everywhere in India the locals believe that we are walking ATM machines could not be farther from the truth. Yes there were attempts to sell us trinkets and souvenirs but a polite no thank you could lead to a 20 minute conversation about India or the town being visited.

I was off to a great start but I still have monkey revenge on my mind.

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