India - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 201 (11)
Saturday 25th September
We rested peacefully last night and I’m kind of surprised that we are managing to get so many restful nights into our routine. I had feared that we would be constantly fatigued and in need of rest but so far it’s not been that way at all. Travelling around Africa was a lot more energetic than this but here we’ve been able to maintain a comfortable pace pretty much since day one. Even Sandy admits that travelling this time around is a lot less stressful than was Africa. For me, keeping sandy happy is half the battle won. Although I’ve not pressured her into this trip, it must be said that I’ve been the driving force behind the whole thing.
I thought I’d shake up the morning routine a little at breakfast. My toast this morning was accompanied by poached eggs instead of boiled. The mineral water and a glass if Pepsi were still there – don’t want to through too many wrenches into the works now do we? The now familiar sight of me trying desperately to wave off of very persistent flies form our food was, as usual, accompanied by the usual moans of sandy desperately trying to make me ignore them. If there’s one thing that I have a hard time tolerating, it’s flies around food. Mind you, I’d probably never eat again if I knew what it was like in some of the kitchens in this country. Flies don’t bother Sandy at all – she just minds me being bothered by them. What a couple we make.
A brief stroll up the road to where our rickshaw driver hangs out was our next objective for the day. Strangely, we made it only about half way before he strolled up behind us. Exactly where he appeared from will have to remain a mystery to us but we were glad to find him nevertheless. The pavements (sidewalks for all you Americans out there) barely exist here and when they do, they are in such a state of disrepair that it’s a real effort to walk on them. Consequently, you end up walking in the main road everywhere you go. We’ve found that walking against the traffic makes life a lot easier, as this helps prevent the myriad of rickshaw drivers stopping every four or five seconds to offer their services. Honestly, sometimes I think that phrases such as ‘No’ and ‘NO!’ and ‘Go away you irritating little man’ are just not understood here. Getting into our rickshaw and pulling away can sometimes be very a very welcome break from all the attention. It can be short lived, however. Even stepping out of a rickshaw after arriving at a given destination can often be met with the immediate offer or another ride from the next driver. I can’t remember ever seeing anyone get out of one vehicle to step immediately into another. People just don’t hop across town in a rickshaw relay like that so I have no idea what these people are thinking when they do things like this. Still, it’s all part of the experience (or so I keep telling myself).
Our driver was to take us to the Amber Fort at the top of the nearby mountain but we only got as far as one of the city's major roundabouts (or circles as they are known here) where the entire rickshaw population of Jaipur and surrounding districts, it seemed, were weaving in and out and buzzing their horns at each other. There was what looked like a political rally or something with some party official tending a megaphone in the middle of the circle. Traffic police were prohibiting traffic from using a couple of the key exists off the roundabout and resulting pandemonium was comical. Bicycle rickshaws, of which there are thousands here in Jaipur, were simply turning around and trying to go against the flow of the traffic and gridlock had pretty much set in. Our driver somehow manoeuvred us away from the hubbub and took us instead to the Royal Monument Cenotaph instead. We were planning on visiting this today anyway so changing the order of things a bit was not really too much of a problem.
The Cenotaph it pretty much a repeat of the same Royal Monuments that we saw back in Udaipur, only on a much smaller scale. About half a dozen of the marble, domed memorials stand here. A guide talked us through some of the stories depicted on the stonework in carved detail and it was an interesting enough half hour diversion. Never missing an opportunity to photograph animals, Sandy spent much of the time following the various monkeys around the courtyard.
Having handed over a few R10 notes to show our appreciation to the guide, we did our best to shake off the small crowd of children that had accumulated around our rickshaw and off we set again, this time towards the Amber Fort. Our rickshaw is slightly bigger that your standard issue vehicle and has both forward and rear facing seats. Since arriving in Jaipur, I’ve taken to sitting in the rear facing position. It’s a lot more fun to sit there smiling and waving at the car and scooter drivers just inches from our rear bumper and I find that it makes for a more relaxing ride, what with not being subjected to the horror of looking at the persistent near collisions all the time.
We passed a few elephants in the way to the fort (in how many countries can you say that?). These Indian elephants are often decorated with the most brilliant colours on their heads. None of the elephants that we saw in Africa were decorated in this way and they really are quite attractive, although I probably wouldn’t invite one to a cocktail party.
Our rickshaw could only go so far up the mountain before it had to stop and we had to secure another form of transport to finish the ascent. Our three options were foot, elephant or jeep. The elephant would take about twenty minutes and would cost R400 ($9) each whilst the jeep would apparently cost just R150 ($3,30) for the two of us. Walking up the steep incline was simply out of the question in the heat of the day and we were tempted to take the elephant for a while when our driver then told us that we could spent half an hour on an elephant later in the day down near the Water Palace for a mere R100 ($2). We decided that the jeep would save us some money and time and I was told that the R150 was a fixed rate but I wasn’t sure this wasn’t just as ploy to avoid haggling for a better rate so I set off to try to bargain with all the jeep drivers I could find. After twenty minutes or so, we returned to the original driver, having conceded that the rate was indeed fixed.
The fort itself is not as spectacular as some of the places we have visited in so far as the architecture and decoration. For the most part, it is a large courtyard surrounded by a very old series of buildings with mazes of corridors and empty rooms waiting to be discovered. The views out over the town were quite nice and for a little extra, we were able to take our cameras into a section of the fort where a beautiful room was adorned on all the walls and ceiling with mirrors. Inside the main courtyard, more elephants carried more tourists around in circles but it seemed just a little too tacky and we gave this a miss too.
The fort occupied another hour of our viewing pleasure before we located our jeep driver to take us back down to our rickshaw. He, in turn, took us back down the mountain and past the Water Palace. This is a rather small palace located in the middle of what looks like a man-made lake. We had intended to stop here and climb aboard an elephant for a bit but I felt a touch of the Delhi Belly setting in and was really looking forward to a swift return to the hotel. By and large, we’ve been quite fortunate not to be more afflicted with the Bombay Bum since we’ve been here. All the guidebooks warn you that you will inevitably succumb to the Montezuma’s Revenge. Traveller’s diarrhoea, to use the more technically correct term, can affect you even if you don’t drink contaminated water, the most common source of the problem. The problem is that your stomach contains bacteria and enzymes that break down the foods that you are used to. When new foods and bacteria are introduced into to the system, this is when things can get agitated. Different bacterium from different parts of the world can play havoc with the ecosystem in your stomach and this is what can lead to problems.
My upset stomach seemed to sort itself out after a bit of a rest so we decided to let our driver take us to some of the handicraft outlets around town to see if we could find any more souvenirs to send back home. He took us to several places but we never really found anything that both of us could agree on and the prices were quite a bit higher than curios of a similar quality in Africa so we eventually made our way back to the hotel.
We had spoken to our driver yesterday about our onward plans and about arranging a taxi to the Sariska Tiger Reserve and National Park. He had quoted us R1,500 ($33) for the trip and although this was cheaper than what the hotel had quoted me, I still thought I could do a bit better than this. During the day, he had called his uncle who was in the transportation and excursion business (you soon learn that everyone here has an uncle or a cousin who can provide assistance for whatever it is you need at the moment) that was going to meet us at our hotel to see what could be arranged. Sure enough, there he was waiting for us when we arrived and we dived into the negotiations. To cut a very long and tedious story short, we have now secured our air-conditioned taxi to take us the two to three hours journey to Sariska for R1,300 ($29 – including all taxes and road tolls). Job done!
With my failure at the Internet Café last night still fresh in my mind, we were then directed by our driver to another place just a few yards from our hotel where I was finally able to hook up my baby with no fuss. The connection speed was also pretty good and I was able to get some more of my updates online. Ganesh must have been watching over me today is all I can say.
Another rest and another shower back in our hotel room later, we met up again with our driver who took us directly to the train station where we would have our very own direct experience with trying to buy train tickets. So far, we’ve heard no end of horror stories from other travellers about how much of a hassle this is and ever the guidebooks all recommend having your hotel or some other agent make the arrangements for you. Still a little conscious about our daily budget limit and the fact that our own hotel seems to charge over the going rate for pretty much anything, I thought we’d give it a go nevertheless. As it turned out, it was not that much of a problem at all. Jaipur station, although very big, has a special ticket window for foreigners, the handicapped and, believe it or not, freedom fighters. The queues at every other window were quite horrendous but our window was empty and we only had to wait about five minutes for someone to show up behind it once we stood there. I told the nice man where we wanted to go and on what dates, he gave me a form to fill in, I exchanged some money for the tickets and we were done. What could be simpler? Our two, half-day, air conditioned journeys from Alwar (near Sariska) to Agra and again the next day from Agra to Delhi came to just R1,508 ($33,5) with no booking fee to get in the way.
With all our transportation needs for the remainder of our time here in India pretty much now taken care of, we decided to go back to MacDonald’s to grab another quick bite before settling in for our final night here. Jaipur is a very large place and it took fifteen to twenty minutes to reach half way across town but it did make a change to sit again in familiar surroundings. International fast food franchises do have their place for people like us in that they provide a brief escape for a half an hour or so.
Having dropped us off again back at the hotel, I gave our driver a little something extra and we bid him a fond farewell. It seems that we are always saying goodbye to people we are just starting to get to know better. That, however, is the life of a traveller and the price you pay to see the world.