I made a comment today on a post at Jaipur Through My Lens and was asked by Arv, the owner of the blog, what I had seen in Jaipur. I started to type my comment and realized that if I wasn’t careful I would wind up writing an entry as a comment to his already excellent post. And so instead I’ll write it here.
To understand my experience in Jaipur we have to start in Varanasi, a wonderful city where I had so many excellent experiences that I will have to save for another entry. On the day before Diwali I found myself struggling to find where the train to Jaipur was. The sign board said one thing, people said another, and then I went down to the track itself and a train for an entirely different destination was sitting there. After much walking around, down to one platform, up to the station, down to another one, I finally found my platform just as the train was rolling in.
I found myself sharing a section of an AC2 train with an engineer, a professor, and a young family – a husband and wife with their 5 year old son, Vedant. The train got on its way several hours late and before long I was getting hungry. My seatmates suggested that I ask the staff on the train who would call ahead to a station and order me some food if needed. The next time he came through I caught him and asked in my best Hindi (which is somewhat above toddler level) for some food. After some discussion they ordered me a dinner. They said it would be 350 rs – about $7 Canadian. When I got back to my seat my seatmates were horrified – that is way too much! Those guys are cheating you! And as if to prove it, 5 minutes later, a person came through taking dinner orders. My seat mates suggested I order here and tell the other guy that I wouldn’t need food after all. And so I did. I had a delicious dinner of dal, aloo matar, delivered to me – about 3 hours earlier than the other food was expected – for 80 rs: $1.60.
I went to bed soon after and had a fitful sleep. The train seemed to stop and start quite often – and not just to load people but to just sit on the tracks. Sometimes there would be voices outside, and other times there would be strange chemical smells. As the night went on I started to get a little dizzy but I figured it was more to do with the constant movement.
The next day I woke up with a headache. I figured it was caffeine withdrawal. I drink a lot of coffee back home and today I only had a couple cups of chai and an aloo paratha to start my day. But I did have a great distraction. Vedant wanted to play. For most of the day we played games – hiding things in our hands and playing “which hand is it in?”, stone paper scissors, and a game he invented where he would tell me to look outside at something exciting – a flood, ghosts, a giant bird with red eyes, and when I looked he would poke the back of my head. When I would look back he would howl with laughter and tell me that a mosquito had bitten me. All told it was about a 24 hour journey on this slow and delayed train, and this five year old did stunningly well at being cooped up in a train for many hours.
Before I got off in Jaipur the professor we were traveling with who was mostly silent the whole trip passed on his business card and told me to call him if I needed anything at all. This was one of the most common experiences I had in India – everyone wanted to be sure I had a good time and everything went well.
Getting an autorickshaw was especially easy this time and the prices were quite reasonable. My host, Nitin, had told me what to expect in terms of cost and when I proposed it to the driver they were fine with it. Unprecedented for this trip before or since – usually their opening offer was 4-5x the going rate.
I got to my hosts house and we had chai and snacks on the patio. I still had my headache even after having some Tylenol but I didn’t care. I was having too much of a good time. It was Diwali and the fireworks had already started. The weather was delightful and there were other guests and my host’s family to chat with. What could a small headache possibly matter?
Before long it was time for the various pujas to be performed first at the store of my host’s dad, then the house we were staying in, and then we headed up on the roof to place more diyas.
After the diyas were placed we let off some fireworks. These are no North American style fireworks but serious ones – the kind that take your hand off and make your ears ring – and many folks had much bigger and louder ones.
Then we headed over to the school my host ran to place more diyas there and see some of the people in that neighbourhood. After that, we needed to get more fireworks as the night was young and there was lots of celebration yet to come. And so we drove to the store to get some. My host went inside and as I sat waiting in the car I noticed something. I did not feel good at all. I was really dizzy and was starting to get cold. Something was not right. I asked what we had planned for the evening and as it turned out we had lots of visiting to do and were likely to be out until late in the night. I said I wasn’t feeling well and they offered to drive me home. As I went up the stairs to the apartment, I got really cold – like standing outside in Canada in the winter shivering cold. I hurried as best I could up the stairs and though it was well over 30 degrees Celsius outside, I put on sweatpants and a hoodie and crawled under the covers. I shivered and dozed for a while, eventually getting so cold I put my entire head under the blankets to stay as warm as possible. While I was cold, though, I noticed an odd thing: my body was radiating heat like a furnace. I am pretty sure I had the biggest fever I had ever had in my life.
Eventually Nitin and his family returned and he came in to check on me, and was really concerned about my fever. He brought me some Acetominophen and I took it.
It stayed down about 5 minutes before I was ill.
Eventually I was able to get to sleep and though I only threw up once more in the night, I knew I couldn’t eat or drink. Meanwhile, as the night went on, the fireworks got louder and louder. It was a very surreal experience to be in a totally different country, feverish to the point of near-delerium while explosions and cheering went on outside. The sound didn’t die down until the morning.
Morning came and I was thirsty. I felt as if I could take a gallon jug of water and guzzle it. And then throw it all up immediately. This really worried me – clearly I was approaching dehydration. I decided that the best course of action would be to sip very small sips of water, see how I did, and sip again if I could. Eventually I was able to get a good amount of water down and started to feel confident enough that I could take a couple of the precious antibiotics I brought with me without fear of them coming up immediately leaving only one left.
They stayed down. I was still wiped out and lay on the couch under a blanket. Nitin woke up and brought me some digestive biscuits and more Acetominophen and those stayed down as well. I was definitely on my way to recovery. Soon, it was time for him and the other guests to go visiting again. And I was left in the house alone.
Before long there were calls from outside the apartment door. There were guests! I stood up, doubtless looking ridiculous in the 30 degree heat still in my layers, in desperate need of a shower. They were wondering where the family was. I invited them in in my best toddler-Hindi and chatted with them a bit. This happened a couple of times. I don’t know which side of the experience was more surreal, theirs or mine.
Eventually Nitin and the others came back and by this time I was feeling pretty good. More food was brought out which I greedily ate. My body was feeling better and wondering why I hadn’t been eating. A bit later, we headed out for delicious paneer tikka masala and aloo tikki and an amazing coffee. I was out of the woods.
But so far I’d seen very little of Jaipur. A little of the train station, some of the neighbourhood where I was before I got sick, and that’s about it. I had expected to have a full day when I arrived (eaten up by the train delays), and ate up another whole recovering from my illness. I had one full day to experience Jaipur before I would leave the next day around noon.
Nitin arranged a car for me and another guest and we rode around the city on a whirlwind tour. We made a stop at City Palace and Jantar Mantar – the latter one of my favourites. Though it was, of course, visually striking, the most interesting part was how our guide was able to show us how the instruments were used. After that we headed over to the Amer Fort.
Pictures (OK, my pictures, anyway), don’t do the space justice. It was so large and so ornate. I had a hard time imagining not only what it took to build it but to maintain it as well. What was it like at its height? How many people were there? (I almost imagine there being as many people there living/working then as were visiting when I was there) It was spaces like this in India that have really created feedback loops for me. I got interested in visiting India thanks to lots of reading about history and culture. Once I got there, seeing the places I had read about made me want to read more. Now I’m back home and reading more.
And now I know that before long it will be time to return – and hopefully for more than 24 fully functional hours in Jaipur.