Date: 1 May
Location: Ganesham Textiles, Jaipur, waiting for tailor to make alerations to garments.
Dresses ordered from the tailor: Only two, demonstrating remarkable and uncharacteristic self restraint.
Notable sightings: Camels in the streets, a monkey in the milk bar, a McDonalds Big 'Maharajah' burger with fries.
The dashing Punjabi boy pulls the Tamil girl close as colourful fountains erupt in the college courtyard background and the other students prance. The audience goes absolutely mental and someone behind me yells 'I love you Krish!'. Unconvinced that either the yeller or the feisty Tamil onscreen is the one for him, I munch on my samosa and reserve judgement. It's Bollywood cinema at Jaipur's Raj Mandir and it's awesome. I mean, I can follow fifty percent of it at best (as it's in Hinglish) but doubt I'm missing too many subtleties in this boy-meets-girl-but-they're-from-different-cultures-whatever-will-they-do romcom.
Jaipur, the Pink City, is the capital of the western desert state of Rajasthan. I know I'm not in Arabia but you know the start of Aladdin, in the sand dunes and then down in the Cave Of Wonders? Jaipur is a little like that. Its dusty old town is bursting at its fortress walls with beturbaned silk merchants, palm readers and jewellers selling gleaming gold and glittering jewels. It's as common to see a camel pulling a cart as a donkey and you have to watch your wallet around the monkeys.
Perched up above the city is the Amber Fort. The fort/palace is 17th century and shows an aesthetically pleasing blend of Arabia/Muslim and Hindu styles and showcases the region's marble (also used to build the Taj). The Maharajah who built the palace had 12 wives and our local guide sniggered as he explained that their apartments had had to be scattered – 3 to the east, 3 to the west, 3 to the north, 3 to the south – and connected to the Raj's by secret tunnels, because of cat fighting. Am sure that we females have evolved heaps since then.
A snake charmer teased two cobras in the palace's final courtyard and, in a fit of insane bravery, I patted a cobra (do you 'pat' a snake?). Later, I saw one cobra make a break for it when its basket was left open and I felt a little queasy.
Also tucked in the fort is a temple to the goddess Kali. Kali is the Hindu goddess of death, has a penchant for wearing human heads as jewellery and is best appeased by human sacrifice (but goats will do). She's the original emo. The Kali priests took varying levels of liking to those in our group and doled out various blessings: some received a red mark to the forehead, some a gold mark, some a garland of marigolds, some a single marigold. An American with us didn't get a blessing at all. No one wanted to share a tuktuk with this pariah for the hair-raising trip back down the mountain.
After the palace I did something actually quite silly. One of my local guides mentioned that there's a very famous guru in Jaipur who will read your 'aura'. Yeah, ok. Hippy dippy spiritual shite? I dutifully rolled my eyes. However, we had Kingfishers at lunch, the Guru came up, some of the girls wanted to go and, next thing you know, I'm one of a giggling mass piling into tuktuks directed to this Magic Man. Twenty minutes later, the first girl came out bawling. Eyes rolled again. Then it was my turn. Suffice to say that it was a very weird, very personal experience. This somber little Indian man, in a cheap business shirt, in a tiny office in the back of a jeweller, told me my mother was Canadian, in which year she was born and then a whole tumble of personal things. I was unable to further roll my eyes because, at the end of ten minutes, I too was bawling. The others had similar experiences. I have no idea if this guy is a charlatan or something entirely different, but we didn't pay him a cent and he didn't ask for anything, saying he just wanted to make suggestions to help people live better. I don't know. Shivers.
Clearly thrown by the whole psychic circus, I proceeded to suffer complete bargaining fail at the bazaar later that afternoon:
Silk man, “800 rupees!”
“No! Madam, very good price 700!”
Silk man, “No madam! Ok, ok, 500.”
Me, “550! No, wait! Er, 500.”
Jaipur is also famous for its lassis, which are here served in little terracotta pots. I've had a bajillion in the last few days. The “salt lassis” sound gross, but are really creamy, spicy delicious concoctions. (Just try to forget that it's water buffalo milk while you enjoy.) They say a lassi a day keeps the doctor away.