Intrepid…… bold, courageous, fearless
Adventure……escapade, venture, journey
Its 4.30am, and I’m waiting for the transport that will take 5 of us on a balloon safari to the east of Jaipur, the ‘Pink City’. When we arrive at our destination it is still dark and the 2 balloons which will be taking us on our trip are being filled with hot air, fired by the flames leaping from a large gas cylinder fixed to the basket. It is still dark, and the sky is alight with the colours of the balloons rising above us. We are greeted with a cup of masala chai and some banana bread which is very welcome on this chilly morning. We climb into the basket and after a quick briefing from Francisco, our balloon operator (from Spain), we are up, up and away. If you have ever been on a balloon you will remember how everything slows down as we glide effortlessly across the sky. There’s silence as the sky takes its time to reveal the muted pinks, yellows and blues of the morning. As we glide over the countryside the small homesteads start to stir. The locals are on their roofs for morning chai and a colourful truck full of people stops and all the occupants are smiling, waving and saying hello. This is a good way to start the day.
I arrive back in time for breakfast. Today we have the option of a free day, a chance to explore, to be travellers and not just tourists. We hook up with another couple, Jenny and Dave and decide to walk to the old city to experience some of the palaces and museums that Jaipur has to offer. Within 2 minutes of leaving the hotel we are stopped by a tuk tuk driver…… he shows me his Instagram feed, he calls himself Mr Shampoo (no idea why?). ….. “why are you tourists so rude to us, I don’t understand” he says. We have a brief conversation about the differences in our cultures and I feel sad that there is such a misunderstanding between us. But before long he is trying to sell us a tuk tuk tour around the city. We say, “we just want to walk”, he says “it’s too far to walk”, we say “no thank you, we don’t want a tuk tuk today, we will walk” and he tries to persuade us again and again. Eventually we walk away saying “no thank you” with our head down and now I feel rude. By the end of today, after a few lucky escapes I learn that it is easier to smile, say no thank you and walk on with your head down. Engaging in any conversation on the streets of these cities, no matter how innocent you think it is, you may end up a back alley, in a wholesale jewellery shop (or other) trying to get out of buying something that is “very good price”, but completely not what you either need or want.
We walk the streets of Old Jaipur, and visit the City Palace, the famous Wind Palace and Jantar Mantur, the giant-sized astrology park of Jaipur. Using our basic map, we weave in and out of the manic traffic, past the market stalls selling everything from spices, nuts and chillies to padlocks, children’s bikes, herbal medicine and saris. We end up in alleyways, get lost a few times but somehow manage to find where we are going. We’re being adventurous…. even intrepid!
And then we find ourselves in the middle of a celebration or demonstration moving through the main street of Jaipur. The streets are filled to the brim with people chanting, waving flags, tooting horns… all the traffic is at a standstill, but we need to head in the opposite direction. We battle our way through the throngs in what we think is the right direction before eventually there is a realisation that we don’t recognise any of the landmarks around us. There are no other tourists, no other white faces and I begin to feel a little threatened. Eventually we come across a group of policemen who point out that we have been walking in entirely the wrong direction. They flag us down a tuk,tuk and before we know it for 100 rupees (£1), we are flying through the city back to our hotel. We arrive back dusty and tired, yet exhilarated. Later we learn that there has been a celebration of the prophet Mohamad’s birthday in the city. All 4 or us celebrate our intrepid urban adventure with a kingfisher beer ……… relishing the differences in culture which make this country such an exciting country to experience.