So... the real India has begun.
Our first whole day in Jaipur has been eventful to say the least. First of all, we still can't believe how lucky we were to have met Shakeer (the rickshaw driver) on our first day here. He is genuinely lovely and an extremely helpful tour guide. Just talking to other people in the hotel made us realise how different it could be... He's definitely been a major factor at making us enjoy this place and let us forget a little bit how homesick we are for McLeod... Other than over-friendly rickshaw drivers at the side of roads the whole atmosphere is no where near as warm and welcoming as there.. And also in the hotel most people seem to be minding their own business and not overly keen on a chat - big change from Carpe as anyone who was there will know! (There's even a waiter in the restaurant here called Tenzin something- typical Tibetan name. We enthusiastically pointed this out when he first served us- but he just said that only his mother was Tibetan and wasn't interested any further... Oh well...)
Yesterday he took us to the first bunch of sights in Jaipur- including the old town (or pink city). It was all painted pink by the first ruler of the town to welcome Prince Albert and the tradition has been maintained since. We got a great view of the whole town from the top of a minaret, visited an incredibly beautiful complex of tombs and went to see an amazing fortress just outside the town. On the way back from there Shakeer let me have a go at driving the rickshaw! (no worries- he was still next to me and it was an extremely quiet road- not about to throw myself into Indian traffic by myself!!) We also saw the water palace- a palace built in the middle of a lake- with three storeys underneath water- an ancient alternative to AC... After Shakeer took us to the 'elephant home' (pretty self-explanatory). And after that went to the factories where they make lots of the traditional regional crafts (the one we went to did embroidery as well as block printing). They also sell all the stuff at whole sale prices- a fraction of what one would pay in the markets. We got one or two really nice bed throws (first point on the programme of today; send parcel home). We also tried on (though did not buy) our first sari. Quite good fun- though definitely not something I would ever wear again... But we did choose fabrics out of which they tailored each of us a set of salwar kameez... We emerged from this place after about 3 hours (they had been keeping up a constant stream of chai and cold drinks- quite the perfect salesmen) . After went back to the hotel for dinner and then spent the rest of the evening on a rooftop terrace of a nearby hotel where they had shishas. Oh, and a little boy turned up and invited us to a Rajastani puppet show on the other side of the roof. I said yes, and I think that was the point where Vivian was seriously considering killing me (or at least travelling alone from now on). It certainly wasn't what you'd call professional, but extremely entertaining nonetheless! (especially the Michael Jackson impression). We probably gave him a slightly too high tip as we'd run out of small change (though still under a Euro- so we hardly went broke). Later on in the evening he came back to the table and gave each of us a little toy elephant... (he asked for something from our country in return- but unfortunately we really didn't have anything on us we could have given him. His suggestion of 'just a t-shirt' or something wasn't very feasible either as we were obviously just wearing one each...)
Oh, and yeah- Shakeer kind of proposed to me. He casually dropped this in just after we came out of the sari place- Vivian was sitting in the middle. I just laughed and thought is was a joke (or an open question directed at both of us). But once we were back in the rickshaw he complained a little that I hadn't replied yet (and was just making fun of him). He backed his offer with the promise of ten elephants (apparently I had seemed to like the one we saw earlier). In the course of the evening he even picked a venue (a beautiful garden/temple complex we had visited earlier) and promised me a big Indian wedding with at least 2000 guests (the fact that I wouldn't know any of them didn't seem a relevant issue ) I realise how dodgy this must sound- but Vivian and me definitely wouldn't have hired him again for today if the whole thing had made us in the least uncomfortable... For the moment all of us are treating it as a bit of a joke- I've definitely made that much clear.
So... we're off to meet him again in half an hour to continue our exploration of the city.... We'll see what happens today! (compared to yesterday I almost feel like everything that could possibly happen already has... But I'm sure this place has many more surprises than I can imagine...