Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The wanderer gets herded - ONE DAY ONLY!

I was dropped in Jaipur in the middle of who-knows-where. I asked the conductor if this was the bus station, but he seemed to say it wasn't, but get off anyway. I presumed it was the last stop. No - the bus went somewhere else with a few passengers afterwards.

It most certainly wasn't the centre of Jaipur, from the fares the autorickshaw drivers were expecting of me. When they go over the Rs.100 default white man fare, you know you're in trouble. They didn't have a clue where my hotel was, or where Chowk Circle was, or anything. First one - 250. No chance. A load of Indians were trying to help, but weren't actually helping - just making me look like an even more confused foreigner.

And with autorickshaw drivers, that means higher fares.

Creepy Indian guy was still being creepy too. Yes, he was just being friendly, but some people just make me uncomfortable. He was one of those people.

So I walked down to the end of the rank.

2 drivers saw that white man was walking and followed me.

Where to? Chowk Circle? 200.

No, 150. No, 200. No, 150. No, 200. OK, I'll walk off.

"Only 150?"

OK, jump in.

It was a long way as well, though I discovered that the idling sound of an autorickshaw is quite rhythmic and soothing. Yes, my life is really that exciting. Why did we spend so much time idling? Well, Jaipur is one of the rare cases of an Indian city with traffic lights. How civilised, eh? And shops with neon signs. Shops with more than the usual "print something on a bit of wood" type of sign in fact.

We got towards Chowk Circle and the driver got out. No idea why, but he came back and asked to see the hotel address, which happened to be written on my phone. Ah yes, drivers don't do The Knowledge here.

At this stage, another driver pulled up. He seemed to be trying to get me to go in his auto instead. And as much as autorickshaw drivers tend to mess me around, two wrongs don't make a right. And my driver had my phone as well. And hadn't messed me around. Yet.

Turns out this other driver knew where my hotel was, but what he did next really shouldn't have surprised me. "Look at this hotel too." Yes, the one that gives you commission, I know how it works. "And tomorrow, you want to go around the city? I'll do it for 400. What time shall I pick you up?"

Cheeky sod. No thanks, I've got a bus tour booked. Yes, a bus tour. It's wrong to criticise what you haven't tried, after all. And I had a second day to have a wander round the Old City anyway (and climb a minaret!) Plus, 300 rupees isn't bad for a trip round the city. Anyway, more on that later.

So we got to the hotel, which was just around the corner from Chowk Circle, and I told him I needed to go change my 1000.

Noone wants my 1000s.

I got some 100s as change, so I gave him two of them, expecting 50 in change.


I should have given him a 100, and a 50.

When questioned, he said "no, fare is 200 rupees". I tried to tell him that he'd agreed to a 150 rupee fare when I got in (he definitely had, I made sure I confirmed it) but he just got in his auto and drove off.

As much as the 50 rupees means a lot more to him than me, dishonesty - by anyone, regardless of wealth - really infuriates me.

As I checked in, a Dutch guy I'd met at Alobar in Kathmandu turned up as well. It was that awkward moment where first we both tried to work out if yes, we did recognise each other, and then where we recognised each other from. Of course it was Alobar - where else?

By this point it was most certainly time for food, so I headed up to the rooftop which (helpfully for lazy bums like me) had a restaurant on it.

The problem: no meat.

And I don't do vegetarian.

But I'm lazy. So I'll chuck some eggs on a plate and be happy.

And after two 5am starts in a row, I was in bed by 9pm. Because I'm not as hardcore as I'd like to think I am.

8am the next day felt like a massive lie-in though. Except I still can't do mornings, and I nearly missed my 9am bus tour. Jumped in an auto to the station, who dropped me just outside the station assuring me that it would go from there. Big red bus, he said.

A bus conductor told me that no, I'd need to go round the corner.

I found a RTDC (Rajasthan Tourism) operated hotel there, who told me that it didn't go from either of those places, and that I was very late but should go to the tourist office in the train station to report to them.

No, to get on to the platforms you must go through security first. Bag scan. Crap, it's got a Swiss army knife in it. Phew, they haven't noticed. OK, and into the office.

I'd missed it, but there was another one in a few minutes, and my guide was there already. Phew.

It was a small white bus as well, after all that.

And went from outside the station, where the auto should have dropped me in the first place.

Ah well, all's well that ends well.

I met 3 Indian guys on the bus. One was called Nitin, but I can't remember the names of the other two. One from Chandigarh, one from Uttarkhand, one from I forget where. My memory is brilliant, isn't it? And I still need to send Nitin the photos I took of them, because I'm so ruthlessly efficient at stuff. And a fourth Indian guy from Mumbai, whose name I can't recall either. Great. He was in Jaipur on business and thought he'd see the place on the Sunday.

Just had to test out the zoom on my new camera
OK, off we go. First, some temple. You have 15 minutes.

I wandered up, took 5 minutes wondering where to leave my shoes and then where to leave my bag, given that they weren't allowed in apparently. Eventually I just took the bag in, like everyone else was. Rules? What rules?
15 minutes goes very quickly as well. Definitely needed longer, but no, the tour bus is all-knowing and will always give me enough time before I'm herded back on.
This isn't stereotypical at all
Well, I did a half-walk half-run affair, wondering if they'd left without me - but no, of course not. I was the first one back.

Off again.

On your left is one of the most famous sights of Jaipur. However we won't even stop for you to take a picture. Not that you'll be able to get the whole thing in anyway, because you're on a bus and you're far too close for that.

They call it the Pink City. Something was most definitely lost in translation
OK, so the first two stops have just outlined what I hate about tour groups. Now let's go to the Palace complex.

I had to buy my own ticket, so in order to save on one of the many entry fees (hi Nepal and Agra) I showed my expired student card.

"No sir, this has run out."

I tried telling him that I was now a student of the world, and asked him where I could get my ID for it, which got a laugh but no half-price ticket.

Actually, I know where you can get an ID for that. Khao San Road in Bangkok. You can get ANYTHING made there.

First stop: the Jantar Mantar. What an amazing name. It's a world heritage site, and is some sort of observatory/timekeeping affair. Oh, and this time, the guide will come with us. And tell us lots of absolute rubbish that I don't need to know, rather than explaining what the place actually is. So I gave up, looked around myself, and ran for the exit when I saw the rest of the herd leaving.

Random collection of objects = UNESCO World Heritage Site?
Next, the Palace. Separate ticket for this. OK, let's use my student ID again.

This time, it worked! Boom. 100 rupees isn't quite the 12€ I saved on the Acropolis, but there you go - every little helps and all that.

The Palace is quite nice - very grand, and the small museums inside have some fairly interesting stuff in them. Again I didn't really care much for fabric but did care about armaments (I'm a bloke after all) so spent my time accordingly. Maybe I should have stayed somewhat near the guide in the armaments bit because the security guard/turban-wearing bloke in the corner decided to give me an impromptu tour, which wasn't particularly helpful but there you go.

Oh wait, he wants money for it. You can have 10 rupees then.

He seemed happy enough about that.
He'll earn twice the average salary before tips anyway, so someone else should have it.

Ah, maybe the guy selling some massive circular thing to eat. Who charged the Indian guys 20 rupees for two, but me 20 rupees for one. Fairly blatant, but ah well. 10p to me, 10 rupees to him and all that. Maybe I'm hollowing in my hatred for foreigner prices, who knows.

Exhibit A?
I turned into the cameraman for the Indian guys too, because they didn't want to pay the camera fee, but it was included in my (overpriced) ticket. Glad it's not just me who penny-pinches. Sorry, rupee-pinches. The Raj ended a few decades ago.

Time to move on. Too quickly. No, I need food. No, you'll have to wait, because the tour bus is all-knowing.
Rajasthan Tourist Itinerary: 1. Fort. 2. Fort. 3. Fort. 4. Fort. 5. Fort. 6. Beer.
Next, Nahagararagahahanahgarh Fort. Or something like that anyway. Oh, and here you will have lunch, in the one overpriced restaurant that you can choose from.

Given that the other option was going hungry, I just paid the tourist tax and got on with it. And I was very hungry by this point.

The Indians don't understand half the photos I take. Should have taught them our sense of humour, Raj
They had beer at least. Beer that was cheaper than average as well. Strange. They even admitted to serving it on the menu, which noone seems to do here.

The fort was nice too, very colourful - well, very yellow - and with some nice artwork inside too.
HEFFALUMP. And yellow. Lots of yellow.
OK, time for another fort. Indians have to pay, but for us lucky foreigners it's included in our Palace ticket.

Except we have to pay the camera fee anyway.

So I didn't pay the fee and sneaked it in.
This definitely isn't taken in that particular fort...
Which was awkward when I was holding it in my hand when an army guy checked my ticket.

No photo of the world's biggest cannon, sorry. I was hiding from him.

We didn't have anywhere near long enough in there either (I'm glad I didn't join the huge scrum at the ticket desk) but it was on to the main attraction, the Amber Fort (pronounced am-er fort, just to be confusing), before the sun said goodbye for the day. Thankfully buses aren't allowed up to the fort, so we had to jump into a jeep to go from the lake to the fort itself, which was fairly cramped. And pay for the privelige, of course.

I'm guessing that the Fort attracts a lot of domestic tourists, judging by the amount of people who wanted photos with white man. So I just had photos, threw a few words of Hindi in there (because I'm quite clearly fluent) for the smiles and we were all good.

Teen, doh, ache..... Snap
And it lights up at night. Boom.

As does the lake fort that we stopped off at for photos - though it would have been quite nice to get a good shot of it during the day! Ah well, Google Images is a lifesaver in times like these.

Back to the hotel and I was ready to eat again. Obviously.

I met Becky and Grant, a couple from Manchester who were also travelling all over the place. And who seemed to be going to some of the places I was a few days before or after I'm there. And they're City fans, so they must actually be from Manchester.

Then we were disturbed by some noise from the street. Must go down to watch.

And Indians do stag parties properly. Groom on a camel, while a jeep with a massive speaker and floodlight goes down the street. With dancing, of course. Except my camera batteries decided to die as I tried to get a video. Sod's law and all that.
You'll have to settle for a photo that does it no justice at all
Agra and Jaipur convinced me of something though: sightseeing really isn't for me. I say convinced, but actually that should read "confirmed". I'm much more of a wanderer. I'd planned to wander the Old City on my second day there - and I knew I could climb a minaret there too, which excited me far too much. More because I've never climbed a minaret before, and having a mental age of 6 I'd quite like to.

No. I got a suit measured instead, because I got a good deal on it - and I needed a tailored suit anyway - let's just say that I'm not of "normal" dimensions. The shop owner was a bit of a legend as well, and invited me to join them for a beer and some chicken biryani.

Ah, chicken.

Oh, and if you go for cash at night, don't go off for a beer with some Indians you've just met on the street. Apparently everyone will be worried about you. Especially people you've just met. Funny that.

Well, I'm just a crazy Welshman, and I know it.

Also, this seems an opportune moment to say Hi mum!

I was going to head to the Old City before heading to Pushkar, but then Delhi belly decided to hit. I didn't even go to Delhi. I'll spare you the details. Then food poisoning hit. I'll also spare you the details. For now. Let's just say I thought the symptoms were over - but either way, I really didn't feel like wandering the Old City. I just left for Pushkar instead. Given that it was mid-afternoon, I could make the end of the camel fair.

Auto to the bus station. Yes, I most certainly want some water. I did the usual bus station act of shouting where I wanted to go and hoping that someone would help me out. Yes, it works.

I'm on my way. Pushkar, here we come.

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