Jaipur could have been the biggest bust if not for its people. When we jumped off the train (another long ride), we were immediately bombarded by touts trying to “help” us find the exit that was
easiest closest to their tuk-tuk. I immediately turned into the bad cop. I dislike getting taken advantage of and usually try to ignore anyone approaching me for a sale. But in Jaipur that reaction was not welcomed, and the touts returned my sassiness two-fold with snarky comments like, “no one in the US trusts anyone” and “why are you so mean?” So we were between a rock and a hard place because that response only made me more disagreeable. I would have walked home to California if our hostel was that far away just to avoid giving business to these guys. But, Joshua was tired, Ella had bags and it was not the time to make a point over principle. We escaped the terminal and found a tuk-tuk driver who took us where we wanted to go for a fair price, even though he still tried to sell us a city tour and a different hostel where he could collect commission…after seeing my face, however, his friend (who also came along for the ride) smartly advised him to stop.
We found a not so nice hostel off the most important road in town (for us) MI. We used MI as a base because that’s where the good food hangs out. Lassis (yogurt milkshakes) are the specialty in the area, and we had a plan to try as many as possible. From our first lassi to the last, we were incredibly impressed by Jaipur’s recipe. The lassi-walas mix curd with sugar and ice to make a milkshake which they serve in a “disposable” terra cotta-like conical cup that is covered with hardened milk fat which tastes like cream cheese butter. Not that I would ever eat cream cheese butter by itself but if my hands were tied behind my back…
The city was packed with tourists, full of cars/tuk-tuks/buses/motos/camels/elephants/mustaches and generally, overwhelming, but the people who welcomed us were lovable in every way. And that MADE Jaipur for us!
Outside a local shoe shop, Ella and I visited with a group of girls ranging in age from 5-12. First they asked us to buy them ice cream, but I don’t promote giving sweets to children who lack regular access to dental care, so they settled for conversation. The more we visited, the bigger their smiles grew. Just then, Joshua walked out of the store and suggested we all get lassis (only a little sweet!) We skipped down the street with all the girls, singing a new song, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” (I figured it would help them in future endeavors…) We gave the lassi-wala his biggest sale of the day, and together we enjoyed our treats on the side of the road.
There was a “Cheers!” with us and another without us (maybe more like a “Score!”). There was some major spillage and even more slamming of the lassi cups when finished. Best dollar we spent in Jaipur.
As if having a few lassis a day wasn’t enough milk product consumption, Joshua and Ella tempted their lactose thresholds by trying warm buffalo milk infused with pistachios and saffron. The presentation was the best part…the man preparing glasses swung the milk around to increase its frothiness before pouring…he didn’t spill a drop. We learned he has a passion for milk-drinking and encourages everyone he meets to drink more. Ella and Joshua were convinced, even though our stomachs were not.
I’ve been sick since we touched down in Sri Lanka, but stomach issues have not stopped any of us from eating all that India has to offer, even if it does make us run to the bathroom minutes later. We made two great decisions in Jaipur that have not been equalled: raj kachori and aloo tikki and flaming kebabs.
We crossed MI Road to a Fine Tea Stall where we enjoyed the company of an endearing chai-wala. The pride he took in making great tea was obvious. The secret ingredient seems to be L.O.V.E.
We ended up cruising through an entire section of market en route to the City Palace when several locals told us not to go (boring, they said). So we took their advice and found a rooftop where we could enjoy the view for sunset from above. Instead of a sunset, we found a whole community of people on their roofs playing kites. With only two weeks until the annual kite flying festival in January, all of Jaipur was out practicing. “Playing kites” really means cutting down neighbor kites with glass-lined string. Men, women and children alike were sending up cheap tissue paper kites on sharp string from every rooftop in sight. The goal is to keep your kite flying while destroying those around you. I lasted all of 20 seconds before my kite was no longer attached to the spool in my hand. But, the lesson from a few jewelers on the roof of their building was priceless. We left with a new appreciation for flying (and controlling) kites and a few minor cuts on our hands from the string.
And our arch nemesis: stripe shirt yellow kite. You can imagine how loudly we cheered when our jewelers avenged our many many losses.
And last but not least, we found the sweetest man at a sweet shop. Leading the group down a crowded market street, I wasn’t surprised to find Joshua and Ella were no longer following me. I was surprised by how far back they had escaped…maybe two blocks earlier, the two had been tempted by a sweet shop. The man had let them try one of EVERYTHING before I even arrived. They bought kilos of treats from Natraj..more than we could eat in two weeks. But it was Joshua who walked away the real winner…with a kiss on the cheek from the happiest Indian man alive.
Although we would have been content in Jaipur with just the people and the food, it did have sights worth noting. We visited the Wind Palace where the royal ladies could watch city life without being seen from a building specifically engineered for the best air circulation.
We explored the hallways and dead ends until we lost each other and were found again. Of course, I located Joshua doing push ups. It never ends, I swear.
The Amber Fort turned out to be another great maze complete with tunnels and unexplored hallways. Even more hilarious was the conversation we tried to have with several elderly Indian women on the bus ride back. Through a mix of sign language and educated guessing, we figured out the women were distraught that neither Ella nor I wore a bindi to protect from evil. We tried to explain over and over that we didn’t have them. When they continued their full body scan, they were horrified we were wearing pants instead of skirts. The women looked at Joshua for help, and then back at us. Ella and I laughed…the pants wearing, evil spirit-welcomers that we are.
Jaipur left us with a lasting impression. But, the ultimate was the “Milk Rally” we happened upon on NYE 2013 (backwards in our photo)…it only seemed fitting that we all, “Drink Milk and Cheers…with Milk!”