For the next few weeks, I’m posting a travelogue about my recent trip to India – my first on the sub-continent. For those of you dreaming of a trip to India or for those of you who have been, feel free to add tidbits of your travel stories in the comments section!
We’ve had some time in Delhi and our last is a travel day – our first journey by the legendary India Rail – but before we left the city, we had a bit more of the old city to explore before moving onto Jaipur.
I started the day, as many street photographers do, simply standing on a street corner near our hotel watching the city wake up. People were going about their mornings, children waiting for rides to school, shops opening up, and everyone watched as a huge, larger-than-life brass lion was offloaded from a truck onto a rickety rickshaw for delivery somewhere in the maze of alleyways where a truck simply wouldn’t fit.
We watched with trepidation as the lion was tentatively transferred and we waited for certain disaster. But the disaster didn’t come! The huge lion was not dropped by the men maneuvering it, it somewhat magically fit on the bed of the rickshaw, and the rickshaw didn’t in fact collapse under the weight. The men trotted off with their charge giving me a “thumbs up” as they left. I can’t imagine where they hoped to fit this huge sculpture!
My husband and I set off for the Red Fort stopping for a quick trip in to see the nearby Jain temple. There was no photographing inside the ornately decorated temple, but the Vatican could learn a thing or two about décor.
The Red Fort is really a huge complex of buildings – a mix of palace and a later military complex. Many of the buildings are abandoned and run down though others are undergoing renovation. Some buildings are marble wonders and there is enough of the gardens to imagine what this place would have been like when royalty was around.
Marring the day’s experiences was the heavy smog which made breathing a bit difficult. It cast a mysterious fog all around the Red Fort making my photos atmospheric (AKA can see the atmosphere).
We headed to the train station in the early afternoon, leaving lots of time since this would be our first experience with the Indian rail system. I had high hopes of the rail journey across the Indian countryside.
We booked first class for our first experience, but this ended up to be in a closed cabin with thick windows that distorted all of my photographic attempts. It was good that I saw the countryside. There was quite a lot of poverty with families camping by the tracks or set up in shanty-town like areas sometimes in the middle of what seemed like a trash dump.
We’ll have other train journeys, but this one was more mundane and colorless than I’d hoped. Tomorrow is a new city with new experiences.
We loved Delhi, but Jaipur proved more of a struggle.
We’d had a difficult time booking a hotel in Jaipur. There didn’t seem to be a center to where I wanted to photograph and even looking at what appeared to be the hub of the action around the palace and market we couldn’t find a good hotel. We had to book one out a bit and trust to taxis.
Apparently, there is a reason we couldn’t find a good hotel. The entire center is one big urban sprawl. There seemed to be no heart to this city.
Our hotel is a bit disappointing truth be told. It looked better in the photos. It’s clean-ish and the dog outside of our room did stop barking before we went to bed. The character that seemed to be in the hotel is much like the character that seemed to be in the city – a thin veneer of tat. Sorry, Jaipur, but I’m not a fan.
The hotel is quite a bit further from the city center than we thought. We took a taxi in and encountered the first of many little obstacles that made our day a challenge. The taxi dropped us off at the palace just as we asked (after being firm that this was the only place we wanted to go, and no we didn’t want a tour of the city today or tomorrow), but at the entrance for the royal family. Maybe our taxi driver hadn’t noticed, but we weren’t the royal family.
No signs led us to the real entrance. We tried one way than the other down an exceedingly busy street. I fell against a wall at one point and nearly got knocked over by a motorbike going the wrong way down the busy street. Things weren’t going well.
Added to this were the increasingly persistent queries for money. We simply stopped responding to every shopkeeper who asked us into his shop. We’d run out of “no, thank you”s and we’d only just started our day.
We stopped at a couple of tourist places and I tried to make the best of the photography to hand. The observatory (Jantar Mantar) had a few interesting angles to the largest sundials I’d ever seen and Hawa Mahal – built as a way for the harem to overlook the streets – had a thin veneer of ornateness and some interesting textures. The overall impression, though was emptiness and dreariness.
I was much more interested in the colorful workers at Hawa Mahal than the landmark itself. At one point, we were looking straight down on the workers as they took a smoke break.
We got lost in the sea of market, but that was not necessarily a problem for my photography, however all the shops seemed to be textile shops. How many textiles can one person really see? There were a few interesting moments encountered with interesting people, but I just wasn’t quite getting the hang of the city.
In one last attempt to see the brighter side of Jaipur, we walked to Central Park – green on the map, but covered in litter with even more traffic flowing through it. I was officially done. We hopped a motorized rickshaw for a very adventurous ride back to the hotel.
The city had stomped us. We were exhausted and feeling off color. We’d retreat and try some of the outlying areas tomorrow.