Tuesday, 29 April 2014

... Crouch With Tigers, Hide With Dragons: Pretty in Pink

Before the 6hr bus ride to Jaipur today, I stopped by the Salaam Balaak Trust located in Paharganj. It's a charitable organization offering "street walks" with a difference. Your guide is a former street child who has firsthand knowledge and experience of life as a homeless kid in Delhi. After your walk you then get to meet some of the children currently in their care in the trust home. This one is all boys but they have a few other locations including for females. The kids love having you visit. You're soon playing clapping games even if neither of you speak each other's language (that being primarily me and Hindi) although the kids love trying out their English on you (they have classes within the home). I practised my (very) basic Hindi, told them my name, asked them theirs and then they took great delight in looking at photos I had taken, namely back in Canada with the snow. They also loved the photos of airplanes and from airplane windows. We were so engrossed in all this that I actually only managed to get one shot of us all playing together - I think I may have inadvertently taught them what a "selfie" is and I'm not so sure if that's a good or a bad thing.

When traveling by bus through a India make sure you choose one with AC. Your hypothalamus will thank you for it. Others can be overcrowded bone shaking saunas of questionable safety standards. RSRTC (Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation) have excellent reviews for their volvo and gold line buses and even their cheaper silver line buses fair well review wise. It took 6hrs to get to Jaipur even in comfort and I saw lots of cows, camels, some pigs and an elephant during that time all walking down the road when I wasn't putting a crick in my c-spine due to falling asleep upright. There were also a lot of lorries carrying chemicals with versions of MSDS that were of dubious quality almost making the chemist in me have a Rongbuk moment (of course the nerd in me would have to notice that kind of thing). There's a lot of roadworks going on between Delhi and Jaipur but for most part the road quality was good and the roadworks didn't seem to significantly hamper arrival time, if at all (it took the said 6hrs to arrive). I suspect leaving Delhi a little after rush hour also helped as it didn't take that long to clear the city limits. There were tollbooths as you passed into different states but they were fast.

Buses here appear to only have two kinds of speed: breakneck and snail's-pace-due-to-a-traffic-jam. The rule of being able to see not only the rear tires of the vehicle but road too also doesn't apply either. You basically touch bumper to bumper until the vehicle in front moves over for you. Don't forget to honk your horn either. I don't believe anyone has a reason nor knows why they are doing it but they do it anyway. May be somewhat surprising is the fact I don't recall the driver ever having to be overly heavy on the brake. So whilst there appears to be little or no rules of the road, what drivers here do do seems to work. That said, you couldn't pay me enough to want to drive over here.

Jaipur, a city of over 3 million, is Rajasthan's capital named after it's founder Jai Singh. The old city, often referred to as the Pink City due to the fact that it is pink (well more a salmon-terracotta pink). It was first painted pink back in 1876 to welcome the then Prince of Wales (who would become King Edward VII). Even today all residents are compelled by law to preserve the pink! Later the city burst it's walls and sprawled out wards disregarding previous principles of architecture and planning as laid out by Singh.

The old city is chaotic, loud and, I've got to admit it, exciting! It is pure mayhem... of the best kind. When you're attempting to cross a road you are dodging several things: other people crossing the road, autorickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, motorbikes & mopeds, buses, cows, horses, camels and people trying to sell you everything under the sun. It is madder than crossing the road in Hanoi and I never thought I'd ever say that.

Cows are sacred and so if one is in the way you wait until it has moved (and they usually have the common sense to get out of the way) or you move around it. They're everywhere, some belong to someone somewhere but know people will feed the, so come into the city to get food, whereas others are apparently "wild" and just roam around.

There are plenty of bazaars where you can barter with some incredibly wily shop keepers. Exploration on foot and by cycle-rickshaw was a good call especially as it was still really hot out in the evening. Your senses become overloaded with coloured fabrics, jewelry, gold and spices. The red chilli is a commonly used ingredient in Indian food and they must sell tonnes of it here judging from the large open sacks full of dried chillies. See how long you can last walking down the street before they over power you and you start coughing as though you're hacking up a lung.

For that reason I played it relatively safe with dinner, but the masala dal I had with a plain roti was still pretty amazing. You could probably work your way around India and never eat the same dish more than once. There are so many different kinds of dishes here that I can't imagine you'd ever be far away from something tempting and delicious.

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