Saturday, November 18, 2006

Jaipur and the Wind Palace beckons!

Nov 18th. On the bus again, this time to Jaipur, the Pink City, so called because of its most striking feature - the colour pink (duh!), a rose washed tint, painted on many of the city's key buildings in honour of a visit from Prince Albert in 1876. Pink is considered the colour of hospitality in Rajasthan so this city definitely says a big "hello and welcome" when you see it. Arrived at our new abode, The Diggi Palace and yet again, Mahindra surprised us. Beautifully manicured lawns, pretty English-style rose gardens, trellis and basket weaved chairs....hmmnn, quite a different feel here; very tranquil tho'! We all had lunch then off to the famous Amber Fort outside of town. Hilarious - took rickshaws then local bus where everyone sat and stared at us - then smiled! Such smiles in India - hard to explain but they totally light up peoples faces when they smile.. but i suppose that's the same everywhere right? And in case you were wondering, this lady wasnt on the bus, and i did catch her a tad unawares, and would you be smiling if you had to carry such a heavy load on your head!

The fort (aka Jaigarh) was incredible to see - and so massive! This place saw few battles, due in part to the friendliness of the opposing camps (for some reason!) and the giant cannon - the largest in Asia, which needed one hundred kilos of gun powder for one shot, was never fired! Yah - peace on earth, for five minutes at least! There are 12 miles of walls all around the fort, kind of like a mini-great wall of China (ok i havent actually seen the great wall, but it looks a bit like pics ive seen - ok!). Apart from the beauty of the Fort itself, there was huge added excitement due to the fact a new Bollywood film was being shot - with no less than the number one actress in the Indian film industry, the incredibly gorgeous (and yes i have a gigantic crush on her!) Aishwarya Rai!!! I mean - people! This is huge! This is like coming across Angelina, Madonna, Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon all at once (ok, they are just a smattering of some of my fave famous girls and combined they still dont explain how big Aishwarya is in India!). There was so much commotion going on - tons of elaborately decorated elephants, horses, hundreds of extras everywhere...soooo exciting. To be honest, we (OK, definitely me!) were a tad more excited at this Bollywood Celeb Sighting than the fort itself. Hey dont get me wrong, it was lovely....really beautiful, but nothing beats celeb gossip, and I'd started getting quite into my gossip here. I mean - did you know this womans leading man in many of the films she has starred in, is her off screen love, Abishek Bachan, son of the infamously famous Amitabh Bachan, who practically owns Bollywood and everyone in it (ok slight exaggeration but he is VERY influential, lets just say that!).

Anyway, after all that excitement, we headed back to the quiet splendour of the Diggi Palace, had a lovely dinner and lotsa lovely drinkie-poohs then off to bed, after quite a tiring day (yeh, right!! How lucky am i.....tired, what a cheek!)

Nov 19th. Up today, determined - finally - to have a slightly more chilled out time of it. Nobody's fault - maybe its just the culmination of months and months of being on the go...which is typically what i love to be doing, either reading about somewhere i'm going next, arriving and exploring, organizing how and when i'm leaving, and then it would be on to the next stop (yes i know, woe is me, teehee!). But maybe its caught up with me a wee bit so i've decided to just relax a bit today. Hmmmn.... so by that i mean a leisurely breakfast with lotsa my lovely chai, then into town with Helen and Alison on a rickshaw with one of the funniest drivers ever - Raja!
Sang his heart out as he drove us - very precariously - into town; convinced us he would take us around the Old City and the Wind Palace (aka Hawa Mahal) which Jaipur is so famous for! Instead, we end up at his painting school (called The Picasso School of Art - seriously!!!), sitting in a cosy but tiny wee room on puffy cushions having chai with him and his "teacher" Asho, (who looks a teeny weeny bit like Saddam Hussein, no?). He assured us he wasn't a serial killer - Raja not Asho, and that we were very safe with him and his pal (dont worry mum, he was a nice guy!) do these things happen to us? But we had a lovely chat, about life, love, and paintings of course...then we headed back into town where we said our fond farewells to Raja...

Onwards to view the fabulous Wind Palace itself. The tapering Hawa Mahal or Palace of the Winds, was built in 1799 to enable women of the court to watch street processions while remaining in strict purdah; it has five stories decked with nearly 600 finely screened windows and balconies. Wow - really gorgeous on the outside; inside less impressive, but a beautiful building none the less! Checked out the City Palace too - and this poppadom seller!
Then the gauntlet began...every time you walk down the street, the shop owners come out, begging you to come in to see their wares.. i mean real heckling. "Beautiful ladies, come in, come in, see what we have, for you we give you half price, less than half price...ppppllleeaasseee! You break my heart if you dont come to visit my shop". It's hilarious, you have to smile and laugh and have a giggle, ive definitely seen some people get all grumpy and narky with these folks. Hey, they are just doing their job, its a game, a dance, and as long as you appreciate that and enjoy the show, its fun all around i say! So many shops, saris, bangles, dresses and of course shoes, so of course i was absolutely delighted. As we chatted, and haggled away, we started to realise this man was following us around, snapping pics of us, as we walked in and out of the stalls. Slightly wierd so of course Helen being Helen she immediately called him on it and said "Excuse me, exactly what are you doing?". He then was delighted to explain he was from the local paper, taking pics of us daft tourists going shopping! We said "no probs, as long as we are front page news, haha"!

Now i'm sure you are thinking that i haven't mentioned food yet! Not like me eh! Well, we decided to head to Chic Chocolat - meant to be a fab place to eat in Jaipur and highly recommended "according to Lonely Planet". So of course, typical luck - it was closed. We did manage to find a restaurant - phew, thank goodness for that i hear you cry! - and of course after lunch, i had to try the traditional paan didn't I!! Paan is a typical Indian snack (for want of a better word!)'s essentially betel nuts cut into small pieces, with the husk wrapped in a betel leaf along with lime and may include clove and cardamom for extra flavouring. Betel leaf has a fresh, peppery taste, but it can be very bitter. Seasoned chewers might mix the betel nut with tobacco. As you can see from the pic - i am neither a seasoned chewer nor did i like it very much - in fact YUK but i did try!!! The waiters thought it was too funny, as i tried to hide how i really felt! Oh well!

We all met up back at the ranch, ahem, i mean Palace (Diggi Palace that is!) and then headed out for a very special visit, to the Ladli childrens shelter; one of Intrepid's chosen charities they promote during their tours. Nothing heavy; you are asked if you want to visit the children; see the vocational work they do; in this case the girls (primarily!) and boys make jewellry which the shelter sells and any profit goes into the childrens own bank accounts. They can stay at the shelter till they are 18 and for many, it is the first safe place they have known all their lives. We spent an amazing afternoon here, learning about how the charity works, how the children feel about living here, and of course buying lots of their beautiful work. You couldn't not! Necklaces, earrings, bags, Christmas decorations - and they were so proud to show us which pieces they had made! Talk about a humbling experience; these children were beautiful, gracious, shy, and yet after a while, they laughed with us, giggled at our pathetic attempts at Hindi and held our hands when we had to say goodbye. How lucky are we to have met them! I can understand people thinking a few different things - are these children being exploited in a sweat shop fashion - no! Is it immoral of us tourists to swan in for an afternoon, buy up their hard earned produce and then leave, giving only money when time would be better? Maybe! I definitely felt a mix of emotions here but truly believe the children are being cared for, are happy and in a safer, better place than they have been in the past, beginning to enjoy life as a child, as they should! So if you want to read more and find out for yourself what you think about Ladli and I-India, the parent charity - check out

From this beautiful afternoon, we headed off into the sunset for yet another treat! I was so excited - ok im always excited but we were going to the famous Raj Mandir cinema to see no less than both my Bollywood idols - Aishwarya and Abishek - in a fabulous romantic epic, Umran Jan! It was fantastic! Not only can you buy pakora, samosas and the like before you head in, but there is a civilized intermission - for chai and more snacks (most films are about 3 1/2 hours long!) BUT best of all, who was sitting in front of us but the director, two assistant producers and the stylist for the current Aishwarya Rai film we saw in action at the Amber Fort! Of course i asked for the scoop - was the diva really a diva? Oh dear - apparantly so! There had been quite a number of tantrums and they were only on day 3 of shooting. And she is known for being the girl who can cry on cue; but was having trouble so they had to use some sort of glycerin (is that right!) to get the teary effect! Who knew eh! A perfect end to a wonderful trip to Jaipur! Big city, not so pretty if truth be told, but lots of fun adventures so i will definitely think fondly of my time in the Pink City!


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