Friday, May 29, 2009


Apparently “sleeper” is the best class available on the local (and only) train from Jaisalmer to Jaipur. There’s no AC, so the windows open to let in a breeze. Now, traveling through the desert (or India at all really) as this local train does, it lets a lot of dirt in with the breeze. The whole train car, and every “bed,” is coated with it. Seeing all this dirt you might think that a ton of breeze comes in, but believe me it’s not nearly sufficient. I’m sweating like mad, basically turning the dirt I’m laying on into a little pile of mud beneath me. Whoever said the desert gets cold at night was dead wrong. The Indian dress is completely insensible for this. I’m dying inside my loose linen pants and long for shorts so at least the breeze can touch my legs. Whenever the train stops, which is frequently, the air becomes heavy and still. I noticed as I passed in and out of sleep that it stopped for an hour and a half in Bikaner, which seemed really unnecessary. Later I saw a map of Rajasthan, which revealed that Bikaner is also way out of the way from Jaipur. When I get to Jaipur 13 hours later, at noon, the dirt is all over me and my luggage. I’m so dirty, my arms look tan…now that’s bad.

I step off the train into Jaipur: this city freaking sucks. It’s a disgrace to Rajasthan. If I had come here from Delhi, I might have been more impressed, but after my relaxed, pleasant sojourn to the further reaches of Rajasthan, coming here was less than fabulous. The biggest problem is the aggressive rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers chasing you everywhere. “Excuse me, madam, madam, you need auto? Where are you going? Madam, madaaaam, hotel, city palace, any place, I take.” (I shake my head ‘no’ and keep walking, as if I have not heard nor seen these idiots.) “Madam, rickshaw? Yes? YES?” (Now if the answer were yes, don’t you think I would have gotten in the rickshaw by now, or at least acknowledged the drivers??) I can’t tell if this is worse or better since I’m traveling in tourist off-season. On the one hand, I’m the only obviously western foreign tourist, and thus potentially the only chance of the day or week for these people to make their week’s salary all at once by ripping me off. On the other hand, it is off season. I think there are so many people in India trying to take advantage of foreign tourists that even if there were thousands of us all at once, they would still outnumber us so much that every single tourist would receive equally obnoxious hassling.

Fortunately, a few people had already told me that Jaipur was skippable, so I only planned to spend the afternoon here. Upon arrival, I stood in line for over an hour (mind you there were only about 8 people in front of me when I got in the line) while those people in front of me bought tickets for every trip that they or their entire extended family and friend network planned to take in the next 3 months. Due to an unknown reason that can only be explained as another inefficiency of India, each trip purchase took about 5 minutes to process. When it was my turn, I found out that today’s train was full. I walked 1km to the bus station while the rickshaws harassed me and purchased my ticket for 5pm to Agra. I checked my bag at the station and headed toward the Old City for some sightseeing. I finally got there at 2:30 pm. Now granted the last part of the delay (maybe 20-30 min of the 2.5 hrs that had passed) was due to my own stubbornness, as I tried to negotiate with a few rickshaws but just refused to pay 5x the fair price to go what I knew to be a completely walkable 3km further down the very same street I was walking on in a rickshaw that tried to tell me it was “very far,” but the other 2hrs were just spent dealing with Indian travel purchasing.

One problem in the old city is that one of its main “attractions” is its five bazaars, so basically everywhere you go is lined with aggressive shopkeepers. The rickshaws were also up to something here, as every single one wanted to show me a crumpled postcard of the elephant palace, where supposedly it was all free and all better than the city palace, and offer me a really great deal just to drive me there and back. The Jantar Mantar, a collection of enormous ancient sundials and astrological tools to map the stars, was actually really cool and very enjoyable. The Hawa Majal (Wind Palace) looked at least well-preserved from the outside, but as shopowners kept hassling me to come into their shops and telling me there was nothing good to see in the Wind Palace, and I was running short on time, I took their word for it and made the City Palace my last stop. Now the City Palace entry fee was about as high as they get for Indian tourist sites, aside from the Taj Mahal, but once inside I found that this apparently didn’t cover the part of the palace where the Maharajas had lived, which had been the richly-decorated and coolest part of all the other Rajasthani city palaces. It just covered the palace grounds and a tiny museum. The other part, my audio guide enticed me, was a separate(ly paid) tour. Furthermore they actually let shops and even beggars inside of here to harass you! I saw what was cool of this “pink palace” then paid an exorbitant price for a rickshaw back to the bus station, relieved to be getting the heck out of Jaipur ASAP.

As the bus was driving out of town, we passed a much wider, quieter traffic circle where I saw a well-maintained, beautiful and ornate building with a huge, peaceful grassy sculpture park: The Science and Technology Center. Figures.
*Editor’s note: To be fair, I’m sure my image of Jaipur was negatively influenced by the fact that I have now been on the road for 36hrs straight without a private or clean place to change clothes, it is the typical 110 degrees here, and I have never been filthier. I can’t wait for a cold shower and AC in Agra.

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