Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

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Location: Home, United Kingdom

You all know who I am, I assume.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Jaipur

Jaipur, the town I am currently residing in, is located in Eastern Rajasthan. It is known as the Pink City because the old city, which is contained within some very nice old city walls, is all a sort of burnt orange colour, supposedly having been painted "pink" in the 19th century to honour the visit of the then Prince of Wales.

We got to Jaipur on Tuesday after a cramped five hour bus journey from Bharatpur, which is at the north eastern corner of Rajasthan. Knackered, we checked into the hopefully titled Evergreen hotel and had a bit of a rest, noticing en route that the Evergreen hotel is chock full of crusty old hippies. As you probably know, I hate hippies.

Suitably rested, we decided to go for a stroll in the old town. It's a lively shopping area in the by-now-familiar Bazaar format - like a sort of permanent market. Actually, a bit like Camden market, but with traditional Indian clothing and jewellery in place of bongs and retro clothing. Though of course ethnic tat is pride of place in both contexts...

Having strolled for a while, and gotten good at ignoring the salesmen's "Hello sir" introductions, we were stopped by a chap of about our age. "Why," he wanted to know, "do white people never stop to talk to Indian people?". We explained that it was because we were fed up of being hassled to buy things all of the time, but he wouldn't have that. He claimed that Indian people just want to find out about foreign parts most of the time, and are simply curious. He wanted to know about England and wondered if we would come and have a beer and a chat with him. One part of my mind was going "Mmmmm... beer... it's been so long" while the other was remembering scare stories concerning travellers drugged and robbed. We cautiously agreed to go with him, but declined his offer to go to a good place in his car. We wanted to stay where we knew how to get home. When we got to the place, we broke the habit of a lifetime and had water instead of beer, because bottled water would be sealed. We were chatted at by the man (whose name was Ajay) for a bit before we declined the offer of going on somewhere else because "we were tired". We then agreed to meet him for breakfast the next day at 9am.

We took our leave and headed home, only to be stopped by a bumbling fool. His name was Balaji. "Why," he wanted to know, "do white people never stop to talk to Indian people?". Trev began to say the truth, as we had tried before, but I interrupted with "because back home in England no one ever says hi to anyone so it's a bit strange for us". Balaji also wanted to go for a chat with us. We followed him (because there is no way such a melon as him could have designs on robbing us) onto the roof of a small shop, where we sat and chatted for a bit, and were introduced to Kuldeep. In contrast to Balaji's nervous idiocy, Kuldeep was a smooth operator. They were such nice blokes that we agreed to have a beer, and were invited down into Kuldeep's art shop (on which we were sat) to drink it. Inside the art shop we met a third man, older, named Mahesh. Mahesh was fairly quiet, but had worked in Germany for ten years, so could speak German with me as well as English. Which was surreal.

So here we were, sitting in an art shop in old town Jaipur, drinking "Godfather" beer with a 19-year old fool, a 22-year old smooth operator, and a 30-something german speaking quiet man. We joked and laughed with them for three hours (the jokes were a little risque for this, being a public forum and something my mum might read). And then they wanted us to go for breakfast with them the next day. We tried to fob them off with dinner, but they were having none of it. We figured that after three hours we owed them a day more than we owed suspicious character Ajay, so we agreed to meet them at ten. Then they cast aspersions on hippie-filled Evergreen terrace, using the witty, in fact Wildean, "Evergreen is never clean". But we needn't fear - Kuldeep knew of a better hotel. He knew the owner very well, and we could stay there for Rs200 a night, 50 less than it cost us at Evergreen. But first we could see the place. Well, by now we more or less trusted the boys, figuring they'd have robbed us by now if they were going to. So we zipped off to the very nice (comparitively - no hippies, you see) Akriti Hotel on their motorbikes, and were then given a lift home. We decided to check out of Evergreen in the morning and check in to Akriti.

This is the bit where in a rubbish american sitcom we would try to meet up with both Ajay and the others without either party realising. However, we are English, not septics, so we did the right thing and met Ajay, simply telling him we had met other people. "Kuldeep and the others, I know - I know them" he said, slightly upset at being shunned. How he knew them, or how he knew we had met them was not clear, but we didn't really want to have a conversation...

At ten o'clock we were checking in to Akriti, when we met Balaji, Kuldeep and Mahesh. After a quick cup of chai (that's NOT how you make tea!) we were off to the shop for an Indian-style breakfast of some kind of sauce deal, chapati type bread things, bananas and curd. It was very nice, although I only ate the bananas (though I dislike them) for fear of being rude. Then it was a quick Balaji-guided tour of the local gem workshops, where Jaipur's gem trade is run. Precious and semi-precious stones are imported from all over the world and fashioned into jewellery.

In the afternoon, Balaji was jettisoned and we rode out of Jaipur in style, on the backs of motorbikes ridden by crazy Indian drivers. I was on the bike of the relatively sane Mahesh, but Trev had the boy racer Kuldeep to contend with. More than once on the journey, as the other bike was out of sight somewhere around the next couple of corners, I thought that if two Indians wanted to rob and murder a couple of tourists and leave their bodies somewhere, the starkly beautiful Rajasthani countryside we were zipping through would be a good place to do it...

But eventually we reached our destination, the impressive Samode Palace, around 25km outside of Jaipur, safe and sound. Samode Palace was the Maharajah's palace at one time, but is now a really expensive (starting at 3000 pounds a night) hotel. But you get a tour around it for Rs100, and you even get that money off a drink at the end. And it's extremely posh...

Tour over with we headed back to Jaipur, stopping en route for more beer and a snack, and then a second time to pay for a lamb to be murdered and cut up for us at some kind of amazing roadside slaughtershack five. Off we went with the meat to Mahesh's house.

Here we all deskinned about 60 cloves of garlic between us, chopped up a daft amount of onions, prepared some ginger, bunged in a whole load of spices and oil and cooked a beautiful curry over a period of three hours. During this time we drank whisky with Kuldeep and Mahesh, plus Balaji who arrived with a new man, named Krishnan, in tow. Krishnan looks like Barry White would if he was a colombian cocaine dealer of Indian extraction, only not fat. The man is a gem dealer, and is utterly minted. He is also (bizarrely) a fan of the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays... When the curry came it was perhaps the nicest thing I have ever tasted, eaten sitting on the floor using chapati's as plates and spoons and our fingers as... er... forks? We were then given a lift home, tired, a bit pissed from the whisky, but having had one hell of a great day, thanks to Indian hospitality.

The next day Kuldeep picked us up at our hotel at half nine. We went to Mahesh's house and watched the cricket, Australia v India, second test. The game was pretty boring, though, so... no, we just sat and watched it. And kept watching telly throughout tea, when we watched rubbish Indian music channels. And then, just as the second session was starting, our boredom was relieved by the appearance of Balaji and Krishnan. We were off. But where were we going? Er, to the shop, to sit and watch the cricket. Balaji and Krishnan disappeared. Then Mahesh disappeared. We were left with Kuldeep. "Do you want to look at my paintings?", he said, "no pressure to buy or anything". With a sinking feeling we agreed, and sure enough after we'd looked through a series of very nice little pictures that would never survive until we got home, we had to tell him we didn't want to buy anything. He seemed to take it well to start with, but then lapsed into silence, and in fact then went to sleep, leaving us sat alone in his shop watching the cricket, in which we we had annoyingly missed two wickets.

So it was that we were pretty relieved (again) when Krishnan returned. "You can come to my place, we will talk for a bit, and then we will go up to the fort in the evening, drink some beer and watch the sunset". Sounded good to us, so away we went... just round the corner and into a tiny little office full of glass display cases with jewellery in. "Sit", offered Krishnan, and we duly were sat, facing his desk with our backs to the door through which Balaji entered, himself sitting just behind us. Krishnan sat behind the desk and showed us photos of him with Princess Di wearing one of his necklaces, and a picture of him with John Major (ooooh, luminaries!). Then came the crunch. We could do them a favour. Since we had tourist visas, we could buy some of their jewellery and transport it to Australia, which they knew was on our route. Then they would buy it back from us in Aus and pay us 5 grand english for the service. The whole time we thought we were experiencing Indian hospitality, and in fact we were simply having whisky with diamond smugglers. We said no to the proposition - even if it WAS legit and they DID actually turn up to buy the stuff back off us, it wouldn't be tempting because of the hassle. And of course they kept coming back and asking us, and making it awkward for us to leave. Then in came Mr Big, Krishnan's brother. Krishnan and Balaji left, and we were exhorted to either help them out as above, or buy some jewellery by an Indian man who strongly reminded me of Brando's Vito Corleone, right down to the voice and 'tache.

Eventually we managed to get out of there, and were repeatedly assured that we were all still friends and that we could still go to the fort that evening with them. We made some excuses and took our leave, promising to go back later. Then we headed straight to the train station to book our tickets the hell out of Jaipur. But the next train wasn't until midnight the day after next... until then we would be stuck in a hotel that they had got for us. But first, we had to tell them we weren't going anywhere with them that evening. We returned to the shop, to find no trace of Kuldeep, Mahesh, Balaji or Krishnan. Only Mr Big was there, sitting at the back. We waited nervously for the others for a while, but then we gave a message "we were tired so just wanted to chill in our hotel room this eve" to Big to pass on. Then we went to McDonalds (ah, crooks one can trust) and home.

But it wasn't over yet. When we got back we turned on the TV only to be confronted with a message, right there on the screen: "Call me on this number" and then a number. This was getting suspiciously film noir on our arses. What would Philip Marlowe do? Like hell we were calling that number. Then the phone rang. Hesitantly, I picked it up... "Hello" "Hello... do you want dinner? It is my duty to ask" - it was just the front desk downstairs. Phew. Then the phone rang again. This time Trev answered it, and it was Kuldeep. He wanted to know what had happened, since he was asleep when we left his shop. Trev told him we had been offered a gem transporting deal but had turned it down. Kuldeep assured us that Krishnan and his brothers were nothing to do with him (yeah, right - they own your shop!) and wondered if we wanted to do something tomorrow. We said we'd look around Jaipur's monuments ourselves. He agreed, but said we could call him if we had any problems. How we were to do this with no number wasn't something for us to dwell on - perhaps his was the number on the telly? Who knows.

Anyway, it's now 24 hours later, and there are about another 28 hours left for us in Jaipur. We have had no word from the gemsters since yesterday, and hopefully we won't hear from them again. But, as a big fan of Chandler and film noir, I am fully expecting Ajay to turn up as an undercover cop any minute, or at least some kind of a twist before our midnight train leaves Jaipur tomorrow night, bound for Jaisalmer and the Great Thar Desert...

1 Comments:

Blogger Dan said...

Wicked!

October 15, 2004 at 4:57 PM  

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