26.02.2010 - 02.03.2010
The capital city of Rajasthan held our interest longer than we thought it would. We met some really nice people, experienced some Bollywood, took in a fun festival, and celebrated the Indian Festival of Color, Holi. We stayed in a nicer hotel than usual near the old city and were really comfortable. One of the first things we did was set out to explore the old part of the city, or what we thought was the old part of the city. We found ourselves amongst tons of happy kids out in the street brimming with excitement for the upcoming Holi and accompanying Elephant Festival. We were not in the “Old City” but a little neighborhood and when we realized we were lost we grabbed an cycle rickshaw to the city palace were snake charmers rose cobras over hypnotic music all for the tourist rupee. The city palace building was a bit of a let down after the palaces of Agra Fort but we still took the time to explore it all.
That night we visited a huge Hindi movie theatre to see the current hit flic, “My Name is Khan” The place had to seat over 1000 people and apparently was the #1 movie theatre in all of India and often used for grand openings of big Bollywood hit films.
We were in Jaipur at the time of an annual Elephant Festival and for the Festival of Color or Holi. A large outdoor area played host to many elephants painted in bright colors for the occasion, a multitude of camels, and a few horses. Their were bands and dancing to go along with the competitions and games. It all took place in a chaotic tangle of spectators and animals as their was nobody keeping the hordes of people in the stands and off the playing fields were all the animals were. At one point Meghan and I found ourselves on the inside edge of a ring of people who had encircled the area were the Elephants were to play football (soccer). All of a sudden the huge animals were running around kicking (mostly just popping) beach balls with only a ring of soft human bodies to keep the animals at bay. All of a sudden their was a breach in one part of the circle and all the Elephants started moving out into the crowd. There was no real panic or mass hysteria but we both had visions of being trampled in a riot of panicked Indians and tourists. The whole thing ended with the Elephants playing Holi. Playing Holi is throwing colored powder and water on your friends, family, and people you meet in the street. It is the Indian festival of color and celebrated with enthusiasm all around northern India. In this case the Elephants made their way in and around a large crowd and their handlers and passengers tossed colored powder by the handful on the reveling crowd below. There is a tradition on the night before Holi to burn fires in the street. During the day people had been building towers of wood and hay in preparation up and down all the streets of the old town. As we exited the arena the lighting parties were just getting started. Men on motorbikes and by foot were swarming the streets with torches igniting all the fires. People were singing and dancing in the street and it was an incredible scene to behold. Had we no prior knowledge of this event it would have been quite a startle but as we were prepared the mob of fire bearing men did not startle us!
One of the performers caught in town on the way to the festival
The festival started with a procession of the bands and animals
We love Camels!
Playing Holi by Elephant
Igniting the fires in the streets of Jaipur
The next day was the real celebration. Our new friend Ankit who we had spent the prior day with, a day meant for sight seeing but ended up sipping chai and chatting with locals, had invited us to come and celebrate with him and his friends and family. He lived outside of town so we got up early and hired a rickshaw to where he would pick us up. Ankit showed up after a few moments on his motorcycle and the three of us piled on and sped away to his home. A bunch of his friends were waiting on the street and it was only a few seconds before we were covered in different colored powders and wished a happy Holi by numerous new people. Meghan was pulled into a crowd of young girls covered in purple who were franticly dancing to Hindi music cranked up to 11! Everyone was in high spirits and having so much fun.
Meghan gets down with the girls
Holi Hai! - The little dude in front makes me smile!
Back on the Bikes
Before we knew it we were back on the bikes. This time it was 9 of us on three bikes and Meghan and I got separated. This made me nervous at first but I trusted Ankit and his friends and it turned out that Meghan also felt like he was looking out for her. It quickly became apparent that the women in India do not celebrate the holly with the same intensity as the guys. Meghan was the only girl in our crew and the next few stops we made were spent trying to convince the girls to come out and play using Meghan as bait. We went from one house to another spreading color and holiday greetings before stopping at Ankit’s employers house. He was treated to the “strong color”, a skin dying bath with dye that would leave the skin turned purple for three days. Meghan and I both had fun with the powder but graciously refused offers to be doused in the dye.
The strong color
Meghan Gets covered
We all loaded up again and made a few more stops before returning to the bosses house. When we did their were drummers out in the driveway and all the guys were dancing to the beat while the timid neighborhood woman peered through window screens, from nearby balconies, and from the safe distances of the neighbors front porches. The men in India are all very affectionate and close in a way that westerners might consider a little weird or queer. It is not uncommon to see guys holding hands while walking the street or showing affection with an arm around a shoulder or something of the like. This carried over to the dance and all the guys we rode with that day jammed out to the drumming in a rainbow (wink wink) of the color we had spread that morning.
Dancing in the Driveway
From there it was back into the old city were one of the old buildings was the sight for a big dinner together. We climbed to the second floor were we found an open aired courtyard. As a chicken stew cooked over a charcoal fire we all shared stories. A large carpet was set out on the stone floor and we all sat down to eat. It was absolutely delicious and enjoyed by all. As I moped up the last of my stew with the amazing naan bread I knew that on this day we had a completely unique experience. One unlike anything we had experienced in our travels so far and one that can not be duplicated. Our new friends showed us a slice of their life and how they celebrate it.
Ankit in red at our post Holi diner
The next day we went to the Amber fort near Ankit’s home. We were hoping to meet up but unfortunately we had slept in and he had already gone to work. The fort was as interesting on the inside as it was beautiful on the outside. We wondered the courtyards and passageways exploring the nooks and crannies of the generally all access buildings. On the way out we discovered that you could go down underground and explore the secret passageways. These were really renovated and only a small portion was open to the public but it was still really cool.
Camels outside the fort
Surviving murals on the main gate
Looking Down on the town from the fort
Ornately Appointed Panels and Archways
Inside the Fort
I have mentioned how We are constantly the subjects of Indians photos, here Meghan poses with Mom and Baby as Dad snaps away