We spent a day in Jaipur on a sort of greatest hits tour, and it was much too short. The state of Rajasthan is beautiful and fascinating, particularly its mixed history of Indian and Mughal kings, and its resistance to British control or occupation. We have learned from Mr. S, our excellent local driver, that many people plan weeks-long trips just to visit this one area of India. That does not surprise me at all.
Yesterday was a total whirl of activity, but I will try to give a sense of the highlights for me.
We started the day by doing one extremely touristic activity: an elephant ride up to Amer Fort (forgive me if I misplace some proper names along the way–I am scrambling to recall some interesting moments right before we leave on a 5:45 am flight to Mumbai to begin wedding festivities!).
Elephants congregate at the bottom of a steep, rocky hill. Each elephant is owned by an individual man who has trained the creature to respond to specific verbal and visual commands. Given that Indian elephants are significantly smaller than their African counterparts, their treatment resembles that of a beloved family dog–and I would know all about that. As I took a picture of the elephants, one mahout noticed me and gave a sound to his elephant, causing the elephant to raise its trunk at me.
(If you read the above link I’ve included, you’ll see that there is some controversy over the methods used to train the elephants. I know this interruption makes the story messier to tell, but I would be remiss not to acknowledge this fact. I did not see any of this behavior while I was there, but of course that does not mean it never occurs.)
Before the ride, when Mr. S asked if we wanted to go, his encouragement was, “You’ll feel like a maharani.” And you know what? I damn well did feel like a queen, sitting on my elephant palanquin, leisurely cruising into the hills. I know this wasn’t a real representation of India, and I know the female tourists wearing fake hats in the shape of a Rajasthani turban were mistakenly appropriating a garment worn only by men for centuries. I also know that despite my ethical quandaries, I enjoyed this experience quite a bit.
It was also extremely interesting from a historical perspective, as the kings and their wives who lived high atop the mountain entered their domain in the same manner, as did food and other supplies (But not water! There was an ingenious Persian-inspired water pulley system for that!) I doubt I would have been as awed by the expansive views and location if I had not been so high up on an elephant.
Our first stop was a temple to the mother-goddess. You may know her as Kali, a creator and destroyer among the numerous Hindu goddesses. We hired a local guide to take us through these important places, and as a practicing Hindu, he kindly explained the processes and traditions of his faith as we stood in the temple entrance. I think I would have had a very shallow understanding of this holy place if he had not explained some of its significance. I also felt like less of an asshole when our guide, another Mr. S, encouraged me to take a blessing from the temple priest.
Next Mr. S took us to one of the most incredible places I have ever been: Sheesh Mahal, the mirror palace. I could not even begin to tell you why the Taj Mahal is considered one of the world’s greatest wonders when Sheesh Mahal exists a few hours away. I will do a poor job of accurately narrating its history, which was explained to me by Mr. S, but it is linked above in the article on Amer Fort (but really should be called Amer Palace!). Instead I will share some photos that cannot even begin to capture this magnificent structure:
Now I have to get ready for this morning’s upcoming flight, and we have just made it to 12 o’clock in the afternoon. It is hot and it is very sunny. We have stopped by the side of the road to gawk at the astonishing water palace, Jal Mahal, rising out of a man-made lake. We learn how the palace was built before the lake was dug, and we ponder out next destination on this altogether too fast, cursory glimpse of the Pink City. Stay with me a bit longer, and I promise to tell you soon about the one-armed monkey who blessed me.