Wednesday Oct 5, 2005 - day 6 - Jaipur - Kathy: 144 photos, Bob: 152 photos

            Today was another very busy day.  We woke up early, showered, ate breakfast and headed outside to explore a little bit of Jaipur on our own.  We had 45 minutes before the group was supposed to meet at 9:00.  We walked outside, walked for just a block among the bustling traffic.  We were constantly questioned by rickshaw drivers trying to get our business.  We kept telling them “Today we walk” but they kept bothering us.  The traffic was noisy and dangerous, and all but a few of the shops were closed, so we decided to turn around and go back to the hotel.

            Our first stop was to our first Hindu temple of the trip.

We thought Sujay was taking us to the old Jaipur temple to Krishna, but instead he took us to a new, pretty white temple to Krishna.  The outside was beautiful and white, with beautiful decorations and a carved angel-like “Garuda” praying on top.

Lucky for us, there was a special sacred ceremony going on in the temple and we were able to watch.  Unfortunately, they told us not to take photos inside the temple, so we didn’t.  I was surprised and delighted to see Hindu stained glass.  It seems that stained glass is not limited to Christianity and Islam.

            Inside the temple was a special room inside the room.  This was very much like the altar area of a Christian church, but there was no platform.  Instead, there were two large and colorful statues of the gods Vishnu the preserver and Lakshmi the goddess of wealth.  The construction was not bronze or any kind of metal like I expected.  Rather, their construction reminded me of mannequins.

            We went outside again and took several photos of the outside of the temple

and the grounds,

including statues outside.  Then I noticed that I could barely see some of the stained glass windows from outside the fence.  So I crouched down and stuck my camera through a fence to get a good angle, then I set my camera for a very big zoom and snapped a few photos.  They turned out better than I ever expected them to.

            It was very hot outside, at least compared to Minnesota.  “How hot was it?”  The punch line:  It was so hot that even the Gods needed to shower to stay cool.

            Next, we drove to a nearby area where there was the Amber Palace or Amber Fort,

which was built between the 10th and 18th centuries by the Maharajas (a word which means king of kings).  It is a combination of Hindu and Moghul architecture and design.

            Outside, there were lots of annoying boys trying to sell things.  Nearby, two elephants were getting a bath.

            Originally, we were supposed to get an elephant ride up to the palace, but we were disappointed to find out we needed to take jeeps instead.  It seems that less than two weeks ago, there was an unfortunate accident.  A tour guide was trying to get a really good elephant photo for two lady tourists, and to that end, he told the elephant driver to make the animal raise its trunk high in the air.  The elephant did not want to cooperate and refused to raise its trunk for a long time.  The guide said that he would double the driver’s tip if he could raise the trunk, so the driver used his normal sharp poking stick to jab the animal behind the ear into submission.  The elephant got angry, brushed the two ladies aside with its trunk and then gored the tour leader to death, lifting the guide into the air like a kabob on his tusks.

            Ever since that incident, the elephant rides stopped and the authorities decided they needed time to investigate, let the animals cool down and rest for a while, and teach the drivers a lesson to not be cruel.  So no elephant rides for us.  Still, we saw them walking around town.

            I took my tripod and we headed for the fort.  Kathy and I paid extra money to take photos inside the fort, but they after we had paid, they told me I couldn’t use my tripod.  It turned out okay, though, because there weren’t any fancy paintings or decorations inside the fort to take photos of.  So we toured from room to room, taking lots of photos.

The fort had a beautiful courtyard,

a beautiful view of the area below

and the “Little Wall of Rajasthan” which looked a lot like the Great Wall of China.

            Inside the fort, there were several other tourists walking around, but I saw a woman with the most incredibly beautiful dress I’ve ever seen.  Later, we found out that she was just married and this was her wedding dress.  The bride and groom even posed for a photo but the photo doesn’t even begin to show how beautiful that dress was.

            When we got to the top of the fort, I noticed that the boys were still washing their elephants, so I took more photos, this time zooming in more than I ever imagined possible.

            After the fort, we got back on the bus and drove to a fort that was surrounded by the man-made lake.

We took a quick snap, and it was interesting.  It looked under water, so we wondered what it was like inside.

            As we drove around the city of Jaipur, it was amazing to see how much elephants are a part of daily life around here.  The city guide told me there are around one hundred elephants here.  They are also very costly and expensive to own.  They can cost a hundred and fifty-thousand rupees, plus they need constant care and constant feeding.  And they eat like an elephant!  (Rupees are the official money here, and one dollar buys you forty-two rupees.)  It was not uncommon to see huge elephants next to ordinary people, even small children, and they acted as if it was completely normal and natural.

That would definitely never happen in the United States!

            Next stop: a jewelry factory called the Antiquariat Jewelry Shop.  This was like many of the “factories” we’ve seen on several of our trips, but their prices seemed outrageously high.  For example, I found a wooden box I liked and I looked for the price.  Unbelievably, they wanted $750 for this stupid box.  Sure, it was a nice box, but I wouldn’t have even paid $75–one tenth of the price–for this box.  I might have considered one hundredth the price: $7.50, or maybe even double that, but $750 was nothing short of an outrage.  I was so disgusted that I sat down and waited for us to leave.

            In the meantime, Kathy tried to find a small bronze statue of Ganesha, the all-important elephant-headed God.  She was trying to match a similar statue that she picked up at an antique store in Los Angeles a few years back to find out how much the piece is worth.  She was unsuccessful, but given the nature of that store, I’m sure they would have wanted two thousand dollars for it!

            After the factory, we went back to the hotel for one and a half hours of free time before dinner.  When we arrived, Kathy noticed another group of tourists checking in to the hotel, and a woman was there placing red dots on their foreheads, on the third eye.  Kathy said to me, “I never got a dot yesterday when we checked in.”  I went over to the lady and told her that my wife needed a dot on her forehead.  She walked over to our group and placed dots on all of our foreheads.

When she got to me, I told her it should be a long vertical one because I had been to the Hindu temple today and been blessed!

            I used the hour of free time to try to connect to the Internet and read my e-mail.  I paid for a half-hour of Internet usage, and I was able to read my e-mail just fine.  After ten minutes, I composed two e-mails and tried to send them, but I kept getting weird “Access denied” error messages similar to what another one of the tourists had gotten.  I know my way around computers pretty well, so I tried to get a tech support guy to help me.  The first guy couldn’t help me and sent for a second guy who knew more about computers.  I told him that it was acting as if their hotel firewall was preventing me from sending to the SMTP port that’s commonly used for e-mail.  I told the second guy the same thing, and he couldn’t help me either, so he sent for a third guy who knew more than him.  That guy wasn’t much better, so he sent for more of a big-shot “suit.”  The “suit” told me it was not the firewall, and asked me if I could use any other kind of e-mail.  I said yes, but by then my half-hour was long gone.

            The man authorized them to give me another half-hour so I could cut and paste my e-mail from Eudora into Kathy’s web-based yahoo e-mail account, which I promptly did.  When I went to leave, the guy who was watching me said he was going to charge me for one hour.  I argued back that I shouldn’t have to pay for the second half-hour because most of the first half-hour was spent waiting for their tech support people to fix their SMTP problem.  He said no worries.  Later, I asked the man at the front desk if I would be charged for a half-hour or one hour.  After explaining the situation again, he once again said no problem and that I would only be charged for a half-hour.  However, he did not put anything into the computer regarding our bill, so I’m confident that I will have to argue with them again.

            Sujay had told us earlier that hotels will do anything to make a customer happy, because there are a lot of fancy hotels in India and the competition is very high.  Our tour group, OAT, brings a lot of business to these hotels, and if OAT says to stop using a hotel, it could be the death of their business.

            After that, we had our second dinner in the home of a family.  The family was very nice and we got to take photos with everyone.  The food was good, but not as good as the previous in-home dinner we had, but she had been truly a gourmet cook and therefore a tough act to follow.

            The atmosphere was better, because this was a rich family, and they gave us a tour of their lovely home, which was more like a small apartment complex with a beautiful courtyard in the middle.  Many members of the extended family live in separate areas of the complex, and we got to see a lot of it.

            The conversation was not as good because it seemed too one-sided.  It felt more like we were asking lots of questions, grilling our guests about the marriages, customs and ceremonies, but she didn’t ask us any questions.  Our other “gourmet” host was much more lively and “interactive.”

            Now we are back at the hotel.  Kathy and I took 50% more photos than previous days!  Making a web-page or photo album will be a daunting task indeed.

            Now for more unusual observations, in no particular order.

            First, we were told that there was an early-morning milk market here in Jaipur, and that the people tell the freshness and fat content by dipping their arms into the milk, then tasting what drips off.  Can you imagine buying milk after fifteen people have dipped their dirty arms inside?

            Second, Rajasthan has a lot of tough, strong, hard-working people.  We saw a few people napping like we saw driving in the country, but most of them are not lazy at all.  They are out planting fields, moving rocks, pushing, pulling or fixing huge carts with unbelievably large loads.  These are hard-working people!

            The city-guide told us that Jaipur is one of the top three World Heritage Cities.  Number one is Venice Italy.  Number two is Bath, England.  Number three is Jaipur, India.  I don’t know if that’s true, and I don’t know what it really means, but that’s what he told us.

            The people on the tour keep surprising me.  First, one of the ladies, Sally, tells me she has read the Upanishads, which is a collection of holy Hindu writings.  She said it was beautiful and highly recommended it.  I told her I had spent a year and a half studying the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, and I recommended those to her.

            Another of the ladies (the one who also had e-mail problems), Harriet, told me that she uses Mandrake Linux rather than Windows, and she loves it.  She loves the fact that she doesn’t have to worry about computer viruses and that, like me, she hates that Bill Gates piece of rubbish known as Windows.  Imagine meeting another Linux fan in a tour group of thirteen people in India!

            Still another lady, Leone, is the daughter of a minister, and she is very open-minded, knowledgeable and interesting to talk to.