You may or may not agree, but I’ve always felt that the names of cities like Jaipur or Udaipur (the “pur” suffix meaning “city” or “settlement) evoke the magnificence of the past.
The capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur, is home to stunning palaces like “Hawa Mahal” and the City Palace; the imposing Amber (or Amer) Fort is just a short drive from the city. And, sure, if you ever go to Jaipur you shouldn’t skip those places.
But there is something else you will find in Jaipur, as this city has it in spades: character. And an overbearing atmosphere that will knock down most first-time visitors to India.
I arrived in Jaipur after just one very fuzzy and jet-lagged day in Delhi, where I could not make much sense of my surroundings. It was only the day after, well-rested and already in Jaipur, that the overwhelming chaos that is India hit me hard.
I was walking with my group from our hotel to Chandpole Gate, one of the seven gates in Jaipur’s old city wall, when it started. An all-out attack on my senses like I’d never experienced before: noise, dust, heat, foul smells, spicy aromas, colors, honking, rubbish, traffic, animals and people. Lots of people.
You can be on the verge of feeling crushed by it all. And that’s before you even start thinking about the grim implications of what you are seeing for the everyday life of many of the people you are encountering on the streets.
That’s India. At least the cities of India I’ve been to. Many people love it and many others hate it, because it’s just too much. But it’s great.
As a Westerner coming from a place where all these things are part of daily life too, but usually not all at the same time, and not on the scale you find them in India, it’s impossible not to be dazzled by this country, both its beauty and its ugliness. As a photographer, though, and as a human being, I always try to focus on the beautiful.
For an accelerated course in India’s hectic street pace, you could do a lot worse than getting lost in one of Jaipur’s bazaars. That’s what I did one afternoon after lunch, when I strayed from the group with my camera and spent almost five hours wandering around, aimlessly, trying to take it all in.
There were very few tourists in sight, at least from what I could tell. People were going about their business, shopping, eating snacks at food stalls, and the mood was one of festive chaos in anticipation of Diwali, the “Festival of lights” which was coming up in a few days.
While I enjoyed experiencing all this on my own, taking the time to watch and make lots of photos, I also wondered how many details and subtleties I was missing due to my lack of understanding of local culture and customs.
Still, what I experienced that afternoon is very much the reason why I love to travel: plunging into a different culture, being assaulted by new stimuli, trying to make sense of things, talking to some people, discovering the world’s diversity, feeling lost…
Is that why you travel too?