The following morning was our Silver Wedding anniversary and our driver wished us very many congratulations, and “Will we be going now, Sir?” On our way to Jaipur we lunched at a pleasant little place and sat at a table in the shade with our Rajmobile parked nearby. Our driver assisted us with shopping for Polo Mints and biscuits. The rest of the journey we spent clutching the door handles most of the time as we encountered the following parade of people, animals and objects on the road - bicycles, cars, trucks, monkeys, tongas - with and without horses - motorised and pedal-powered tri-shaws, camels, donkeys, elephants, dogs, one cat, scooters, tractors, a bulldozer, three road rollers, cows, calves, water buffalo, two large brown bears, carts, jeeps, wrecks, broken down trucks, flocks of birds, peacocks, pigs, vultures and rocks. Shaky wooden carts carried towering stacks of sugarcane down the centre of the road. Overturned trucks surrounded by spilled loads of grain or building materials, were guarded by the drivers. Fields of wheat and rice dotted with women wearing dazzling saris, bordered the roads. The women reminded me of butterflies. Burning eucalypt leaves mixed with dried cow dung, combined to perfume the air with a surprisingly sweet aroma.
The roads were horrendous, quite narrow and dreadfully pitted. Our driver told us the damage was caused by the good rains that washed away the surface of the roads. We think he meant the monsoon rains. Men gathered in small groups to talk and play chess. Women worked in the fields, and on building sites. We had seen more men than women at work in the road gangs, spreading hot tar with wooden tools, sacking wrapped round their feet against the heat. They carried enormous loads on their heads and backs - sticks, bundles of clothes, stacks of leafy plants and great clay and copper pots. We’d passed groups of women and children at the wells on the outskirts of villages. They chattered and laughed as they waited, and turned to look and wave at us as we drove past. A small white car crushed and in a terrible mess, had nose-dived down a bank and into a tree. Another had been almost flattened by a truck and lay at the side of the road.
At Fatephur Sikri we stopped for a quick look around. Emperor Akbar had built this small city but it had been abandoned after only sixteen years because the water supply had dried up. Vultures sat in a row above the massive gateway. We thought we would try and see this place without a guide and so avoided the group of men waiting in the main courtyard. “You will not be seeing it properly, Sir.” Five minutes later and we agreed. The gardener approached and offered to show us the way through the labyrinth of corridors and archways. “I am not a guide, Sir!” He was a very thin young man, shoulders hunched against the cold, his head muffled in a woollen scarf. He told us that he knew all the shortcuts and took us at great speed around the main areas of the city. It was beautiful and spacious, built with a sense of humour and mischief. We learnt about the pigeon post, the hide and seek building and the game board set out in a courtyard where people were used as the game pieces. The throne room where the Emperor held audiences with his ministers and subjects, was amazing. The throne was set high up on top of a central column. On the upper level, walkways reached out to it from each corner of the room. Narrow winding stairways had to be negotiated to reach the Emperor’s side. The stables for Akbar’s elephants and horses were equal in grandeur to the rest of the palace. Beautiful pink and white marble had been used in the construction. We visited a spectacular tomb built for Salim Chisti, the hermit who had blessed Akbar’s wife with a son. Some of the interior screens were like delicate lace carved in white marble. We tied a length of coloured string through the latticework on one of the screens and made a wish. We continued on to Jaipur to a lovely hotel in a palace. We found little hidden courtyards and quiet enclosed gardens linked by cool stairways and narrow passages.
A local guide accompanied us to the main palace and the Observatory for which Jaipur was renowned. However the tour and commentary he gave us was quite offhand and casual. He spent more time greeting his friends and eyeing up the passing ladies and when we mentioned this to him, he apologised and proclaimed his innocence. Before dinner we had our anniversary champagne chilled by the chef in an enormous fridge in his kitchen. We hadn’t realised that the hotel was a Muslim establishment but they didn’t mind our celebratory beverage, as long as we drank it in our room. We enjoyed a delicious vegetarian meal and afterwards wandered round the gardens. We were told that the same German artist employed by the Maharajah to decorate the Palace, had also painted the ceilings and rooms in the hotel.
Kate's journey continues next month.