PLEASE NOTE: For some unknown reason, I can no longer post text and photos simultaneously. I’ve spent five hours trying to post a dozen photos, one at a time, only to have WordPress crash and lose the latest update no less than 10 times. On top of that, three keys have fallen off my keyboard and I can’t get them to stay on. Three people more mechanically minded than I have also tried and failed at this little project, so I’m officially giving up. Expect the next blog update around December 28 when I’m in Mumbai with better wifi and a new keyboard. If anything appears before then, consider it a Christmas miracle.
9:10 – I’m in Jaipur this morning but will return to Delhi this afternoon on the 5:45 train. I have to make a Dragoman “kitty” payment on Monday so my goal for today is to find one or more ATMs that will dispense 24,000Rs and a money-changer to convert that to $420USD. If I see or do anything else, it will be a bonus. I’m all about setting low expectations and being pleasantly surprised.
9:15 – My Jaipur hostel – named Zostel – occupies the second and third floor of the ICICI Bank building, so I don’t have far to go. I ask a tire dealer sitting next door about money changers and he points to an electronics shop across the street. Surprisingly, they offer the best rate I’ve seen in the country and the cash was well worn so unlikely to be counterfeit.
This is my fourth day in the Pink City and I have yet to visit the Amber Fort, City Palace, Monkey Temple or ANY of the tourist haunts for that matter. It would be possible to take a whirlwind tour of the top three or four attractions before heading to the train but I’ve decided that Saturday #76 will be a day of wandering off the beaten path. Time to get a feel for the real Jaipur.
9:35 – I head down the first narrow alley that I see. Kids playing on the rooftops shout out “hullo” and women go about their work – cooking, cleaning, sweeping, washing clothes and shopping in the market. And the men? Well, men are kept very busy sitting in groups, smoking, talking, and drinking chai. Almost everyone I meet – men, women, teens, kids, Hindus and Muslims – are eager to talk to a stranger. “What country you from? First time in India? How you like?” These are truly universal icebreakers. Only one person said no when I asked if I could take their photo.
10:30 – Interesting character #1 is an elderly fish monger who is teaching the tricks of the trade to his grandson. Their business consists of a push cart, scale, two knives, a butcher block, a few live fish in a tub of murky water and three types of fish on ice. Okay, forget the ice. There is no ice in India.
For a small price the boy will clean and fillet the fish and wrap it in newspaper. The grandfather doesn’t speak much english but he seems to understand what I want when I hold up my camera and one finger, saying “one photo” in a questioning tone. He grabs a cleaver and with one swift move he chops the head off a very big fish. I really cannot take it with me on the train and it takes a while to convince them that I wanted one photo and not one fish.
10:37 – Another shopkeeper approaches and introduces himself as Rafiq. He has noticed the Canadian flag on my backpack and tells me that his brother is living in Nanaimo, BC. Rafiq hasn’t been to Nanaimo but he did spend three months last year in Martha’s Vineyard where he was the guest of a client. Like his brother, Rafiq deals in jewellery and semi-precious stones. He whips out his phone and flips through a dozen photos of gems arranged on a piece of black velvet. He rhymes off the names of the stones – topaz, garnet, tiger eye, opals, rubies, halls. “I’ve never heard of that last one,” I say. What is it again? He laughs hysterically. It’s a pile of Hall’s cherry lozenges.
10:50 – I say goodbye to Rafiq. Unlike almost everyone I met in Agra and Varanasi, the people on the street in Jaipur are genuinely interested in speaking with me and they’re not running on high pressure sales mode. When I ask Rafiq about his store, he tells me it’s on the other side of town and this morning he’s just tending a friend’s nearby convenience store. In Varanasi a gem dealer would tell you his store was just around the corner and then lead you on a 20 minute game of follow-the-leader through a maze of backbstreets, alleys and secret passageways.
11:20 – It’s starting to feel a bit like winter, especially once the sun goes down, so Jaipur’s goats wear coats.
12:00 – I stopped to talk with the owner of a once grand hotel who was directing traffic near the entrance. (Okay, he was chasing cows out of the lobby.) I was hoping for a private tour of the old girl but he wanted me to take photos of his wife and son. The wife wanted no part of a portrait session but his son Ganesh eventually posed. When I said “c’mon, Ganesh, you gotta smile,” he flashed a set of teeth that made Austin Powers look like Tom Cruise. Okay, maybe just a big grin, I said to myself. He read my mind and you will thus be spared the rather unsettling experience.
12:07 – I came across a tuk tuk driver who was having lunch at home with his family. He asked if I needed a ride, and when I said that I’d rather walk and take photos, he called for his kids to come outside and pose for me. The boy had taken part in a ceremony the day before and still wore some makeup. He was not enthused.
12:14 – I stopped to buy a Coke from an elderly shopkeeper. He was quite hard of hearing so we didn’t get too far in conversation but he was more than happy to have his photo taken and laughed heartily when I showed him the results. He was a quite the poser, too; bowing, saluting, pointing and gazing into the distance without prompting. Had there been a catwalk, I’m sure I could have got him to sashay.
The owner had been sitting across the street and approached me shyly. I assumed he wanted to know why I was peering into his car but he understood completely. He led me down a lane to his home to view his collection. There were about eight old cars in his overgrown yard and he took great delight explaining the make, model and year of each one. I correctly guessed the model year of the ’48 Morris Oxford (a lucky guess, I assure you) and I think I made a friend for life.
Ayjay Singh, his brother Vijay and their father operate a family business just down the street. It wasn’t obvious what they actually dealt in, so I asked. They sell bottled water, soda, Dish TV systems and SIM cards.
If you’re a vintage car collector and have been searching for a 1950s Hillman, Bedford, Land Master, Morris Oxford or Morris 8, a 1930 Austin 7, or a 1955 Hindustani, give me a shout and I’ll see if I can hook you up. Whether the Singhs would part with any of their beloved cars, I do not know.
12:58 – These kids didn’t ask for money in exchange for a photo but one playfully grabbed my half finished bottle of Coke and took a long swig. I told him to keep it. He seemed to be okay with the deal.
Seated on the floor, he held the knife with his feet and ran the meat over the upturned blade. Later he switched to processing the lungs. He showed me how he rinses them out and then blows them up like a balloon. I had his son take a photo of my pathetic attempt to blow up a set of lamb’s lungs but he hit the wrong button and it didn’t turn out. I declined an offer to do a second take.
13:48 – This street has a nice mix of auto parts dealers, tire shops, and butchers. I stopped to chat with a distinguished looking businessman named Faroq who was purchasing freshly killed and “cleaned” chicken for about $3 per head. He told me that Hindus have the butcher chop the head off the chicken with one swing of a cleaver but Muslims insist that it be cut with 2-1/2 very precise strokes – once forward, once all the way back, then half way forward. Faroq is Hindu so the whole process was pretty quick and I suspect painless.
14:30 – I’m back at the cafe where I had lunch yesterday. It’s been 24 hours and I haven’t had any issues with the shahi paneer so I order it again. Why rock the boat just a few hours before boarding a train?
15:55 – The tuk tuk to the station was fast and uneventful. I’m sitting in the station with almost two hours to wait for Train No. 12016 to Delhi. White guys with iPads are quite the novelty in the Second Class lounge (the cold, hard floor of the platform) and I draw a bit of a crowd.
16:18 – A crush of people attempt to board a Second Class coach on the Jaipur Allahabad Express. I decide to splurge and upgrade to AC Chair Class. For an extra $6 I will get a comfortable chair at a table for four rather than sharing a 4-foot bench with three or four adults and half a dozen squirming kids. Oh, and for the extra six bucks, you get a hot meal, snacks, chai, lime water, hot towels, and an english language newspaper.
18:12 – They didn’t waste time serving dinner and I didn’t waste time eating it. The samosa was okay but the sandwich consisted of two slices of bread, minus crusts, with several slices of tomato and cucumber so thin that I could hold them up to the light and still read the newspaper through them.
18:40 – Much to my surprise, a waiter comes around with a bowl of tomato bisque soup and packs of individually wrapped breadsticks. Perhaps the micro-sandwich was just an appetizer.
19:50 – The food keeps on coming. The main course is a small portion of shahi paneer (similar to the dish I had for lunch), rice, dal, piping hot chapatis and a tub of sour cream.
22:25. The waiter asks if I’d like more paneer? More soup? More dal? More ice cream? I didn’t get the first serving of ice cream, I tell him. He returns a few minutes later with two small cups of very creamy French Vanilla and a piece of biscotti. The six hour train ride, including hot meal, snacks and drinks sets me back $17CAD.
22:41 – We come to a stop in Delhi’s main train station, exactly one minute behind schedule.
23:10 – I enjoyed the Zostel hostel in Jaipur so I’ve booked a bed for two nights at their central Delhi location rather than return to the more remote Joey’s Hostel that I stayed at a few weeks ago. It’s a 10 minute walk to the hostel, through a dark and very dodgy looking neighbourhood, but I’d rather walk than deal with tuk tuk drivers who dig their claws into tourists at the train station.
The last time I was here I knew the name of a hotel that I planned to stay at for one night but was told by a succession of tuk tuk drivers that it had either burned down, been closed by the vice squad, was often raided by armed bandits, infested with rats and/or bugs, or had changed it’s name and relocated. Interestingly, they always seemed to know the hostel’s new name and new address and it was generally far from the train station.
23:25 – Zostel Delhi isn’t as nice as Zostel Jaipur but it will do for two nights. I meet my Dragoman group at a very nice hotel on Monday afternoon and the next two weeks will include a mix of 3-star hotels, home stays, guest houses, tents and even one night sleeping under the stars while on camel safari. Stay tuned.