24 October 2003
We had to wake up at an ungodly hour to make it to our train to Jaipur. So, you would think at 5am the train station would be pretty dead, right? Well, you would be wrong. It was incredibly how much acticity there was. People moving this way and that, rushing to get to the right platform, calling over the guys with the red shirt (don’t know their name yet) who are the porters and so on and so forth. Normally, we would have called over the porter, they were red shirts as I said, many have rolled up cloth on their head (get back to that in a moment) and are ubiquitous. Not only do they carry bags of untold weight on their poor heads (hence the cloth), but they also know which platforms all the trains come in and out on. We only had small backpacks so we figured we would try to find the platform ourselves. It took a bit, but we managed. Meg had said you can usually tell which train is ours and what car to get on by following the white people. She told me a funny story about when she and about 5 friends went to Agra (Taj Mahal). Four were together, but one was coming separately to the station. She happens to be a very tall, blond, Swede. They couldn’t find her in the crown, but then someone came up to Meg and said—“white girl? She went that way,” while pointing in one direction. Hahahaha. And indeed she had.
The train was pretty fine with air conditioning (too cold, of course). They serve you tea, snacks, give you a big bottled water, and a meal. I didn’t have it on the way there b/c I was sleeping, but I ate the dinner on the way back and it was pretty good. So all in all, a pretty nice journey.
As I mentioned we were going to Jaiput to celebrate Diwali, festival of lights - fireworks and candle and "christmas" lights - so beautiful! And Jaipur is the pink city, named that because the old city’s buildings are all painted a light salmon color with white trim. It makes it look quite charming. The painting of the buildings like that started in the 19th century when the Maharaja wanted to welcome Prince Albert from England when he was visiting there.
Meg’s friend recommended that we stay with a friend of his family - a wife of a maharaja! Well, her house, Loharu House, was beautiful (and a bit creepy!) Tiger heads on the wall. A stuffed tiger! Pictures of Jackie O and the Dalai Lama! There was a beautiful scent of jasmin wafting through the air on the grounds and in the house and you got a sense from the many group portraits of the tens of maharajas what it might have been like in the past. The house was across from the governor's house (called Chief Minister) and was in a peaceful part of the city. Guys - its all relative-trains went by, whistling, each hour.
Jaipur is a small city - just a few million people. And Rajashtan is the India of pictures. Colorful. Brilliant, actually! Women wear red and yellow, green and pink, purple and orange, blue and gold. It is traditional India - land of the Prince (Raj(Prince)-astan) - with palaces and ruins. Its dry - a desert that suffered a drought for the past 5 years. This monsoon ended the drought so the city is filled with red and pink flowers - they are pouring over the tops of walls.
Meg and I went around all day on Friday. We hired a bicycle rickshaw. I have to say the guy won out for being persistant. He followed us for a few blocks and finally we said okay (we wound up using him for three days, but the 2nd two were in an auto). We ate in the walled section of the city, and then went to this one store, Anokhi, where I bought my first dupata. That is the thin scarf that Indian woman wear around their necks (haven’t worn it yet). I didn’t buy anything else during my time there, but of course I regret it. Now that I have been shopping a bit more I find that so many fabrics, wall hangings, etc are from there. Argh!!! This is because Rajastan is home to Indian tie-dying as well as the block printing on fabrics. Also embroidery and all American Hippy Teenager accessories! Remember those wall fabrics - with elephants in the middle and all self-respecting, Led Zepplin listening, freshmen had to have! OH Yeah! They all come from Rajastan! They also have fabrics with mirrors and lots of other stuff. I think I will have to go back!
On the road we saw such great activity as usual. Here is a political poster for the Congress party. It is Sonia Ghandi (the widow of Rajiv Ghandi, the son of Indira Ghandi, the daughter of Nehru), who is sort of the leader of the party (not currently in power) and a political leader in Rajasthan. Notice the colors of the poster—I forgot to mention that the reason for the colors of my website, the orange, white and green, with blue writing, is to mimick the flag of India.
Here is a cow eating a garland. Cows serve many important functions, one being that they eat the garbage on the streets. This helps to get rid of refuse as well as converting it into dung, which is then used for fuel and to insulate houses. The garlands of flowers (here marigolds) are used for decorating, especially during festivals. Meg and I bought some garlands to bring to her friends for Diwali. Here she is buying some.
Friday night we met Meg’s friends (and colleagues) for a pre-Diwali drink. Ram and Rashmi were married a year ago, and she is 8 months pregnant. They are in Jaipur for PSI (Meg’s organization), but they don't have any family there. They invited us to spend the holiday with them!
25 October 2003
Saturday, Meg and I went to the Amber Complex in the morning. So beautiful! I had not read enough history, so I don’t really know what were all of the structures that we saw there. It was a palace and fort and there were different parts that served as the quarters for the wives to live, etc. We took an elephant up the hill to the complex. I am always unsure about this, but supposedly it is good to do because then the people have a need for the elephants and take care of them. They are such beautiful creatures. I love them.
On the way back to Jaipur we stopped to take photos in front of the summer palace. In the middle of a lake - which was dry until this year’s rains! The water flows through to keep it cool - just like the moors did in Spain! You saw some of these photos on Meg's site (I will put a link to her site).
At 2pm, we met up with Elizabeth who came in the night before (she’s Meg’s friend from Delhi-an American working for an Indian NGO). We went over to have lunch with Ram and Rashmi. We thought they were being nice to invite us for Diwali, which is true. But it turns out that this was their first Diwali away from family and they were as happy to spend it with us as we were to be with them! In fact, at the end of the night we all kept thanking each other profusely. It reminded me of when you see Westerners bowing back and forth with Japanese because no one wants to stop. Hahaha.
We ate and dressed up in sarees. Okay, you saw those photos on Meg’s website, but here is another one.
I wasn’t that good at wearing it, but in my defense is the fact that mine was significantly longer than everyone elses. It was from the south where they can often be longer. Even southern Indian women told me they don’t wear ones that long.
After getting dressed, we went to the PSI office in Jaipur for puja – prayers and ceremonies – to celebrate Diwali. As mentioned in the last posting Diwali celebrates the end of the year, the end of the fiscal year, and people light up their homes to invite Lakshmi (goddess of wealth and good fortune) in to bring prosperity for the year. During the puja we all sat in a circle facing the new accounting ledger and the computer where we keep our accounts, hahaha. The ceremony was in Hindi so I don’t know what the prayers were, but they did put the kumkum powder on our foreheads and also we got a string wrapped around our wrist to signify that we took part in a puja. Very cool.
We then went back at Ram and Rashmi’s house, where we did another small puja (without a priest this time) to bless their house. They read the prayers and stories in Hindi and then translated for us. (Great stories about the generosity of the gods to those who are generous.) Finally, we put candles (diyas) in every corner of the terrace, along the balcony, everywhere. So did everyone else in the neighborhood. It was truly beautiful. And then we lit fireworks. BIG ones. HUGE. SCARY. As did everyone else!!
We drove up to the hills surrounding Jaipur when we finished our crackers, and watched the lights of the city below. It looked like the entire city was dancing – jumping lights. Then we went to have a late dinner at this elegant hotel, Jai Mahal (because everything else was closed by then), and it was quite nice.
26 October 2003
Sunday we went to the city palace – still home to the Maharaja of Jaipur’s family. Before we entered we met these fabiously dressed Indian women who were going to the temple to pray. They were so excited to meet us and talk to us. Well, we didn’t speak Hindi (Elizabeth does a bit) and they didn’t speak English, but we all spoke the language of digital camera. They were so excited for me to take pictures of them and to show them the result on the screen in the back of the camera. I realized this is a fun activity for all. Even the most jaded people seem to get excited about seeing how the photo came out. Maybe that is what I should do my research on. Here is one of the women.
Then we went into the palac, where the guards and guides wear traditional Rajistani turbans of bright orange-red. We looked at all of this magnificent outfits and textiles from the region and other regions worn, by the royals. Did you know that the paisely design came from India? I didn’t. It is supposed to be the shape of a mango. Amazing! We also saw these huge urns made of silver (the largest silver pieces in the world). They were carried to England when one of the princes went to visit. He was a strict Hindu and would only drink water from the Ganges. I thought it was so funny to think about the contrary thoughts of westerners who would never drink plain water in India (let alone even touch the Ganges). As we were leaving the complex, we saw a snake charmer there for the tourists. He had a cobra that was de-poisoned. You know I like snakes so I was pretty excited, even though it was pretty fake.
Then we went to the Hawal Mahal (Palace of the Winds), this amazing structure with hundreds of little windows from which the “women of the court” were able to gaze out and watch the street life below while remaining in purdah, the Muslim (and even Hindu) practice of seclusion of women.
We went shopping, where I saw beautiful embroidered pashminas, but I didn’t buy anything. Well, this pretty ugly shirt that I probably won’t wear. Look at these fabrics—the colors!
And then to the train, to go back to Delhi.
Here are our drivers. They were really sweet, actually.