It was mid-week, and we were going to Kerala on Saturday morning. I wanted to go to Jaipur, but it wasn’t looking possible. Lesa and Jon arranged for auto rickshaws and other rides for Lesa to get to work and for the kids to get to and frm school so that Chauhan could drive me to Jaipur.
Several people have warned me of the dangers of hiring an unknown driver, so this seemed like the best option. Most of the warnings were about taking a tai from Delhi to Noida at night, because parts of Noida are desolate, and there have been a number of crimes. Yipes!
I got my iPod ready with a mixture of American and Indian music, and Chauhan and I were off to Jaipur on July 22. Immediately, I was so excited to be outside of a city. I loved the rolling hills off in the distance as we entered Rajasthan.
We also saw lots of animals along the road, including elephants and camels. The elephants where brought here to do work, as they would not normally live in such an arid climate (as I read in the Lonely Planet).
On that first day, we went to the Amber Fort. As we drove up to the Amber Fort, I loved the view of this temple:
The Amber Fort is surrounded by a great wall, a smaller version of The Great Wall of China, as they tout.
As we were nearing the fort, a man approached Chauhan and they commenced speaking in another language. Then Chauhan told me he was an official guide and that he would charge me Rs 150. My sister recommended getting an official guide. Chauhan knew I wanted a guide, because someone offered at the parking gate, and I expressed interest, but that guy was clearly not an official guide. This guide showed me some little book that looked a little like a passport and had his photo, but it was in Hindi (I think). I had no idea if this guy was for real, but being a foreigner and not necessarily knowing what is the real deal or not, I went with it. Chauhan would likely not know the real deal either, as he is from out of town and not usually a traveler. The tour this guide gave me was informative and matched what Lonely Planet had to say, so he was not giving me misinformation. So the tour itself was fine.
This is the main gate.
The fort was beautiful, and I become increasingly enamoured of the detailed windows.
This fort is well known for its Hall of Mirrors.
In Rajasthan, there are the requisite snake charmers at all of the tourist hotspots. I watched these guys for awhile. I wanted to give them some money, but I was too afraid to get close to the snakes. Chauhan did it for me, and even he stood back a good distance and tossed the money. I imagine the cobras have had their venom removed, but just in case… We actually saw a cobra one day. While Jon and I were in a temple, Chauhan saw a cobra in a parking lot. He made sure we saw it. It is particularly auspicious to see a cobra in the moth of July, as cobras represent Shiva, and July is Shiva’s month.
After the tour, the guide wanted to take me to a factory where they make handicrafts. Of course I should have known better, but I was alone, confuse, hot… So I went with this guide. There, they showed me how carpets are made, block printing is done, and gem stones are finished. Then they brought me inside to try to sell me carpets. Clearly, I was not going to buy a carpet. They told me ad nauseam how this was a fixed price government emporium, cheaper than you would get elsewhere, etc.
Well…I did want a table cloth and perhaps a wall hanging. Stupidly, I let them sell me overpriced wall hangings and table cloths. I suppose this has to happen in order for one to really learn, but it sucked. I knew it was happening, too. Ugh! To top it off, I paid the guide Rs 200, because I thought that was the price. Chauhan later pointed out I tipped him very well.
Then Chauhan wanted to stop to show me this lake palace. (Chauhan had driven Lesa’s family on a ten day trip to Rajasthan in March.)
Finally, we made it inside the walled pink city of Jaipur.
When I went to my homestay that night, Madhuban, we were initially planning on going to see a movie. We would each have dinner, and then Chauhan would pick me up and we would go. Alas, the movie times did not work out, so I spent the night in my room, stewing on being ripped off. It sucked. It was not so much about the money, but about someone intentionally duping me. It felt malicious. If the money were actually going to the makers of the crafts, then okay. But the money, instead, was going to some dishonest salesman. I was feeling so foreign and alone. I had no internet access, so I could not call Sujal. If Sujal had been with me and we got ripped off together, then at least we would have been together. But now I felt so alone. SO alone and SO foreign. I felt like I could trust no one. I began to wonder if Chauhan took a cut in this deal. The temptation is great for drivers to bring tourists to shops for a commission. Chauhan had always struck me as straightforward and honest, and now I questioned this.
I think he most likely was not “in on” anything; rather, he was not familiar with hiring a guide. But that night was a long night with little sleep involved. When I woke in the morning, I was tired and tearful.
When Chauhan picked me up, I had pulled myself together to face the day with a positive attitude. I was going to see the City Palace and Hawa Mahal. I was going to have a lassi at the best lassi stand in the world. Then I went out to the car. Chauhan introduced me to his “brother.” (Brother could be any relation — cousin, friend, etc — as it implies as close relationship, not just a birth-related brother.) He had spent the night at his “brother’s” house, and did I mind if he rode in the car with us?
Suddenly, the distrust all came back with an overwhelming punch. Who was this guy? Was I about to be hosed again? I didn’t know what to say, other than that it was fine. Of course there are many other obvious responses, but one often finds oneself in uncomfortable situations in India. Sometimes it is a language barrier, sometimes cultural barriers, etc. I didn’t want to be rude or unreasonable. So we began driving, and the feelings of foreignness and distrust descended upon me, as did the tears down my face. Chauhan had been telling me about the “brother” when he looked back and saw that I was quietly crying.
Immediately he asked what had happened. I responded with, “Nothing.” And he pressed saying that something bad had happened. I just said that I was upset that I had been ripped off the day before and that I was feeling very foreign and alone. Again, I pulled myself together as we drove the Hawa Mahal.
While I was at Hawa Mahal, exploring the inside by myself, Chauhan called Lesa. Lesa then called me. Then Lesa called Jon, and Jon called Chauhan. Then the “brother” left. Jon basically told Chauhan that it would be hard for me to trust a strange person in the car with us, especially when I was traveling alone. Chauhan then apologized to me so many times. Ultimately all was fine, but it all out a blight on the Jaipur trip.