Thursday, April 11, 2013

J: Oh, the Places You'll Go!

It's Day 10 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, in which I'm focusing on overseas destinations I've visited. And today...

J is for Jakarta, Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer

Jakarta, Indonesia (August 1989)

We started our three weeks in Indonesia in the capital, Jakarta. Driving from the airport through the city in a taxi nearly gave us a heart attack. We arrived at the Wisma Ise Guest House, where we climbed three flights of stairs up to reception. As soo as we walked in, a woman came up and put her arms around me and said, "I am so sorry!" They had just promised their last room. She was extremely kind and told us to sit down and have a cool drink. Then she had an idea. They had two Indonesian customers from the same company who were together all the time she would ask them to share a room so we could have the other one. She said we could leave our luggage and come back later. We went to the bank to change money and the cheap accommodation centre. We checked out another hotel, but the rooms were more expensive and the people were not as nice. We decided to trust our luck at the guesthouse. Sure enough, when we returned, they had a room for us.

Our general impressions of Jakarta were noisy, heavily populated, and dirty, and it tried our nerves. One of the windows in our room was permanently left open--before I went to sleep the first night, I wrote "I hope I can sleep with the noise." However, it was not a restful night. The couple next door to us had a loud fight. She was English and he Japanese, and they fought until about 1:00 a.m., so by that time I was wide awake. Then at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. call to prayer from the mosque right next door to the guesthouse. I will never forget being woken up by "Alla Ahkbar" sung over the loudspeakers, a sound that might be beautiful if you're not trying to sleep.
We found the guesthouse owners to be very sweet--the first night, Anni made a meal for us--nasi goreng and mee kuah (noodles), spicy but yummy. The Indonesians like to put fried eggs on a lot of their food. Then we were forced back into our room by the mosquitoes. Most Indonesians bathe with something called a "mandi." It's a cold tub of water, and you scoop bowls of water out of the tub and wash yourself next to the tub. Jakarta was our first experience with the cold mandi.
Our second day in Jakarta was "trying," as I wrote. We walked in the hot sun to the square and went up in the national monument for a view of the city...and then down to the basement to see a panoramic museum of the history of Indonesia. When we went off in search of the post office, we asked several people for directions, but they all gave us different ones. Finally we just gave up.

And then we tried to find transportation to take us back to the guesthouse. We asked a man about the average price for a bajaj (like a Thai tuk tuk), and he said 500 rp. He was very kind and flagged a few bajajs for us, but the lowest they would go was 800 rp. Most of them said 2,000 rp! Because we didn't have any change for 800, we decided to take a taxi. The fare was 1,400 rp, and I gave him 5,400, but he gave me only 3,000 in change. By the time I realized this, he was gone! I realized, by this time, that I was too trusting, probably because of three years in Japan, where this would never have happened.

That afternoon, back at the guesthouse, we talked to a man from Arizona, Chris, and some Vietnamese women who were studying English in Jakarta for three months. Chris spoke to us for about an hour--he taught Southeast Asian studies and had been traveling all over Southeast Asia--but we couldn't get a word in edgewise.

I have such fond memories of Indonesia that I'd completely forgotten that it started in a not-the-best way, similar to our first few days in India...a good reminder that sometimes it takes awhile to get used to a country. I had similar first few days in both Japan and China, too, now that I recall...

Fortunately, we did realize right away that the Indonesian people are, in general, warm and friendly.
Photo with the nice people who ran the nice-but-noisy guesthouse in Jakarta (with rooftop views!)

Jaipur, India (September 1989)

After spending a few days in Agra, we set off for our Rajasthan tour. Mike and I like to get to know a place well, so we'd rather spend our time in one region than trying to scramble on a whirlwind tour. We wouldn't do well on one of those "see 20 countries in Europe in 21 days" types of tours! When we were planning our trip to India, we wanted to go to Kashmir, but 1989 was the year that the violent separatist movement began heating up in the region. So instead we decided to focus on Rajasthan in the northern part of India, which the Lonely Planet (our trusted guidebook) describes as "romantic India wrapped in gaudy royal robes. Here the fearsome Rajput warrior clans ruled with gilt-edged swords, plundered wealth and blood-thick chivalrous codes. 
  A vast and wonder-laced state with treasures more sublime than those of fable, the Land of the Kings paints a bold image."
What "first class" looked
like in India back in 1989
We began in Jaipur, after a dusty, gritty, and grimy 5-1/2-hour train journey from Agra. We rode first class in India, but back in 1989, first class in India was way rougher than anything you would find in the west. (And don't get me started on the loos.) Along the way, each time we stopped, small children gathered outside our windows saying "Hello, how much?" What we could see of the scenery was interesting and beautiful. Coming out of Agra we saw many people squatting beside rivers or ponds, defecating.

By the time we arrived in Jaipur, my contact lenses were dry and filthy because of the dust. In Jaipur station, we stepped over row upon row of sleeping bodies, curled up like the front of the station was their private bedroom, and we were assaulted by crowds of rickshaw drivers. One found Mike and offered to take us to the Arya Niwas Hotel for two rupee. It seemed too good to be true! But it was our lucky night, for he took us there and they had a room.

Walking behind a cow in Jaipur
The hotel was the nicest place we'd stayed yet in India...clean, well lit, with a nice bathroom, and a locking closet. When we ordered lunch the next day, we noticed a sign that said that tipping was not allowed in the hotel (highly unusual in India, where it seems that everyone wants a tip). We had the best Indian meal we'd had yet--a thali with chappati, rice, daal, kofta curry, okra, curd, and salad. At around 4:00 p.m., when we were in our room reading, the power went out, so we took that as a cue to get out and about. We fended off rickshaw drivers (who were not nearly as persistent as they were in Agra) and walked in the hot sun, and felt lots of stares. I gathered it's not often done for tourists to walk the streets of Jaipur. We walked around rickshaws, people, and the inevitable cows, and noticed the pervasive aroma of shit.

Jaipur is called the pink city because of its pink sandstone buildings. Walking through the old part of the city was slow but fascinating--we saw animals everwhere--goats, dogs, cows, and monkeys. Children came up to us and shouted merrily in our faces. We had to dodge all sorts of people, vehicles, animals, and other objects. Walking definitely attracted touts and other men who were desperate to help us even though we were doing fine on our own.

Photos of the old city, Jaipur
Above the old city of Jaipur
The next morning when I woke up, I realized that we had only 18 days left together. At this point we didn't know what our plans were. At the start of our trip, I bought a ticket to take me back to Oregon, and Mike bought one to take him back to England. I was waiting for Mike to give me some indication of what he wanted--at this point we had been dating for 2-1/2 years!--but was feeling impatient. I wanted to know what was going to happen next, and I figured I'd have to force the issue soon (propose, perhaps) if he didn't say something! A lovely breakfast in the hotel dining room made me feel better. We visited the at-the-time faded-glory Rambagh Palace to make reservations at the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur for later in our trip. We popped in the bookshop, but we didn't stay long because the clerk was pestering Mike with "helpful information," which is the quickest way possible to get us to leave a shop. We had lassis on the terrace and read our books. We swam in the hotel pool and had a hot shower--the first one I'd had in India--and had dinner at Niro's, which was nice although a bit expensive.

Rambagh Palace

The next day we went on a guided tour of the city, starting with the Ram Niwas Museum. Sadly, the exhibits were not very well displayed, with poor lighting and little labeling. Next we went into the old city again and went on top of a building to get a "panoramic" view of the old city. Next was the  stunning Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, Jaipur's most famous landmark. It was designed in the form of the crown of Krishna, a Hindu god. The latticed architecture was designed for the women, in purdah, to be able to see out through the windows without anyone seeing them.

Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds
Next was the City Palace, where the current maharajah was living. We were quickly led through the Palace Museum, which had collections of clothing, paintings, manuscripts, carpets, and weapons. Then we were whisked off to the Jantar Mantar, built by the Maharajah Jai Singh, the same man who built the observatory in Delhi.
Jantar Mantar, observatory still operating

Next up was the Amber Fort, to which we trekked uphill by foot. The fort gave us beautiful views of the lake and valley below. The guide took us through the fort, which was fascinating. The fort had lovely mirrored halls with intricately adorned walls and ceilings.
Amber Fort

We were taken to the 12 apartments of the maharani, which were separate but joined in a central compound. The walls were whitewashed but under restoration to unearth the lovely Hindu paintings underneath, which the Moguls had ordered to be painted over. Our guide informed us, with a twinkle in his eye, that the 12 maharani never got jealous of each other because the polyamorous maharajah had 12 different passageways into the apartments, so none of them would know where he was that night. The red handprints of the maharani who had committed sati by throwing themselves on their husband's funeral pyre really got to me.
Handprints of maharani who committed sati
The tour ended with a visit to Rajasthan Cottage Industries, supposedly to see how carpets were made. We didn't have much money, so although others on the tour bought carpets, we did not. That didn't stop the salesman from repeatedly saying to us, "Have you decided yet?"

I had tummy troubles in Jaipur and had a difficult time sleeping. Even though we liked the hotel, we found it to be noisy at night. The next day we left for Udaipur, which will always hold a special place in my memory!

Jodhpur, India (September 1989)

We arrived in Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan, after an overnight (15-hour) train journey from Udaipur. Indian trains stop frequently, and one stop seemed to last for three hours. During one stop, hordes of children banged on the windows and doors of the train compartment--we felt like animals in a zoo. Outside Jodhpur is a desert landscape with green brush. The word jodhpurs owes its etymology to this city.

We stayed in the Sardar Guest House, run by a well-educated, middle-aged elegant Indian woman. They didn't appear to have many guests. It was a wonderful, charming old place, and our room included a huge dressing room and bathroom. The room charge included continental breakfast, but when asked, we said that yes, we'd like lunch and dinner as well. We continued our tradition on our first day in a city of being lazy to recover from our journey. That evening we had dinner with the owner, a delicious Rajasthani meal. We found her to be well informed and talkative, if a little bit strange. It was our first enounter with an upper-class Indian.

The next day we walked quite a ways to get a rickshaw, but we had to wait for the driver to finish peeing by the side of the road before he would take us. Before coming to Asia, I never dreamed I'd see so many men peeing in public...from Japan to China to India. We rode to the fort through narrow, crowded streets of the old city, which were crammed with honking rickshaws, bicycles, cows, goats, donkeys, and people. Our driver skillfully maneuvered his way through the colorful traffic, at one point nudging aside a poor donkey carrying a sack of dirt. We arrived at the Mehrangarh Fort entrance in one piece and began the long ascent up the hill. The fort, founded in 1458, is the largest in Rajasthan. The city grew around it over the years.

The other option to get up and down the hill--by elephant

Trudging up the hill
The sun was high in the sky by then and we quickly grew hot and sweaty. The fort entrance fees were 10 rupee a person with 15 rupee for a camera, but it included a guide, who took us around the many exhibits and regal rooms of the maharajah. The bedroom was particularly impressive, and we were told that the maharajah had 60 wives. The guide asked Mike how many wives he had! I most enjoyed the displays of ancient baby cradles, Rajasthani folk music instruments, and silver and bronze thrones on which they rode elephants. The fort gave incredible views of the city down below, hundreds of pale blue houses. Blue signifies that it's a Brahmin house...and it's why Jodhpur is nicknamed "the blue city."

Views from the fort

Fort walls
After descending from the fort we walked through the busy winding streets of old Jodhpur, fascinated at every turn. Children said hello and asked our names.

After having dinner in the guesthouse on our last evening in Jodhpur, the owner presented us with our total bill, which completely shocked us. She had charged us over twice what we would have paid in a nice restaurant for our meals...with a 10 percent service charge. We were highly unhappy, but we didn't complain...we blamed ourselves for not asking how much the meals would be beforehand. Again, we found ourselves to be too trusting. That night we left for Jaisalmer, happy to be moving on and disappointed that our fun stay in Jodhpur ended in such a way.

Our train left at 10:45 p.m., and this time our compartment had no lights. We listened to a French woman next door complaining that she had requested a 2-person compartment all to herself, and a British guy asking when the electricity would come back on. The attendant replied, "When the train moving fast!" I thought that was amusing, because our train seemed to stop every five minutes!

Jaisalmer, India (September 1989)

After another rough overnight train journey, which was hot and dusty and full of bugs, we opened the shades to look out at the wide-open desert. The "attendant" (who had done nothing to attend to us) came by and announced over and over again, "I AM ATTENDANT!", because he wanted baksheesh (a tip) for doing nothing. Mike gave him a few rupees, and he looked disgusted with us.

We reached Jaisalmer, nicknamed "the golden city," around 8:15 a.m., along with many other foreigners. The beautiful walled city of Jaisalmer is known for its camels. We stayed in a converted caravanserai, called Sri Narayan Vilas, which was of average quality. According to the hotel Web site, now all the rooms there are air conditioned. Not back in 1989! The windows did not have screens, and Jaisalmer had a lot of insects. We found the hotel service to be overly attentive, to the annoying stage, and they pushed the camel safaris hard. We insisted that we wanted to relax for awhile. Did we want to go on a jeep tour this afternoon? No thank you, we said. After resting for most of the day, the electricity went out at around 5:00, so we went out for a walk.

The old city of Jaisalmer is fascinating to wander around. All of the buildings are made from yellow sandstone, and it looks like a desert village. The winding roads are interesting and not so crowded compared with other cities. Also, the rarity of rickshaws make it much quieter than other Indian cities. We wandered up to the fort, which is an exotic yellow fortress (built in 1156) on a ridge overlooking the town--and full of more winding roads and yellow houses. We explored the outer ramparts of the fort, discovering several piles of shit (apparently the thing to do is shit while looking down on the city below!). We returned to the hotel where we had a nice dinner, but the manager wouldn't stop pestering us. When we returned to our room, we found mosquitos and gnats that had gathered for a bug conference!
I loved the gorgeous architecture of Jaisalmer!

Up on the fort, looking down over the city

Fortress walls

Couldn't get enough of the architecture!

Another view from the fort
Then we went back into the fort, where we explored beautiful Jain temples with intricate stone carvings. We went into the wonderful seven-story palace with beautiful sweeping views of Jaisalmer and the surrounding desert. Later in the evening we climbed a ridge outside the city, hoping for a view of the sun setting on the fort.
View of the walled fort and city from afar
As we were climbing, a small band of boys followed us up the ridge. They turned out to be musicians, and before we knew it they surrounded us and burst into concert, banging drums and blocks of wood, and singing and dancing energetically. They were very friendly and claimed to be brothers. It was one of the most memorable encounters we had in India, far off the beaten path.

This photo hangs in our living room,
a reminder of a wonderful chance moment in India
We booked a camel safari in the hotel office--our options were a basic or a royal. The basic was "roughing it," with food consisting of dal, chapati, and rice. The royal included an English speaking guide, good meals, drinks at extra cost, a tent, sheets, and pillows. We opted for the royal, thinking it would be nice to have a tent. The hotel staff was very pleased to hear this, of course. I'm going to save the camel safari for another day.

Visit here to read my A-I posts. Tomorrow, lots of K spots in Japan.


  1. Well I sure do appreciate your tours and traveling vicariously through you because based upon your descriptions and some of the photos, I wouldn't last 2 seconds in India! lol I'm just not that flexible.

    1. I was probably more flexible as a 24-year-old than I am now at age 48! :)

  2. Fascinating! I've never been to Rajasthan yet and I live in India :) Next time you venture an adventure into India again, do try Chennai down South...would love to read about your experiences :)

    Four Leaf Clover

    1. Thanks, Sumita. I would love to get to the south one day! We have friends who live in Kodaikanal.

  3. I think India is so full of mysticism but I've heard is getting dangerous to travel there, mostly for women. And yet, it is still a charming place.

  4. Being awakened by the call to prayer is an experience unlike any I've ever had. Also, I've traveled to places where tipping seems mandatory for people doing absolutely nothing for you. On one hand I sympathized because I had the money to hand out tips that amounted to next to nothing but on the other hand felt totally taken advantage of.

  5. This is a great post. It makes me want to visit!!!

  6. Oh you teased us with the comment about being separated in 18 days after 2.5 years together with your now husband, but didn't tell us exactly why you felt better (personal I'm sure). But I really wanted to hear about what happened there....but amazing travels! That year I flew to New Zealand to meet my then-boyfriend and travel, a very romantic and exciting time in my life.