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Hot Time in the Old City
May 13, 2000

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Entering the Pink City
One cannot be bored walking down the streets in Jaipur, and that can safely be said for most any street in India. There are always cows and camels to dodge, meandering monkeys to mind, and more people than you can count, moving in every direction at once. It seems that each person has something to say to you: a request for a pen or a chocolate from children; a vendor trying to sell you bananas or oranges; a beggar wanting your attention (and your money); a rickshaw wallah hoping that maybe - even though you said no to the one hundred rickshaw wallahs before him - just maybe you've changed your mind and would like a ride…somewhere, anywhere.

Then there are the good-spirited people who inexplicably shout "Hello! Hello!" because they see you are a tourist. In any case, you are always on your toes when walking down the street in India (often just to avoid the cow droppings).

Setting off one morning, I once again braved the furnacelike heat of Jaipur. Also known as the Pink City, Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan. It earned its name in 1876 when then-Maharaja Ram Singh had the entire old city painted pink in honor of the visiting Prince of Wales (pink was the traditional color of hospitality, not just the favorite color of the visiting royalty).

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Hawa Mahal, from which royal ladies would gaze upon the commoners on the streets of Jaipur
In the old city, most of the buildings have maintained their pink and orange exteriors. I already felt like royalty, though, careening down the city's lively streets in a bicycle-driven rickshaw. With impressive speed and agility, we cheated death many times before arriving intact to our first destination: The Hawa Mahal.

Located in the historical district of Jaipur, the Hawa Mahal is also known as the Palace of the Winds. Erected in 1799, this building is perhaps the most attractive façade in Jaipur, and the roof commands a magnificent view of the entire city - though you might die of sunstroke if you stay up there too long in April.

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This rickshaw wallah has had enough for today
This was a place from which royal ladies would sit and see the commoners on the city streets below. I gazed out the small windows and looked down at the fruit vendors and the buses and felt positively imperial myself. Now the insides of these windows are scratched with people's names and messages, like "Gita was here and enjoyed life to the fullest! " and "Kusum I love you deeply and forever -Yours, Singh".

The Hawa Mahal is a part of the much larger City Palace, which we will visit next. But first a walk outside to find some shade and a cool bottle of water.

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Would you like to buy some... just what is that?
I sat under a tree on a bench and sucked down a whole liter of cool water before I noticed that I was surrounded by rickshaw drivers, all of who were most anxious for me to secure their services for the 500-meter ride to the City Palace. I struggled past them and their insistent cries and stares. They were all very friendly, mind you - just amazingly persistent. Some of them followed me all the way to my destination as I walked, perhaps hoping I would pass out from the heat and they could at least earn a fare by hauling my dehydrated carcass to the nearest hospital. Happily, that didn't happen.

We have used the word Maharaja many times in our recent dispatches. Just what is a maharaja? It is a Hindi word, which means, more or less, "Big King," since maha = big and raja = king.

The short walk brought me to the entrance of the City Palace Complex, which encloses several courtyards and interesting exhibitions. There are also palm readers, fortunetellers, and textile sellers crawling around the entrance to the complex. I thought about having my palm read, but decided against it when I saw the price. I don't know if my future is worth all of $15.00, so I slipped into the City Palace Complex despite the persistent palmist's plea.

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Four Brahmins, followers of the Hindu faith, wander the compound of the City Palace
The City Palace Complex contains many courtyards, gardens, fountains, and buildings, all of which house an array of items from Rajasthan's glorious past. It is not merely a showpiece either, since the son of the last maharaja still lives in the palace.

One of the more impressive displays within the complex is the clothing: rare and delicate royal costumes dating back hundreds of years. Best are the clothes of Sawai Madho Singh I. He was a big guy at 2 meters/ 6'5" and 250kg/ 552lbs. He probably ate as much as any of his elephants and he could share pants with them, too!


meandering - wandering
wallah - a person employed in a particular occupation or activity
agility - dexterity, nimbleness
carcass - dead body

The complex is full of hopeful guides, men wearing the brightly colored turbans so often found in Rajasthan, Hindus on pilgrimage, and groups of foreign tourists laden with cameras, water bottles and sunburns. It also houses some of Rajasthan's most impressive artists and artisans, who are eager to show you their art and, perhaps, if you can agree on a price, part with their precious pieces. There are some very nice drawings of the Hindu Gods, notably Shiva and Krishna, on sale here. I bought a small drawing of Ganesh and went home feeling enlightened.


Want to learn more about rickshaws and their wallahs?

Wondering how to get around Jaipur? Where is that Hawa Mahal anyway?

Check out a Rajasthani English language newspaper:

Leaving the palace compound and walking into the afternoon sun, my friends the rickshaw drivers were there waiting, determined to take advantage of my fatigue.

I gave up and collapsed into the back of one of the more sturdy - looking contraptions, and we were off, to face the maddening streets of Jaipur once again on the way home. If you come to Rajasthan in April, I suggest that all of you young hopefuls travel with your own air conditioners, or at least bearers who will fan you. Other than that, it is a great place with a lot to see, friendly people, and no shortage of new and exciting places to explore.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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