Since it was coming to the end of our trip we decided we’d treat ourselves and stay somewhere really nice. Somewhere with a flushing toilet, hot water and clean bedding.
Our train arrived about an hour late and the hotel manager came to meet us to take us into the city. The whole time we’ve been travelling we’ve seen small groups of people sleeping in the railway stations, little families and people with huge bundles up parcels who I assumed were for the most part travelling on somewhere.
Outside the train station at Jaipur were literally hundreds of people sleeping rough, all lined up in rows on every available bit of pavement. Our hotel man literally stepped over a couple of them to get to the car and we unavoidably had to follow suit.
We were told the next day that they’d all come to celebrate Navratri, a nine day Hindu festival of womanhood, but we’d learned by this point that everything we were told should be taken with a large dose of salt. The celebrations weren’t for another couple of days, so we wondered if what we were seeing was actually large-scale homelessness. As with so many things we’d seen, it was impossible to make out the truth.
So when we arrived at our super-lovely, hot-water-shower, air-conditioned, hand-painted décor hotel, we felt dreadful. The extremes in this country are sometimes unbelievable, and in such a short space of time, we’d found ourselves frequently overwhelmed trying to make some kind of sense of it.
The next day, the hotel manager dropped us into town, and in the course of the five minute journey, spooked us so much with tales of pickpockets and robbers and bandits and scam artists all hanging round the tourist areas, that we were almost paralysed by fear. He pulled out a badge that showed he was undercover for the police on the side, just before he got pulled over for running a red light. So silly, when in real terms Jaipur was no worse or better than any of the other cities we’d visited. But his attitude towards beggars and the poor as an entire class of underworld criminals was less than helpful for two girls who had already had a crime committed against them.
The next day we were back on our old form, and headed out of town to the Amber Fort, running into our old travelling companions, R and C, unexpectedly on the way (in a highly dramatic moment, FF spotted them photographing the Maharajah’s current residence – the water palace – cried out STOP at the taxi driver before vaulting out of the car and sprinting to where she’d seen them, all in less than twenty seconds). The Amber Fort was by far the best thing we saw in Jaipur – complete with mirrored halls, a wall that looked like a mini wall of China and painted explanations of the Maharajah’s sexual preferences on the walls of his wives’ courtyard, for their reference…
And that evening we went out of town again to this time to watch the sunset pink over the pink city from the Tiger Fort, contemplating our final return to Delhi and from there, the journey home.