Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone. None of that here...
There is an aspect of India that is absolutely universal and it is this: Every single thing in the country has something to it that makes it not new. Everything you see is either dented, scratched, bruised, scuffed, cracked, snapped, stained, burned, bent, twisted, deformed, faded, tired, sloppy, dirty, muddy, wet, or made so poorly that it will soon become one of the above. This applies to everything you see (from lamp posts to lollipops) with one notable exception - the women. They are all dressed so beautifully in their saris, and for some reason, they seem to be immune to the craziness of everyday life here. You can be walking down the dirtiest, grungiest street where there are cows doing their business, and people living in tarps burning coal on the side of the road, and around the corner will come a well dressed Indian woman. It's strange. This is such a land of contrasts.
I thought it might not be possible to top Delhi's traffic chaos, but Jaipur did it. Even though the city is so well laid out (rectangular wide streets), it is jammed, and the noise is just endless. Even high above the city in one of the forts we visited today, we could hear the drone of the city far below. I swear I heard a rooster from over 2000 feet away! The streets are lined with millions of vendors and craftspeople who will do anything from repairing your sandals on the spot to cutting you a new key for your lock with a hand file (yup, I watched a guy make a key with a hand file!) The begging is a little more intense here as well and there are many women with young children asking for money for food. There's nothing you can really do, and giving them anything just encourages more begging, but it is hard to resist the look in their eyes sometimes. The worst is when the parents send the kids out to do the work, and you can see the parent over on the side of the street while the kid is pulling on your arm from the car window. Sometimes it's tough being driven around like this with a driver because you feel like you are isolating yourself so much from what is really going on, and that you might be doing the wrong thing by leaving an image of privilege. However, we westerners simply aren't tough enough to handle too much of the reality of this country.
We finally found a children's charity booth at one of the forts we visited, and we thought this would be the best way we could at least make a minute but appropriate contribution to the problem. Even this was tough though. Kristine saw the sheet the guy was filling out for his donations, and the last one he got was 5 days previous. Imagine this guy sitting there 10 hours a day, looking for what is small change, and getting nothing for 5 days. India can really tear at your heart in so many ways.
At the same time the history and scenery are fantastic. Crossing into Rajasthan from Delhi, the landscape gives way to a rockier, drier look (are we in Kamloops?), and you finally reach Jaipur, nestled in and amongst several flat topped hills, many with forts. We are learning a lot about India's rich history of kings, and the current Maharaja still lives in one of the palaces here in Jaipur. He's a polo buddy of Charles, the Prince of Wales. All of this royal history has given the area some spectacular forts and palaces, all built using traditional Indian architecture, and sprinkled with various Hindu temples. The buildings are often multifunctional, incorporating a fort for defence, a palace for the rulers, and various religious edifices. Some of the views from above the city are stunning, as are some of the chambers in the palaces. We have to admit though, it is sometimes hard to keep all these places separate as there are so many of them, and they are all similar in function, but very different in look.
Driving around with Jeet can be fun though too, and there is no way we would see as much as we are with any other form of transport - it would just be too slow. His English is pretty good, and Kristine bugs him constantly about the names of the various Indian foods. He seems to enjoy talking about things. It's hard to understand though how he does this job and stays away from his family for so long - sometimes months at a time. He drives us from place to place, wherever we want to go, and then he goes away for the evening and comes and gets us in the morning. We know from our guide book that he gets a hotel allowance, but we also hear that divers sometimes sleep in their cars to pocket the cash. Sometimes it's hard to know whether we should have lunch together or not (if we ask him to join us, it is understood that we are paying...); it's hard to simply walk into a place separately after you've spent hours together in the car. Canadian thing maybe. If we were less polite, maybe we could just walk away ;)
He seems fine with all of this though, and I guess we just have to get used to it. Today the three of us went for ice cream. We were trying to have lassis at a famous place here in Jaipur but they had just closed so we had to go for ice cream instead (we came back the next morning for one for Kristine - I didn't like it 'cause it's mostly yoghurt). We talked to lady inside and she recommended a special Indian dessert that has ice cream, cream, and sugar flavoured chow mien noodles. It was the weirdest thing we ever had, but it was good. Jeet sure like his - but I suspect he had had this before.
Tomorrow we head for Pushkar - the supposedly laid back capital of the country, but I'll believe it when I see it! We were going to go to Ranthambore Park to try and spot tigers but this was too far off our route according to Jeet and we would have to pay more, and we would probably take too much time in Rajasthan and maybe Miss Varanasi, so we decided to take a pass on the tigers (sorry Tony!)