We entered the land of the Maharajas, and the legendary cities built by these kings. Women passed by, richly adorned with chudas (arm bangles), bichiyas (toe rings), and lobe-stretching earrings, and men stood around sporting heavy moustaches waxed into flamboyant curls on each side. Vivid oranges, lime greens, brilliant reds, fuchsias, and sunflower yellows flashed before our eyes, not only in the women’s skirts and head shawls, but also in the men’s turbans—with up to 16 metres (52 ft) of material wound like coiled snakes, each colour signifying marital status, religion, caste, or occupation. It is a land copious in elephant mahouts and camel jockeys, where screeching wild monkeys are more of a nuisance than the ubiquitous cow. Colourful was an understatement; Rajasthan is psychedelic.
After arriving in Jaipur, we taxied to the Atithi Guest House and settled in. Early the next morning, we made our way to the Pink City. The mayhem potential of the main thoroughfares was by far the worst we had yet witnessed. Pedal and motor rickshaws, cars, motorcycles, taxis, oxen, camel and donkey carts, swarms of people, meandering cows, bullocks, and pigs all vied for space amid incessant honking, shouting, and fist-shaking, with the ruling denominator being size—yet miraculously, we did not see a single mishap.
The Pink City is partially surrounded by a high wall enclosing the oldest part of Jaipur and covering a large area that includes the City Palace, several museums, and numerous shops—all painted pink in 1856 to celebrate a visit by Britain’s Prince Albert. The current Maharaja of Jaipur lives in part of the palace; the remainder has been turned into a museum with a rich collection of artistic and scientific treasures.
The Maharaja was out when we were there, but one can book ahead for a personal audience with His Excellency, which would have been a neat thing to do.
The largest pieces of silver in the world (according to Guinness WorldRecords) are the two urns that stand in the palace’s Hall for Private Audiences. Each urn, weighing 345 kg (760 lb) was built to hold 9,000 litres (2,378 gal) of Ganga water. They were hauled to England in 1902 when the reigning Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II attended King Henry VII’s coronation, as he did not go anywhere without the sacred liquid.
In the textile area of the museum, the clothes of the “fat Maharaja” are on display: the 249 kilograms (550 lb) heaped onto the 2-metre (7-ft) frame of Sawai Madho Singh I once filled the tent-like garments.
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The day had flown by. Our feet were threatening to carry us no further, prompting us to take a rickshaw home. Just our luck: we got caught in rush-hour traffic with a teenaged suicidal driver taking harrowing chances, squeezing between and cutting off everything in his way at breakneck speed, including a big white truck (which will forever intimidate us). Keeping our fingers gripped to the rickshaw sides to buffer the zigzagging motion was out of the question, as he often came within a whisker of other vehicles, sometimes scraping their sides. As we swished like laundry in a tub with each hairpin turn, other drivers honked, cursed and pounded the air at his antics, while I became hoarse from hollering “Slow down!” In the cacophony, he either didn’t hear me, or—more likely—was ignoring me…..