Cordileone’s pilgrimage to India
Seeing ‘the king’s land’
Day 14: Thursday, January 12
Today was dedicated to a tour of the city of Jaipur.
The first settlements here date back to the year 800 A.D. In the 12th
Century a fortress was erected, and the current city with its royal palace
was built in 1727.
This “new city” was built completely new, planned out from
the ground up. This accounts for the wide streets serving as the major
thoroughfares in the city. I did, in fact, notice that the traffic here
is not quite as harrowing as the other places we have visited. Good thing,
too, because the navigators of the streets here have to make room for
yet another fellow traveler: the camel.
Jaipur is the capital of the state of Rajasthan – a name meaning
“the king’s land” – which stands on the east side
of the mountain range dividing the state in two. The west side is lush,
as it receives the monsoon rains; the monsoon does not penetrate past
the mountains, though, which makes the east side of the state a desert.
Thus, the logic of the prevalence of the camel here.
Our first stop was a visit to the royal palace. The palace is located
within a fortress standing on the top of a high hill, and the outstanding
tourist attraction of the place is the mode of transportation to reach
it: the elephant.
There were probably close to 50 elephants making the trek up the hill
to bring visitors to the fortress; the return trip, though, is by a somewhat
more conventional means of transportation, the jeep. Here I saw another
one of those odd mixtures of the new and the old: an elephant driver riding
atop his beast returning to pick up more passengers talking on his cell
We next visited a center which manufactures textiles, carpets and crafts.
We were given a demonstration and explanation on how these carpets are
made, all by hand. The meticulous detail and craftsmanship is amazing.
They also managed to convince some of us that we wanted to buy one.
We stopped for lunch, and then visited another one of the royal palaces
in the city. Besides the intricate artwork, here we also saw a real-life
snake charmer, with two cobras in his basket. They seemed quite tame,
and he was unphased handling them, but we kept our distance nonetheless.
One of our members wanted to give the man a tip, so he took a few steps
toward him and then rather humorously threw his paper money at him.
I was quite intrigued by the instrument he was playing. It had the shape
and size of a large recorder but with a bulb in the middle of it, and
it sounded like a cross between a bagpipe and an oboe. Like a bagpipe,
he was able to continue playing it while pausing to take a breath.
Jaipur has clearly recently become a premier tourist destination, one
corner of the “Golden Triangle” including Agra and Delhi as
well. From the new and modern airport to the street vendors wherever we
went, the signs were quite apparent. These street vendors, in fact, were
legion and, to be blunt, obnoxious. They would already crowd up to the
door of the bus when pulled up to our stop, and would not leave us in
peace until we were back in the bus and the door was closed. It all seemed
rather crass from my perspective, but I suppose it’s a logical manifestation
of the entrepreneurial spirit when possibilities for prosperity abound
from a newly booming tourist industry.
Our dinner was at a local typical restaurant, which featured native dances
of the region. It was interesting for me to see these dances in comparison
to those I had seen in South India. Make up is not a feature, and more
use is made of wavy motions with the arms and torso. Most striking, though,
is the placement of ceramic bowls on the dancer’s head. One by one,
the dancer reached a total of six of these bowls on her head, with a flame
at the top. It was only after this, though, that she really displayed
her prowess: while continuing to balance the bowls on her head, she bent
down to the ground and picked up a banknote with her mouth; she then,
barefoot, stood on rim of a metal bowl and moved around the room, still
under the six bowls on the top of her head; continuing barefoot and bowl-headed,
she stood on a bed of nails and, unbelievably, on two swords with the
sharp edge of the blade place upward. You had to see it to believe it!