Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jaipur Days 2-3

Greetings. There is so much to write about I don't even know where to begin! Jaipur is a hell of a city.

I believe I last wrote about the morning of our first day in Jaipur. After exploring the Old City in the rain, we returned to our hotel for a quick change of socks, and immediately headed back out. The plan for the afternoon was to essentially go on a shopping spree (mostly window shopping, actually) at some of Jaipur's more upscale, trendy fashion boutiques. One of the main reasons we came to Jaipur is because it is very well known for its textiles, and block printing in particular. Before we arrived, Hallie had done some research and discovered several designers that incorporate traditional techniques and styles, but cater to the more modern and sophisticated eye. I don't really know how to write about fashion, but I think you get the idea.

Instead of walking, we asked our hotel to organize a tuktuk for us for the remainder of the afternoon. Most of the shops were all in the same area, which for some reason is known as "C Scheme," but we decided it would be easier not to walk everywhere. The tuktuk driver didn't speak very much English, so his boss asked us which stores we wanted to go to, and then explained to the driver (whose name is now escaping me) what our itinerary was. I later found out that the boss of the driver was also the father of one of the managers at our hotel, and has been providing taxi services for the hotel since 1976.  

The first store we went to, Anokhi, is probably the most famous of these modern stores. Stepping into that store was an insane juxtaposition from the chaotic sari stalls found in the bazaars of the Old City. At the bazaars, very few items are actually on display. Instead, they are kept in huge stacks behind the shopkeeper, whose job is to pull out various options for you to look at.

Sari Shop.
Anokhi, by contrast, had all of their items on display on hangers, western style. I'm no fashion expert, but they had awesome designs, and I actually ended up buying two shirts for myself! Anohki is also cool because ever since it was founded in the 1970s, it has been one of India's lead innovators in using eco-friendly methods and treating their employees with respect. They also have a cafe that is supposed to be very good, and is apparently one of the few places in Jaipur where a western stomach can handle a fresh salad with raw ingredients without fear of getting sick. We plan to go back just to eat at the cafe before we leave Jaipur. And who knows, maybe I'll even buy another shirt... (Update: we went back for dinner tonight and I had an insanely legit veggie burger. Other than eggs for breakfast, this was the first Western food I've eaten since we got here).

After checking out a few other stores from Hallie's list, the driver took us to some additional places that had been hand selected by his boss, who had promised us that we could get the quality and style of Anokhi but at local prices. Naturally, I was a bit skeptical, but we decided to roll with it and check out the other shops. Most of them were pretty lame, but one of them had some yardage of patterns that Hallie really liked, and she was able to get a good deal for two custom tailored dresses. The salesmen at that store were quite friendly, but were also a bit pushy. Thus, I cannot recount on two hands the number of times I had to remind them that I was NOT interested in picking up a tailored suit or some dress shirts. At one point, to humor them, I flipped through their style brochure, and found this hilarious image. Looking real cool dude.

While Hallie was getting her measurements taken, I chatted with one of the salesmen about a man named Sai Baba, an Indian saint/spiritual being who lived in the 19th century. I must confess, I am rather obsessed with Sai Baba. He is something of a demigod here, and apparently has over 100 million followers in India. Interestingly, both Muslims and Hindus alike worship Sai Baba. I forget exactly how it came up, but I found myself asking the salesman why he believes in Sai Baba, and he responded simply that Sai Baba had shown him the way. When I asked what he meant, he told me that Sai Baba taught him to be peaceful, and to never retaliate when someone does wrong to you. As he told me this, I began to think how nearly all religions have the same basic message (and it is by all means a positive message!). He might as well have been talking about Jesus Christ or any other prophet. The main reason I like Sai Baba is because he looks really cool, and his icons have an uncanny ability to instill peace in me. The man just looks incredibly at peace with himself. Also, his image is everywhere, whether a decal on a bus window or a framed photograph hanging in a store. Here is a representative image:

The next day (which at this point was actually two days ago), it literally rained the entire day. On top of that, it was Sunday, which meant that most of the stores were closed. I'm not really sure why stores would be closed on Sundays, but perhaps it is a vestige of the colonial era. And on top of that, it was also a festival day. I'm not sure what the Hindi name for the festival is, but one shopkeeper referred to is as "sister brother festival," and explained how each sister would come and visit her brother and give him some gifts, and he would be waiting with gifts to give her in return. I think it sounds like a pretty nice holiday, and I'm not sure why Hallmark hasn't picked up on it the United States. It's kind of like Mother's Day or Father's Day, but reciprocal.

So I don't have much to report about yesterday. Everything was closed. We actually walked over four miles, according to my calculations from Google Maps, and by the end of our meandering my shoes had become soaked through once again. We spent the evening relaxing at the hotel and doing research for the rest of our time in Jaipur. Here is one cool picture I took during the rainy day of a man making Jalebi, which is an incredibly decadent sweet made from deep fried dough which is then soaked in liquid sugar. Note that the boy is balancing a large platter on his head. Why is he doing this? I have absolutely no idea. Perhaps he was just bored.

The following day (yesterday), by contrast, was completely buck. We went at it hard! In addition to switching hotels, we also visited an important local Hindu temple devoted to Krishna, explored the Jantar Mantar, which is a astronomical center and observatory built by the Rajput king Sawal Jai Singh between 1727 and 1734, and then finished our day by going on a 4 hour guided walking tour through the Old City.

We started our day by trying to find a wholesale flower market that was recommended in one of our guidebooks. The tuktuk driver understood where we wanted to go, but seemed perplexed when I mentioned we were looking for a flower market. Indeed, when we arrived at the area, there was no flower market to be found. We hopped out anyways to check out the area, as it was near some other sites we wanted to check out. Some guys on the street approached us and told us to check out the Govind Dev Ji temple, which was nearby. On the way, we spotted a vegetable market and took a slight detour to check it out. As soon as we ventured off the instructed path, one of the guys popped out of nowhere and informed us we were going the wrong way. I appreciated his looking out for us, but being followed can be slightly unnerving. After taking a quick walk through the veggie market, at which chili peppers and okra were by far the heavy hitters, we headed back towards the temple.

The temple was alive and kicking. A steady stream of people headed in through the gated entrance after purchasing flowers or some other token to bring into the temple. Unlike many famous temples, this place had no ornate decorations as far as I could tell, and had a very casual vibe. People were straight up dancing. Instead of describing it further, I'll share this video. I really the old man clapping in the foreground.

After visiting the temple, we walked over to a place known as the Jantar Mantar. As I briefly mentioned above, it was an observatory and astronomical learning center built by one of Jaipur's first Rajput kings nearly 300 years ago. The place had one of the more interesting ticket windows I've come across...

Ticket window, Jantar Mantar.
Once inside, I quickly realized that the Jantar Mantar is really more like a super awesome sculpture garden. We could have hired a guide to learn more about the actual functions of some of the structures, but I don't think we missed too much. While walking around, I overheard one of the guides pointing to a circular structure and saying, "January.. February... March.. April... May... June.. July.. August.. September.. October.. November.. December." A bit tedious. Walking around on our own was really fun, and I got some cool pictures.

I think I've run out of upload space because of the video. Go on to the next post!


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