Friday, March 4, 2016

On the road to Jaipur

Today was a much slower paced day, after much here and there yesterday.  The drive from Agra to Jaipur is a long one, but it was broken up by two activities.  First, the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri was built by the Mughal emperor Akbar.  Akbar had remained childless, despite having three wives, until someone told him of a holy man living not far from Agra, who would bless him so that he would have a child.  Akbar went to see the man and took blessings, and promised that if he was blessed with a child, he would build a city where the holy man lived, so that he would see the child grow.  Not long after, Akbar's son Jehangir was born.

The city was built and Akbar, his wives, and his court lived there for fourteen years, before moving back again to Agra, leaving Fatehpur Sikri behind.

There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore in Fatehpur Sikri, which appeals to my, "Oo!  Here's a dark room!  I must now explore it!" gene.  In and out through the public and private audience spaces, Akbar's rooms, and the rooms of each of his wives, among others.  The carvings are spectacular and there is even some of the original paint in some of the interior rooms.

There were also a LOT of big, yellow, sting-y insects--wasps, I think.  They lurked in doorways, and snuck up on you in courtyards.  Added more spice to my pokings into dark rooms than I might have wanted.  I've been wearing a scarf over my shoulders for the bulk of the trip, to maintain modesty, although most western women I've seen here do not do so, and in the cities there are also many Indians who do not.  That said, I've found my scarf to be exceedingly comfortable, and also useful.  In this case, I took the thing off my neck and wrapped the whole thing around me.  Less available skin = less opportunities for sharp insects, and the mosquitoes that lurked in clouds in the darkest rooms.

From Fatehpur Sikri, we continued the journey, stopping for lunch at a dhaba.  Since I haven't been eating lunch, and Hitesh apparently worried that my one protein bar wasn't enough, he stopped to pick up oranges and bananas from a roadside vendor, so I added one of each to my repast, and I definitely appreciated having them.  The dhaba was situated in the middle of a millet field.  The Aravalli Hills stretch through this section of Rajasthan, and I spotted two forts on the tops of hills in the distance.

One thing that is difficult to adjust to is restroom attendants.  They meet you at the door, usher you to a stall, and hand you towels after you wash your hands, and of course, you tip them.  Nothing at all wrong with that, but it feels very strange to me.  On the plus side, clean bathroom!

To enter Jaipur, you drive through a tunnel in the hills.  There is always lots of honking--and after observing enough Indian driving, I absolutely understand why everybody is honking all the time--but in the tunnel it just reverberates.  There are all varieties of horns.  Simple horns, horns that go up and down, horns that play music . . . it's astonishing how much of a symphony the roads are.

After exiting the tunnel, you start down the hill into the city.  It's an immediate leap into crowded, urban living, on the edge habitability.  Driving through this section of town only makes arriving at my hotel, the Trident, feel even more surreal.  The vast disparity of wealth in India is evident, and it's impossible not to feel moved and concerned.

One way or another, I made it to my destination. There is a beautiful lake outside my window with a small palace that seems to float on the surface.  There are also, for the first time, mosquitoes in the area.  I haven't seen any inside my room, but have finally broken out the repellent.  Malaria is bad.  Dengue is bad.  Zika is bad.  I would prefer to avoid all of them.

To my surprise, my stomach continues to hold up extremely well.  I've been super-cautious in my eating choices.  Nothing but bottled water or hot tea to drink, and when I make tea in my room, I use my SteriPEN (check these things out, they are so neat) on the water before boiling it twice.  I ignore the tempting cut fruits on the breakfast buffets and have been eating vegetarian since I arrived.  No cold cuts. Definitely no salad.  Indian food in the evenings. I'm getting very good at eating with naan, both because I'm not a giant fan of rice, and also because rice is another place where stomach bugs can hide.  So far, so good.  Fingers crossed that it will continue, and I'm going to go find some wood to knock on.

Tomorrow includes a visit to the Amber Fort and the Samode Palace, where I will apparently be having a fancy Rajasthani feast.  I'm hopeful I can eat more than a little of it.


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