15 February 2020

After having recovered from the doctor’s visit we had to squeeze two our day schedule into one. Our guide talked like a 33-record played at 45. His knowledge flew at such a rate that I had to buy a book called The Holy Cow to make sense of even some of it. India is a an almost infinite number of interlocking hierarchies. There are three major Hindu gods, Brahma (the generator), Vishnu (the operator) and Shiva (the destroyer). If you take the first letter of these descriptions, it spells GOD. Is that significant? Probably, the guide replies vaguely. From there, the hierarchy runs down through another 30 gods and goddesses. That’s 33, not the 33 million that reside in cows, as our last guide told us. 

Then there’s the cast system which is officially outlawed but is still observed in matters of marrying within the cast – of which they are four major ones. After Brahmins (priests and teachers) our guide was in the second layer, the Kshatriyas, or warriors, which is why he wears a moustache, he tells us. Under him are the Vaishyas who are traders but lazy and happily fat. At the bottom are the Shudras who sweep streets and clean toilets. But the caste system is far more complex than that, because each cast has layers of subdivisions. 

Having done with Hindu gods and casts, there are many religions operating in India, and they all have different layers and takes on gods and casts. Many are versions of Hindu and others variations of Islam. In some places the Hindus and Muslims get on well but in others they don’t. 

I don’t know how anybody understands where they fit in. They probably just put their heads down and plough on, guided by their family environments. 

Traffic is just as confusing, especially in Jaipur.  There is a huge number of road rules, but nobody obeys them and the traffic is too overwhelming for the cops to enforce them. The general idea  is to avoid collision but take the opportunity to fill any space on the road or footpath that is vacant – even for a moment. Do not be a sucker by keeping to your lane. Keep your finger on the horn button because blowing your horn might cause a slight hesitation of the vehicle near you whose space you can capture. And it is okay to drive on the wrong side of the road if the right side is too crowded. The millimetre is the unit of measurement used for traffic manoeuvres. 

On our way to the Amber Fort we passed through old Jaipur which used to be called the pink city, but was painted terracotta when the contractors thought that was close enough to the pink it had been painted in honour of Prince Albert, The Prince of Wales. (The Pink Prince?) Prior to being pink it was painted yellow – for reasons unknown. The Amber Fort and palace were quite a highlight of the day. They are 400 years old and once the home of the royal family. Incidentally, according to our guide, there are 565 states in India and each has a royal family, most of which are still wealthy even though they no longer have political power. That equates to 565 kings, each probably believing he is more important than the others. Back to the fort. It is surrounded by a 16-kilometre wall which follows the contours of the steep hills around the palace. It is not unlike the Great Wall of China, but about four thousand kilometres shorter.

The not so Great Wall of India

Within the Amber Fort is a temple to the goddess Kali in which a goat used to be sacrificed every day and witnessed by the king so that when he went into battle, he would not be squeamish at the sight of blood. These days the goats have been spared, but in their place bottles of whisky or rum are sacrificed, but not spilled. Oh no, they become the property of the temple officials who consequently spend most of their time drunk while in charge of a holy place. 

Not being palaced out, we dived back into the terrible traffic for a visit to the city palace. The royal family still lives there and for a sizeable charge you can poke about in their spectacular private lodgings or, for a huge sum, take tea with the king. Why do they allow such an invasion? “To make money,” our guide blandly explains – even though the king owns plenty of city real estate. 

One of the historical exhibits at the City Palace are two 1894 silver jars which are the biggest silver objects in the world. It took 14,000 melted down silver coins to make each one – weighing 345 kilos. They each held 4091 litres of Ganges water (presumably cleaner than it is now) and were taken to England by Maharaja Swai Madho Singh when he visited for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 because he didn’t trust the pommy H2O. The jars had lids, wheels and ladders for practical usage.

They were filled with Ganges water

After a buyer-beware visit to a textile shop and a jewellery ‘wholesaler’ (not) we sought refuge in the Holiday Inn which had a Valentine’s Day special of all you could eat and drink for about A$35. We tucked into some cheek-curling hot curry doused by beer after which I made for the desert table where everything looked attractive, but had no substance or taste. Then I spied some tall glass containers full of brightly coloured meringues. I took two green ones and was well into the second when the chef came running in to tell me they were very old and only there for decoration. I had eaten the display. But I have to say they tasted no worse than the rest of the stuff on the table.

Hotel toaster review

The Skinnymini Double Knobber

The Holiday Inn breakfast is a boisterous affair with everybody loud and busily loading in the calories. Toast is not high in the popularity stakes, as demonstrated by the Skinnymini Double Knobber, below. This demonstrates the Indian preference for narrow loaves of bread. The first pass produces only warm bread but by the end of the second pass a satisfactory transition to toast has been achieved.

This was far from the worst toaster I’ve seen and certainly better than the broken-down contraption at the Leela Palace. I asked the toast captain to tell me about the origin of the Skinnymini, but his understanding of English was only capable of concluding that I was crazy.