(Message sent Sun, 05 Nov 2006 03:19:09 -0700)
Hello everyone. I've spent a fun couple of days pottering about in Jaipur. The old city is very interesting: most of the original city walls are in place, and are coloured light pink. Some of the internal walls would seem to be original too, as traffic is regularly constricted to passing through narrow arched gates. So you have tour buses, taxis, rickshaws, pedestrians and the odd camel all trying to squeeze through these narrow archways - in both directions at once! It's completely bonkers, and I don't know how it works, but after much honking and swearing and swerving everyone ends up on the other side of the wall.
These archways also have deep alcoves inside them. I don't know what they were for originally, but they are now used by - you guessed it - poor people. People seem to spend all day just sitting or lying in these alcoves, with a constant stream of honking, fume-belching vehicles passing by just inches away. I guess there are worse places on Earth to spend your days, but there can't be many of them.
The old city has lots of things to see - palaces, bazaars, minarets, and a neat observatory built by an astronomy-mad maharaja in 1728 - but for me the best sites have been the collection of forts that dot the hills around Jaipur.
There's a spot on one of them that affords the most spectacular view. It's a small octagonal platform (26 59.174 N 075 51.070 E) with a low railing, high on one corner of Amber Fort. Standing there, looking east, you are looking down onto a plain on which a village sits. Two steep spurs rise abruptly from the plain, almost symetrically, climbing away to your left and right. On the ridgelines of these spurs double walls with watch-towers have been built, looking remarkably like the Great Wall of China except that the watch-towers are of noticably Indian design. To your right you are looking down on an artificial lake in which sits a huge ornate geometric garden on an island. Up on the hills behind you you can see two further forts, one redish in colour, the other yellowish. Finally, to your left, you are looking down on the main courtyard of the palace.
It must have been a sensational view in its time, when the forts and palaces where living things. I could just see the scene, with penants flying and maybe the maharaja setting off in a loud and colourful procession from the courtyard below. Unfortunately the view is somewhat spoilt today by a common problem - the quality of the air. The air is so thick with dust and polution that the view almost disappears into the haze.
Another fort, the Tiger Fort, has a curious arrangement. It is based around a long rectangular courtyard, on three sides of which are nine sets of identical appartments on the ground floor and another nine sets on the top floor. The appartments are connected by two corridors. One runs right beside the courtyard, the other runs right beside the first corridor.
The story goes that the maharaja who built the place had nine wives, and so he built nine identical summer appartments and nine identical winter appartments so that he couldn't be accused of favouritism. The inner corridor was to enable the maharaja to move from his appartments (built on the fourth side of the courtyard) to and from his wives' chambers unnoticed, while the outer corridor was to enable the women to visit each other.
This is all according to the guide, but this is the same man who kept insisting on showing me gynacological images in the wall decorations which I'm pretty sure existed only in his imagination, so who knows?
I also saw my first Hindi film here in Jaipur. The theatre itself is the most extraordinary creation. You step from the hot, dusty, dirty streets of Jaipur into this vast cool, dark atrium. All the walls are curved, huge chandaliers hang from the ceiling, funny-shaped mirrors adorn the walls, and decorative columns rise up the walls to flare against the ceiling. And pink, pink, pink, everywhere pink. In a couple of places are lit signboards which contain quotes from various dignitaries from around the world about how wonderful the theatre is - a bit like the snippets you see in novels. Then you pass into the auditorium itself and you are confronted with a series of sweeping, swooping shapes on the walls and ceilings, like giant stylized birds' wings. If there is a stranger cinema on this planet, I sure want to see it.
The movie itself was called "Don", and was a action-hero thriller. With singing and dancing. It was in Hindi with no subtitles, but there was curious and frequent use of English. Most conversations started or ended with English expressions. For example at one stage the hero said, "You know what I think? I think..." and finished the sentence in Hindi.
The funniest bits were the funny bits. I would have no idea what was being said, but suddenly the audience would erupt in laughter and applause. A good fun way to end my time in Jaipur.
Tonight I go by train to Bikaner, and from there I'm hoping to venture out into the desert. I may be gone some time, so you may not hear from me for a while.
Thanks for your messages people - it really helps me get through the bad bits when I get messages from home. Take care. Love Joff.