Dadu Aur Madak

Approaching from the east Jaipur is one of the gateway cities to Rajasthan. Indeed, as you enter Jaipur from this side you traverse a path through the mountains overlooked by structures that blend into the hillside and hover like sentinels above the eastern approach. The way the buildings match the color of the rock makes them reminiscent of the cliff dwellings at Canyon de Chely in Arizona. It is evident at once that you have entered a different part of India. The "old city" portion of Jaipur is billed as the pink city. It is one of Rajasthan's three colored cities along with Jaiselmer the golden city, and Jodhpur the blue city. The story goes that in 1856 the Maharaja of Jaipur ordered the city painted pink in honor of a visit from England's King Edward, at that time Prince of Wales. In Rajasthani culture the color pink signifies hospitality. Jaipur though is one of the cities that the guide books have been particularly generous with. Lonely Planet says that it "...twinkles and clatters under the sunlight." I won't argue with the clattering part, but I found the "pink city", in the few places that could possibly be described that way, more of a dingy orange. What's more is that many of the things that one might visit in Jaipur were in ill repair. Furthermore most of the prices quoted in the guide books had at least doubled and in some instances had gone up tenfold. This coupled with the fact that we had lost our camera on the first full day there had sufficiently soured me enough to turn Jaipur into a day of boycott against the spiraling costs being foisted upon foreign tourists in India. Foreigners typically pay anywhere from five to ten times as much as Indian nationals do to visit museums, forts, palaces, and such like. It is not that the prices are outrageous (in most cases), it is just that they are grossly unfair. It has long been common knowledge that many hotels quote one price to Indian nationals and another price to foreign tourists, but like every thing else in India this is always negotiable. In the case of these institutions though, most of them run by either local or national government bodies, negotiation is not an option. What is worse though is that the government is setting an example to its people that it is OK to gouge the tourists.
One of course could use the argument that it is in fairness to India's vast population of poor, but it has been my experience that this group are seldom museum goers at any price. They are imminently more likely to visit religious temples which are free for the most part than to visit palaces. And the fact is that many of these prices have been subject to skyrocketing increases just in the last two years. For example, the 2005 edition of Lonely Planet lists the admission to the Jantar Mantar as ten rupees--about 25 cents--and free on Mondays. The Jantar Mantar is an outdoor collection of astronomical devices begun by the 17th century astronomical devotee Jai Singh. While the price for Indian tourists has risen to 20 rupees the fee for foreign visitors is a hefty 250 rupees. We coincidentally arrived there on a Monday but the free day had apparently been discontinued. In addition, like most attractions, there is a camera fee.
The camera fees are another bone of contention with me. The camera fee is generally 20 to 50 rupees, but the fee for video cameras can be anywhere from 100 to 250 rupees. The fact is that the majority of today's point-and-shoot cameras can shoot short pieces of video with poor quality sound, so most people get around the video gouge. I don't know if the logic is to charge those who can most afford it a bit more, but we all know that not all video cameras are created equal. Some of them are much cheaper than the pricey high megapixel SLRs that you see being lugged around by many Europeans and most Japanese and Chinese. There just doesn't seem to be any fairness in this scheme. Indians are very quick to point out how their economy is prospering. We have heard repeatedly, both on television and from the man on the street, that India is home to the largest number of billionaires of any country on earth. Indeed the typical Indian tourist that we have encountered are staying in the better hotels and eating in the better restaurants. They are on the favored side of the vast divide between the country's wealthy and those that live in abject poverty. If we were to practice the same tactic with foreign visitors in our country we would justifiably fall victim to world outcry, yet foreigners visiting India--and we are talking mostly Europeans and East Asians, we have encountered a minuscule percentage of American tourists here--seem willing to cough it up without complaint. But the factor that pushed me over the edge is that unlike Agra's Taj Mahal much of what we found in Jaipur was in a shabby state. This is in a city where the trappings of wealth are readily apparent. We encountered some of the most beautiful homes that we have seen anywhere in India in Jaipur. I urge everyone who visits India to exercise at least one day of boycott, and to make this decision known to hoteliers and tourist officials. It is a greedy practice especially when there is no evidence that the money is being spent on maintenance or restoration.

We climbed to the top of a tower known as the Iswari Minar Swarga Sal (Heaven Piercing Minaret). The minaret was the only place we encountered that had a flat tariff for all visitors. As you will note from the overview of the walled old city that here is very little that is either pink or twinkling. It was not that the backup camera we were using was incapable of capturing color as is evident from the beautiful vegetables at this little street market. We found the vegetables we encountered in Rajasthan to be a particular treat. Even Karen who will normally not eat tomatoes unless they are cooked in a sauce or something found herself devouring these beauties. There is certainly something to be said for produce that is grown within walking distance of the table. More about this at our next stop.

The vegetable market was incidentally in front of place called the Hawa Mahal, the pink (?) structure cloaked in makeshift scaffolding in the background. Lonely Planet says it is "...Jaipur's most distinctive landmark." They call it an "...extraordinary, fairy tale, pink sandstone, honeycombed hive..." I couldn't see it. The entrance around the back was faced by a yard strewn with debris. This did not stop them however for asking 100 rupees for foreigners, up from the 30 rupees that Lonely Planet had listed. These 300 to 1000 percent increases have become tiresome.

As I have mentioned, the poverty excuse crumbles in the light of the wealth that some Indians enjoy. This residence in the Bani park neighborhood where our hotel was located is owned by a retired officer in the Indian Air Force. Below is a detail of the impressive brass doors and  the inlaid  portico that surrounds them.

The hotel we ended up at was actually the highlight of our visit to Jaipur. It was a little above our budget, but it was the only place we could find with a possibility of staying more than one day. The place, the former palace of a Maharaja, was immaculate in every detail. Above is a view of the common seating area where you could be served drinks or tea.

On the first evening we had a regular room. The beds here were as big as tennis courts. The price for the regular room at $90 US was up about 50% from what the guide books said. After hearing the details of our travels, the super friendly and accommodating staff came down to fifty-five dollars. On the second night they asked us if we could move to a small suite for an additional twelve dollars. This was about half of their published tariff. The balcony for our mini-suite (right) overlooked a small atrium.

The seating area of our "Maharani" suite (left) was tastefully decorated. A peak into one of the "Maharaja" suites revealed a bit more detail.

At left the view across the atrium is to the pool seating, one of the palace's three dining areas. Two full time artisans freehand the ornate detail that is everywhere.

One of the staff spends the entire morning making designs by floating individual flower petals on the top of pots of water (left), or on top of mirrors (center). The photo at right is of the ceiling of the common seating area, a chandelier suspended from a mosaic of tiny mirrors. The same ceiling design adorns the seating area in the Maharaja suite.

The photo above is the last photo I took before my camera went missing. The  artist is Kripal Singh. Mr. Singh is an award winning designer of the traditional local blue pottery. At 83 years old he continues to work daily. The works above are for a book. He is one more reason that the thought of losing the camera was so painful. If you are entering the story in the middle you will have to go to the directory and go back a few pages to get the story of how we got the camera back.