Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Jaipur the "Pink City"

The official at the Delhi bus station said it would take five and a half hours to get to Jaipur. I believed him and bought the ticket thinking that soon I would be in the so called "Pink City" (pink is supposed to be a welcoming sign).

Eight hours later we arrived in Jaipur and I was not about to be welcomed by anyone (this picture is from the roof of the much nicer hotel next to my dump).

The next morning I made my way to see the Old City which contains the "City Palace Complex" built by Maharaja Jai Singh II (1693-1743). Getting there was a trip in itself. The taxi dude wanted to sell me on a "city tour" which included shopping for gold and diamonds. He grew more persistent but I adamantly refused. So after all the energy he wasted he asked me to "fix a visa" so he can go and live and work in South Africa. I am working on it even as I write, I figure we need one more obnoxious taxi driver to compliment the hoardes we already have throughout South Africa ;0)

I enjoyed walking around the the City Palace. It is said to exhibit a "unique blend of Rajasthani and Mugal architecture." I'll take their word for it.

Next to the City Palace is the Jantar Mantar, an observatory started by Jai Singh in 1728. I did not know what the hell all the structures were meant to do but it was fun listening to the folks trying to act 'educated' and pontificating on the use of the structures.

I left the City Palace and made my way toward the Tiger Fort. On my way I watched this traffic jam unfold for about 10 minutes. No-one waits for anyone on the roads in India. It is plain chaotic and the traffic fatalities must be horrendous. If you plan on coming make sure you get some really good travel insurance and be careful on the damn crappy roads.

I took a local bus to the Tiger Fort (a 20 minute ride) and did what I like most to do: I watched people interact. The bus was packed to capacity and I stood near the rear for most of the journey. I noticed an older lower-caste woman board the bus
and I wondered if anyone would offer her a seat. No-one did. None of the men even paid any attention to her presence. The woman just stood patiently as the bus coughed and lurched onwards.

As if by script, a white female tourist, probably in her late fifties, boarded the bus at the next stop. Immediately, and with a sense of urgent politeness, several Indian men stood in unison and offered their seats. She refused and kept standing. This was one of those Fanonian moments. The men were obviously embarrased as they meekly sat down again. The old Indian woman continued to stand patiently and my blood just boiled.

What the hell is wrong with us? India is reaching its 60th year of national independence from British rule. Don't get me wrong here, I don't want a repeat rabid exchange with another white paper-weight-wannabe-feminist about my role as a Black male oppressor. The right thing to do is to give up your seat to both older women and men (even parents with kids in tow). It would be the polite thing to do.

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, the founder and first president of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), would say that we can only measure the extent of our freedom when the mental shackles that bind us to servicing whiteness is permanently removed.

Tiger Fort is not really an impressive fort. I walked up the steep 2km trail to the fort and again promised myself to work-out one day (ok sooner than one day Michelle). The setting of the fort though is beautiful and made for some good pictures.

The light around the fort was so bright but the pictures I took came out great for the most part. The surroundings of Jaipur looks a lot like Kimberley, minus the mountains of course. The shrubbery is that found in semi-arid areas.

At the entrance gate before the 2km climb I stopped to snap this picture. The one in front looks a lot like my boy Mark Wetherson :0) ... just jesting Spoon, you are not that handsome ;)

I noticed elephants walking up the steep trail in front of me. I knew that the travel guides speak of elephant rides up to the fort. But this is 2006 right? Who in their right mind would ride an elephant up to the fort? During my time there I noticed only folks from caucasia voyeuring through this essentialized 'authentic' Indian experience.

I took obvious pictures of these 'on-safari-smucks' and noticed that they were uncomfortable with my attention.

I thought it an opportune time for all to witness their delusory pathology.

Elephants can push and pull a tremendous amount of weight but they suffer when carrying loads on their backs. Their anatomy is just not conducive to carrying weight on their backs. Elephants have a rounded spine. Studies have found that as these elephants age they are more prone to back and joint arthritis. Riding on the back of an elephant is just plain cruel and inhumane. The elephant pictured here really caught my eye. I watched intently and felt a deep sadness I cannot still overcome.

I know that working elephants are a way of life in many parts of the sub-continent. But seeing these amazing and imposing animals made me wonder about our will to extend ourselves beyond the confines of our navels. Elephants don't belong in the streets of Jaipur carrying any tourist while India's leaders talk fanciful crap about their emerging power role in international politics.

The majority of people in India are impoverished. It is not too hard to see why animals will be abused inside attempts to earn a living from the tourist trade. I have seen billboards urging tourists not to tip folks who parade dancing bears. They put ropes through the bear's nose and yank on it everytime a tourist approaches. This makes the bear stand up in agony with its arms outstretched. And dumb ass tourists take pictures of this brutality thinking it soooo cute.

There are of course also the snake charmers on every corner. But if you care to listen you will be told by all and sundry about the glorious tradition of respecting cows and honoring animal life. I must be blind to this respect because all I see everywhere is a very heavy abuse of animals. In these contexts I can understand why animal liberation folks in India push so hard to get their message across.

As I watched this elephant disappear down the trail to 'fetch' a new load, I wished that I could shove the 'on-safari' folks somewhere. But knowing that this would be animal cruelty (though there may be suppository benefits), I turned my mind to putting an imagined cap into their respective asses.

Before I left the vicinity of Tiger Fort I stopped into the yard to look at all the elephants there. The mahoots were busy working the crowds for new passengers and some elephants were eating.

I took a few more pictures and just as I was about to take my last elephant picture the mahoot shouted "salute" and the elephant obeyed. I left feeling shredded.

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