After three weeks of touring Rajasthan we finally get what India has always promised but we have yet to encounter,
Jaipur is a huge bustling city, full of a cacophony of earsplitting noise, overpowering smells, markets stretching for miles, aggressive vendors behaving like leeches, and beggars and tiny children following you down the street asking for money. This is the India everyone talks of, and we have been fortunate to have avoided so far
Gone are the narrow winding streets. In their place are wide four lane thoroughfares, absolutely jammed with traffic. There is everything from huge trucks, over crowded buses, cars, tourist cars, tuk tuks, motorbikes and rickshaws. Each and every one of them with a different sounding horn and a driver who will not take his hand off it. It’s hell. The only thing that is missing are the cows. There is not one to be seen, presumably because they were all run over years ago. The traffic barely moves, but Joginder is in his element, pushing his way through everything, one hand on the horn the other on the steering wheel. He goes round roundabouts the wrong way, drives the wrong way up the dual carriageways, forces motorbikes off the road and cars to swerve out of his way. He even takes on the trucks and invariably wins. It is a tour de force, and when he is not hurling abuse at some poor driver who deigns to get in his way , he is smiling from ear to ear.
Our first stop is the famed Amber Fort
Tourist hell reaches new heights. The place is packed
The main attraction is riding up the hill and entering the fort on an elephant
It makes for a stunning sight but neither of us wants to do it. There are 40 elephants going in single file up and down the hill carrying tourists.
It may be one of the most amazing sights but it is also one of the saddest. A few years ago an elephant got fed up with it and went on a rampage killing four people. And who can blame it. So now the number of trips an elephant can make per day is strictly regulated, but it doesn’t make it any easier to take.
We enter the fort through a stunning archway
Inside the fort is less ornamented than others we have seen, but it has a graceful arcade
and a ceiling decorated with mirror mosaic
And while it may lack the exuberant décor of other forts, it is the setting that makes it, surrounded as it is by dramatic hills with the walls of the fort running round them for 12 kilometres.
Next we visit the Jantar Mantar, an outdoor observatory built in the early seventeen hundreds. It resembles a giant surreal sculpture garden devised by Salvador Dali.
It is still used today to forecast how hot the summer months will be and the expected arrival, duration and intensity of the monsoon season
Jat Singh, the astronomer who built the complex, made a sundial that can, and still does, tell the time to within 20 seconds of accuracy
He also believed that gigantic instruments would give more accurate results than smaller ones and this particular structure is a sundial used to forecast the crop prospects for the year.
It also tells the time to within two seconds of accuracy. Only going to prove the well known axiom, bigger is always better.
He also built a fascinating sculpture composed of twelve pieces, each of which represents a sign of the zodiac, and therefore faces a different constellation
It is used by astrologers to draw up horoscopes and is the only one of its kind.
But we need none of these instruments to tell us what the real time is and what our imminent future has in store for us. In about half an hour it will be cocktail time.
We beat a hasty retreat from tourist hell.
But it is only going to get worse.
Tomorrow is Agra and the Taj Mahal