I arrived in Jaipur in the morning, disembarking the train and staggering out of the low white building to the street, swarming with tuk-tuk drivers and taxis. I wandered off towards the left, looking for an internet cafe, and asking along the way. I found one about half a mile up the road, and ducked in. A young man and an older man were the proprietors, but they allowed me to use the computer without much hassle. They seemed confused by my efforts to find a hostel, and eventually I left, continuing left. When I reached the corner, I saw a sign for a hotel and went inside. The doorman was suave, but surprisingly friendly and helpful. He told me I couldn’t stay there, and laughed at my outrage, saying some hotels were only for Indians. He said he would call his friend, who owned a guest house. I was unsure, but so tired after 2 days on the train and drudging along under my pack that I agreed. He called, and allowed me to speak to the man on the telephone, who agreed to come pick me up.
He arrived in an actual car, with air-conditioning, which was peculiarly comforting. And that’s how I ended up at Sundar Palace. It looked great from the outside, which made me worried about prices, but they were fair, low even, for the room, about 400 rupees. It was a shared room, but there were no other guests. They were undergoing renovations, and there was evidence of construction all over: plaster splatters, stairways sans rails, floors without walls. It was cool though, and right next to the old fort. After a shower, I threw on my sari and went out to investigate.
The walk from the old fort down to the Polo Monument was just the beginning of the constant bother I would get from tuk-tuks and taxi drivers. Yelling, honking, hollering–you can’t escape even by ignoring, but there’s no other option. I watched the women put the end of their saris over their heads and around their faces, helping with the dust and pollution, and giving me a small feeling of protection from the eyes.
As I wandered towards a sweet shop, a man approached me, tried to speak to me. I ignored him. He called again, and his accent wasn’t Indian, so I turned around. He tricked me, calling himself Kashmiri, speaking down about “Indians”–an uncomfortable situation that occurs with every Indian (including Kashmiri) man I’ve met, and offering to conduct me to the Pink City. I agreed, it being the middle of the afternoon, me without a map. Stick with your impulses. Don’t talk to people you don’t want to. You know when things aren’t right.
He stuck to me, I couldn’t get away, was afraid to leave and be alone once it got dark and not know how to get back. He didn’t try anything, no touching, nothing overt–I tried to quell my suspicions and be open to the adventure. One day of feeling nervous, yet seeing a part of India I knew I wouldn’t otherwise, with someone who could explain it to me. Pink City–salmon-colored, terra cotta. Filled with street sellers, mounds of white sugar shapes, little clay lamps, powders of tikka in red and yellow, flattened metallic idols lying in the dust, ready to be stuck to the wall, whirling mandalas and swastikas in neon colors, shopkeepers shooing flies from barfi, ladoo, calling for tea for the silver buyers. Two days, feeling sick inside now, the inside of the Amber Fort–a love story, mirrored walls, high windows, looking down on the town beyond and below. Happiest to lean out of the low windows high on the wall, blue sky, blue houses, blue roofs, don’t come stand next to me. No more photos, no posing. Little hallways to crouch through, don’t corner me here, how can I get out? Day 3 I hid and hid and hid, sneaking out to my favorite dahi salesman, 20 rupees, down an orange powder alley, trash on one side, bigger trash on the other, and a clothesline with clean clothes and a spotted goat and a steps leading down, down. Too afraid to get closer to the center, to the chana sellers, chickpeas on a huge griddle with onions and tomatoes and cilantro and pepper. No thali for me,