Bad Hotels, Touts & Scams (Jaipur)

Written mostly on 17-Feb 2011, revised and typed 18-Feb 2011.
Yesterday, Nathalie and I had McDonalds followed by five or so hours on a train.
I am in love with the McDonalds in India. The meals there are spicy, with smaller portions, and fresh vegetables. It almost feels healthy. It actually might be. Before anyone gets on my case about eating “American” food in India: You know what I eat three times a day most days? Indian food. Rice, lentils (dal), and chapatis. Perfectly delightful food, but when I go out I want anything but dal.

The train ride was uneventful. Upon arrival in Jaipur we thought that we would just walk the 2 km to the hotel. It would have been a straight shot if the road hadn’t split into a highway and under-streets, something conveniently not mentioned on our map. As we had bypassed all the autorickshaws and we thought it was just up the way, we hailed a bicycle rickshaw.
Who took us to the wrong hotel, way out of his way.
We eventually got to the right hotel only to find that they wanted to charge us something like 1300 R for the first night and then move us into the more reasonably priced room that we wanted. We said no and left.
On our way out, we got called into another hotel by a particularly friendly tout. That we knew was a tout, but at that point it was ten o’clock at night and we just wanted to dump our bags somewhere and have dinner.
The hotel was obviously geared to Indians, particularly poorer business men. We checked the room out (and I turned down the comforter to check the sheets) and took the room. It was a little rough around the edges, but nothing we weren’t used to from living with a family. It was the first hotel that I have ever stayed at that was pre-pay, something that I took as a sign that we should only pay for that night.
After a wonderful dinner at a place called Mohans, we retreated to our hotel. And, upon closer inspection: the sheets I thought were just old were covered in a tacky layer of old dead skin, small bits of body hair, and a suspicious waist level stain.
That night made the purchase of my sleep sack (a Christmas present from my parents) worth every penny. I woke up a few times and was just so thankful that I managed to stay completely in the sack. Nathalie took a picture of me. The sack is bright, neon green. I looked like a glow worm. That bed was more disgusting (by far) than the bunks on the train.

Guard at the City Palace (I really hate that the tourist is in that shot)

We were out of there by 8 am the next morning. We found a nice Indian-family geared hotel in the Pink City (the old part of the city near the landmarks and bazzars) within our price range, dropped off our stuff, and wandered around for breakfast. Feeding yourself before 11 am in India is ridiculously difficult.
Then we meandered to two of the three big attractions of Jaipur, the City Palace and the Jantar Mantar. The former is beautiful and so quiet within its walls that the quiet is worth the ticket fee. You learn to appreciate the pockets of silence you find in India – even if the silence is only relative.

Jantar Mantar - stairs to the heavens

This was followed by a stroll through Jantar Mantar, which is an observatory (for astrology, not astronomy) filled with massive concrete structures curved just so to measure various things about the heavenly bodies. It’s bizarre, with stairs leading to nowhere and labyrinths with scales to measure the sun’s shadows, but its existence says so much about Indian society.

Speaking of astrology. I was curious. I had my astrological profile done, Indian style, by a Dr. Vinod Shastri. I was not 1200+ R curious, so I settled for the basic reading. Apparently, I am a Pisces in the Indian astrology – everything seemed to be about a degree off measured by Indians. Interpret that as you will.

In summary, I will lead a long, mostly happy life of something like ninety years1. I go through periods of being internally empty or lost at times, as well as periods of moodiness and irritability, but I’m kind hearted and someone who wants to trust everyone but experience holds me back.
Career wise, I am suited for counselling, management, marketing, and international affairs and there will be a lot of travel in my life, and I will not live in the country of my birth.2 There will be many relationships, “some big, some little,” and I will get married at either 29 or 31. If I get married, I will have two children, a boy and a girl.
Until October 2012, there will be a struggle in the mind and I will be unsettled (relationships, self, location, jobs). After October 2012, everything is better, especially career wise.3
He also noted that there was a great ideological rift between me and a parent4 and that I tend to doubt myself. I second guess myself and take awhile to make decisions, “quick is better,” I should take less time to make decisions.

For the record, I am not sure that I want to live until I’m ninety years old unless there are some great improvements made in the state of old age and bodily function.

After my astrological reading, we strolled into a government emporium shop5, where I fell head over heels in love with, of all things, a rug. I was not shopping for a rug. I don’t have a home for a rug for about two years. The 3 x 5 handmade silk kashmir rug6 cost me more than my flight from Delhi to Kathmandu (closer to the cost of two of my smaller flight legs when you factor in what it cost to ship the rug to the states). I knew that I wanted One Thing – a high quality souvenir to remember Indian by – and I figured that considering Jaipur’s reputation for shopping, that I would probably find it here. I was just thinking like, a bedspread or something.

The Rug In Question

I took a picture mostly for myself, so when I start questioning the sanity of my bank statement, I can remind myself how beautiful it is – as I had to ship it directly to the States and won’t see it for several months. If it arrives.

After dinner we wandered back to the hotel, keeping an eye open for pringles (Nathalie) and Indian sweet shops (me). At some point, in a manner that made sense at the time, a man struck up a conversation with us that began with something along the lines of “Can you tell me why tourists ignore Indians?” He was perfectly pleasant and friendly – told us of his foray into the fashion world in Europe (first warning bell: I noted his clothes, while fashionable by Indian standards, were not of high quality. I have yet to meet anyone really into fashion that did not put quality over the fashion itself and this seemed like something said to impress young Western women.), his family in Goa, etc. We had a debate about the attitude of Western tourists ignoring Indians. He invited us for chai.
My instincts asked the question: Would I say yes in Washington, DC?
The answer is no. I would not go to an alleyway chai shop with a strange man, friendly or not, at night in an area I did not know. Even with a friend. As much as I might want to make friends, there are added dangers of being a woman that always need to be considered. So we extracted ourselves from the situation and continued our search for sweets.
Not an hour later, (after two unrelated incidents involving being chased by a begger brat for blocks and Nathalie stepping in still warm cow shit while wearing her sandals), another seemingly friendly man with a similar manner asked us the exact same question, the wording not even straying from the script.

And I felt both vindicated and sad. Sad because I really do hate ignoring people who say hi, who start conversations on the street, who may or may not be just friendly. But I have yet to meet someone – including that man (who I think is an owner of a gem shop. We ran into him again today on our way to this internet cafe and he was standing outside of one) who didn’t want something from me.
Vindicated because my instincts were right. I’m glad that my instincts seem solid enough to suss out poor situations before they develop further.

Not three store fronts away from extracting ourselves from scammer number two, a random younger nerdy Indian guy asked me to marry him.
(This is my fourth marriage proposal in my lifetime. Two were due to my baking skills, one was in Vietnam, and then this one. I wonder what any of those people would do if I said “yes”?)

You just have to laugh at life here, roll with it and move on, or I think you’d go crazy.

Jaipur is a city that I am glad that we are only spending two days in – the city itself can be seen in a day or less, plus a day for the Amber Palace & Fort (tomorrow). The touts seem more dangerous here – nicer, with better English and more subtle skills to get what they want from you. But I love the vibe of this city. As a tourist, two days is more than enough. But the energy here makes me think that living here would be interesting and a whole different experience from Delhi.

Time line wise, the day after all this has happened. It was gorgeous and I have musings to share… but that’s for another entry. The good news is that I found a post office and that my first round of post cards (all twenty of them, which have been in my moleskine for the past month and have permanently warped the binding of the book) was mailed today. I’m slowly working through my very long list of people to send postcards through. No promises.

Hawa Mahal - a façade built to allow court women to keep purdah and watch parades

1 As if an astrologer would tell me if I’d be hit by a bus tomorrow.
2 Easy to say to someone who is not Indian sitting across from you in India, who has already established that she is from the United States but gave a birth location from Canada.
3 I finish my graduate program in September 2012.
4 Dad, our relationship has been foretold by the stars.
5 A government sponsored shop with a wide range of items at fixed price and usually a bit more expensive than bazaars.
6 Not like the Persian styles… those ones were way out of my price range. It has a canvas backing and looks almost like really intense silk embroidery.

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