India was celebrating the Republic Day on the day we left Pushkar to head off to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. There were celebrations all over the place with music, dancing and flags. Before entering chaotic Jaipur, we visited the Palace of Amber. We had to climb up a little slope, because hiring an elephant (which seemed to be the only way to get there) was a bit too expensive. The Palace had a lively square where we sat down to observe the elephants, monkeys and birds... Suddenly, loads of locals came to us asking us to pose with them for photographs. Again, we were the touristic atraction of the day. They took photos of us with the grandma, with the children, with the wife, with their friends... It was really crazy! They took about 30 photos of us or more. Quite funny.
Then, Nand took us to two shops (one of gems and one of textiles), where we didn't buy anything, but it was very interesting to see the process of gem-polishing and textile woodblock.
Nand dropped us in the old part of Jaipur, which is completely pink (or some shade of orangy red, more like it) and is, therefore, called the Pink City. Only five minutes later, we were already having a chai and chatting with Suraj, a 24 years-old boy from Jaipur. This was an amazing person to meet. He took us to his home and introduced us to his mother, wife and sisters. He even showed us all the family photographs. This guy really surprised us. He is far too mature for his age. You would never hear a guy of his age talk like that in Europe, let alone the U.S. He's involved (together with three other friends, one of which happens to be from Catalunya) in a project for the improvement of the education for poor children. There are many run-down areas in Jaipur, where children with no parents or with very poor parents receive absolutely no education whatsoever, who he decided to devote half of his salary to teaching materials for them and half of his time to act as a teacher for them and to find volunteering teachers. He's planning to build a school in a little piece of land he's bought, so that children will be able to attend school also during the rainy season. Sometime in the future when we can afford it, we would love to help him out in any way possible.
The following day in Jaipur was quite an experience. Nand took us around in the morning to a few sites. We visited the Jantar Mantar (literally, 'Magic Instrument'), which turned out to be quite a different place from any other and we were lucky enough to spot two eagles flying just above us for quite a long time. We passed by the City Palace, but didn't feel like visiting yet another museum, so skipped that one and went to Nahargarh Fort (Tiger Fort), overlooking Jaipur. This is a funny palace, because its laberynthic pathways were built that way so that none of his hundreds of girlfriends would know exactly in which room to find the Maharaja. It was nice to see this places, but nothing compared to what was yet to come. Nand took us to his home and that was truly amazing. They have a very humble little house on the outskirts of Jaipur, but it's almost 30 of them living in there. To start with, Nand and his wife have eight children and then there is Nand's mother, Nand's sister-in-law and her children and some other people that kept on turning up to go and see those white weridoes. They dressed us up like a Rajasthani bride and groom and, to be honest, we looked quite funny. The children were running and jumping all over the place and it was so nice to be there. Everybody was smiling and seemed so happy to have us there. They even invited us for lunch and made us accept, but we felt a bit guilty because it was their fasting day for God Vishnu and we were the only ones eating in the place. The children taught Mikel how to fly a kite and then showed us some card tricks. Nand really does have a beautiful family.
In the afternoon we had agreed to meet Suraj again to go and see his colony of children. He took us on his bike to one of the most run-down neighbourhoods of Jaipur. The houses were tiny and had no doors or windows (just holes) and the streets were some sort of muddy paths, that both animals and people simply used as public toilets. This experience was overwhelming. Children crept from all corners and hanged on to us, wanting to touch us, to say hello and to get a smile from us. At one point, I couldn't even move because around twenty children were pushing me in the opposite direction to stay with them. Finally we got to a tiny little room and sat on the floor together with just a few children to chat with Suraj and his friend, the puppet artist. He showed us his art and told us how much he appreciates Suraj for having helped him out. His parenst died and left him alone with two younger brothers, his wife and his two children and he's just a puppetteer... The most amazing thing of all this is that they were not asking us for money. They wanted to go to Spain and perform their puppet show there in order to raise money for the children's future school. We told them we would try to arrange something when we get back (the problem is that they don't know that this won't happen in a year...).
Now we are in Agra (Uttat Pradesh), the city of the Taj Mahal, but it's closed on Fridays, so we'll go and visit it tomorrow despite its ridiculous admission price. It is one of the seven wonders afterall. Just before leaving Jaipur this morning, we stopped by the Monkey Temple (Gaita), which is a gorgeous little place inbetween the mountains, full of monkeys and with a beautiful step-well. And then, just before reaching Agra, we stopped by at Fatehpur Sikri, where a very stupid so-called guide insisted that we should pay him for a guided visit. We refused and he started shouting like a madman in the middle of Dargarh Mosque, to everyone's astonishment. We decided to simply walk out of the place. There's something with Moques and us, we simply don't seem to get along. We visit them with an open mind, ready to learn as much as possible from the Muslim world and we always end up in some mess with someone trying to rip us off. Perhaps we are simply too used to the peace of the Jain and Hindu temples and their smiling people.
A big hug to you all. Shupratri!!!!
Idoia & Mikel.