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19 November 2013

Monday, 18 November. Jaipur

I had to get up early, before 6am. My train left at 06:55 and Swag had to drive me all the way to the station.

It was my first time taking and Indian train, and I was all alone. None of the signs were in English, only Hindi. And the electronic signs were turned off, so it was difficult to figure out where my train car was (I had a reserved seat). The information guy just pointed in a general direction so I just guessed. People were just walking across the train tracks to get to the other platform. When the train finally came, about 15 minutes late (just like Germany!), it was honking very loudly (just like the cars on the street!) so that people would get off the tracks.

I had a reserved seat in the equivalent of business class. I didn't realize that I would be fed - tea, cereal, fruits, and an omelette. Not bad! I spent the ride writing down my thoughts and managed to sleep a little bit. The train stopped randomly for 15 minutes and started backing up. Did we make a wrong turn? Is that even possible? I SAW MY FIRST CAMEL. I woke up with my phone vibrating (Swag had just booked my next day ticket and needed my passport no.) and the train arrived in Jaipur.

I walked out of the train station, and was instantly overwhelmed by the masses. A rickshaw driver could easily see that I was a foreigner and insisted that I ride with him - he clung to me like a leech even though I said no. I walked to the hotel, using my phone (carefully) to guide me there, and dodging piles of trash, cow poop, and general filthiness along the way. I checked in; the hotel is actually nice with a peaceful garden, and they upgraded me to a nicer room. Had some food, washed up, and after a few minutes' rest, I went out to explore the city on foot.

Jaipur is crazy and chaotic. The whole day was spent dodging traffic and trying not to get pulled aside by some shady bazaar vendor into a trap.

It was warm and sunny; I was sweating after a few minutes. I walked toward the ancient "Pink City" in the center of town. Entering through Chandpol gate, the streets are full of vendors selling fruits, flowers, art, car parts,vegetables, etc., all with cars, rickshaws and horses driving at you from every direction. Really, it was a crazy, chaotic experience. I didn't feel much like shopping but did find a few things that would make good gifts.

Eventually I made it through to the touristy sights in the center. The City Palace and the Jantar Mahar, which is a sort of sculpture garden with astronomical and astrological structures from 100-200 years ago. There were crowds of tourists, mostly from China and Germany (the Germans, they are everywhere!), and it felt good and safe to be around non-Indians for once. I walked around and took pictures. The City Palace is also beautiful, with the largest silver objects in the world.

I walked down the street and around the corner, often holding my breath to avoid the stink, and jumping out of the way of rickshaws. There was the Hawa Mahal ("Palace of the Winds"), which is a distinctive palace sometimes called "honeycomb" from its outward appearance. I climbed to the top, waiting for others to come down the narrow staircases, and took in the wonderful view. The inner courtyards of the palace were mostly empty and quiet, a welcome break from the chaos and noise outside.

The sun was starting to go down, so I considered fitting in another palace or two, but I calculated that I wouldn't have time to enter since they close entry 30 minutes prior to the listed closing time of 5pm. So I walked down, to try to get to the Central Museum/Albert Hall. Because I stopped to buy a couple more souvenirs, and I made a wrong turn and ended up in a hospital (depressing), it was already closed when I arrived there. Exhausted and hungry, I grabbed a rickshaw to take me to a restaurant recommended in my Lonely Planet. It was only 6pm so no one else was eating dinner, but I had a whole thali (mixed plate with roti) to myself.

I walked back to the hotel. I wanted to get a rickshaw, but the traffic was diverted to only go the opposite way, so I just kept walking. Along the way, there was a party on the street - a marching band playing, women dancing, and a guy on a carriage followed by an elaborately decorated horse. Was it a big Indian wedding? Aaah!

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