’42’ he says. Emma and I gasp. ‘What? What?’ Lily says. ‘Do the math” I tell her, and Emma reminds her of the formula. 9/5 plus 32 to get the conversion to Farenheit. It’s been almost 110 during the day here in Jaipur. We knew we were coming into the hot season, but this is a new level.
It immediately brings up stories of the other rediculously hot place we’ve been – Luxor Egypt in Summer. We would walk deep into tombs that somehow seemed hotter than the surface. It’s 34 right now, and almost midnight. Jaipur is busy but not swarmed.
We might not have made it. The traffic was unusually bad and we had a dispute about the price of the 3-day taxi that cost us some time in the airport. As usual in the developing world, it’s not worth fighting too hard so I gave him the $220 cash and we ran to the gate making it as the ‘Final boarding’ sign was flashing.
The Holiday Inn is delightful, upscale compared to most one would find in the US for $40 a night, so I bought two rooms which we all appreciate. The restaurant is pretty good. The kids are a little tired of the Indian dishes they each eat (Chole or Chana – chick peas for Emma and Butter chicken for Lily.) We order bread anyway, beacuse it’s always so good. We discuss the merits of Nan vs Roti, which is Lily’s favorite.
Jaipur is the third major city of the ‘Golden Triangle’ of tourist cities in India: Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. It’s part of Rajasthan, one of India’s most unusual and storied states. It’s a bit like a Texas. Hot, dusty, and independent .
Rajasthan was one of the last states to join the Indian Union in 1947. In fact they had the option of becoming an independent state like Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Rajasthan has a long history of warring with the rest of the subcontinent. Rajasthan has some of the biggest forts in India. The Amber fort is Jaipur’s largest, stretching 5 miles of walls over a hilltop next to Maota Lake. Built in 1592, the real attraction is the Rajput palace attached to the Fort. This was the home and headquarters for the Maharajas, who ruled the area for centuries before British colonization.
We can walk up in this heat or get a Jeep round trip for $12.50, which seems like a bargain right now. I probably could have gotten it for half that, but I don’t argue.
We are already dripping from the heat and the sunscreen burns when we put it on because our pores are open. We got a little burnt this morning playing in the pool even with 100 everywhere! I guess it washed off.
Emma and Lily get caught in a group that wants photos, which we like to consent, but it can get tiresome with the 10th permutation. Lily and I break away and leave Emma, who struggles to say ‘No’ to anyone. We wave at her from 50 feet away, teasing that we are going to leave her. After a few more minutes I rescue Emma.
As we leave Lily chuckles ‘Why are they so obsessed with American’s? Don’t they know we are assholes?”
The Fort is hard to photograph but fun to explore, despite the heat. We have to fend off guards that all want to ‘show us secret passage’ or ‘special photo spot’. It’s just more fun to explore on our own, room by room, level by level. The floor plan makes little sense to our Western sensibilities. Did it make sense to those that built it?
At the end is a little cafe that has strong Air conditioning. It’s glorious to get water and for me an iced coffee. They play loud pop music and we are all enlivened, joking about who each family member would be if we were in the Star Wars saga.
On our way back the sky gets silver grey, then slate black and the normal orange/pink of the city goes three shades darker as storm clouds approach. We are close to one of the driest deserts on earth. The temperature changes are rapid. The wind picks up in a gust and we all get splattered with sand. ‘Aargh” I spit. “goddammit!” I wasn’t expecting that. My teeth grind on little particles of, well India. I’m eating India. Great.
And then the storm picks up so hard I can’t even open my eyes. I manage to get the camera out to film a bit of it. It was worse in person. The girls don’t even wait for me as I pay our driver – they high tail it into the Holiday Inn. From our 5th floor rooms we watch the rain but it looks harmless form there.
It’s Sunday, day 13 of the trip and our last one sightseeing. We get out early to try to beat the heat, and indeed it’s a little more comfortable after the rains. We’ve agreed to meet our tuk tuk again across the street and we build a plan: the astronomy court, Raja mahal and the Albert Museum.
The astronomy court is fascinating, although it seems entirely reconstructed and inauthentic. Nonetheless, if it is to be believed, and we believe, they were doing fantastic calculations of time and space here in the 1700s. There are sundials accurate to the second, numerous calculators and mappers of the stars, and some way with which they predicted the monsoon. We anted up for a guide – I figured this one was worth it, and he did show is a few things.
The accent was really hard though. I’m glad I had read about it ahead of time so I could piece it together. The court was built by XXX and used for two hundred years. Amazingly, they built it without themselves having any measuring devices. How do you figure out how long a second is or 1 degree azimuth when you have nothing to start from? Both kids like it.
Next up is the fairytale looking raja mahal palace (above) where the XXX would live in the summer. fter the fort, it’s Jaipurs next most popular site to visit. It features a front facade that looks like a cartoon to me – so exaggerated and odd.
Behind the facade are 3 levels of compartments with small viewing windows from which the women and pricesses of the palace could look out on to the street without fear of being seen.
The sun rises higher overhead and we start to heat up. The crowds are here and the spaces narrow. But the view are good and the architecture is other worldly. I wish we could view it without all the people, but isn’t that the way it always is?
I will say that coming in June has been a lot better than we expected. Maybe we just got lucky, and the June heat is pretty bad. But it’s not been THAT bad, and the worthwhile trade off has been far fewer people. The hotels have been empty and we’ve had easy late check-outs and room upgrades everywhere. The taxis, and shops and guides are all eager for work makeing negotiations easy.
And the sites aren’t empty but there aren’t a lot of people. The ghats of Varanasi, Taj Mahal, Kajuraho especially were thin with tourists, at least compared to what I expected and saw in pictures.
Overall, I’ve been surprised by touring India. But I expected it to be tougher. We didn’t see the aggression from touts or groping men we were told to anticipate. The garbage and pollution problem were major, but not worse that alot of places we’ve seen (perhaps aside from the Ganges.) Food was plentiful and easy to get – no one got sick. And travel in general was on time orderly.
Yes, we have only seen the tourist traps of India. It’s a huge country. We got a taste of the India I expected in Varanasi, but it stil was enjoyable and fun. Travelling in low season on planes (no trains) makes a difference. And we don’t eat street food anywhere, ever.
But it was still easy! And fun. India is a good place to travel for families. I want to go to other parts. My only wish was that we had more time. The central tourist areas are not near water or mountains. So the touring is a little repetitive – sighseeing, restaurant, hotel. Repeat. In fact, we could have done each city much faster. We ended up with a lot of downtime.
But downtime isn’t bad either. This trip was our first with 2g mobile service, which made touring so much easier. I coudl look at maps, wikipedia for the sites, and the kids could stay entertained through the slow parts. The t-Mobile family plan with 2g simply global plan is awesome for travel.
Our last stop of the day is the ALbert museum, gorgeous from the outside, cluttered and uncurated inside. When we drove by here yesterday on our way to the fort and the flocks of pigeons numbered in the thousands. Lily joked that ‘She is the pigeon lady’ and she and Emma had kid like fun scattering the masses of birds in front of the beautiful building.
And then like that our trip was over. We flew back through Delhi and connected to our Lufthansa segment to Frankfurt and home. Business class is again glorious, and the food is much better.
We’ve completed 40 weeks of our 52. India will go down as a fun, easy trip. Not what I expected. I really want to get back and explore the Himalayan north and the south. Till next time..
I love your travel stories – thank you for sharing both the sightseeing and the personal. Let me know when you’re ready to tackle Southern India.