Today Changes All of This: Our Reactions to India
For whatever reason,
I have not had quite the same reaction to India that Greg described yesterday. It is true that it is almost excruciatingly hot right now. [A word of advice: everyone tells us this is the “slow season” and those who don’t come to India in the middle of its summer are wiser than we. If you ever want to come, do it in the winter, about October to late January, when the temperatures are more or less the same as they are on the hottest days of summer in most of North America, or come during the monsoon, which will start soon in the south and in about July further north, when things become green and lush.] It is also dusty, and to our eyes unorganized; nobody likes to say no or appear ignorant, so nobody tells you that you can’t do something or that the directions they’re giving you aren’t quite accurate. And you tip everyone for the smallest services; I over-tip: I give at least 100 rupees to the coolies at the station. Last night, our tour host negotiated for me, and including the wait while we figured our which compartment was ours, the amount demanded was 30 rupees. When the tour host wasn’t looking, I slipped the coolie another 20. Despite all this, I have been coping better than Greg.
Today changes all of this.
We get off the train at 7:45, a bit late given the late start. Our driver is there waiting for us, an easy job at this time of year, as ours are the only pale faces emerging from the 1AC compartment. We walk to the car, and a young girl approaches, asking for money. I have been quietly giving money to beggars, mostly the disabled but also young children, and I reach into my pocket and pull out a couple of small bills, which I hand her. Out of nowhere, at least 25 other children are immediately grabbing and pinching me on the legs, all yelling for money. I can’t move until our driver shoos them all away, which takes a couple of minutes, and even then it is a difficult process getting into the car, and getting the door closed – their hands keep reaching in, always grabbing my legs and pinching them. This really rattles me. Oh India!
We are exhausted from the journey. Sleeping pills or not, neither of us slept well. At our hotel, they give us our room, despite our 8:00 a.m. arrival. The hotel is an old haveli, mansion, converted to a hotel, and it is beautiful. We wonder who lived here before. We negotiate with our tour host for a 10:30 a.m. start to our Jaipur and Amber Fort and Palace tour – he would prefer earlier, we would prefer later. We hit our beds and fall back to sleep, managing somehow to be up and showered by 10:30. And off we go.
If it’s Monday, it must be Jaipur
At this point, we have begun the “if it’s Monday, it must be Jaipur” part of our India tour. The leisureliness of last week is gone – we start the week with last night’s train ride, and every day this week except Friday, we have either the train or a long (4+ hour) car drive, and then a 4-hour city tour.
We are also, as we discover, on the major India tourist route. This started in Udaipur, but because we were ensconced in the Lake Palace, we were shielded from the full impact. Today we are not: at every destination, there are many many non-Indians, and everywhere we are greeted by swarms of beggars, touts, and hawkers. The hawkers are all bargaining with themselves because we have adopted the strategy of saying only 1 word to them: NO. And still, they follow us, reducing their prices to a fraction of the original asking price by the time they understand that we mean what we say.
At the Amber Palace
We start with a tour of the Amber Palace. Another spectacular palace, standing in front of the equally impressive Amber Fort, built on the whim of a maharajah. We go up on elephant back.
The City Palace
We move back to the city of Jaipur. Maharajah Jay Singh II moved his capital from Amber to Jaipur because Amber, in a narrow valley, couldn’t expand. Jaipur feels almost western – laid out in straight lines with wide streets, although our guidebook tells us that this design is based on ancient Hindu texts and represents a mandala, designed to bring the harmony of the cosmos to daily human life. We stop at the City Palace, and the Palace of Winds (one room wide, with screens on both walls, a place for the palace women to get cooling breezes and to watch the city’s street life without being seen), both again amazing. We also stop at the Jantar Mantar, Jay Singh’s observatory – a collection of structures, modernistic in the extreme with their pure lines and form follows function design. We wish we had more time for sightseeing in Jaipur.
Ready to Stop Moving
It is a long day spent in the sun. We have been trying to be very careful – lots of sunscreen and water – but I am not careful enough. When we get home, Greg tells me I’m flushed. As we are changing out of our sweat-soaked clothes, I start shivering from the A/C. Greg touches my forehead and tells me I’m burning up. I say I can’t be, I feel fine. He insists, I touch my forehead and even I know I’m burning up. We take my temperature – 102.7. Greg says the thermometer must be wrong, because at that temperature I should be feeling violently ill, while I feel fine. We dig out his thermometer, and it reads the same. We check our reference guide: the classic symptoms of sunstroke. We spend a quiet night at home, neither of us feeling like moving, both of us wishing we were somewhere else. And I am now with Greg – I’m ready to stop moving.
Visions of a beach in Greece, less than 1 week away, lull me to a deep, recuperative sleep.