Asia » India » Rajasthan » Jaipur - 12 March 2017
08.03.2017 - 14.03.2017 27 °C
It’s obvious, sitting in the early morning sunshine on the balcony of my hotel room, that Spring is on its way to Jaipur.
A pretty little Laughing Dove, twig in beak, keeps flying within inches of where I’m sitting and disappearing into a tall, broad-leaved shrub nearby. Her mate meanwhile sits unafraid on my balcony rail, puffing up his tiny chest and emitting a chuckling coo, roo-roo, roo-roo.
Numerous miniscule, metallic blue-green and light-brown birds, male and female Purple Sunbirds, flit among the fragrant pink flowers of a Butterfly Tree (Bauhinia purpurea) uttering a shrill tzeet, sometimes tzeet-tzeet, sometimes tzeet-tzeet-tzeet. They fly quickly from flower to flower, stopping for a mere fraction of a second each time. They’re a challenge for a photographer – by the time they’re in focus, they’ve gone!
I’m in the hectic capital of Rajasthan for a whole week. Venturing out onto the roads here is like one of those fast racing-car games on an X-Box – but with a hundred times more cars, countless motorbikes and auto-rickshaws weaving in and out, a cacophony of madly honking horns, and endless people, cows and dogs wandering aimlessly beside and across the roads.
It’s bliss to return to the tranquillity of the Shahar Palace, a sort of stately-home once upon a time and now a small guesthouse. Along with many other grand houses, most occupied by government Ministers, doctors and diplomats, it’s in the up-market Barwara House Colony of the Civil Lines district. Its huge garden, overlooked by my balcony, is full of mature shrubs and trees, birds singing, ubiquitous Palm Squirrels chirping and clicking, and the occasional strolling macaque too.
It's an uncommon oasis in this congested and over-populated city. In common with many similar small hotels, this one lacks a bit of TLC, but it’s comfortable enough - despite a wafer-thin, unsprung mattress that might just as well not be on my hard wooden bed. I get numbness down whatever side I choose to sleep on, although admittedly I've been so exhausted by all the activity most days that I've managed to sleep on it just the same.
I’d arrived in Jaipur before daybreak on Thursday aboard the Jaisalmer-Delhi-Express after a restless night in a First Class sleeper carriage. The four-berth compartment was occupied at first by me, a lone Japanese man travelling all the way to Delhi to catch a flight back to Tokyo and a young Brazilian guy who’d flown all the way from São Paulo for only two weeks in India. At Jodhpur, the Brazilian left and was replaced by an Indian businessman who insisted on sleeping with the light on. Hence the restless night!
The friendly and helpful guesthouse owner, Colonel Virendra Singh (ret'd), raised from his bed at this ungodly hour, escorted me to my room immediately after I arrived.
I unpacked and dozed for a few hours before being collected by Lajpal’s brother-in-law Yogeshwar, familiarly known by the more-easily pronounced 'Monty'. He whisked me away, with two friends in the back of his car giving directions - including driving against heavy traffic the wrong way up a main road at one time (quite usual here). As I needed a new pair of specs, they took me to a couple of recommended opticians with modern shops and a wide choice of frames and lenses. I'd brought my recent eyesight prescription from the UK, as had Miriam Margolyes in the first of the 'Real Marigold Hotel’ television series. She'd bought several pairs extremely cheaply during her stay in Jaipur, but I guess they may have been basic single-vision ones. I opted for titanium frames with complex, premium-quality progressive lenses, but even these were a third of the price they'd have been at Boots in the UK. They’ll be ready in a few days – compared to a few weeks back home.
Friday morning was spent exploring with my friend Manish, once only a Facebook friend but now, having spent time with him last year, a real friend, a kindred spirit, a passionate photographer and birdwatcher.
I'd hailed a passing auto-rickshaw at 6.45a.m. and told the driver I wasn't a tourist, so would only pay half of what he asked. We bounced our way through light traffic into the Pink City, past the Hawa Mahal ('Palace of the Winds') and out of the Pink City by the Jorawar Singh Gate onto the road leading to Amber Fort. It's the best time of day to see the old city, devoid of tourists and locals, grimy from yesterday's detritus and cool into the bargain.
My destination was the Jal Mahal , the 'Water Palace' in Man Sagar lake, close to Manish's home. This is a popular 10-minute stop for tourists on their hurried sightseeing tours of the city and, sure enough, the Japanese and Chinese sightseers were there with their huge, professional cameras (I guess they're cheap in their lands of manufacture), snapping the palace with birds in the foreground as the sun rose above the distant hills. I couldn't resist photographing them doing just that.
However, what these and other tourists miss is the real joy of a walk around Man Sagar. A small fortune has been spent dredging and cleaning the lake over the past few years. It’s now bordered by colourful trees and shrubs, been stocked with fish and is a haven for water-birds. It's rumoured that the ancient palace in the lake has been, or is being, converted into a five-star hotel, but I saw no promotional effort for this anywhere.
I confess that, even after many visits to this city, I didn't know that there is a little-used road to one side of the tourists' pedestrian walkway. It was that road and a footpath beyond it that I walked today with Manish, his charming wife and two of his three sons, discovering unusual views of the Jal Mahal and hundreds of birds on and near the water.
The list of birds spotted (and photographed) included Spot-billed Ducks, Pelicans in huge numbers, Ibis, Egrets, Swamphens, Cormorants, Asian Pied Starlings, Herons and Mynahs, to name but a few. Oh, and there were also a few Langur Monkeys too. It was one of the best three-hour walks I've ever had in any city.
Manish is fortunate to do this walk most days, evidenced by the numerous beautiful photos of birds and flowers he so frequently posts on Facebook. I can't compete with his knowledge or with his superb photographs of birds, but include with this blog a few of mine taken on this walk. We're planning to meet up again towards the end of my stay for another walk, this time in the hills above Jaipur, when we expect to encounter more new views that are little seen by visitors.
My afternoon was spent with two other Facebook friends, Anil and Ramakant, who are very active photographers, one of them running the Jaipur Photographers Club that I follow closely. We whiled away a couple of hours at the Tapri Tea Shop, one of two in Jaipur. I was intrigued that it offered a many-page menu of teas from around the world, hot or cold, with or without milk, by the pot or by the cup. The atmosphere was a bit like Starbucks or Costa Coffee without the over-priced coffee. It was good to put faces to names and we promised to keep in touch until we meet again.
I've found it interesting to actually meet some of my many Indian 'Facebook Friends', all of whom have been genuinely pleased to give of their time and to share some of the things we have in common, photography and wildlife in particular. A couple of them differed from their aspirational public profiles – the Jaisalmer ‘jeweller’ turned out to be a builder’s mate and the ‘professional graphic designer and photographer’ was still a student – but, hey, we can all dream of what we might be some day. My business card says I'm a Travel Writer and Photographer because 'Blogger' probably wouldn't open quite as many doors!
That night, Lajpal arrived with Rajshri and Dhruvi after a six- or seven-hour drive from Abu Road. They'd come to spend the holiday weekend and their fifth wedding anniversary with Rajshri’s family. He called in on me on Saturday morning and, later in the day, collected me for a party at Rajshri’s father’s house. There, we ate particularly well with lots of snack starters, followed by some 'non-veg' courses of tandoori chicken, ‘white meat’ (mainly goat offal) in a tasty sauce, and a delicious mutton curry. Somewhere before and after that we enjoyed a huge cream cake with a big ‘5’ candle on it and the traditional feeding of pieces of it by everyone to everyone else amid much laughter and cream on noses. I think we may have drunk rather too much whisky too. Sunday was a leisurely day, doing very little on my balcony, in consequence.
The week ahead would hold more new things for me - the Holi festival, a walk in the hills and possibly even more sightings of elusive leopards.