Our intrepid urban adventure in Jaipur

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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 up by the flames leaping from large gas cylinders fixed to the baskets. And suddenly 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, 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. Everything slows down as we glide effortlessly across the sky and there’s complete 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 stop and all the occupants are smiling, waving and saying hello.  This is a good way to start the day.

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I arrive back in time for breakfast. Today we have a free day, a chance to explore, to be travellers and not just tourists. We hook up with another couple from our group, Jenny and Dave, and decide to walk to the old city of Jaipur to experience some of the palaces and museums that it 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 do feel rude. However by the end of the day, 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 an Indian city, no matter how innocent you may think it is, there is every chance you will end up in a back alley, or a wholesale jewellery shop,  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 always manage to find where we are going. We’re being adventurous…. even intrepid!

And then in a blink of an eye, we are in the middle of a huge celebration moving through the main streets of Jaipur. The streets are filled to the brim with people chanting, waving flags, tooting horns. All the traffic is at a standstill and 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 realising there are absolutely no landmarks that we recognise, no other tourists and certainly no other white faces around. We begin to feel a little threatened but come across a group of policemen who point out that we have been walking in entirely the wrong direction. They flag us  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 of a celebration for 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.

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