hacker emblem
jaegerfesting
Search | Tags | Photos | Flights | Gas Mileage | Log in

Christmas in Jaipur

Started: 2016-01-10 13:43:01

Submitted: 2016-01-10 15:39:58

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator celebrates Christmas by visiting Amber Fort in Jaipur

Since we were in Jaipur, Willy's home for the academic year while studying Hindi in India, he opted to stay in his room with his host family rather than join the rest of our family of origin at our hotel. He did, however, walk the kilometer from his house to our hotel to join us for breakfast, in honor of Christmas. The hotel's small dining room was full when we arrived, so they suggested we eat on a table on the sunny walled yard in front of the hotel. (I'd call it a "courtyard", since it was enclosed by a sizable brick wall in front, but the hotel also featured a proper courtyard, enclosed on one side by the lobby, on one side by an unfinished house earmarked for the manager, and on two sides by hotel rooms.) Calvin ate mostly toast (made with some of the whitest bread I've ever seen -- apparently one of the few culinary imports the British left behind) with jam (all of India seemed to be eating the same jam, a sweet multi-fruit mixture that didn't taste of anything in particular), which made me think of Bread and Jam for Francis and worry about expanding his culinary horizons but I mostly let him get away with it because I wanted to make sure he ate enough food, and we were on vacation so most normal food rules were suspended.

At 10:30 our driver from the previous evening arrived in the same Hindustan Ambassador to take us to Amber Fort to kick off our day of sight-seeing. (The fort is also spelled Amer Fort, and is usually, but not always, pronounced "Amer" regardless of the spelling.) The hill-top fort and its adjacent walled city was built and occupied by the local Rajput kings for centuries before the decline of their Mughal neighbors allowed them to found the city of Jaipur in the plains below the hill.

Amber Fort
Amber Fort

Our driver took us up the winding highway leading into the hills from Jaipur to the fort. We stopped to admire the fort and the lake -- which was used for the fort's water supply, though an elaborate system of pumping stations -- in front of it, then continued onwards through the crush of tourists and uniformed school groups. I read in my guidebook that the fort offered elephant rides in the morning so one could enter the fort like a proper Rajput king, though the rides were time-limited when the elephants got tired. Willy and I jumped out of the car -- stuck in traffic and not moving -- so we could run ahead and investigate the situation. We found that the rides were just closing in front of us -- the elephants were still climbing the road to the fort, but they were not selling any additional tickets.

Elephants carry tourists up to Amber Fort
Elephants carry tourists up to Amber Fort

Willy and I headed back to the road to intercept the rest of our family, and saw the taxi drive past empty. We tried to guess where they would have gone, and thought (in retrospect) that sending the two people with functional mobile phones together might not have been the best plan. (The other family members carried their US mobile phones with them, but used them exclusively as cameras, uploading pictures to social media in the evening when we returned within range to hotel wifi. Only Willy and I had mobile phones working on the local networks -- he had a dual-SIM feature phone with SIM cards from Delhi and Rajasthan, and I paid for an international roaming package on my US phone.)

We caught up with the rest of the family back at the now-empty ticket gate for the elephant rides, and confirmed that the rides were no longer available. (The taxi driver had unhelpfully shooed them out of the car and gestured vaguely to where they were supposed to go -- which was why we missed them on the way up, since they had not followed the road.) We stopped to buy bottled water before heading up into the fort -- 1-liter bottles of water were universally available, often chilled, for ₹20 (about 32 US cents), and were widely used by the locals. Calvin and I drank exclusively bottled water while in India -- at restaurants we'd ask for a few bottles of water, and the waiter would return to the table with a sealed bottle, present the label for inspection (as if it were a bottle of wine), then break the seal in front of us and pour water into the glasses on the table.

Calvin and Jaeger outside Amber Fort
Calvin and Jaeger outside Amber Fort

We joined the stream of tourists and walked up the main walkway to the fort, past a few straggling elephants walking back down to the bottom, and joined the lengthy ticket queue to get our tickets. (Like most places we visited in India, Calvin's admission was free.) We grabbed a snack -- some sort of savory stuffed pastry -- from a literal hole-in-the-wall shop (embedded in the outer wall of the fort's main courtyard), then headed into the fort itself.

Column detail in the audience hall at Amber Fort
Column detail in the audience hall at Amber Fort

While we were admiring the fort's audience halls, Calvin announced, with his normal sense of impeccable comic timing, that he urgently needed to go to the bathroom. We embarked on a quest to find the nearest toilet, which turned out to be something of a wild goose chase as the people we asked enthusiastically showed us to the fort's historic latrines (which were very interesting, and far more advanced than the contemporary toilet facilities in Europe at the time, but were not especially helpful). One guide took us up narrow stairs through winding passages to see the fort's original water-delivery system (which was fascinating but counter to my goals at the time) and then on an overlook to the lake, and when he finally figured out that we actually wanted to see a real toilet that we could actually use he asked for a tip (I gave him one) and gestured vaguely to the back of the fort. At length we did find the pay toilet (₹5 each), averting any possible catastrophe.

Calvin descends stairs inside Amber Fort
Calvin descends stairs inside Amber Fort

I found the rest of my family at another audience hall, and reprised our journey through the steep stairs and winding passages to find the water-delivery system. This time I could actually stop to look at how it was supposed to work -- in one room there was a bar on an axle that could be pushed by hand to turn a gear that would (in another room) turn a wheel on which a series of small clay jugs had been tied. The jugs would go to the bottom of a ten-meter-high shaft, where water had been pumped by the prior stage, and carry the water up to the top of the shaft, where the jugs would be dumped into a cistern for delivery into the rest of the fort (including the previously-mentioned latrines). It was a fascinating piece of medieval engineering, ahead of anything the contemporary Europeans had come up with.

Gear system for water pump at Amber Fort
Gear system for water pump at Amber Fort
Water delivery system at Amber Fort
Water delivery system at Amber Fort

Sometime while wandering the maze of stairs and passages Calvin announced that he needed to go to the bathroom again (to which I probably responded with what became my signature line of the trip, "Of course you do") -- but this time we were much closer to the pay toilets, and I actually knew where they were, so the request was easier to grant.

Bethany, Mom, Willy, and Dad look through a window at Amber Fort
Bethany, Mom, Willy, and Dad look through a window at Amber Fort

We emerged into another courtyard, where I studied the design of the twelve-arch pavilion in the center (which Willy tells me is known as a baradari) so I could build it in Lego in the future (in my own neo-Indo-Saracenic style).

Lake garden at Amber Fort
Lake garden at Amber Fort

We left Amber Fort, on the designated exit route that took us past several gift shops and several handicraft shops run by the state government of Rajasthan (which was responsible for the upkeep and tourist access at the site). We found our car and driver in the small car park at the bottom of the hill and enjoyed a slow, crowded ride back into town.

Auto rickshaw with a
Auto rickshaw with a "Volvo" sticker

We stopped at Jal Mahal Sagar, an artificial lake built for Jaipur's water supply with a palace built in the middle of the lake so that it appears to float on the water. The palace is supposed to be renovated and redeveloped as a tourist site, but this redevelopment has been underway for decades without any obvious result. The city did at least manage to build a nice promenade between the main road and the waterfront, which was packed with vendors selling everything from shoes to handicrafts to toys to spices, and also with locals enjoying the view across the lake.

Jal Mahal Sagar
Jal Mahal Sagar
Calvin looks at Jal Mahal Sagar with Uncle Willy
Calvin looks at Jal Mahal Sagar with Uncle Willy

For Christmas dinner, Willy took us to Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar, known locally as LMB, a sweet shop with an adjacent restaurant (and, according to my recent Internet search, an actual hotel as well). We waited in the crowded sweet shop for a table, then were ushered into the back of the crowded dining room to our table. Calvin enjoyed the pasta from the small European section of the menu, while the rest of us enjoyed the Indian food as our tastes and spice tolerances allowed.

Aunt Bethany, Calvin, Uncle Willy, Nana, Jaeger, and Grandpa at Christmas dinner in Jaipur
Aunt Bethany, Calvin, Uncle Willy, Nana, Jaeger, and Grandpa at Christmas dinner in Jaipur

We spent some of the meal talking to the Portuguese guy seated next to us, who had spent several years living in China as a designer, and was now hanging out in India waiting for his interview for his US visa so he could work in New York City. (We enlisted his service to take the family photo above, where I'm warily eying Calvin's lack of complete cooperation with posing for the photo.)

After dinner Mom and Bethany wanted to shop, but the power had gone out and most shops were simply waiting for the power to come back on, or were awkwardly trying to conduct business by the light of smartphone flashlights. (Only the most expensive jewelry stores had their own backup generators -- many of them sitting on the front sidewalk spewing fumes in my way.)

Dad, Willy, Calvin, and I caught an auto rickshaw to go back to the hotel, where we found a "traditional Rajasthani puppet show" set up in the hotel courtyard, with one guy playing drums and singing for music, and the other guy manning the marionettes. (Though I assume traditional puppet shows did not always feature an "Indian Michael Jackson" as one of the puppets -- especially one whose head would pop off at random during his act.) The show was amusing, though I declined to buy any of their puppets, since I already have a set of Rajasthani puppets (in the room that has now been annexed for Julian).

For more photos from Amber Fort and Jaipur, see Photos on 2015-12-25.
like a lot of geeks, I can run risky meatspace things
through my head until a faulty value comes out that
suggests there's no need to actually do them.
- Caleb John Clark, "Linux and the Lady", Salon.com 27 September 2000