Day Seventeen: Exploring Jaipur’s Old City and Bazaars
It’s not everyday you wake up to your own private hostel suite, step out onto your own private terrace, and see monkeys right before your eyes – and not just ANY monkeys, but two lovers that groom, have sex, and repeat, all within a few seconds of each other. It was the stuff of National Geographic, and we couldn’t have been more excited.
After getting our morning dose of monkey sex, we went downstairs to the communal kitchen and had ourselves bananas, hard-boiled eggs, toast and coffee. We sat with some cool cats, one from Brazil and one from Norway, chatting about yoga as we were all either about to go to or had just come from Rishikesh (one of the birthplaces of yoga in India). Good vibes to consume all around.
But back to Jaipur, the Pink City, which was founded in the mid-late 1700s. Both the capital of Rajasthan and first planned city in India with the modern day grid system, this city is vast and filled with palaces, forts, temples, and tons of markets. We decided to check out Hawa Mahal, also known as the Place of Winds, which was built in 1799 by Maharaja Pratap Singh for the Queen and his other concubines.
It was absolutely glorious. Architecturally, the fort’s style is a mashup of two distinct genres, the Rajput and Mughal styles. The architect employed a unique method of designing the archways and courtyards in such a way that optimized ventilation in the east-west direction and allowed cooler air to climb the higher you ascended. Functionally, the Palace was constructed to allow royal women to move around freely away from the public male gaze, as they were only allowed to be seen by the King himself. Women could peep out through the teeny tiny doors and latticed windows to catch glimpses of the outside world of Jaipur. The King would frequent the Palace every so often to relax and spend time indulging in his favorite pastimes: poetry, music and astrology.
(Goddess Gathering at the Hawa Mahal, anyone?)
Afterwards, we decided to muster the energy for exploring the fabric/sari and gemstone markets, which were just down the street from the Hawa Mahal. I noticed that there are very few female vendors, and men predominantly sell products traditionally catered to women, ie: fabrics and gemstones. I also can’t seem to wrap my head around how vendors can be successful when they’re all trying to sell the same things – I was reminded of a conversation I heard earlier in the hostel when a foreigner mentioned that many of the precious and semi-precious stones sold in Jaipur are fake. For that reason, I was very careful to stop in any particular place and determined to find someone who could explain the art and business of gemstones, though it seemed impossible in such an oversaturated marketplace.
After wandering about for some time, a young 20-something man stepped onto the street, wearing a preppy outfit and red-checkered vans.
“Where are you from?” he asked, a question we had been asked sooooo many times before. The question already acquired a bad taste as it pre-empted falling in another series of frustrating tourist trap conversations.
However, this guy seemed much more honest and approachable, and soon we were following him upstairs into his space. Only thing was, it was totally empty as he just purchased the space for 10k rupees. He would be opening this store up the next day, and meanwhile, carried a sample of his stones in a small black handbag. He opened his bag and pulled out a few precious stones (there apparently are four): rubies, blue sapphires, diamonds and emerald. Jaipur is famous for their gemstone business, and jewelers all over the world come to buy them wholesale. I showered him with questions and learned he was only 22 years old and carrying the business his father had started. Being Muslim and under the belief there’s only one God, he does not believe stones have special healing properties, but did mention that many of his clients do report they feel much more calm and centered when wearing rubies. If you are reading this and in the market for a gemstone wholesaler, we got you covered J
Totally exhausted by all the market exploration, we finally made our way back to the hostel to get a restaurant recommendation for a late lunch. And in proper hostel fashion, we bumped into our Israeli friends, Gallia and Omar from back in Pushkar! And, much later on that day towards the tail end of dinner, Shashi (a Zostel guy from Delhi who had helped me with Wifi issues) sat down at our table from out of the blue. Apparently, the Jaipur hostel needed a manager to come down to Jaipur, so he was the lucky chosen one. He is now the second Zostel property manager I’ve met who quit his professional gig as a software engineer to pursue a job he loves. Good omens all around.
Not too much to report about the rest of the day, but some musings from today in no particular order…
On Poverty: Our Israeli friends spent some time the day before with Siddartha, the founder of Nature’s Blessings, who shared a pretty radical viewpoint in my opinion -- that there are no poor people in India people. Everyone who appears to be a beggar actually has investments in gold, which acts as a form of pension. Many Indians live in villages and come to work in the city, and as a result of living far from their place of work, choose to sleep on the streets instead of making a long trek back home. Also, at night, they change their clothes to beg professionally. I guess the big question to follow up with is, how does he/other Indians define “poverty.”
On Tourism: Instead of allowing ourselves to continue getting pushed around by Indian vendors wanting to sell us things, we’ve decided to speak in Gibberish to keep them at a greater distance. Also, when asked “where are you from?” or “where are you going?,” we’ve tried out the method of turning the question back on them to see how they’ll react. It worked quite nicely on one rishshaw driver who looked utterly confused and had no choice but to keep on driving. Eventually, it would be nice to know how to disengage from what feels like harassment and strike a balance between being polite and firm.
On Culture: Cities in India are a madhouse – curious to see how urban dwellers of India would behave at Burning Man where money is not a concept that divides and segregates.