Sunday, October 05, 2014

Palaces, Photo Op's and Prescriptions in the Pink City

Our "Tourist Vehicle"
After what felt like a blink of sleep we were already saying bye to Delhi - but not too quickly as with rush hour traffic it took a good half an hour to get near the suburbs let alone out of the city. Saying that, Delhi doesn't really have suburbs - it has satellite cities such as Guargaon where all the call centres you know so well are located. They have built tons of housing for the workers at these centres and I can't help but see it like a modern technological equivalent of the building of tenements in the industrial revolution. We trundled out in our specially painted "Tourist Vehicle" which was an air conditioned bubble in the swarms of rush-hour Delhi traffic - it also meant we were like an elephant in the Arctic: easy prey. India is always described as a colourful place and I now know that that is relating to the people: from their colourful saris to their colourful personalities. The cities themselves are actually lacking in colour and a bit worn and crumbling and every single piece of space is used for advertising of some form - from houses to natural boulders at the roadside everything is painted advertising something. Most likely it's to do with education or even showing off a local student who got 99% in his degree exams.

This lack of colour is true for cities like Delhi, but not so much Jaipur which is known as the Pink city due to the colour of the stone used to build the walled city. People also always say India is a "country of contrasts" due to the wealth spectrum and we got a proper taste of it in Jaipur where mansions and slums were merely walls apart. In fact, compared to Delhi Jaipur was a bit like India on steroids.

The drive to our hotel took us through a mad market (for India) and our guide kept mentioning how the hotel had so much "character" and so we slowly reached for our hand sanitiser and sleeping bag liners. It is safe to say that we were more than pleasantly surprised when we drove through the gates of Hotel Bissau Palace which was a bit like what The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was trying to be. It was an ornate palace that once belonged to a noble in the city but now due to land ownership laws it was converted into a hotel which had that smell of being full of history.

In the evening we went on an orientation walk which simply took us down the main road from the west gate but that was almost enough to take in every single sight and smell we assumed India had to offer. Then Manu (our guide) led us up too a Hindu Temple (partially reclaimed by monkeys) which offered a view of a Fort as well as the much more scenic construction works for the Jaipur Metro.

In the evening we were going to one of the things I was probably most excited about coming to India for: a Bollywood film. We threw ourselves in a Tuk-Tuk which weaved it's way to the Raj Mandir cinema which was a beautiful art deco building in the centre of Jaipur. The film we went to see was called "Mary Kum" and was a biographic film on a famous female Indian boxer. It wasn't a typical masala Bollywood film that I had become used to but there were still some elements where you had to forget about reality for while. One of the highlights was actually during the interval (yes Bollywood films are that long that they need an interval) when a woman asked for a photo with the tourists.

The following day was our main sightseeing day and we were bundled out at 8am to go see the Amber Fort via Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Winds. Our concept of time is completely lost here because at any time of day the streets are absolutely full of both tourists and locals pushing past in a rush to get somewhere but I never quite worked out where everyone was heading at every hour of the day. The Palace of Winds is basically a large sandstone building covered in windows in the middle of the street which to allowed the ladies of the past to nose on everybody on the street when they were not allowed to leave the palace itself.  Passing elephants, snake charmers and even the odd Mercedes Benz  we made our way up to the Amber Fort and were transported to the age of Arabia except with more tourists and flashy cameras. Drums were playing along to charmers horns and elephants paraded along the edges of the courtyard and only a few hawkers actually came up to pester you. We ascended each level of the fort which had numerous beautiful courtyards on each level alongside increasingly stunning views above Jairpur to compliment them. I couldn't help thinking how good a game of hide and seek could be here...

On the way back into the city we spotted a photo opportunity as we saw a camel elegantly sitting at the side of the road. We each paid 50 rupees to ungracefully get on the beast which had mastered the art of folding away excessive meters of limbs where it lost all form of elegance. After the photo opportunity we wandered past the Water Palace which was a serene palace built on a lake surrounded by mountains - pretty much my ideal house. Our final site for the day was the City Palace in the centre of Jaipur and you may have noticed by now that I get far to distracted by the pretty buildings to listen to history but the palace not only contains museums but it is also still a royal residence for the Maharaja of Jaipur.

In the afternoon we visited the numerous bizarres along the streets where I managed to get my first sari before meeting for dinner. Before then though I had to run to a nearby doctors to get my foot checked out as it has swollen and blistered after a mosquito bite. Visiting a doctor in a foreign country is always interesting but let alone visiting one in India. The office was in this shady breeze-blocked building adorned with faded posters of smiley westerners with the words "Acute Pain" next to them. After only a ten minute wait after arriving and I was seeing the doctor (probably a white tourist privilege) and the doctor himself actually had a lovely bedside manner and filled out a massive form in script that I think was English but as with most doctor's handwriting it could easily have been Hindi. His little minions went to the attached pharmacy and handed me a plastic bag of pills of different colours and after paying him £6.50 I was on my way to recovery. If only it was like that at home?!

Traffic en-route to Jaipur
Poverty and privilege side by side

Coming into Jaipur

Out hotel foyer


Being a tourist

Metro Construction

Palace of Winds

Amber Fort

Water Palace

City Palace

My prescription...

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Ribbons and Umbrellas

I'm going to completely fast-track my blog entries to yesterday where we went on a little explore of Hong Kong during these protests and I thought I'd tell you what it's like as someone who is here but is completely unaware of all things politics. As far as I am aware the whole story has been on worldwide news but essentially it is all about keeping democracy in Hong Kong which is a Special Administrative Region of China. If you want to know more on what it's all about then this is a good post as you all know I'm not good with political mumbo-jumbo:

If Hong Kong was a cinema, Hong Kong Island is currently a new blockbuster which is The Anabolic Expendables and Lamma Island is a silent film. I'm situated in this silent film so we've felt very far away and have only seen what's on the TV so we decided to go take a look at the excitement. As we stepped off our ferry Hong Kong looked like usual - locals hurrying around and expats sitting at the Beer Bay steps. Our first clue was a line of police trucks and then the notable lack of public transport running through the centre. It was only once we got past the Bank of China where we began to see completely empty streets and crowds building. The streets were immaculately clean and the only remanants of people being there were the barriers and police cones used to contain them. We discovered that this cleanliness was to do with the impressive recycling system the protesters had put it place. In fact they'd managed to organise a microcosm with food stations, first aid points and recycling areas all organised through a communal effort with no real logistics manager in charge - it was all quite impressive considering the majoirty of people involved were students ( I don't think you'd see British students being quite so organised in clearing up after themselves!). The news seems to be portraying the whole thing as quite violent but everything I've seen so far has been quite peaceful and pretty inspiring really!

This girl was handing out cold, wet towels and was very talkative!

852 being the area code for Hong Kong

Sitting out in the heat meant a spot in the shade was lucrative!

It was all quite calm really!

It's being called the Umbrella Movement/ Umbrella Revelution after
umbrellas used for shade were used against tear gas

Examples of the ridiculously organised resource stations

Yellow ribbons are the symbolic support of the movement and
are slowly covering Hong Kong