In which even the dogs and cows get involved in playing Holi
Starring a human napkin dispenser and a persistent Lilliputian
|Pancham and Fatima on the train|
We went to Jaipur by overnight train in the ‘super deluxe’ class. This was fantastic because it meant there were only 8 people in each compartment and there was intermittently throughout the night, little blasts of air conditioning. Best of all though you get a brown bag of clean, ironed linen. We arrived at around 5:30am and set off again after a quick nap for a non-stop day of sightseeing that, having not really eaten anything for nearly 48hrs, I was ill equipped to deal with.
Most of our time was spent at the Amber Fort which is someway outside of the city in a chain of forts and palaces strung out along the ridge of the surrounding hills. Every tourist in Rajasthan, if not in India, was also there. A large number of them were making their way up the “steep” steps in a long train of elephants whose path we had to cross at various points. This was the only time in the whole of Asia that you had to really look before crossing the street – everywhere else the traffic just flows unhindered around you.
Once through the main Sun Gate you come out into a huge courtyard which is quite a grand spectacle when viewed from the terrace above – one of those places where you have the feeling that you can’t quite believe you are there. The palace took three generations of Maharajas over 100 years to build and once I got over the irritation of having to push and shove through the crowds to see anything I rather liked it! The most interesting room was the winter bedroom – really small and completely covered in mirrors.
We had lunch at a local place around the corner - well everyone else had lunch. I had another damn lassi. The entertainment here was provided by a man whose job it was to stand outside the bathroom holding a fan of paper napkins and offering them to everyone as they emerged.
That was followed by a rush around the City Palace which had some gorgeous peacock mosaics and then Jantar Mantar which is an extraordinary colletion of enormous astrological instruments were built over 300 years ago and tell you all sorts of things from the position of the planets in the sky to the time – accurate to within 2 seconds.
While we were in Jaipur India celebrated the spring festival of Holi. The main thing that happens is that everyone throws coloured water or powder on each other. Pancham (our guide) was terrified that it was all going to be very chaotic and that the young boys would ‘get carried away’. So we set off with some trepidation to the Elephant Festival that preceded the main event wearing clothes we would be happy to part with in the near future. Unfortunately our cautiousness meant that by the time we got there most people were leaving and it was just a bunch of foreigners riding around on elephants lamely patting each other with powder. There were two people on a tannoy describing the events as they unfolded in a hilarious hushed radio sports commentary style: “They are playing with the colours. They are having a wonderful time. The atmosphere is very joyful”. We declined involvement but most tourists did not and we even passed a group dressed in “Elephant Festival 2012” t-shirts covered from head to toe in powder. One suspects this is the Pampalona of the future. The elephants, having made a few mock charges into the crowd that had the more experienced locals dashing out of the way, departed across the fields. We saw one wearing a pair of jeans and t-shirts which was pretty excellent. Then the band came on, sky lanterns were set on their way and huge vats of petals were showered over the audience giving off the lovely scent (not a phrase one gets to use often in India) of marigolds and roses.
For Holi day itself we had hired a car so that we could drive around with the windows up staying clear of the naughty boys but as it turned out, we really didn’t need it. Firstly there was no epicentre of chaos as commonly depicted in National Geographic photographs, and secondly there has recently been a law passed in this part of the country that you can’t put colour on anyone unless they ‘yes’. So it was all extremely civilised. The did see a few instances of this law being flouted - there were several cows and dogs with blooms of colour on their faces! When we did get out and go for a walk we were greeted enthusiastically by everyone we met and acquiesced to having dabs of colour applied to our foreheads (mostly by one very drunk man who we passed at least three times and each time, he had a new bag of powder of a different hue). The thing I liked best about it was that for the first time on our whole trip people were saying ‘Hello’ because they genuinely wanted to say ‘Hello’ and not because they were trying to get you to come into their shop or stay at their cousin’s guesthouse. For the greater part of our walk were accompanied by a very dwarf who was very smiley and very attached to Fatima – grabbing her hand and kissing it at every possible opportunity. We had a long discussion about what the politically correct term is and Fatima informed us that the Swiss call them “Lilliput People”.
Jaipur has a wonderful art deco cinema in the centre of town called the Raj Mandir and we went there to watch a Bollywood film called Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya which was the story of a rickshaw wallah who inadvertently kidnaps the daughter of his wealthy employer and **** plot spoiler **** they fall in love and get married. It opens with a slide stating "All animals in this film were treated with great love". The whole is experience is a brilliant as the audience whoop and whistle all the way through and the seats are reclining. And as if that wasn’t enough – there is a machine outside which weights you AND tells your fortune. I am in for a hard time but it will be short.