The previous instalment of this story is Indian Summer: The road to Rajasthan.

ln_2010_02_09_152-1732 The next day began not with a whimper, but with a really nice breakfast on the rooftop of our “heritage” hotel. We were in Jaipur, city of kings. The weather was nothing short of perfect, the beginning of a bright summer day as far as my body was concerned. There was peace and quiet and ginger-honey tea and nan bread and not a care in the world. Alas, it wasn’t meant to last.

Woe to thee, nan bread! Thou and thine alluring, indigestion-inducing masala sauce! My body abruptly stopped enjoying the summer and hastily instructed its owner that the location and apprehension of immediate gastric relief were paramount, if not to my survival, then at least to my enjoyment of this beautiful day. I acquiesced as soon as I was able, and directed our faithful Sunil towards the nearest apothecary, where my quest brought me a handful of pills and a suspiciously-looking bottle, which I ingested momentarily. This treatment, plus an hour’s walk in the beautiful city park were very effective, so much so that I even dared entering an Indian specialty restaurant for lunch. Only this time I ordered the rice.

ln_2010_02_09_152-1734 This is the only “horror” story I have with regard to Indian food. I heard much worse from fellow tourists, but I’ve never experienced any problems either before or since. I share this anyway because so many people asked me about the “food issue” after I came back. Sorry folks, no dysentery stories here. But tremble at my tale of mild discomfort!

That taken care of, we headed for the royal palace in Jaipur, situated right in the middle of the Pink City. It’s not called that way for nothing; all the buildings in the old part of the city are painted pink. This is not for some grand vision of a world where all of us could live in peace, regardless of race, colour or sexual orientation. Rather, to hide the bad quality of the materials used for the buildings. I did not invent this; it was in my travel book.

ln_2010_02_09_152-1733The old city was designed like a mandala, according to the high principles of Hindu architecture and in stark contrast to the confused maze of the typical Middle Age Indian town – a tradition which, dare I say, has been faithfully preserved to this day. The buildings come in multiples of nine, and the architecture that manages to be uniform, but not monotone. It’s still incredibly crowded, of course, but by this time we resigned ourselves to it. India may be a big place, but there’s lots of Indians there, you know – not to mention the hordes of camera-toting, gape-mouthed tourists.

Anyway, after much honking and crawling at naught dot slow per hour and squeezing through spaces where no car should ever pretend to fit, we managed to reach the centre, where our coveted prize was waiting for us. As I understood from Sunil, part of the palace is still occupied by the royals. I hope they have their own parking spots, because I know we didn’t. After circling once, our guide dropped us off in front of the gate and told us that he’ll meet us there later. We got our tickets, armed our camera and in we went.

There are still royal guards in the Royal Palace of Jaipur, looking properly flamboyant with their imposing red turbans and wild moustaches. The moustaches are a Rajasthan tradition, as far as I understood. They’re also very very camera-friendly – at least that was my first impression, when two of them volunteered to have their pictures taken with us. Afterwards I understood that this was also a good source of income for the hard-working military guards – when told in no uncertain terms that I should be leaving a “tip, sir, tip” (big smile). The accompanying gesture of rubbing the thumb and index finger was meant to dissolve any possible misunderstandings.

Aside from this minor inconveniences, the palace itself is amazing. Garishly decorated – Indian style – with elegant sculptured arches and beautiful painted murals, it is a wonder to behold. It is a testament to the mildness of the climate and the care of the palace curators in equal measure, I presume. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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We left the palace behind with a mild sense of regret. There was too much to see, to little time… Already I was starting to feel that dreaded tourist drive known as “the checklist”. So I employed the only cure I knew: getting lost in the crowd on a busy bazaar street at midday, with no particular aim and no intention to buy anything even mildly resembling “souvenirs”.

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By now we needed silence – so we went back to the palace gate. We paid off a couple of beggars1, found our guide and got into the car. “Take us away, Sunil”, I might have said. “Somewhere peaceful. Somewhere quiet. Somewhere devoid of the incessant press of purposely moving human bodies.” I may have sighed deeply at this point.

“I know just the place”, he might have said. And he drove us to another world.

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  1. Begging is a respected tradition and really common in India. People believe they advance (or burn) their karma by giving to the poor, or the unfortunate, or the holy men that may cross their path. Indeed, the begging bowl is since times immemorial a symbol of the wandering saint. In today’s India, begging is an accepted form of social protection – if we can call it that – since the Indian state has little in place to help those in need. []