I had eighteen hours in Jaipur – and so much to do! When Bunty’s friend, (my taxi friend in the previous city), named Ramzan picked me up from my early train arrival as promised, I was relieved to avoid the incessant amount of drivers hoping for fares. Atithi Guest House was just minutes away… it was a pleasant oasis on the outskirts of the busy city, offering a spacious and cheap room. Aware of the ticking clock and the exciting metropolis to see, I quickly checked in and readied for my day in Jaipur. This time Ramzan’s brother, “Lucky”, would be my driver for the day. A free-spirited, charismatic 22-year old, Lucky was eager to show me around even though he wasn’t technically an auto rickshaw driver.
Our first stop was the famed Amber Fort where I hiked up the golden walls into the massive fort perched high above the city. The beating sun lit up the centuries-old walls, glowing a bright yellow hue. Amber Fort was large and overwhelming. The place was silent and the corridors wound on and on… I probably only scratched the surface in my self-guided tour. After exploring the four sections of the Fort with the help of my handy Lonely Planet guidebook, it was time for the main event… Lucky was taking me to an elephant orphanage!
Visiting an elephant farm and riding atop one of the majestic
beasts was what I was admittedly most excited for in visiting Jaipur… so this was quite the treat. I was happy to hear Lucky knew of a nearby elephant sanctuary where the elephants are treated very well and not over-worked. (There
is an option to ride an elephant up to the top of Jaipur’s Amber Fort. Please avoid this option as the elephants are mistreated and the tourist trap is over-priced and not worth the money. Just a short ride up the Fort will set you
back the same amount of Rupees which I gladly donated to the workers of the farm after getting an incredible and priceless one-on-one experience). Back to my visit… the second we pulled up to the orphanage I saw a gorgeous grey creature standing in the entranceway. I visited with “Moti”, stroking her wrinkly skin and feeding her sticks of bamboo. I was in awe of her calmness despite her massive size. She seemed content and happy – I immediately liked this place. Next, I was brought to the bathing pond where some of the sanctuary workers were trying desperately to get one stubborn elephant back onshore… he was enjoying his cool respite in the pond far too much to abide. One by one, the local men tried mounting the naked back of the over-sized elephant, swimming neck-deep in the water, thrashing around trying to get him to exit the pool. No such luck. Everyone was laughing at the spectacle.
After a while of this, it was time for the best part – I got to ride Moti! Some locals strapped on a wooden “chair” made up of dried bamboo sticks roped together and some rusty metal, with a pillow to sit on adorning the elephant’s back. I was hoisted some fifteen feet in the air onto my cushioned place where I gripped the sides of my chair and let the fun begin. Lead by a worker sitting on her neck, Moti brought us all around a local mud village. We traipsed through the rocky terrain with ease, my rickety chair swaying back and forth with each thundering step. I couldn’t stop smiling! As if that wasn’t enough, the caretakers let me step carefully from my little chair to sit directly on Moti’s head! I was worried my sharp gym shoes and my weight itself would be too much for the elephant to handle, but was laughed off as I don’t think Moti blinked an eye. I rode the whole way back on Moti’s head and then neck, my legs draped behind her flapping ears. WOW. When we got back to the orphanage I thanked Moti with a kiss on her trunk. She lifted her leg signaling for me to board – so I grasped her neck and stepped on her foot. She hoisted me up onto her back all by myself… and it was incredible.
I was sad to leave this elephant playhouse, but it was time to move on. Lucky brought me to a pretty lake with a mini palace in the center, which reminded me of Udaipur. We met some local children and helped them feed the
fish before venturing back to the city center. Jaipur is called the Pink City – for obvious reasons once you are there. Building after building is painted bright pink – opening its unique goods to the street passersby. The whole town is a blur of pink when riding through at hefty speeds. I explored the over-rated Hawa Mahal, and then the Jantar Mantar Observatory which houses astronomical machines and sun dials built in 1727 – the astronomical knowledge from so long ago was very impressive. The sun dials display the time to absolute perfection. Read more here. Next I visited a textile where I was kindly shown the intricate process of ink-stamping on silky canvasses. Layers of ink are stamped meticulously over one another in patterns to form the detailed silk scarves often found as a trademark of Indian culture. I bought two of the handmade masterpieces for myself… still favorites in my wardrobe.
Exhausted, I headed back to my Guesthouse where I showered, ate
some American cuisine for the first time (penne pasta and grilled cheese), and
took a much-needed nap. Once I felt rested enough, Lucky picked me up to bring me about 25 kilometers south of Jaipur to Choki Dhani, a magical place I had read about while planning my journey. Choki Dhani is a family-friendly carnival of
sorts, where children enjoy an amusement park based on Rajasthani traditions.
The nighttime outdoor park is reminiscent of the Mughal era; it is a well-groomed area with dirt roads lit up by lanterns, lined with traditional
huts directing its guests from one amusement to the next. Shops line a manmade river that winds through the little carnival town, and nearly every type of Indian enjoyment is offered. There are ferris wheel rides, fortune tellers, magicians, dancers, henna painters, and rides on elephants, camels, and donkeys. There are boat rides, puppet shows, and music all around. I really enjoyed
perusing around with an ice-shaved snow cone, watching the families enjoy themselves. I braved a ride on the rickety old ferris wheel which is powered by two men jumping and throwing the iron beams so they spin as fast as possible around the center. (Safe to say this would not pass any sort of safety regulations in the US).
To cap my night took a seat on the floor of a large Rajasthani hut amongst locals for an included meal of assorted meats and curries.
Everything was going just fine, and I felt one with the culture, until I felt something crawling up my back and onto my head… I screeched and jumped up, directing attention on myself from the curious faces enjoying their meals. Not
wanting to cause any more of a scene, I sat back down, my appetite sufficiently gone. Moments later, a woman sitting next to me jumped to her feet in fear – claiming something had scurried on her leg. She laughed off the incident, assuring me it was “only a rat”. WHAT!? There was a RAT on my HEAD?!? I left immediately with plans to spend the evening in the shower.
After saying goodbye to Lucky and showering at the hotel, I packed up my things for another evening train. I had to pay the Guesthouse in cash, so frantically ran around Jaipur looking for an ATM which I found just in time – and paid the place angry at their lack of communication. I made it to the train station to find my ride was thirty minutes delayed. It was just enough time for me to decompress and take in the bevy of the long day’s events.
Just another day in India…
For PHOTOS of Jaipur, visit the Photos page or click here.