Where I've Been

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Part 8 – Jaipur

Moving from the train to the bus system in India is best likened to a man who, in his desperation to remove his leg caught in a meat grinder, catches the other one as well.

Fearing another train ride, we consulted with a Jaisalmer travel agent who informed us that he sold tickets for a deluxe bus: comfortable beds, restrooms, heat; a thoroughly enjoyable ride. All that was left for us to do was to refund our previously purchased, fully-refundable train tickets and purchase a bus ticket. In his spiel to sell us the ticket, he looked over our train ticket: “Oh, you’re going to have to take the bus anyway, they’re not going to accept this train ticket, it’s ripped!” The rip he referred to was a half inch tear in the upper corner of the ticket, in no way lessening the readability of the ticket. Naturally we laughed him to scorn and chalked it up to another trick of the amoral salesmen we had met. Brian wasn’t laughing, however, when he stepped up to the ticket counter to refund the tickets: “I can’t take that, it’s ripped.” Bear in mind that the paper stock used to print these train tickets is actually 1 ply toilet paper. After arguing for a few minutes, he was ordered to the corner of the room where paper and paste lay ready to reassemble the hopeless rip in the upper corner of the ticket. After doing so, Brian pushed his way back to the front of the line as he had been trained.

Ticket counter man: “You need to wait in line.”

Brian: “No, here’s the ticket, give me my money.”

Ticket counter man (looking over the ticket): “You didn’t do a good job pasting it, go back and do it again.”

Brian: “No, give me my money.”

Ticket counter man: “You’re holding up the line, go back and repaste the ticket.”
Brian: “No, I’m not moving, give me my money.”

Displaying the obdurate immovability of a 3000 year old Buddha statue, Brian finally disgusted the ticket counter man into relinquishing our funds, allowing us to purchase our bus tickets and experience the worst ride of our trip.

The bus was conveniently timed to leave Jaisalmer at 4PM and arrive in Jaipur at 5 AM. We had purchased sleeping bunks with doors that slid closed. The trip began innocuously enough, with us staring out our full length windows as the Jaisalmer desertscape raced away. We had purchased three bunks directly beside each other but the conductor moved me to the front of the bus to accommodate a family sitting together. We quickly discovered the lack of any toilet facilities on the bus, prompting me to immediately impose a moratorium on water drinking. After about an hour, the bus slowed to allow more people on. A few people attempted to get off and use the bathroom, in response “no time, no time!” by the driver and conductor. Pretty soon a tidy knot of passengers had gathered at the front demanding to be let off. We stopped in a little village “Three minutes!” the conductor demanded. After three minutes exactly, the bus began moving again, prompting people to pop out of nearby bushes, pulling and buttoning up pants.

What’s the hurry? You might ask. Turns out the time was needed for the frequent stops to cram more passengers into the already packed bus. Aisle space between seats is actually an excellent source of income for unscrupulous drivers and conductors. Thus it was that within a couple of hours of the 13 hour trip, the aisle was packed with people barely able to stand let alone squat or sit on the floor, spilling over into our narrow berths. Being that I was separated from my fellow travelers and the villagers crammed in beside me spoke precious little English, I took to reading my favorite magazine, The Economist. This lasted about an hour, until darkness fell, both inside and out. Though there were sufficient lights on board, they were inexplicably extinguished in favor of the dim reflection of the headlights from the front of the bus. The question then became: what to do with the remaining 11 hours of darkness spent alongside sweet smelling rural Indian farmers crammed into my berth? The apparent answer: freeze. Being that we were driving through the desert, the temperature dropped from 90 degrees to about 40 degrees within a couple of hours. We were promised heat on the bus right? That’s why all my warm clothes were securely stowed beneath the bottom of the bus right? Yes, the huddled masses yearning to receive cheap bus fare provided some body warm, but the five foot horizontal window that stretched to the side of my berth didn’t…quite…close. And so, the next 11 hours were spent crammed in the fetal position for warmth, teeth chattering and wind whistling around my T-shirt and shorts. All except for the twenty minute dinner stop at 11:30 PM where we desperately attempted to purchase blankets from long closed stores.

And so it was that at 5 in the morning, we arrived in Jaipur in a state of omnidirectional, arbitrary anger that I directed at the first unfortunate rip-off artist who happened to work at the hotel in which we stayed.

What to say about Jaipur itself, one leg of the famed Golden Triangle of India? After sleeping until 10, we ventured to the City Palace for some touring around:

I am very charming

And then on to Jantar Mantar: a wholly impressive array of 18th century instruments of astronomical and astrological calculation. The three of us being engineers, we reveled in archaic, technical delight.

Here are Brian and I with an instrument designed to tell the fortune of fellow cancers (I’m the one with the crab pincer).

Hawa Mahal, where the women in puja watched parades.

And then on to another monkey temple. Here I am in a state of hominid humility.

Monkeys love romantic views

This proves it.

Next on this ever-slowing conveyer belt of blogging: Agra!