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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pink City, Amber Fort, Black Motorcycle...

The one thing I was hoping to do when I was here in India was to keep you all up to date as I have travelled through each town and region. However, time and internet issues have conspired against me in the fulfilment of that desire. So, here I am…finally getting you up to date. Now, where did I leave you last? Ah yes. Pushkar.
After the marvels of Pushkar I thought that India would be disappointing, a decline in fascination. However, Jaipur would prove me wrong. It is an incredible city, one with a rich history and city streets that are presently under consideration for World Heritage listing. And so they should be. They have to be seen to be believed. Jaipur’s old district, once a 17th century walled city, is now known as the Pink City, because of the unique colour of the street’s shops and dwellings. Jaipur was planned as a grid hundreds of years ago and its shopping district is lined with identically sized shops the variety of which is only altered by the contents within. It is wonderful to walk through and photograph. However, watch the traffic.
I learned this the hard way. Our guide had told us that if we were to cross the street, walk and don’t alter your stride or pace. The traffic will go around you. Now, I am used to this concept, having crossed streets in cities like Cairo and Saigon. Our guide also told us to look both ways, no matter what side of the road you are crossing. Unfortunately, I broke both these rules. Stopping halfway across I checked the traffic coming from the direction it is supposed to come from. However, in India, traffic never does what it is supposed to. Thinking it was all clear I stepped out from the halfway point only to be swiped by a motorcycle coming the wrong way. The foot pedal grazed across my shin, knocking me a little and taking a small chunk out of my leg. I walked across to the other side and lifted my jeans to see what had happened. Nothing too bad. It was ok. However, a young salesman came out from one of the shops to help me out, bringing water and the news that his offsider had gone down the street to buy a bandage for me. I thanked him, opting to use the water from my water bottle instead, knowing that it would be cleaner than the water from the tap that the young man had brought. Returning moments later from his errand, the young man gave me two bandaids which I quickly applied. Within a few minutes I returned to the group who were buying silver jewellery. In that rather upmarket shop I was given cotton wool and antiseptic, so I went about cleaning it properly. I think there is still some cotton wool in the wound. Oh well. It will make its way out eventually. I remind myself that if I had been two inches more across that street it would probably have snapped my leg in half. So all in all I did rather well!

That same city and evening found us all heading for yet another damned Carpet Factory. Man, as if I haven't seen enough of these places as I have travelled! Every guide wants to take you to their special carpet maker, each one being so incredibly 'unique'. Normally, I don't agree to these kinds of manipulation but the group wanted to go. So, off we went. I just wanted to hang around outside. As Nathan and I did (he wasn't interested either) we heard a great deal of noise coming from a property next to the carpet place. So, naturally, we grabbed our cameras and ran toward it. As we approached the sounds of music and merriment, we were ushered into a wedding! Yes, here we were, complete strangers in dirty, sweaty clothes being ushered into this celebration. We were encouraged to take photographs from whatever vantage point we wanted. And...we did! It was much better than sitting in a damn carpet factory, let me tell you! It was a taste of the real life. We only had a few minutes, but they were wonderful.
Jaipur is well known for the Amber Fort, the City Palace and its 380 year old observatory with 20 metre high sundials that are accurate within two seconds. Amazing stuff. Naturally we visited each of these and they were fascinating. However, for me, there is nothing like walking the streets with a camera in hand. This very thing Nathan and I did on our own the last night in Jaipur. We were the only ones in the group who wanted to do this. While we were limited in our photo options, we won’t soon forget the experience. Not many tourists take this option and walk the back lanes where the real thing happens. We were fish out of water, most definitely. But we were never in any obvious danger and we were greeted and welcomed by all those to whom we smiled and waved. We have found that to be the case here. Stories abound of danger, pickpockets, thieves, scoundrels and terrorists. However, I have not felt that from anyone. I would quickly respond that I would also feel apprehensive about walking alone in the evenings in my own city of Melbourne or any city in the United States, Europe or the UK with that much photographic equipment on my person. In fact, I would feel more apprehensive in these places I think than I have felt anywhere in India. Some may think me na├»ve, but I am here. I am feeling it. I am doing it. This is what I have come up with. As with all things you have to have common sense. But that applies no matter where you go. I only know that I would not risk my well being or my son’s just to get a handful of street photos unless I felt it was safe to do so. Having done it I am glad of it. Nathan and I won’t forget that evening.
Neither will we forget the tuk tuk ride on the way back to our hotel. Our driver managed to cough his way through the most horrendous traffic jam I have ever seen, taking out a headlight or two of other tuk tuks as he did! The fumes and the noise made it a rather unpleasant trip from a sensory perspective, but we laughed our way back to the hotel with each turn of a corner and each crazy piece of driving. If I remember correctly, we even broke into a chorus of "Born to Be Wild"...

1 comment:

Erin said...

It's impossibly safe in Japan too, for completely different reasons. Amazing post, Shelton. Absolutely beautiful photographs. I would buy a photobook if you were to publish one.

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller