We have been amazed at how the assortment of vehicles manages on the busy roads apparently with minimal conflict or collisions. Today we were going to find out first hand on our bicycle tour. Fortunately I was feeling much better than I had yesterday.
We woke at 5:30 am, dressed, and ate manadarins to go with our morning malaria medication. Breakfast was to be part of the tour so we headed down to meet our tuk tuk driver, the same one who assisted us with the parcel yesterday, at 6:00 am. He drove us through a maze of almost deserted streets to the meeting point for our bicycle tour with Le Tour de India. There were just the two of us signed up for it this morning. We had prepaid when we booked the whole tour but evidently nobody else was attracted by cycling though two had booked for a balloon ride.
We were met by Umesh and his assistant who rode behind the group and looked after the bicycles when we needed to leave them for some reason. After a brief orientation and some adjustments to seat height for Majella we were away with Umesh leading and us following. Initially there was very little traffic so we had time to build confidence with the bikes and the tour process.
First stop was just around the corner where we fed a cow some green leafy plant, probably a legume, for good karma. Then we were off into the old pink city where we stopped at a chai shop which had been run by one family for generations, operating 5 am until 11 pm each day. One of the sons was there on the early shift and would be replaced later in the day by a brother, father or grandfather. He had a big bowl of milky tea bubbling over a gas burner. The secret of their reputed quality is that they don’t add water to the milk. Eventually we were offered cups of the strong sweet milky brew. The cups are single use earthenware that is not fired and can be recycled. Chai is not our usual early morning brew but we enjoyed it. Umesh explained later that in deference to the Jain community who do not eat root vegetables there is no ginger in that particular chai.
Next stop was outside the Albert Hall Museum, named for the Prince of Wales when he visited in the 1870s. The vehicular gates are locked overnight so people can access the grounds for morning exercise but we were able to carry our bikes in and out through the pedestrian gates. That allowed us to get close to the building.
We rode back into the pink city and stopped in front of Jawa Mahal. It is taller than the surrounding buildings and features a large number of rounded bay windows on each of the levels that narrow toward the top. Umesh had us pose for photos he took on Majella’s phone. At that hour of the day with little traffic he was able to command better and clearer shots than we could manage when we paused there with the full group later in the day.
A little way on we left the bikes with the assistant and Umesh led us into the morning markets where we saw people carrying goods in and setting up for sale. A woman walked by with two baskets of product on her head. Umesh encouraged us to try lifting one nearby but neither of us could lift what he estimated was 38 kg. We walked through that section of market and into the flower market where he presented us with garlands of marigolds to wear around our necks.
Umesh had acquired four bananas from one of the stalls and given us one each. As we hurriedly left the market for our next stop he offered the fourth to a monkey which happily accepted and retired to a tree to eat it.
In a nearby park we saw four older men sitting on a mat in yoga position and chanting. Umesh stepped onto the grassed area and emitted a loud call at which a group of about 20 men assembled in a circle and we all worked through a session of laughter therapy. That started with arm raises and loud guffaws, progressed to high fiving around the circle followed by a roaring lion pose, and finished with clapping and chanting in unison.
We hurried on to a nearby Hindu temple to catch the early morning Krishna ceremony. A crowd of people was standing and chanting while they waited. When the curtain was opened to reveal the image of Krishna the tempo and volume increased.
By that time we had been riding for almost 90 minutes and it was time for real breakfast. That was samosa filled with potato and kachori filled with lentils. Both were tasty but filling and I was beginning to feel overfull again. Next door was a man making and selling jalebi, a pastry extruded like a pretzel to be fried in ghee and then soaked in hot sugar syrup – tasty but full of fat and sugar.
The final part of breakfast was lassi – sweetened yoghurt drink. We had those in the same type of single use recyclable containers as the chai. It was delicious but filling on top of all we had already eaten.
On the way back to our starting point Umesh took us to a shop that makes and sells marble statuary of Hindu gods. Mostly it was polished white marble but there were some painted colourfully. Whether it is painted depends on where it will be used. We also saw how henna was used to reveal tiny imperfections that would need to be polished out. Our tuk tuk was waiting to take us back to the hotel where we had about 40 minutes to rest and prepare for the group outing.
After a quick briefing from Ruby we climbed into the bus and headed through the pink city. We paused briefly for photos at Jawa Mahal and then drove out of town to the Amber Fort – named for the city rather than colour or substance – which was the capital before Jaipur was built. The fort, actually a palace, is perched above the old city which is surrounded by a defensive wall that runs for 18 km up and down hills with smaller forts at key points.
The roads in the old city were too narrow for our bus which dropped us at a point with a view across an artificial lake to the city above. There was a snake charmer there who charmed Majella, assuring her that his cobra had no venom. We had seen it strike at another charmer and were not so sure of its behaviour but Majella sat down beside the man for his performance.
Jeeps took us through the city and up to the palace. Once there Ruby had arranged a guide who had been working there as a guide since 1959.
Until 1949 the building had belonged to the maharajah but the government took it over and opened it to tourists in 1951. Parts of the building date from the 12th century but other sections were built in the 17th century. We were escorted through three courtyards – public, royal family, and women’s. The elaborate marble and mirror decorations in the first and second courtyards were quite stunning, as were the gardens which were in the design of a Persian rug. At one time the maharajah had 12 wives and 200 concubines though we were told the latter were essentially friends and companions of the wives. The wives were not allowed to enter each other’s apartments but could meet in the centre of the large courtyard. Each had a secret access to passages that led to the maharajah’s apartment when he wanted to see them. The building included many detailed stone carvings and walls painted with coloured floral patterns that we were told were the original paint.
On the way back to the city we paused for photos at the water palace. That had been a summer residence surrounded by an artificial lake on the edge of the city.
Lunch was at Hotel Glitz. We opted for the buffet. I was feeling better by then and did not eat a great deal but soon began to feel uncomfortably full again. The food was good, varied and tasty, but it seems my capacity to eat has been reduced.
Next door was a fabric store where we watched a demonstration of block printing with traditional wooden blocks. Inside the store we were offered tea or coffee and watched a presentation of the variety of products they had for sale. A kurta top caught Majella’s eye but it was too small. She tried some more with the same result but then took advantage of the offer to make one to fit in a fabric of her choice and deliver it this evening. That was a 1500 rupee investment.
We opted to rest in our room for the two hours until dinner time rather than attempt anything more. I was feeling bloated again and expecting I would not want to eat more today.
Dinner was at a rooftop restaurant, 7 stories up with a view all round over the city. We left the hotel at 5:30 pm to be there for sunset. I did not eat dinner but had two cups of ginger and lemon tea that seems to be helping. Majella enjoyed her beetroot kebabs with steamed rice. It was a fun night with lots of interesting conversation on a variety of topics. Tomorrow the bus leaves at 7:30 am for Agra.