We’ve been settled in Jaipur for a couple of days now and it’s time to venture out from our comfortable neighbourhood to visit one of the local libraries. A quick look at Google Maps tells me that we’ll need to catch a tuk tuk to get where we’re going. And so we make our way to the main road. We don’t get far from our house when we’re met by Anni.
There are a number of street dogs that live in this neighbourhood, but Anni is a special one. On my first trip to Jaipur another guest at my homestay met her and fell in love. Soon she was feeding her every day and even took her to the vet to be spayed. She’s always accompanied by her friend Benji, a much shyer dog who seems very interested in us but never brave enough to come closer than a foot or two away.
Every day of our stay in Jaipur we are met by these two. Often we don’t know where they come from. The streets seem empty and then, a minute or so later there the two of them are. I don’t know if it is our sound or smell that brings them. They greet us and then escort us to the main road. They never follow us beyond it.
We tell the driver to take us to near Tripolia gate and off we go. I find Jaipur one of the easier cities to get around in. Streets are mostly walk-able and even able to be crossed by the average hesitant westerner. Some intersections even have traffic lights. Other forms of transit from Uber to tuk tuks are available almost everywhere and at a very reasonable price.
As we get closer to the old city the traffic picks up until the point where the driver suggests we get out and walk the rest of the way.
We find ourselves on a street filled with book stalls. Most sell text books and other books designed to help people with their school or to prepare for tests. I take advantage of the opportunity to buy myself several Hindi children’s books that I’ll use for practice when I get home.
We saunter toward the gate. Occasionally a tuk tuk driver stops us to suggest that they could take us on a tour. One even brings over his current customer, a man from England on a film shoot (a documentary about people riding around India on Brompton folding bikes – eee!), to vouch for him. We’ve already got a great driver for the tours we want to do so we pass.
Never ones to go directly to our destination, we wander down several side streets past sari shops, jewelry stores, and even a whole block of “Wedding card” stores. Along the way we meet many people. Some call out to us to hopefully sell us something while others just want to find out who we are and where we’re from. It’s a delightful walk. Sage talks much more about it here.
We come out from our last side street and ask someone where the library is and he directs us to the other side of the busy street. We watch traffic, find our opening, and then, taking a cue from someone else crossing, start across. I think we’re getting the hang of this.
Safely across we find our way to the entrance.
The building looks wonderful, done in a style that fits in well with the other buildings around it. I was curious to read some history about the library but my searching on the Internet came up fruitless. It’s definitely old but just how old is still a mystery to me.
We walk inside and stop at the security desk. Though he has a guest register, we didn’t have to sign in as I did when visiting the libraries in Mumbai. He only asked us to leave our bags – no problem. I double-checked with him and, indeed, we were not only welcome to explore, we were at liberty to take whatever photos we liked.
The design reminds me of some of the Havelis I’ve visited. There’s an open courtyard in the middle surrounded by rooms coming off of it.
In the courtyard today are a number of students who appear to be studying. Someone’s motorcycle is parked here as well – for safekeeping, no doubt.
We make our way up the dark stairwell to the second floor. One room, apparently devoted to periodicals is in use by people so we start there.
I’m very excited to see that the card catalog is still in use.
The entire place smells deliciously of old books and I’m happy to see so many people here reading, studying, and relaxing. But all of them seem to be clustered in two places: the periodicals room (with the card catalog) and downstairs in the courtyard.
That said, there are several more rooms – all empty of people. But we see no signs saying we can’t go in and so we explore them as well. They are delightful in their dusty abandonment.
I’m of two minds of this library. On the one hand, the age and decrepitude are a book lover’s dream. What secrets are in here? What amazing books could you find if you looked?
On the other hand, there’s clearly a demand for books and reading is very popular. Bookstores in India are packed, and newspapers are still very much read day to day. After visiting here I talked to some people who asked where it was, saying that they couldn’t afford to buy books but that a free library would be amazing. Imagine if there were enough revenue to upgrade the space, buy new books, have programs? Would there be demand for this? Or is it just my looking at it through the eyes of someone used to the Toronto Public library and not understanding the cultural context.
In any case, we have a wonderful visit and I’m glad we went – not only for the library but as I am back home, for the chance to visit the neighbourhood around it.
After some time in the library we’re ravenously hungry and no library visit of mine would be complete without a visit to eat somewhere in the neighbourhood.
Sage and I walk up and down the streets, looking for somewhere that sounds good. Finally, with the help of Google Maps we find our way to Samrat Restaurant. We almost miss it walking by, thinking it’s just a samosa stall. But once we go in we’re taken downstairs to the basement, in to a small dining room.
I order samosas for both of us and then chole bhature for us. The samosas are tasty and not oily at all. Though they’re fried the pastry feels baked they’re so well cooked.
Every trip I go on seems to include a dish I eat more of than any other. When Daegan and I rode our bikes to New York City, we ate lots of fish and chips, for example. This trip to India, I’m finding that I’m eating lots of chole bhature. As you can see it consists of a bowl of delicious curried chickpeas and two deep fried breads (bhature). On the side are lime, red onion and a delicious green chilli pickle.
All conversation stopped and we dug in to our delicious meals. The chickpeas were tasty, and delightfully spicy. I am being spoiled by visiting somewhere that people don’t make everything mild because they’re worried about the local Canadian palate. Here they’ve made it the way they make it and visitors need to deal with it. And I’m more than happy that they did.
Full of delicious food and with a backpack full of Hindi children’s books for me to practice with we find our way to another tuk tuk and are soon on our way home.
If you’d like to read more about our trip to India, or previous ones, visit my Travels to India page. And if you’re interested in reading more about visits to libraries – mostly in Toronto but also in other cities around the world, visit the Toronto by Library page.