Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Capital City (of Rajasthan)

Hotel Dera Rawatsar
I was going to upload the previous entry (about Pushkar) at this hotel, but turns out it's running on Windows 98 and won't recognise my USB flash drive, so I guess I'll just have to wait for the next place.
We're in Jaipur at the moment, the capital of Rajasthan. We thought it was going to be busy as today, but turns out after the elephant ride and looking around the city palace, that was mainly it in terms of sightseeing... we're now sitting around having a rest until dinnertime - pretty much the same as yesterday (after we arrived from Pushkar). Actually a lot of these cities have seemed not that huge because we don't actually spend time walking around the city itself, just being chauffeured from attraction to attraction, but I guess that's the nature of having a driver and being on a somewhat fixed tour. Ah well, we will have plenty of time to go 'byself, as we like' later on in our trip!
I thought I would mention also that I disliked the elephant ride at the Amber Palace as much as Pushkar, just because of the multitude of people there trying to sell you stuff and/or pick your pocket. From the moment we got out of the car, there were people trying to sell us postcards, silk paintings, turbans, hats, etc, etc. They just push it all in your face (in the case of the hats, they push it onto your head) and then try to get the money off you, and they don't know the meaning of the word 'no'. After a particularly annoying confrontation with a man trying to sell us hats, another tourist (also in the queue) recommended that the best way of getting rid of those guys were just to completely ignore them and pretend they don't exist. It's a bit difficult to do at first because it's so rude and completely against what most people have been brought up to do, but once they engage you in any sort of dialogue, even if you're saying 'no', they just talk and talk until I guess they guilt-trip you into buying something.
As for the elephant ride itself, it was uncomfortable and smelly (there was a river of elephant pee running down the path due to the sheer volume of tourists going up and down), which would have been maybe tolerable if not for the fact that the elephant handler (and a friend on the ground) tried to extort us into giving him a 100Rs tip! This is over and above the 250Rs per person we'd already paid for the ride itself as part of our 'tour'. We have him 30Rs between the two of us (Mark went on a separate elephant) which I think was completely reasonable, given that we gave our camel safari guides about 20Rs each for a much longer and more pleasant experience. I know it's not much NZD but it's the principle of the thing, I hate giving people tips when they've done hardly anything to deserve it and they basically hold you up for it. Eventually this uniformed guy told us to move along, I'm guessing he's part of the 'tourist assistance force' or some sort of official who's supposed to stop this sort of thing from happening, but gets so many bribes from the benefactors of this sort of extortion that he turns a blind eye to most of it, but will still step in if it looks like things may be getting out of hand.
As usual all the junk-sellers would ask where we're from, and of course never get my nationality correct, While we were waiting for Mark to get down from his elephant, this guy asked if I was from Taiwan, I should have just ignored him but I said 'no', then he kept asking me 'where are you from?' and I was pretty pissed off by this stage so I just said 'not Taiwan', and he kept harassing me until Mark got down and we could all leave together. From then on we just pretended everyone else was invisible, which seemed to do the trick. I think I'm going to have to readjust my manners and standards for what is acceptable in driving when I get back to New Zealand.
When we went to the lakeside to take photos of the Water Palace, the first thing we noticed was the overpowering stench of sewage and stagnation at the water's edge. Not long after we stopped of course we were mobbed by people trying to beg/sell us stuff/probably pickpocket us, including this group of kids who tried to get in our photos. I'm sure that if they succeeded, they would've demanded some sort of tip, but I guess it's possible they were also just being friendly. But by the way they just materialised out of thin air and came with the junk-sellers, I somehow doubt that. Anyway, we completely ignored everyone as well there, plus a huge tour bus of French tourists also unloaded at the same vantage point which was a welcome distraction.
The problem with avoiding everyone is that we could easily be snubbing anyone who might be genuinely trying to be friendly to us, but 95% of the time it's someone trying to rip us off, so it's better to be safe than sorry. This is probably the part I least enjoy about travelling through India, but again, probably totally unavoidable until they really clamp down on the corruption which seems to exist in every part of this country.

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