India Travelogue: Jaipur & Pushkar
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!
I wasn’t a fan of Jaipur, but I really hadn’t seen the beauty spots yet so I left the hotel filled with hope. I left on my own as my husband came down with the dreaded illness we’d tried so hard to avoid in India – Delhi Belly. There were very few things that we’d not eaten in common so it had to be one of those – either that or my mid-western constitution is immune. I’d seen a report that 40% of visitors get sick in India – about 1/2. My husband got sick, I didn’t – that counts as about 1/2.
So, today (and tomorrow) I had to go it alone – me and my driver.
Having a private car all day could really spoil me for future trips. The driver spoke little English but we managed to get by. I left my husband to his repeated toilet visitations and set off.
Jal Mahal was the first stop of the morning with a light fog over the lake. There were flocks of birds flying in and out of the fog and it was early enough that the street vendors and tuk-tuk drivers weren’t really ready to start haggling me. I spent quite a lot of time and found this place magical. I regret not being able to return for evening photos. Can I put a plug into the Indian tourist board to make the monument available to visit by boat?
We moved to Fort Nahargarh overlooking the city. This fort left little impression except there was a modern art exhibition throughout which seemed a good use of space – there was lots and lots of space – and I got my first taste at up close photos of monkeys living their monkey lives. By the end of the day, I’d have my fill (or would I?) of monkeys.
Amber Fort was next. If I thought Fort Nahargarh had a lot of space, it’s only because I hadn’t yet seen Amber Fort. The structure was huge and was in the shadow of yet another enormous fort (Jaigarh). Jaipur’s history it seems was a military one.
There was plenty to explore in the Amber Fort and while the palace’s mirrored structure was spectacular, most of the rest was an empty maze. I soon became quite lost. There was cool architecture everywhere so I was happy to wander.
I convinced my driver to stop in the village at the foot of the Amber Fort. There was quite a nice view over a lake – not a pristine lake by any means, but the pigs liked it and it gave a nice reflection of the fort. Elephant rides were to be had in Amer and there was a market, mostly for the locals.
The final stop was Hanuman temple – the monkey temple. My driver hadn’t been there so it seems this is an off-the-beaten track sort of place tucked into a forest. It was supposed to have monkeys and so it did! Monkeys pretty much everywhere. They didn’t seem to mind their photos being taken. The temple was run down, but was intriguing – something I might expect to see in an Indiana Jones movie.
This was the first day of aggressive street vendors and children begging – and of course the tuk-tuk drivers wanting to take me places. I’m a bit tired of “no, thank you”s but I think I’ve seen the scenic part of Jaipur.
On day 2 of my husband’s convalescence, I’ve booked a car into the deserts of Rajasthan to taste a different side of India. My destination was Pushkar. I’d heard of the camel fair that takes place in the autumn and it seemed a good time to check out the place.
Pushkar is a holy city with a lake at it’s center serving as a place to pray and wash – a bit like I expect the Ganges is in Varanasi. So I thought of this trip as a warm up to Varanasi.
The reality was quite different.
I quickly became lost in the maze of the market and couldn’t find the lake. The lake – in the center of the city – marked right there on the map. I couldn’t find it!
Strike 1 for my nerves.
It turns out that the lake is quite small and hidden on all sides by buildings. You can’t enter without going past the large donation boxes and many people who will help you with a ceremony.
I was alone and a bit overwhelmed so when the men doing a ritual ceremony, which I really didn’t much want to do anyway, asked me what my donation would be and then asked for something equivalent to $50-100 US dollars, I about had a cow (there were plenty of cows around by the way, they’re sacred in India and go where they please).
Needless to say I didn’t pay them. I didn’t even know if these fellows were officially part of the temples or were freelance holy men. They weren’t dressed in any particular way so they could just be random people off the street. Another scam at this supposed holy place. I would have given them a reasonable donation, but they’d seen me coming and I’d fallen for another of those marketing strategies so common in India: provide an unasked for service that seems to be part of the experience and expect payment.
Strike 2 for my nerves.
Speaking of cows, they are sacred in India and at sacred places – or on the road – or everywhere, really. There were also monkeys and lots of pigeons. Couple this with having to take off my shoes around the lake and I really have no idea what I was stepping in.
To calm my nerves and try and get a feel for this place I started a slow walk around the lake. There are “no photography” signs posted everywhere. There was no photography except I guess for all the families taking photos of each other with their cell phones bathing in the lake, which I guess doesn’t count.
About a 1/3 of the way around the lake I was accosted by an angry man yelling about no photography. I wasn’t taking photos so I guess the signs really meant “no cameras”. He even threatened to throw my camera in the lake. I didn’t encounter much aggressiveness of this sort in India, but it seemed particularly out of place in this setting.
On the bright side, there were camels and the market was good. I even made some purchases, but my nerves weren’t really up to the task of photographing. None of the temples allowed photography and that was half my reason to go to Pushkar.
The exception was Savitri Mata Temple, on a hill overlooking the city. I quite enjoyed the experience of climbing to the top of the hill — in a cable car — with a family from a different part of Rajasthan that seemed to have adopted me for the trip.
Jaipur was a bit disappointing. My husband was ill most of the time and I just couldn’t get a handle on the place. I couldn’t walk anywhere and get to know the area and I probably missed opportunities because of my mindset. I hope to draw a line under the experience and start fresh in Agra.