Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Judging India in Jaipur

It's to the north west of the country, in Rajasthan, Jaipur is the capital - a large city. Rajasthan was the last state to agree to be part of India.
It is the land of kings. It's part of the desert, and this wealthy part of India delivers one final resounding cultural insight to the country for my trip here. As I head from Delhi on a local bus that takes 6 hours stopping at every town along that way I see the change from central India to Rajasthan. More fields of corn, yellow fields being harvested by women in incredibly bright saris of multiple colours, carrying towers of gatherings a-top their heads. A few horse and cart help transport the harvest and then there’s the rare tractor. I've been transported back in time.

A highway is being built between Delhi and Jaipur, slicing through the middle of towns, cutting buildings in half as locals continue to try to operate businesses and homes that have been part-demolished. Pavements are made of the demolished rubble as kids and shoppers clamber their way along the road. The bus jaunts over and aside large potholes - it's a construction site on a massive scale.

I arrive in Jaipur and the atmosphere is instantly different to Delhi, the architecture more unique and original, it feels like there is a real heritage here that belongs to Rajasthan, my hotel - Umaid Bhawan Heritage Hotel - reflects the style of palaces in the region: it's ornate, slightly extravagant, visually rich.

The Pink City: painted to hide the cheap materials used to construct the inner walls. The heat of the day sets in early as I walk to the palace. The streets are lined with food markets that open early, and local shops begin to set up for the day. I stop at a temple and enter a conversation with the man on the door.

He asks me about Britain, I ask him about Jaipur, we exchange stories. Things are changing fast and it's having a cultural and social impact that is challenging and full of fear and strife. The recent rape cases in India purely highlighted the huge issues the country faces. Families that killed their first born, if a girl, force the country to now pay the price. There are less females, more males and therefore not enough to go around. Men cannot find wives and this is a social situation they don't wish to face - to be an unmarryable man! If they haven't found a partner by their mid-twenties sexual rage sets in. These men are virgins, now becoming desperate like a dog on heat. Men are now paying dowries instead of the girl’s family. Men are going on search for women from the city to the depths of the countryside. And women are taking advantage of this - marrying and taking all valuables and disappearing, then remarrying.
If this is how it is for the straight set what about gay Indians. Where does it leave them in social acceptance? 

India is still socially conscious. You must marry someone of a similar cultural standing. Women are still second rate and money and riches still mean a lot.

As I tour the city and visit the palaces and forts surrounding Jaipur you see much of the immense wealth the state has had. The investment in huge constructions that bare the mark of quality together with technical focus like water delivery, plumbing and toilets. This made me wish I had visited the more rural and smaller cities like Udaipur and beyond - the tales travellers had told me drew my imagination to the history and richness of the region. 

I explored the forts and palaces like a kid; running up and down staircases, winding in and out of alleyways and trying to get the most from my visits - I clicked away on my Cannon trying to get used to manual photos! 

I stopped by Monkey Temple, spending nearly 3 hours just watching the monkeys jump and dive into the algae filled water holes. It was kind of magical - but these were much less hassle than the people and kids below who just continually demanded money or items to sell to me. 10 days into my trip I had enough of this. I succumbed to a life beyond lone travel - I could only wish to be with a travel companion, not just to share this moment with but to throw them into the gauntlet to deal with these tourist touts so I could just hide.

I wanted to go home now! And it was certainly time to go back to the hotel with a pit stop to buy my final goods - some silk neck scarves and a final silk bed spread. With that...I was done.

I left early on the Thursday morning, back to Kolkata. I grabbed my things and headed home - dear home...

TOP TIP – when booking a coach make sure it is authenticated. Unfortunately I was sold a fraudulent ticket and the ‘said’ coach did not turn up. Do your best to use the local Tourist Information Centres, these are commercial, so not like Europe or USA where they are run by the local government, but at least there is more guarantee for legitimacy. Trying to finally get a bus to Jaipur was hard work and I ended up on a local public bus service…it should only have taken about 3 hours without stops to any other destination.