Wednesday, May 25, 2011

India Caprice, Part 5

It is already the next-to-last day in India, and I am not sorry to be leaving soon.  I’m glad I decided not to take the Kerala post-trip extension to southern India.  I will try to pick up the sequential thread of impressions and activities.

Palace of the Wind, Jaipur, with stone screen facade.
Women could look out on the street scene and not be seen.

On day 5 of the trip, we again went into the city of Jaipur.  Our hotel was the Hotel Paradise, outside the city.  The air in the hotel and in the city itself was good compared with Delhi, and I was able to walk around without a face mask.  This was probably a mistake;  somebody no doubt sneezed on me during those two days (perhaps it was someone from our own group, since two of the women had been sneezing and coughing from the beginning of the trip), and I came down with a miserable cold a couple of days later in Ranthambore.  I had bought a pack of a dozen disposable face masks before I came over, intending to use them on planes and trains in an effort to avoid the respiratory infections one often picks up in such crowded modes of transportation.  I was glad I had them, because, ironically, they were more useful to me in avoiding the terribly polluted air (dust, smoke, fine sand) hovering over all of the cities we went into except, for some reason, Jaipur.  Even in many areas of the countryside, the air was thick with the smoke of burning cow-patties and the grit from rock-crushing for cement production, and if I didn’t wear a mask, I would go into paroxysms of coughing.  Perhaps the veil or the scarf worn across the face in these cultures serves the same purpose.

Jantar Mantar, eighteenth century astronomical observatory

In Jaipur, we visited the Jantar Mantar, a huge, fascinating astronomical observatory built by (Sawai) Jai Singh in 1716.  Apparently, the ideas of Galileo and Copernicus of a sun-centered system had not yet made it to India, although the Mughals were, by that time, in power over much of the northern part of the country.  The enormous complex looks like it should be a children’s play park.  Afterwards, we went through the City Palace Museum, an elaborate, ostentatious show-piece for the royalty living there.  The rajas of Jaipur somehow seemed able to resist the destruction vested upon much of the rest of the northern part of the country as the Moghuls swept across in three separate waves.  The rajas seemed to exercise a combination of bribery and constant military preparedness that deterred the conquerors and sent them on to more vulnerable targets.

Balloon rising

Seven of us had signed up for a balloon ride.  I had never ridden in a balloon before, so I forked over the $175.00 (less a $75.00 certificate as a frequent OAT traveler) for the ride.  It was on the way to the balloon departure area that my photos somehow got deleted.  I had given my camera to one of the fellows in the group to see if he could figure out how to reduce the number of pixels per photo (that camera uses a lot of memory per photo).  I should have taken it back sooner, when it became clear that he couldn’t figure it out quickly.  When I got it back and opened it up to take photos of the inflating balloon, all my other photos were gone.  Hopefully, one of the other fellows in the group will share some of his photos with us.
The balloon ride was disappointing (certainly not worth $175.00).  I had hoped we would fly over Jaipur or the Amer Fort, but the wind was blowing in the opposite direction.  Our pilot, Carlos, was Spanish, the helpers were Indian, and three of the ladies on the ride (myself included) were heftier than we should have been, so the basket was crowded.  As we drifted over the countryside, we saw “smoke” (dust) from some hillside dynamiting.  According to Carlos, this was illegal mining of Jaipur rock - fine marble and other stones.

Patchwork fields and farms

As we drifted closer to earth, over the patchwork Indian farms – greener and cleaner than others we had seen previously – the frightened animals ran away from the hovering monster-in-the-sky and the excited children ran toward us.  An angry herder shook his staff at us as his panicked goats dispersed across a field.  And a “blue bull” (a type of deer), his consorts and an offspring were flushed from a small copse.

When we landed we were mobbed by children, and the adult villagers arrived soon afterwards, including a couple of young men on motorcycles.  We must have been surrounded, finally, by close to a hundred people out there in what seemed, from the air, to be fairly empty farmland.  But India does have people, whatever other resources it might or might not have.  It has about a third the square area of the U.S., and contains about three times as many people, so the population density must be an order of magnitude greater than that of the U.S.

Mobbed by children when we landed


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