Giggling And Haggling Amongst The Monkeys And Elephants

Guard at the palace keeping an eye on things

After our wee stop at the Shiva Temple (see previous post), we crossed the street and headed towards Jaipur City Palace.

The palace was built initially by Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber, between between 1729 and 1732, and subsequently improved and augmented well into the 20th century. The complex is a quiet and serene contrast to the heat and dust of the lanes and over-populated market streets outside.

We spent a couple of hours slowly walking round the buildings and smart rooms before stopping there for a snacky lunch in a cool, cobbled courtyard.

Like much of Jaipur it is very pink, but in the middle there is a tall decorated building in gleaming vanilla. This turned out to be Chandra Mahal, the current residence of the descendants of Sawai Jai Singh. With tickets at £25 a pop we didn’t bother with a tour of this bit of the palace, but we stuck our noses into the courtyard. We weren’t disappointed. Each of the four walls contained an elaborately carved door representing the seasons:

Spring: The Peacock (J’s favourite)
Summer: The Lotus
Monsoon: The Leheriya (meaning “wave patterns” and my favourite)
Winter: The Rose

Preparations seemed to be underway for a party (a wedding?) with a tiled dance floor painstakingly under construction by hand. We took advantage of the most luxuriant of one of the sumptuous seating areas for a few minutes rest.

Chandelier Massive

Elsewhere we saw the second biggest chandelier in India, huge silver pots, the magnificent Diwan-I-Khas (the Maharaja’s private audience hall) and Diwan-I-Aam (his public audience hall), Persian and Kashmiri carpets and rugs, carriages, palanquins and an artistically arranged armoury. This was a practical and impressively laid out room containing displays of the many knives, daggers, swords, blunderbusses, flintlocks and armour used by the warrior nation of Rajasthan.

Slide Show of City Palace

A small slideshow of images of the City Palace.

Hawa Mahal

On the periphery of the City Palace complex, overlooking the hectic Siredeori Bazaar, is a five storey pink sandstone wall of windows. The Hawa Mahal was built at the end of the 18th century, by the Maharajah Sawai Pratap Singh for his stable of royal women. Those poor birds were kept in “purdah” and were not allowed out in public; no-one was supposed to see them except his royal nibness.

They may still have to cover up, but at least they're not locked away

I have to keep reminding myself that it was less than 100 years ago that women in the UK were buttoned up from top to toe, with few civil rights

This tall ‘palace’ is a honeycomb of latticed windows (supposedly 953 in total) from which the girls could have a good old gander at what the plebs were getting up to below.

You can probably tell from my tone that this landmark of the Pink City didn’t really do it for me. I have to keep reminding myself that it was less than 100 years ago that women in the UK were buttoned up from top to toe, with few civil rights. In fact, we didn’t even get the vote until 1918 when some women over 30 were allowed to express a preference for their MP. We had to wait a further ten years before we were given the same rights as men. Sorry, I’ll stop now…

Another market trader listens to Liz's rant


Giggling And Haggling

After the palace Liz was keen to see the famous cotton merchants of Jaipur. Busier than Oxford Circus at Christmas, we forced our way through Johari Bazaar and Bapu Bazaar, where we saw all manner of fabrics, salwar kameezes and saris for sale. It was pattern and print overload for us, but groups of brightly dressed women sat giggling and haggling with eager shop-keepers. We declined every earnest invitation to step inside to look at the wares; my shirt collection is getting ridiculous.

A lurid-looking beetroot, parsnip, Indian gooseberry and lemon drink was his best-seller

The most memorable part of those bazaars was the drinks vendor who specialises in vegetable juices. His best seller, at Rs10 (14p) a glass, was a lurid-looking beetroot, parsnip, Indian gooseberry and lemon drink which Liz and I decided to give a go. It was utterly delicious. The two occasions we passed his stall it was packed with workers looking for an end of day refreshment.

You might be interested to know what ingredients he's putting into his drinks, but you do NOT want to know what the bloke behind him is doing!

Monkey Magic

Our last bit of fun was ascending another temple, up to the first floor of another pink wall, and looking back down across the street we had just walked. Monkeys swung on electric cables whilst kids stood patiently in their school uniform as mums bought fruit and veg from the vendors beneath us.

Two animals that feature a lot in India:

I say this was our last bit of fun because, after walking for nine hours, Liz and I were exhausted. As the sun began to set, and after a small debate, we decided to get a cycle rickshaw back to the hotel, which was by now miles away.

Jaipur By Cycle Rickshaw

Our first mistake was not taking one of the many young rickshaw hawkers who regularly cycle past touting for business. No, we were stupid enough to flag down some old boy – who looked at least 79 but was probably no more than 50 – and had probably never been outside the old city. When we tried in our best head-wobbling Indian accent to say the name of our hotel, the street, the region, nay the bloody country our hotel was in, our man looked at us blankly. Fortunately he had the instinct to ask the nearest shop-keeper who, after a group discussion with his neighbours, was able to explain to our driver exactly where we wanted to go.

We tried to say the name of our hotel, the street, the region… but our man just looked at us blankly

The journey started pleasantly enough and Liz and I agreed that it was a more comfortable and fun way of seeing Jaipur at night than an auto-rickshaw.

Aside from the odd slope that ended in a clank, bump and a banged arse, it was good fun. Things took a more grim turn when our driver decided to continue down a street instead of taking a right; he then went left when by this time he should have been going in the opposite direction. Keen to share my local knowledge I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed the other way. He nodded, huffed, and then half-stepped down on the pedals to get himself across the busy dual carriage way he was crossing. He turned right.

What we hadn’t realised was that he was now cycling down four lanes of on-coming traffic: he was heading down a one-way street the wrong way at night, with no lights. Most of the on-coming traffic – an assortment of killer buses, weaving cars, kamikaze auto-rickshaws and other nimble cycle rickshaws – had no lights either. It is quite normal to go up or down the road in any direction the driver fancies in India, but this was a really busy highway in a capital city and the junction was being monitored by a tall, officious looking traffic cop.

As soon as he was in range the policeman dealt out an armful of lashings

The policeman took one look at the oldest rickshaw driver in Jaipur (in India?) struggling to cart two fleshy westerners against an onslaught of beeping traffic, ran over blowing his whistle and raised an arm. As soon as he was in range the policeman dealt out an armful of lashings, whipping our driver until he was cowering over his handlebars. Liz and I screamed at the copper to stop and, realising we were white English tourists, he desisted. He wasn’t apologetic though, despite my losing my rag at him. As I ranted at the copper for being a hooligan, Liz tugged at my elbow her telling me to pipe down.

After the commotion subsided we managed to get the policeman to believe that our driver was under our instruction and was doing his best to get us back to our hotel. We ascertained the best route through the one-way system from some local shopkeepers, all the while our ‘driver’ still cowering and nursing a sore arm. Eventually he turned the bike round and we headed home.

When we arrived I handed him a couple of notes for his troubles. He looked at me and at first I thought he was asking for more but I quickly realised he was indicating that he had no change. He’d spotted the Rs100 and thought I was just paying the standard Rs30. I wasn’t, I had  included another Rs50 as a large tip. When the penny dropped he put his hands together, nodded furiously and looked really pleased. He cycled off happily.

No doubt I’ll be repeating this story for years to come, but I wonder what the oldest rickshaw driver in Jaipur made of the experience? Did he go home that evening with a story to tell, or was it just another day’s lashing, a hazard of his profession? Liz said he might start intentionally cycling the wrong way up major arterial routes in the hope of another lashing followed by a large tip from his punters, but I think that’s a bit cynical. I won’t forget that poor chap as long as I shall live – which won’t be long if I take another cycle rickshaw in Jaipur.

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3 thoughts on “Giggling And Haggling Amongst The Monkeys And Elephants”

    1. Yes, Neil, despite efforts by the authorities to play it down, the caste system is very much alive and kicking. It runs deep and is a way of life here.

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