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Jaipur City Tour

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2002

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and sits on a dry lake bed surrounded by barren hills at the top of which you can see fort-like edifices and the surrounding fort walls. The all day city tour bus with no A/C left from the railroad station and proceeded to take us to what seemed like every historical building possible in Jaipur!

The entry fees and camera fees for foreigners were many times over the fees for the locals and the soft drinks were four times the normal price which needless to say really pissed off Bob (he just wants to pay the fair and going price) which was ok with me because I am more interested in people than old empty buildings. (The two young college students on the tour from Bangladash were cheating by posing as Indians). An expensive elephant ride around a small courtyard was being utilized only by a few Japanese tourists. You had to pay an entrance fee to see the recently built white marble Hindu temple. Then you had to pay an offering inside the temple to see the inner temple. If you entered with a camera there was additional charge–quadruple for a video cam. Then you had to pay 5 rupees to go to the bathroom afterwards. You get nickel and dimed to death. Very frustrating.

For the remainder of the tour we stayed behind the rest when they toured the buildings and lingered in the streets to watch the kalaidoscope of passing shapes and colors…multi colored tribal women on the sidewalk selling soft green grass to passersby so they could gain graces by feeding the many cows that occupied the parking lot…15 little boys laughing and wanting to shake hands…one woman squatting in front of a wall to pee on a sidewalk…have a look in my shop…no charge for looking…barber shaving a patron in his pavement shop…men in white dhobis (like a sari that is pulled up between the legs) pushing handcarts and traditionally dressed Rajput men in bright colored turbans and handlebar moustaches. The newest and nicest building we saw in Jaipur is a three year old government building!

The tour guide makes his presentations in both Hindi and English (all the riders are Indian and Hindi-speaking except us) but only now and then do we catch a word and realize he is now speaking English! The two boys from Bangladash ask why we do not enter some of the palaces/temples. When I explain that we feel like human ATM machines, they sympathetically suggest that maybe the high prices for foreigners can be adjusted. I tell them we are more interested in the people anyway and they smile. The boys have completed two years of university study in Bangladash and have applied to study in the US. Moving to America seems to be every young Asian person’s dream but getting a visa these days, they say, is very difficult.

On the way to another ancient empty building we follow a rocking camel pulling a handcart piled high with 25 foot long metal pipe…the camel has only one speed and one direction…on this street we see many pavement dwellers-babies, naked toddlers, mothers…those not at home have their few belongings covered over with burlap or plastic..the driver lets us off several blocks from our hotel but instead of taking an auto-rickshaw or taxi we walk back to the hotel in the middle of the street along with the rest of the pedestrians thereby avoiding the urine soaked sidewalk…funny how quickly you can get used to this life if instead you are paying attention to the people…women beautiful with long shiny black oiled hair in colorful flowing saris that provide a foil to the grey dirty surroundings looking to see what is in their eyes… Never again, however, will I complain about the transportation taxes or the garbage, sewer and water bills at home unless at some future time I decide I like sewer water and garbage in my streets and a man carrying my new dishwasher up the hill on his back.

We drive through the famous “Pink City” which is the 250 year old part of the town. Doesn’t look pink to me…looks like a dirty rust color much like the mud huts in Africa or red clay kasbahs in Morocco…and don’t think it was repainted since the first time 250 years ago.

The bus transfers us into four wheel drives and up a winding road we go to the Amber Fort to view yet another palace and have lunch. I sit on a concrete wall alone for a few minutes to write in my journal and wait for the others to gather when I am quickly approached by about six laughing men in their 30’s or 40’s who shake my hand and want to know where I am from…then they traced a swooping convex shape in the air with their hands and arms and asked if I did this…what does that mean, I ask, and they all laugh and move away…not interested anymore. I tell Bob that I think I was just propositioned…

Jaipur India

Monday, July 22nd, 2002

July 22-26 2002
The next day we discover we are the only guests in the Hotel Meghniwas and we have breakfast in the quiet restaurant downstairs. The night before Bob had a few minutes of the sweats but no fever…this morning he complains about not
feeling well…bones ache…no energy…tired…. I am silent and surly…but thanks be to the gods we hole up in our comfortable room all day watching movies on the HBO channel aware that this is our first bout of good old culture shock.

Culture Shock
I am having my first bout of culture shock on this journey. (My other culture shock experience in reverse was upon return to the States from a summer hitchhiking in Europe in 1965). Lonely Planet says there are several stages to this phenomenon. The first is the honeymoon stage-euporia and excitement-but the novelty quickly wears off and then comes the disintegration stage where instead of being thrilled you find yourself really disliking this new culture-right now in India it is because of the malodorous air, heat and noise.

Then you hit the reintegration stage when you grit your teeth and just get on with it because your return ticket isn�t for another six months! You blame every little problem on your host culture and become snarlingly hostile-for example, daring the next person to approach you for money.

By the autonomous stage you begin to focus on revising your travel style that is based on a more realistic assessment of local conditions…like never deliberately putting yourself at the mercy of a lunatic taxi driver. And we are realizing that underneath the layers of cacaphony there is an implicit order to the culture..very poor people finding the most efficient way to live that works for them…the many are not just individually lost on the sidewalks but are part of the community of their nearest neighbors…trading support and solace…ensuring survival.

Finally the interdependence stage is supposed to arrive when you develop an emotional bond with the new culture. Lonely Planet says this will take some time and effort but it will happen. We are not there yet we feel it coming…maybe…

Supposedly the more you know about the new culture before travelling the easier it will be…but god help me I don�t think there is anything that can prepare a westerner for India. What this experience WILL definitely do for you is cure you of any sense of feeling privileged or of being a more valuable person than the locals, just because you are American or have money or position, that you ever had or ever thought of having. Everyone endures the same conditions in the same way. In the movie “The Mexican” Brad Pitt cockily tells the cop “I am American!” The cop just looks at him and says “I am Mexican!”

Hotel Meghniwas
We luck out with a hotel that is well off the noisy street with grass and trees all around and a swimming pool in the back. The proprietors are professional and the staff is very friendly and helpful. After a nice quiet solitary Indian buffet dinner in the hotel restaurant we are invited by the proprietors, Mr. & Mrs. Singh, to have a drink with them in their office. Their two sons were educated in the states and live there still-one has a software business in Seattle and the other lives in New York. Mr. Singh is an articulate retired military person who has a good knowledge of Indian and US history and for an hour we appreciate his reasoned analysis of Indian, US and Arab domestic and foreign policies.

He says that the US and India got off on the wrong foot with each other years ago when Nehru, an aristocratic man that was highly educated in England, visited President Truman in the US. On the return to India Nehru remarked what a buffoon (or some such word) Truman was and US intelligence picked up the comment which injudiciously got back to Truman. Mr. Singh goes on to say that he thinks that in the next 5-10 years India and the US will become very very good friends because they will be the two biggest democracies facing the threat of China. Bob says that he has seen some very expensive looking homes in Jaipur and wants to know who would be living there. Mr. Singh answers that there are three upper class groups of people in India-first business owners, then politicians and then bureaucrats. I think that some of my friends and I who have worked for the state for years have been living in the wrong country!

Then Bob asks Mr. Singh what he thinks about the Pakistani/Indian conflict. He says the hostilities are old and the two countries have been threatening each other for years but there is a balance of power because both countries have nuclear capability. Furthermore, he flatly stated that this conflict is historical, it is not a situation defined by war and that India is not going to release a bomb just because a few villagers and politicians were killed in a couple terrorist raids!

He went on to say that people here are living life normally and the State department warning has ruined tourism that was already bad because of 9/11 and the off-season. The media carried the news today that the warning has been lifted but the damage has been done, he says.

Later I read an article in the India Times Magazine that reported that local corporate executives never did send their American expat employees home and furthermore they think the warning was timed to coincide with an orchestrated international move to pressure India and Pakistan to talk peace. The article, entitled “The Triggered Exodus” ends by saying that “the wait is now only for the nuclear silly season to end.”

Mr. Singh has some interesting but very big questions for Bob: are intra-uterine cures possible yet…are we close to human cloning…Bob tells him in all seriousness that he thinks man is headed for extinction and then the proprietor spends 20 minutes telling him how it is already slowly happening in India. Global warming and the resulting drought will leave Jaipur without water within two years.

We excuse ourselves when his brother and his wife come to the door and after Bob had been bitten by their dog. Should have opted for the rabies shots as suggested before we left home!

Pushkar India

Sunday, July 21st, 2002
The driver has to ask 5 times for directions to Pushkar (no male pride here). Upon entering the village a guy sitting at a table lets down a red and white pole barrier and asks for a 15 rupee ... [Continue reading this entry]

Chittorgarh India

Sunday, July 21st, 2002
On the way out of town the next morning, I am not surprised to see a dead cow that had been hit by a car. "The government will come and pick it up for the hide, (an hopefully not ... [Continue reading this entry]

Mr. Singh’s Rickshaw In Udaipur

Sunday, July 21st, 2002
We take the offer of Mr. Singh, the Sikh driver of an auto-rickshaw, a small, noisy, three-wheeled motorized contraption with no doors, to take us around the narrow streets that are filled with cows, people, dogs, pigs, men in dirty ... [Continue reading this entry]

Udaipur India

Sunday, July 21st, 2002
July 18-21 2002 To make it easy on ourselves we left at 4am for a one-hour flight north to Udaipur in the state of Rajasthan. When the taxi pulled out we noticed the food stall down the street was still ... [Continue reading this entry]