The capital of Rajasthan, also known as the Pink City, we arrived in Jaipur by train and walked the five minute commute to our nearby hotel, the HR Palace. We decided to stay somewhere a little nicer than our usual starless haunts as we had arranged to be there for the next four days.
After dumping our bags and freshening up we went for a stroll, according to the map there was a park just down the road so we headed in that direction. On closer inspection, the park was in fact a roundabout and on even closer inspection, said roundabout was home to Jaipur’s less conscientious homeless community and every pigeon you have ever seen, ever.
I had recently read about the decline in demand for the traditional rickshaw, with tourists favouring the more efficient tuk tuk. Something about being carted around like royalty by an alarmingly underweight cyclist in threadbare chinos did not sit well with me, but realistically, these people needed our trade more. So, we hailed a rickshaw and paid an agreed amount to take us into town. Thirty seconds later we pulled over at a petrol station and our driver announced that we had arrived at our destination… That was the last time we used a traditional rickshaw.
The ‘Pink City’ was sort of as I had expected and sort of not, the buildings were less pink and more off-white with smatterings of manure climbing the base. The markets were a hubbub of men selling their motoring and electrical wares and a few ladies picking up ingredients for their evening meals. The streets were lined with feasting pigs and horned cows that would charge without warning and then immediately stop, causing me to break into sporadic slow jogs, much to the delight of the locals. On our way home we met a tuk tuk driver, Superman. Superman gave us his number and assured us he would take us to all of the tourist spots over the course of a day for a fee of 500₹, the equivalent of £6. We had learned to approach these promises with caution, but we liked Superman and we trusted him, so agreed we’d give him a call in a couple of days.
We spent the next day enjoying the hotel thalis and relaxing at a nearby pool. The past week had been hectic and we relished the opportunity to stop and sit still for a couple hours.
The following morning Superman arrived promptly and drove us to the nearby tourist destinations, as promised. We visited the Amber Fort, Jal Mahal, City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, Albert Hall Museum – the works. It was a burning hot day and we were grateful to have Superman waiting and advising on how long we’d need at each location.
Each site was beautiful, I’m not going to go into detail because if you visit Jaipur you will inevitably see for yourself.
We seemed to draw more and more stares and photo requests throughout the day, I began to grow tired of politely smiling for unknown cameras and increasingly irritated by those who didn’t even have the courtesy to ask.
Now I know how J-Law feels…
I began asking those that requested a picture of us to allow me to take one of them in return, imagining their vibrant saris and behenna’d bodies would make for an eye-catching picture. But just as I lined up the shot of a group of beautiful Indian girls, they dropped a hip and in unison gave me the duck pout – not quite the image I had in mind.
Luckily, soon afterwards this group of excitable school children more than made up for it.
On the final day of our stay we wanted to visit an Elephant sanctuary. We were careful about where to go and did our research on the location. We had seen Elephants working at the Amber Fort and were concerned about their welfare and how humane the treatment was that they were receiving and so wanted to avoid a similar situation. We eventually stumbled across Elefantastic, a government funded facility that houses rescued Elephants. We were picked up at lunchtime and treated to Justin Bieber’s ‘One Last Lonely Girl’ for the entirety of the journey until we arrived at Rahul, the owners, home where his wife had prepared us a delicious thali. From there our tuk tuk driver took us further into the country until we arrived at the sanctuary and were introduced to ‘our’ elephant, a fourty-eight year old recently removed from the circus. We spent time getting to know her, gaining her trust and feeding her. We then painted her with traditional, organic paints before hosing her down in the gardens. Nothing was rushed, all of our questions were answered and each elephant was accompanied by their own Mahout who was never far away. Some of the reviews have questioned the expense of the day, deeming it too pricey. No, it wasn’t cheap but it was by no means expensive, and if that money is being put back into the care for these amazing animals – how could that be bad?
The following day we awoke early and made our way back to the station, continuing our journey onto Sawai Madhopur, in search of the elusive tiger.