Saturday, August 2, 2008

Leaving on a midnight train to Georgia...or Jaipur, you pick

There is still another layer below that you can't see! I was basically smashed into the ceiling on the top!
Some palace guards. Check out the mustaches!
Apparently some royal people still live here but they don't have power anymore because India is a democracy.

Midnight Train to Jaipur

 Last night we took a sleeper train from Ahmedabad to Jaipur. We got to the train station in a huge bus which caused a giant spectacle. There is huge security at the train station due to the bombings last week and so we were told to stay on the bus until the luggage porters were sorted out. Our travel guide, Azar, who has been with us the whole time, got off the bus and arranged about 8 skinny guys to haul our luggage. These men all wear turbans and they carry the bags on the tops of their heads. I was very impressed to see someone carrying my bag on top of their head because I can barely lift it. Since we are no longer traveling by air until the trip home I am not worrying about weight limits anymore.

We stood sweating profusely waiting on the platform for the train and as a local train pulled up, people were running, shoving each other, and smushing to get on the train as quickly as possible. Apparently it didn’t have assigned seats and so people rush on to get a seat. After witnessing that spectacle I was really nervous that we would be faced with the same thing. I was very relieved to find out that we had assigned seats.

So, after we were completely soaked in sweat, my pants were soaked through again which is really not that comfortable, our train arrived. Suddenly all the porters were there again and they picked up our bags and put them under the seats in the sleeper car. There are six bunks in each little area and until you are ready to go to sleep, the middle one is folded up so that you have two long bench seats.

The train was air-conditioned because Fulbright had paid for an AC car. Thank goodness they did because that would have been miserable. Basically, we just hung out, chatted, played cards, laughed absolutely hysterically, and ate food that you order at one station and they put it on the train at the next. It was really good Indian food and it was only $1 for enough to feed two people. CRAZY! At about 10pm we decided to put the bunks out and the train people provide you with blankets, pillows, and sheets. Since Lisa and I were the youngest, we had to go to the top bunks which was okay except mine had a huge open vent next to it and I had already seen a cockroach earlier and was really freaked about it.

I tried to sleep but was freezing cold because I was right next to the AC vents and the train was shaking so much that it was like trying to sleep through an earthquake. It was like a little slumber party except that we were bouncing all over the place. I think that maybe I slept for about two hours and then the alarm went off and we had to start organizing the luggage to get off the train because it only stopped for a few minutes. Azar, our guide, told us just to get off the train and follow him and he had arranged porters for our bags. We just got off the train with our carry-ons and headed through the station toward the bus. It was about 5 am and all over the train station there were people just sleeping on the platforms. Little pants-less toddlers curled up next to a sari-draped mom. Entire family groups were sprawled all over the floor and they just kept sleeping as people streamed by them getting off the train.

The bus took us to our hotel and, OMG (to use an expression of one of my students!) it is so beautiful. It used to be a royal palace and has been converted into a hotel. It has huge, manicured grounds with gazebos everywhere and the rooms are absolutely adorable. It has vaulted ceilings and a deep tub and also a stand-up glassed shower. We came in and slept for a few hours and then got up to go for our day.

We took a rickshaw to the main shopping area in the old part of the city just to see what was going on there. About a minute after we arrived, some guy started talking to Lisa and told her that he knows a place where the tourists do not go that is amazing silver jewelry and we could see it being made. Apparently, Jaipur is a big tourist area which I didn’t know but should have guessed by the amount of Westerners that we have seen. This city has the most we’ve seen on this whole trip and actually feels kind of touristy. I have learned that when people take tours from the U.S., they usually go to Delhi, Jaipur, Johdpur, and Agra, which is where the Taj Mahal is. So, there are a lot of foreign tourists staying at our hotel and walking around the city.

Anyway, Lisa was trying to believe this guy was telling the truth. We have been swindled so many times here that usually we are automatically wary of people. But, she wanted to believe him so we followed him all over the place down tight alley-ways where big cows with horns were munching trash. After about 5 turns off the main street I was getting pretty nervous because the consular office here said to avoid areas like that because of the bombings. Eventually we got to a building and what do you know, he was lying and wanted to sell us stuff! We immediately turned around and left and walked back to the main roadway.

We went into some stores and I had my first experience with real bargaining. I don’t think that I am very good at it and still probably paid too much for what I bought, but oh well. Most of the stores we have been visiting have been “fixed price” stores where you don’t have to bargain. I still paid 1500 rupees less than his original price which is about $30 less than he was trying to get me to pay. The rest of the day we were tourists too and went to some other palaces around Jaipur.

Jaipur is in the state of Rajasthan and many of the towns here were ruled by royal families before the British and it was partially still maintained during the British rule. So, there are many forts and palaces here. We also went to a place where they stamp patterns on saris, by hand, with colored ink and a tie-dye factory where it is also all done by hand. I learned some good new tie-dying techniques that I will have to try when I get home. Tomorrow we are going to a fort and there is a possibility that we might get to RIDE ELEPHANTS! I am so excited! So, stay tuned to see what happens with that!

I will be home a week from today and it feels kind of surreal especially when I think about the fact that I have to be on airplanes for SO long. I think my flight from London to Denver is like 12 hours, ouch!


Diane Lauer said...

Hey - did you take pictures of the tie dying factory?

Martin said...

The Indian hospitality industry has seen a major hike in the recent times owing to the astounding industrial growth of the country. The growth in the IT sector has also hugely led to the revolving fortunes of the metros and major cities of the country. Offshore business flowing in and the eagerness of the MNCs to come up in India has led to the obvious growth of the hospitality sector also. Most of the big names in the hospitality industry from India and abroad have their properties in the important commercial hubs of the country. However, surprisingly, the hospitality industry is not that vigorously promoted in one of the most important metros of the country, Kolkata. In the past decade Kolkata has also seen major industrial growth. But unfortunately, the West Bengal state Government hasn’t shown much inclination towards the development of the hospitality industry of the state in general and the hotels in Kolkata in particular. Inspite of the repeated appeals from the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Eastern India, the state government hasn’t come up with steps that would boost the growth of the hospitality industry. Most of the suggestions and appeals made by the Association have gone unheeded. On the contrary, the state government increased the luxury tax payable by the air conditioned budget hotels in Kolkata and the ones in the rest of the state by a whopping 650%. Change in excise duties, reduction in the bar license renewal fee etc have also not been worked upon. In one word, the government seems to be underestimating the need to strengthen and boost the hospitality industry in the wake of unprecedented industrial growth. With proper etching out of the taxes and fees payable by the hotels of the state, the state government can make the business hotels in Kolkata and other renowned hotels of the state bring in huge profits for the state.