Asia » India » Rajasthan » Jaipur - 14th March 2017
14.03.2017 - 14.03.2017 30 °C
The effects of Monday afternoon's excesses lulled me to sleep on the mattress from hell.
I awoke on Tuesday in time to meet Manish again at the Jorawar Singh Gate on the far side of the old Pink City shortly after 7.30a.m.
Kindly, knowing I wouldn't have had time for breakfast at my hotel, he took me on his motorbike to his home a few minutes away. His wife Krishna had prepared masala chai (the sweet, spiced tea found throughout India), together with what they usually had for breakfast at this time of year.
There on a tray were:
- hot, golden-brown Moong Dhal Halva (a filling sweet dish made from split green chickpea paste simmered gently for a long time in clarified butter - ghee),
- some yummy Petha (little cigar-shaped sweet biscuits made from the ash gourd, a white melon-like vegetable),
- potato-chip-shaped Mathri (a hard biscuit made from wheat flour, spiced with black pepper, carom seeds and cumin, then fried in ghee),
- and some dry, crumbly and sweet fudge-like Besan ki chakki (a typical Holi sweet made from chana dal - a variety of chickpea, split, soaked, ground and fried in ghee).
Writing this down, I've just realised how much time it must have taken Krishna to make all these delicious and filling breakfast treats - and how much ghee she must have used!
Sufficiently replete, we re-boarded Manish's motorbike for a journey up into the hills above Man Sagar. Round and round we went on the zigzag road that leads higher and higher towards Nahargarh and Jaigarh Forts atop the hills about 700 feet above the city.
I don't recall ever riding pillion on a motorbike anywhere else in the world, except here behind Manish - holding on tight as if my life depended on it. We both wore crash helmets and he drove very sensibly and gently - he knows that, while I may have the mind of a young man, I have the body of an old one!
Our first halt was at the transmitting station of the government-funded TV, radio and online broadcasting organisation called Doordashan. Manish is a technician for the company and, although now based at their downtown studios, he'd worked here for some years and we were given a warm welcome to this fenced and guarded area. I had a quick guided tour of the control, computer and generating rooms, satellite dishes and the transmission tower itself, before leaving the motorbike and camera bags in this secure compound.
We walked a little way down the road to the Shri Krishna Charan Mandir. The footprints preserved at the shrine inside this ancient temple are said to have been made by Lord Krishna himself - and by his cows too.
If such a thing as a Health & Safety Executive existed here, they’d have a field day installing all manner of currently non-existent safety rails, repaired surfaces and suitable warning notices up the steep, deep and very worn steps of the temple's tower. It was an exhausting bare-footed climb to the top (respect and tradition demand removal of footwear before entering temples and people's homes). It proved a well worthwhile ascent though as there was a cooling breeze at the top and the views towards the town, Man Sagar and the Jal Mahal were stunning, albeit somewhat hazy on this hot, cloudy morning. When he was working at the transmission station, Manish would sometimes retreat up here to cool off in the height of summer.
Shortly after descending, I took a call on my mobile phone from Lajpal to tell me that he’d decided not to return home today and enquiring if I’d like to join him on a trip to Ranthambore Tiger Reserve with his father-in-law, Dashrath (who happens to be Private Secretary to the government Minister responsible for the state’s wildlife reserves). I’d never seen a tiger in the wild despite many disappointing game drives in Ranthambore four years ago, but it’s at least a three-hour drive each way and, in any case, I was at the top of a mountain with another friend. I had no option but to continue my planned walk.
(Sod’s Law: I discovered in the evening that they’d seen a tigress on a fresh kill – with her three cubs – from less than 30 metres away! Ho Hum...)
We retraced our steps to the transmission tower and then through a hole beneath some barbed wire to enter what Manish termed ‘the jungle’, an expanse of stony, thorn-scrub frequented only by lost cows and goats and even fewer humans.
We followed an indistinct, meandering path in loose rocks and stones, through low-growing trees, downhill, uphill, downhill, uphill and downhill again, arriving about an hour later at the foot of a long flight of deep steps up to Garh Ganesh Temple. We’d stopped occasionally to take short rests and water, but the vigorous walk was starting to take its toll and I had to have a long sit down before attempting the final climb.
This temple pre-dates the city of Jaipur, so it must have been built pre-1726. Its design is fort-like, square, with turrets and on a hill with walls surrounding it – the ‘garh’ in its name, translating as ‘fort’ is a bit of a give-away. Also, as its name suggests, it’s devoted to my all-time favourite of the thousands of Indian gods, Ganesh - the elephant-headed god of new beginnings and the remover of obstacles. He's usually depicted with a huge trunk, four arms and riding on a tiny mouse. Here, he's present in the form of Purushakriti, a child-like being without a trunk. Photography isn’t allowed inside the temple, so no illustration of the idol alas, although a few of the view and some of the birds we saw while there are included here.
The temple was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, founder of Jaipur (‘Jai’ from his name, ‘pur’ meaning ‘city’). The statue of Purushakriti in a little white shrine on the roof of the temple is carefully positioned to face the City Palace, built later, so that Jai Singh could see it from afar with the aid of his binoculars.
After a blessing from the chief priest and a traditional tilak (a bright ochre-coloured spot dabbed onto the forehead between the eyes), we descended the way we’d come.
The sun was now high in the sky. Even frequent stops made the slippery descents and long uphill climbs back to the transmission tower a difficult proposition for my knees and lungs.
At times, I seem to have run out of oxygen and felt giddy, with my knees creaking and my legs clearly experiencing an unwelcome build-up of lactic acid - but, with the aid of rest stops and the dregs remaining in my water bottle, I thankfully reached the tower, where I collapsed onto a bed in the staff restroom and closed my eyes. I'd somehow lived to tell the tale !
Fully recovered about half an hour later, I got back on Manish’s motorbike for the return journey down the winding road to Man Sagar. There, we bid each other a fond farewell and I picked up an auto-rickshaw for the scary ride in heavy traffic through the Pink City back to my hotel.
The journey took longer than usual as the driver had clearly not been to Civil Lines for quite a while (or maybe ever!), and didn't have a clue where to find my hotel. His English was virtually non-existent, so Manish had had the foresight to write down the hotel's name and address in Hindi on a piece of paper, which he'd given the driver when we'd left each other at Man Sagar. He stopped to ask directions on at least five occasions, each time showing the piece of paper and being given wrong information - no-one liked to admit they didn't know, so they said the first thing that came into their heads - it's the Indian way!
Eventually, from afar, I spotted overhead metro tracks - a recognisable landmark, and was able to locate the correct road and ultimately the turning towards the Barwara House Colony. It had taken us an hour, but the agreed fare was only 150 Rupees - less than £2. I added a 10 Rupee tip. It might have been 20 if I hadn't had to show the driver the way.
This was a dangerously tiring, but very rewarding morning - an adventure with more new and interesting discoveries at every turn, thanks to my friend Manish. It was made doubly pleasing for me that we'd walked totally off the beaten track to places seldom seen or experienced by other overseas visitors. The near-death experience was easily forgotten.
The afternoon was spent prone on my board-like bed at the Shahar Palace Hotel and writing a few more lines of this blog in the cool shade on my balcony. I also managed to capture those pesky little Sunbirds with my camera; it needed infinite patience - and deletion of numerous missed shots from my camera's memory card!
Purple Sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus), ♀ or juvenile
Purple Sunbird ♂
I'm hoping to end my month in India on yet another high - meeting friends Girdhar and Yashoraj, and searching with them for the elusive leopards of Jhalana Forest.