….’India Diaries – Jaipur’

February 2018

We chose to visit India in October/November for a number of reasons, such as it was after the monsoon season and we didn’t much feel like being hot (and wet), but also in order to be there during the Diwali ‘Festival of Lights’.  Regardless of where we happened to be during the key festival dates, we knew we wouldn’t be disappointed, and so we made for Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan.

You may have heard of the British TV documentary ‘The Real Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’?, I hadn’t until my mum mentioned it to us, and like ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ movie, it was also filmed in Jaipur – “The Pink City”, so we’d had a sneak preview.  While still a hive of activity, Jaipur was nowhere near as congested as Delhi with a population of approx. 3.1 million vs.16.7 million and growing rapidly, and it was quite enchanting decked out in its festival best.  We had found a neat little boutique hotel in a quiet backstreet http://www.pearlpalaceheritage.com, in easy walking distance or a quick Auto ride to all the action.  Check out the opulent rooms – we stayed in the Khwabgah premium room, and couldn’t pronounce it so just called it our ‘silver’ room.  The staff were super hospitable and thoughtful, we highly recommend it if you find yourself in that part of the world.

We generally tried not to over schedule ourselves throughout our adventures in India, and so had a few things on our hit list for Jaipur; visit the Amber Fort, spend time in the old part of the City during the Diwali celebration, take a cooking class and of course eat, eat, eat lots of delicious local cuisine. That said, sharing some of our memories below.

Why ‘The Pink City” you may ask?….well, in 1876, the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria visited India on a tour. Since pink denotes the color of hospitality, Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur painted the whole city pink in color to welcome the guests…. Pink, or perhaps (salmon?) in colour, the city of Jaipur is said to be one of most beautiful cities of India, and we certainly wouldn’t disagree.

We visited many Forts and Palaces during our trip, and with the exception of the Taj, the Amber Fort was a favourite spot for us.  Having been wracked with guilt after our one and only elephant ride in Nepal a few years ago https://carrymycamera.com/2012/12/09/all-about-elephants/, we opted for a leisurely stroll to the entrance.

Once inside, we secured an excellent guide for about CA$10 (Sudeep Chatterji of Triangle Tours India) and were pleasantly surprised to learn that he also had a keen interest in photography, so scored more shots of the two of us together than we did the rest of the trip.  We found generally that it was well worth taking in the sights with a guide, the history is so rich and we certainly couldn’t have done enough advance reading to ensure we didn’t miss the backstories, which enhanced the whole vibe and experience of any given attraction.
Back to the treatment of elephants for a moment, and we were disheartened to hear that these magnificent creatures were all females.  Apparently the males used to become aggravated in the late afternoon after constantly traipsing up and down the hill in the stinking heat – and who wouldn’t?!  So they were removed from service leaving the females with the heavy lifting, and lost opportunity to become a matriarch in their natural surroundings.  Sad all around.  We understand that the Amber Fort is the only tourist attraction in India where the use of elephants is still sanctioned, hoping that soon changes.

 


We had seen the retiree stars of the ‘The Best Real Exotic Marigold Hotel’ take an excursion to ‘The Monkey Palace’ and so headed that way after the Fort, unfortunately it turned out to be a lunch bag let down – very poorly maintained and garbage littered around.  There were lots of monkeys, true enough, but that in itself wasn’t enough to make it worthwhile.  The tower below was probably the most interesting and intact piece on the site and we didn’t stick around.

Diwali ‘The Festival of Lights’, also known as Deepavali, a Sanskrit word meaning “rows of lighted lamps”, it is one of the most popular Hindu festivals celebrated across South Asia, and is also celebrated by Jains and Sikhs. The festival of lights celebrates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.  Marigolds also play a prominent role in the celebration and you will see garlands strung everywhere, including car dashboards.  I enquired with one fellow about the significance of marigolds versus other flowers, and his reply was simply, they are plentiful and cheap – so there you go, if that’s really the case.

The entrance way to the old ‘Pink City’ lit up with hot pink fluorescents, hard to miss 😉

Whichever way we turned we were met with a colourful energy, and a seemingly endless sea of families and friends heading to the nearest temple to offer candles (light signifies purity, goodness, good luck and power in the Hindu religion), and recite prayers.

With so many people out and about on the streets, I can only imagine Diwali is a bumper sales time for the hardworking street vendors in the area.

I wish I could add sound and motion to the photo above.  Almost every major store front was lit up and alive with Indian tunes, store workers, as well as a variety of animatronics.

…and lets not forget the good old helium balloon.

We knew before we arrived that cows are sacred in the Hindu religion, and the more time we spent in India, the more this became apparent, they were EVERYWHERE!  I could have done a blog post specifically on cows…..
I particularly like this party cow!

Interestingly enough, I posted the shot above on Instagram while we were still travelling, and a friend questioned the swastika. So for those of you who don’t (I didn’t either) have an appreciation of its origin – here’s a little Wiki blurb:

The swastika (as a character 卐 or 卍) is an ancient religious icon used in the Indian subcontinent, East Asia and Southeast Asia, where it has been and remains a sacred symbol of spiritual principles in Hinduism, Buddhism and JainismIn the Western world, it was historically a symbol of auspiciousness and good luck, but in the 1930s, it became the main feature of Nazi symbolism as an emblem of Aryan race identity, and as a result, it has become stigmatized in the West by association with ideas of racism, hatred, and mass murder.

So as you see, had it not been turned on its side by a particular German who shall not be named, we would view it very differently in the West, just saying!

Everyone is in on the Diwali candle action, and I suspect the little guys above are making a nice little profit!

Pete’s pretty impressed with “…shirting at its best”

If we had kids…they would totally be outfitted like this 🙂

This was taken when we were still unused to random strangers approaching us asking for their picture to be taken.  I love taking pics of people, so no hassle on my part, however – other than a quick glance at the back of my camera, I’m not really sure what was in it for them.

Back to the hotel and this flower elephant had lovingly been created in the lobby while we were out.

Our driver also turned out to be a good fixer for anything we needed, and it seemed Pete desperately needed some fireworks, seriously he would not stop talking about it for 2 days straight, and so when the goods (a small sample of which are above), arrived – he was beside himself.  Firecrackers were going off constantly while we were in Jaipur (Delhi had banned them as they were adding to the already horrendous air pollution in that city)….so Pete made hay.

It was a reasonable request of me to stand by and take a video clip/photo of the firework fun, however, nobody had pre-warned us about the magnitude of the ‘pataka bomb’ and my ears were ringing with a piercing pain for 2 days afterwards – I was actually quite ticked off by the whole episode at the time, so glad this is picture has no sound!

The final highlight of our Jaipur visit was an evening with Chef Lokesh and his charming wife Geetika at Jaipur Cooking Classes http://www.jaipurcookingclasses.com.  We learned so many great tips and were quite pleased with our accomplishment, we were also the only students on that particular evening (there can be up to 20 at times), so were spoiled.  We can’t recommend this highly enough and have been cooking the same recipes for friends since returning to Vancouver.

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