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Posts Tagged ‘Amber Fort’

Jaipur commonly known as The Pink City is the capital of Rajasthan. Though a bustling metropolis, the old world charms of a different time are evident. We take a rickshaw from the train station to the Pearl Palace; a budget hotel that is clean and traditional. Waiting outside in the hot sun is a murder of Rickshaw men. I think this an appropriate collective noun for such a gathering.
I like to believe that under most circumstances I remain a passive person but when it comes to Rickshaw drivers I find that grace deserts me. Maybe it is the way they always try to convince you they are your best friend and only have your happiness and wellbeing at heart. Or it may be the false smiles and rehearsed lines… okay good price for you 300 rupees… when you know it should be 40 Rupees. Needless to say this can become tiring and even the locals will tell you…if you want to get a fair price you have to bargain, it’s just the way it is, but after some time we have begun to embrace a different strategy.
Firstly we establish the local cost of the trip. Usually we ask a few different sources; hotels and shops to ensure we are getting the right price. We have established that in a major city a rickshaw should be around 10-15 Rupees per kilometre, certainly never more than 20. No respectable Indian would ever pay more than this. On a few occasions when we have been fortunate to encounter an honest driver this has proven pretty accurate. For example the cost of a ride from our hotel to the old town should be 30-40 rupees, we are therefore happy to pay 50 but the drivers want 200-300rps.

Pink City

Ajmeri Gate

I have heard many tourists say what does it matter, we have more money than they do…don’t be so tight. Well it does matter, it matters a great deal. We create a black hole in the economy where everything is geared towards a foreigner and disadvantages locals who can’t afford the inflated prices. It also teaches people that it’s okay to rip foreigners off and creates a negative image. Others tourists who are not prepared or can’t afford to pay the inflated price have to argue over the rate before eventually conceding fifteen minutes later. It is a great source of frustration and simply not practical if you want to enjoy your time in India. The cartel that runs this street are bullies and own the area. They never allow other rickshaw men to wait for a ride or undermine their prices. Intruders are not tolerated and chased away.

Out on the street it’s not much better. Tourists with deep pockets and no resolve have seen to that.
The “murder” are quick to react whenever potential prey leave the hotel. Hello Madam where are you from…Oh Australia… Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie oi oi oi. I want to kill the idiot who enlightened you with that brilliant little gem of Australian culture. Kangaroo…great country very nice people, very generous peoples. Mmmm… is that right!
There is no point negotiating with them and the alternative is far more practical, economical and less frustrating. We just get in the rickshaw, state where we want to go and never discuss the price.
I can tell that our driver this morning is pleased. No negotiating at all, he is really going to rip us off. When we reach our destination I get out and start walking. Greg hands over 50 rupees thanks the driver profusely and in one quick movement turns and walks. No looking back! No checking is that okay. It’s done… the rickshaw driver knows he’s been given a fair price and in that moment of hesitation it’s over. What can they do, call the police and complain they got an extra 10-20 rupees on top of what the price should be. Explain to the officer that their meter is not working or they refused to put it on. What they can do is complain loudly and refuse to accept the money offered, but its best to just keep walking and treat the performance as simply that. Occasionally some drivers will chase you and feign disgust in what you have offered them. One such man engaged other drivers and a security officer at a shopping mall. The security man told us that we had to pay him 150 INR. Greg enquired as to whether he was a rickshaw driver or police officer. Being neither he was told to arbitrate in matters with which he was proficient. You simply need to stand your ground but I have to say most drivers will accept the amount given graciously as they know it’s correct.

Hawa Mahal

Hawa Mahal or Palace of the winds

Now of course the “Murder” at the Pearl Palace begin to converse with each other and word gets around that we won’t pay the inflated prices… we become the enemy and a power struggle develops. They ask us where we want to go but we politely decline their services. It’s important to stress that this method of payment must be carried out with a smile and good grace. It really confuses them and helps to defuse the situation. Greg even gave one persistent man a hug and a pat on the back before saying thank you we will never forget you.
I begin to notice one of the men who smiles every time he sees our exchange and it becomes apparent that he is amused by the fact that we are not budging. He comes to me when the others aren’t looking. These men are very greedy. You see this. I am not greedy. I am not like the others. I will give you the correct price. But you come to me always…The cloak and dagger deal is struck, loyalty given and both parties are happy.

Amber Fort

Amber Fort

We set out for a half day trip to the beautiful Amber Fort which is about 12km out of town. It is one of the most breathtaking forts in Rajasthan. Originally the capital before Jaipur, the fort itself was built in 1592 by Raja Jai Singh from which Jaipur takes its name. Though very old, it is still an imposing piece of architecture. Perched atop a huge hill, the entrance winds up a long battle rampant. Should you wish, you can be carried up by beautifully decorated elephants. We decide not to as I am always unsure if they are treated properly, although as I let them pass me at arm’s length they do appear well cared for. A long line of pachyderms proudly trudging up the hill, a turbaned mahout (driver) sits astride their heads.
As they make their way past me I see how diverse each elephant looks physically. They are dressed in their finery with beautiful colours painted on their tough bristly skin. If it weren’t for the tourists sat atop you could almost imagine what it might have been like when it was a working fort. Inside the palace opens up to show beautiful rooms with elaborate mirrors. Columns of marble and latticed windows embrace the cool breeze that drifts from Lake Maota which is brimming after the monsoon. I decide to treat myself to the audio tour which is a fantastic way to shut out the noise and immerse myself in the entertaining commentary.

Decretive Indian Elephant

Decretive Indian Elephant

The old city of Jaipur is uniformly pink but divided into areas specialising in particular goods and services. We pass an alley where stone carvers work on marble blocks. Their hair and beards are caked in white dust from the stone they are cutting. Further along we are surrounded by jewels and bangles. The shop owners are very proactive, giving answers to questions that have not been asked. Our selection is very large and you can decide for yourself. What can I decide for myself?
I have to say this is the India I love. Wondering through a bazaar and listening to each shops sales pitch. They are highly creative and skilled in getting noticed. We have the finest silks here madam. Well, no one is going to say we have the 4th best silk shawls in Jaipur are they. The locals receive if anything a more robust version with hands and wrists often grasped. I try to imagine how such an approach would work back home. Oddly enough when one does make an enquiry, the answer is deferred until stools are sat upon and tea is provided. Something as ugly as price can never be discussed until friendships are forged.
By mid-afternoon we pass the beautiful Palace of the wind. The Indians really know how to add romance to their architecture. Despite being winter the temperature has soared and I am desperately hoping we soon come across the area that sells water. Up ahead we spot a cart selling oranges. The owner consistent with the multitudes pre-empts a sale and offers a few pieces which are sweet and very juicy. Our thirst is such that we purchase six and consume them all in quick succession.

Safron Ladies at the Hawa Mahal

Saffron Ladies at the Hawa Mahal

We pass by an old Haveli that has a roof terrace and restaurant. To gain entrance we walk through a twisting dark corridor that is guarded by a mangy dog and up some old wooden stairs that creak with each step. A man at the stop of the staircase informs us that the restaurant is closed. A lady who is sat in corner surrounded by several people stands up and walks towards us. She has tears in her eyes and in broken English makes her best attempts to apologise for the closure. It is clear she is distraught and points to a picture on the wall. Her husband has passed away very suddenly. Her face is desperate I can feel my heart breaking for her. Although in the company of friends and deeply grief stricken she continues to apologise and assures us the restaurant will be open in a couple of days’ time. She has taken my hand and does not let go and nor do I want her too. Her face is searching mine. Searching for some reason why this happened Searching for help. I am suddenly reminded by the millions of unknown stories and lives we pass through every day. Lives we will never know. We leave the restaurant after offering our deep condolences. Back out in the bright sun vendors and shoppers are going about their business and life goes on, but just a short distance away is a personal tragedy that no one knows about. I feel unsettled by the experience but in an odd way I have been touched by a stranger. For ten minutes our lives come together at a time of crisis just because we walked into a restaurant.
We leave the old city via the decorative Ajmeri Gate and walk along MI Road until we reach Lassiwala. Outside a man is stirring curd in a large flat wok that is charred and blackened. It simmers and bubbles. He scrapes the bottom with a large metal ladle to prevent it burning. The cream that rises is skimmed from the surface and allowed to cool. This is then mixed with evaporated milk and infused with fruits and spices of your choice. Rose water and Cardamom, Banana cinnamon and my personal favourite Pistachio, raison and saffron. I am sure there is a fair amount of sugar added as well. The lassi under most circumstances could be considered a meal on its own but we order a couple of vegetable samosas just to be sure. They arrive on newspaper with plum sauce dolloped on yesterday headlines. The entire meal is only 90 INR or around $1.50 for both of us.

The Palace of the winds

The Palace of the winds

After a break at our hotel our new found friend and rickshaw driver takes us to the Rambagh Palace, now a hotel, but in its heyday a working palace occupied by The Maharaja and his ethereal wife Rajmata Gayatri Devi, named the most beautiful woman in the world by Vogue magazine in 1940. We take a seat on the terrace in deep cane chairs and treat ourselves to some delicious cocktails. We are served by a tall man in his late 60’s. His face is still handsome and he moves with effortless style. Every order placed is received and complimented with a slight smile. The hotel manager kindly lets us wonder through the hotel, each room draped in rich fabrics opulent furnishings and exquisite objects owned by the royal family. The palace is magnificent and radiates an unmistakable sense of history that transcends time.
We learn how over the years Rambagh has been host to several illustrious guests, such as Lord Mountbatten, Prince Charles, Jackie Kennedy to name but a few. As we leave this beautiful hotel I take one last look back and try to capture this moment in my mind.

Jaigarh Fort

Jaigarh Fort

Tomorrow we continue our journey south mindful of the wedding we are going to attend in Mumbai on the 11 December. Our next stop will be Pushkar a small city famous for its annual camel festival and temples dedicated to the creator god Brahma. The Murder refuse to take us to the Bus station in a final act of disgust but that’s okay we just walk 100 meters around the corner and take one for 60 rupees.

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