Bharatpur to Jaipur – step wells, temple-monkeys and an elephant named Jasmine

We’d planned to see a stepwell on the way to Jaipur today, and Shakti was keen that we use our time wisely, hence the 8.30am start…

The journey was full of interesting sights again – people making bricks, who Shakti tells us are skilled ‘artists’ brought in from another region. The fields were full of rows of drying bricks, as raw material (clay?) is dug up from the ground and dried out in the sun. Camels pulling carts were used to transport the bricks.

India day 4-2

 

We asked about the little round huts in the fields, and were told that they are for people to live in who look after the fields and stop the crops from being stolen or eaten by animals.

We also saw men walking along the side of the road carrying brightly coloured semi circular decorated structures. Shakti informed us that these were carrying holy water as tomorrow is to be a festival for Lord Shiva, as it is his birthday. People all over the region (country?) will be making offerings to Lord Shiva and Shakti planned to get up at 4am in order to make his own offering with the family.

We called in at the Chand Baori step well, which was featured, I’m told, (thanks Josie) in a film called ‘The Fall’, which I haven’t seen but given the depth of the step well was a worrying title, as well as in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The step well was interesting… We were immediately caught out in a mild tourist trap – a gentleman not far from the entrance offering ‘for good luck’ a dab of paint, a tikka/tilak (?) mark. I said no, but was soon dragged back (once the rest of the family had gone along with it, it seemed a bit churlish not to. Of course, there was a price attached to the good luck, and in what seemed an unlucky turn of events we found ourselves around 20 rupees per head worse off… (Around £1 for four, which could have been worse, but it seems to be a fairly constant flow of ‘just 20’ or ‘just 100’ rupees).

We hung about for a reasonable length of time for Steve to get his photography fix….

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Next to the step well was an old temple, which had been destroyed (did Shakti say by Akbar, I need to look this up)…   It may have been constructed here because of the rays from the moon… The nearby town of Abhaneri is named ‘city of brightness’, again relating to the moon’s rays (Shakti Fact)…

The temple had incense lit and had a special bit at the top which was watched over by a man with a welcoming arm, (‘come in, come in’) but this looked like another inevitable awkward moment which would cost us another few rupees so we walked around the edge, took in the views and the atmosphere (and Jack saw a large spider) and then left…

Back on the road, Shakti pointed out the ‘Jugaad’ or ‘farmer cars,’ which he said were constructed of bits of found items, including a water pump for an engine, and therefore you don’t need a license to drive. Looking up the literal translation of Jugaad, it seems there isn’t one, but it’s closest is something like a ‘hack’ or a ‘creative fix which works around the rules’.

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He also pointed out a whole village full of stone masons – every shop along the way selling a temple for your garden, or for your business. Increasingly these are now mechanised rather than hand chiselled he tells us.

Shakti had been keen (particularly seeing Jack and Ella’s interest in spotting monkeys along the way) to show us the ‘monkey temple’ near Jaipur.   He also hoped we’d have time to see some elephants, as I think Steve had been asking him about the options to do this…

The monkey temple was amazing – an area of maybe four different temples, and with monkeys crawling all over it… Shakti gave us specific instructions as to where he thought Steve would get his best picture – head up to the right, up some steps and look out for three windows. As soon as we arrived we were approached by someone who Shakti tells us is called ‘monkey man’ and could show us round, but since it’s quite a small place none of us felt we would need this. There was a nominal payment, so maybe 200 rupees for the temple, and 50 rupees each to allow us to take photos…

Shakti had explained that people come to ‘take a shower’ in the holy water which comes naturally from the gap between the two mountains here. He said we would find that the water was green, and he was right – it looked very cold. He had explained that people come here for religious reasons, essentially it seems to wash away their sins, and to feel cleansed and like a better person.

India day 4-32

We walked up to the area we had been told was our best photo opportunity, past at least three temples where we were invited in by a welcoming arm. We continued on, however, right to the top, via some amazing buildings, and a lot of monkeys. We felt it looked like a film set.

At the top we found a small temple.  We weren’t quite on the ball and found ourselves welcomed by a priest with a spiel.   He explained that his was the ‘monkey god’ temple (Gultha Temple), and that the monkey on the wall was naturally occurring in the stone (he wasn’t kidding – it looked nothing like a monkey)… He told us that he was the priest of the temple, and that the place had been an Ashram, where people came to do yoga…

He then invited us forward one by one for another ‘blessing for luck’, this one accompanied by an ‘ommmmm’. He then tied a piece of coloured string around our wrists for yet more luck, this one possibly for health. I felt genuinely concerned that mine took so long to tie – seemed like an omen to be honest… He even gave up ‘ommm’ ing, as he had to concentrate so hard on his knot… and presumably ran out of breath.

Meantime, disaster – bad luck almost instantly (probably serves me right for thinking negative thoughts about his wall-monkey and his knot tying skills), one of the real outdoor-monkeys had run off with one of Jack’s shoes…   This caused a bit of chaos and concern…

The priest finished off his last string tying job before coming out and jumping barefoot over a few barriers, shouting and throwing things at the monkeys… He bounded out of sight for a short while before clambering back over saying ‘well, I think you’ll have to forget about your shoe I’m afraid’. Oh dear, these were some reasonably pleasant Vans, and we have a good couple of weeks ahead of us… Aha, but no, his priestly sense of humour had fooled us and he had the shoe attached to the end of his foot. Phew. Disaster averted and Jack not hopping for the rest of the trip…

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Shortly afterwards we found the view point…

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We stopped for lunch after this. Shakti explained that there are three levels of restaurant he could direct us to – ‘tourist’ restaurant, which would be bigger, perhaps more air conditioned and spacious, a mid-range level where the food would be the same and the surroundings perhaps less done-for-tourists, or a lower level where perhaps he’d be slightly more afraid of us catching food poisoning…

So of course we opted for the mid-range, which turned out to be a good choice, and a massive lunch for around 1600 rupees (less than £20). We’ve noticed though that we need to do something about our massive lunches, as it’s the one thing that we hadn’t really planned on – we have a £50 per day food limit, which seemed like quite a lot, but we do need to keep an eye on it – a £20 per day overspend all adds up on a 21 day break…

We then had time to get to the ‘Elephant Village’ before heading to the hotel… Shakti had rung ahead and spoken to his friend who explained an entrance fee and then a further charge for ‘activities. We had read enough on Tripadvisor about what is on offer elephant-wise to know we didn’t want to ride an elephant, particularly if they have a wooden structure on their backs, which is apparently not OK for the elephants. Also that some are kept ‘shackled’ by their leg. We were also aware that there is an option to ‘paint’ on the elephant, which we didn’t feel could benefit the elephant in any way… So the owner brought us in and sat us down to ‘explain the activities, and then I’ll give you a price’ (which somehow automatically starts to sound ominous).

We told him that we’d be happy to feed the elephant, and to take pictures, but didn’t need to ride or to paint. He came up with a price of 5500 rupees, which I thought was around £6 so thought that seemed fair enough. When I went to get the money out, however, I realised that this was around £60 and thus, in my view, an absolute rip off. I apologised immediately and said I had made a mistake but that I didn’t want to pay that much. He managed to get it down to 4000 which still felt a little much, but we’d got that far, so…  off we went to meet an elephant.

Her name was Charmainee (Jasmine), and she had long eyelashes and an impressive stature. Her tusks at some point had been cut. We had been told that they only introduce the female elephants as they have a better temperament than the males. I think we all felt a bit uncomfortable and unsure – being invited to hug an elephant we’d hardly met maybe felt a bit false. We are told that they have an amazing memory for smell and that if we came back in four years time she’d remember us – a hug maybe would seem more appropriate at that point.

We fed her bundles of sugar cane wrapped up with what looked like water cress. This was followed by bananas, and then by what appeared to be her favourite, chapatti. I enjoyed the banana and chapatti feeding – she had a particular way of prising the food out of your hand with her trunk which was firm but gentle… Before we left, we did each give her a hug, and she nuzzled my feet with the end of her trunk (hoovering chapatti crumbs I think) which was both damp, tickly, a little unpleasant, yet quite cute in its own way. (Pictured below – horror and delight, all at the same time)

And then finally we made our way to our Jaipur hotel – the Umaid Bhawain. This had looked pretty fancy when booked in England (we’d looked on booking.com then booked direct as they had a deal which included evening meal and breakfast for around £90 per night). Shakti drove us past the ‘Victory Way’, where he says the family of the Royals used to assemble above and throw things (presumably nice things, rather than weighty things) down as they walked on by…

The hotel was a bit of a shock. Ridiculously ostentatious, painted, towers and balconies everywhere. We were greeted by any number of door-opening concierges and were told at reception we’ve been ‘upgraded to a suite’. The room is full of gilt and fanciness, with a chaise longue at the window. Not enough beds, but we’re told they’ll sort that.

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We are also told that the evening meal is served between 6.30-9.30 with entertainment 7-9. I immediately calculate that to miss the entertainment we’ll have to get down by 6.30 and eat fast, so maybe that isn’t going to happen. Churlish I know. So we wander down to dinner (pretty much next door to our room) at 7.30pm, find a seat outdoors, and as far away from the entertainment as possible. It is interesting though – a row of tabla players, and occasional dancers – two females and a male, the male had some amazing moves and kept piling more and more bowls on the head of one of the girls, whose smile appeared less and less genuine as time went on and the bowls had to keep being readjusted by her seemingly unconcerned male dance partner.

Then the awful moment arrived when they invite tourists to get up and dance with them. We avoided this, and the only tourist brave enough to go for it was a 3-ish year old girl, who presumably will berate her parents for this in years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Bharatpur to Jaipur – step wells, temple-monkeys and an elephant named Jasmine

  1. Reminded me of the twins in Zakynthos, declining the dancing with a piece of sweetcorn on our forks!! Loving your diary though, making me laugh and pictures are amazing. What an experience xx

    Like

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