Jaipur and the Monkey Temples
After leaving the Taj, we were off to Jaipur with a stop at another Mughal treasure, Fatehpur Sikri, a small city from where Akbar ruled for about 15 years before water shortages shut the site down and moved everything back to Agra. Nice planning...
The king's private meeting room where he met with ministers.
Hanging out on the steps of the Jami Masjid, the large mosque associated with the palace complex.
A little history of this place (swiped from wikipedia). Akbar had inherited the Mughal Empire from his father Humayun and grandfather Babur. During the 1560s he rebuilt the Agra Fort and established it as his capital. He had a son and then twins, but the twins died. He then consulted Salim Chishti the sufi saint who lived as a recluse in the small town Sikri near Agra. Salim predicted that Akbar would have another son, and indeed one was born in 1569 in Sikri. He was named Salim to honor the saint and would later rule the empire as Emperor Jahangir. The following year, Akbar, then 28 years old, decided to build a palace and royal city in Sikri, to honor Salim Chishti.
You might think it would take a while before seeing camels all over the place being used like horses or oxen would seem normal, but in the very arid state of Rajastan, views like these soon were familiar to us.
Another familiar scene, one thankfully absent from Kerala's roads. At least these cows aren't lying IN the road. The novelty of this scene wore off quickly as well, a little more each time we dodged one of these beasts at full speed.
This is a more typical view
While in Jairpur, we stayed at a heritage hotel called Umaid Bhawan, far and away the most interesting accommodations we've enjoyed while traveling in India. The architecture, furniture, and artistic atmosphere is completely classical Rajastani and just wandering around the place was more enjoyable than many of the museums that we visited.
The hotel had a very atmospheric roof-top restaurant under tents with live music the first night that we were there.
While in Jaipur, known as the Pink City due the color of paint wash used within the confines of the old city walls, a regular stop is the residence of the Raj of Jaipur, the City Palace. The raj was at one time the king of this area but is now much more a symbolic figure much in the manner of the British royals though with much less money and influence. We toured the buildings and grounds and left fairly indifferent about it all. The most memorable event took place in the weapons museum when we encountered a family from Newburyport (the boy was wearing a Clippers's t-shirt). They remain the only other confirmed Americans that we have met since leaving orientation in Delhi in August.
This is the backside of the famous Halal Mahal, the five-story ornately terraced facade built by one of the Raj's to allow the royal women the opportunity to view parades and regular city life down below through the shuttered windows without actually being seen themselves. There's a bit of Hollywood to this one - while it is certainly beautiful, it reminds me more of an elaborate set on a movie lot - there's really nothing behind it. Here's the front, taken with a drive-by shot
No trip to Rajastan is complete without a little shopping - Kuldeep brought us to a huge complex intended for tour buses and foreigners where we were able to survey the crafts and clothes of this region. The girls try out some saris.
Across from the shops, a ancient lake palace emerges from the waters surrounding it.
Here comes the milkman...
One consistently jolting aspect of Jaipur and all of the areas in north India that we visited was the lack of adequate infrastructure. Where it appeared that efforts at advancement were underway, projects seemed mostly half started with no signs of recent progress. We were warned but were still continuously surprised by the utterly abysmal condition of the roads, even (or especially) the main ones throughout the cities. The pounding and erosion of heavy rainfall accompanied by continuous heavy traffic certainly takes its toll, but there is little doubt that much of the problem stems from simple neglect. One could quickly surmise financial limitations producing this situation but I read in numerous sources that corruption among public officials plays a major role in sustaining this tragic status quo. This is a land of splendor and rubble, and the splendors are often enhanced by their contrast with the rubble that surrounds them. Ride with us for a bit through the streets of Jaipur:
In the Dilbert comic strip, there is a fictional country called Elbonia where Dilbert's company outsources work . In this country, everyone is always standing in waist-deep mud and blissfully living an ultra-rural lifestyle. The greater Jaipur area may not have had that much mud, but everywhere you look in this whole area, you see debris and rubble - sometimes in piles, sometimes strewn across a wide area, often mixed with mud and litter as well as other assorted kinds of refuse. The place has the feel of a war zone - it is crowded with people living in small hovels sculptured from whatever kinds of trash or junk could be found. For many, home appeared to be a bit of shredded tarp or a few broken planks leaning against a wall.
The crowded, dirty, seemingly bombed landscape of Jaipur and the people eeking out a bare survival existence gave me pause to think about what an accident of birth one's fortune truly is and how overwhelming a task India faces in trying to create opportunity for so very many people on the edge. There wasn't much conversation in the car as we peered through the glass walls that separated our world from theirs while driving through the miserable outskirts of Jaipur. There wasn't much to say.
Unexpectedly, the most fascinating stop during our time in Jaipur was actually not in Jaipur. Our guide book described a small temple village called Galta that was built into a narrow ravine, was the location of a number of Hindu pilgrimage temples and possessed a local population of around 5000 monkeys. How could we not check out a village with 5000 monkeys? However, there were more than simian attractions in picturesque village of Galta.
All of the monkey feeding one could possibly want to do could be had just inside the gateway of the village, but we noticed a steady stream of people, many wrinkled, grizzled, colorfully dressed and some soaking wet, coming down the narrow street from the opposite end of the village that wound into a narrowing ravine. So we walked against this traffic until we approached a set of cascades pouring down from a large stone ediface. The cascade was actually a stone stairway flooded by water overflowing from the containment pools built up above.
After splashing our way to the top, we viewed a large pool lined by busy and colorful bathers enjoying the greenish water that had been freshened some by the previous night's rains. The stairs continued upward to yet another constructed pool with a small temple perched above it on the opposite side. Here, more people, both locals and pilgrims, gave offerings at the temple and washed their bodies in the pools and their laundry on the steps.
Cricket in the temple courtyard.
We arranged a marriage for Elena
The whole view was truly surreal and while we don't really blend in very well anywhere in India, we were truly standing out in this scene. Being fascinated voyeurs of what was to the locals an ordinary scene, we were treated with mild curiosity and friendliness with numerous requests to be in photos and to shake hands while trading smiles. Galta was not originally on our "must see" list for our swing through the Golden Triangle but it left us with some of our most vivid memories.
The evening's entertainment was a widely advertised magic show at the local auditorium. No photography was allowed, not that a camera could capture magic inside anyway. The show was advertised as a spectacle and lived up to its billing - presented in Hindi, we were treated to a virtual history tour of magical illusions. Nearly every one of the bits we witnessed has been long retired by now in other parts of the world. After an hour and a half of blaring music, seizure inducing strobes, and half-heartedly executed worn out tricks, we took advantage of the intermission to make our escape. However, Houdini would have had a tough time getting out of the theater through the locked iron gates that had been chained and padlocked shut. It took a few minutes to find the person with the key to let us out. Apparently, fire codes are a little more liberal in Jaipur. Our very own disappearing act was the best trick of the evening
After a second night in Jaipur, we had to close the triangle and head back toward Delhi. Along the way, we stopped in shortly to the Amber Fort complex to have a look at the spectacular hilltop fortress.
There were a couple of ways to get to the fort including foot, autorickshaw, and elephant, but a combination of time crunch and fort fatigue left us all content to do a little shopping in village and admire the fort from a distance. From where we watched, a continuous parade of elephants ambled by on their way to lug gleeful bands of tourists up the narrow road to the fort. We decided to catch our elephant ride another time.
Our four days riding the perimeter of the Golden Triangle was truly memorable and it is no mystery why this route is one of the most traveled in India. Having made the journey after only one week in India, the experience was particularly impressive. Departing from Delhi the next day to arrive here in Kerala jolted us once more - India is a country of many diverse and striking faces.