We arrived at Jaipur by nightfall.
The cab moved swiftly on the three lane road and the rolled down windows let the warm air through. The absence of traffic was haunting, almost supernatural. I watched as we entered the Pink City, retro cinemas with its bright neon signs and hundreds of businesses with the family name elegantly painted on the wall. The city seemed mysterious, somniferous, complicit.
By sunrise it was as if the city had exploded and burst to life overnight. The streets were covered with humans, animals and all kinds of sellable goods. Shops poured from holes on the wall down to the sidewalk, exposing jewelery, mojaris, turbans, textiles, copper kitchen appliances and a million others. The heat, smells and rainbow of colours hit you in the face and leave you dizzy. Jaipur is unforgiving and unapologetic with its beauties and its beasts. You adapt or you let it consume you.
But it is not all mayhem, there is also peace in the Pink City. Hawa Mahal doesn’t need an introduction and it doesn’t promise anonymity but the air you breathe in here is different. The walls, painted in ochre, burnt yellow and dusty pink exude calm. You can hear the sound of your footsteps as you enter each courtyard, sit below the arches and admire the blue skies of Jaipur in the shade. Flower and nature designs decorate the richly painted doors and windows, contrasting with the stark walls. The Palace of Winds is an oasis from the oppressive heat and lack of personal space.
I can see Jaipur’s Central Park from the heights of Tapri Tea House terrace. The manicured lawn offers itself to the business men on their lunch breaks. I follow the park to its limits and then the lines of buildings until they melt with the horizon. I am having Masala Chai and a Muska Bun with butter. There is nothing more satisfactory than sipping Chai and dipping Muska whilst conversing about your recent shopping spree at Anokhi (we visited 3 times, guilty as charged)
By 8am we are entering the cab and driving through the already steaming road towards Amber Fort. Leaving the city behind, the landscape becomes rough, mountains and valleys appear as we climb higher and higher. And then it appears, in all its glory. The flat surface of the lake reflects a vision of a bygone era. Kilometers of stone wall lead up to the Fortress, only accesible by foot or elephant. Once you enter, it is all vaulted ceillings, richly decorated in geometric or animal patterns, open courtyards in white marble contrasting with greenery and fountains, silver and mirror mosaics fill the space whilst you stand, mesmerized by beauty itself, no self awareness despite being surrounded by hundreds.
Amber is constantly living under the shadow of the Fort, ochre coloured houses spreading over the valley. Buffalos rest under the shadow of the trees whilst monkeys loiter around the market are looking for a bite to steal. We interrupt a group of monks scattering ashes at a step well, dressed only in white draped trousers. The streets are almost deserted under the midday sun as we enter Anokhi Museum. A restored haveli, the museum houses a remarkable collection of block printed garments and textiles as well as photographs and utensils. You become aware of the precision, delicacy and skill involved in this time consuming craft, its beauty fully appreciated and sadly undervalued.
It is with a heavy heart that we take a Rickshaw, leaving Amber behind and heading up towards Nahargarth Fort. The winding road climbs the hill steadily as the sun starts to set. We arrive just in time to see Jaipur in all its expanse, bathed in the orange glow of sunset. You can still hear the roar of trucks and occasional cry of monkeys from civilization below. Street lights start to lit up as the fumes from chimneys rise upwards. In silence, we soak in the ticking seconds as the sun descends into the horizon and the city lights shine brighter. The wind is refreshingly cold as we silently make our way down on our rickshaw towards the imminent city. All I can hear now is the rushing of trees as we pass and the solitary birds. The sky is diluting from pink to black. It is at this moment when I fully grasp where I am, eyes closed and a hand out the window. I am here.