Friday, October 14, 2016

Why would Kashmir want to stay with India when they don’t even get access to internet like the rest of Indians?

India is brutally restricting access to internet in Kashmir. And like marital rape, suppressing a citizen’s basic rights this way is legal in India.

There are complex geopolitical issues in Kashmir. But, what wrong did internet in Kashmir do to be treated like trade with an enemy state?

There is a class of Indians who conflates the cloud with clouds in the sky and internet with Pandora’s box. They know internet only as a replacement for their porn CDs and a medium for terrorists to coordinate their strikes. It is probably the same people who banned internet in Kashmir and keep it that way.

Internet is a wormhole in your basement which lets you explore and experience places and cultures that you can never otherwise in your life. Internet is full of opportunities that are limited only by one’s imagination. Internet gives answers that you can find nowhere else. Internet can teach you anything from cooking to neuroscience.

Internet is a great equalizer. It empowers the disempowered. It does not care whether you are rich or urban middle class, Muslim or atheist, gay or bi, left-winged or religious fanatic, above 18 or just lying to be; you are what you say you are. And when Twitter is down, it is down for everyone.

Also, internet is so huge and powerful that knowing how to wield it is a skill (called “web literacy”) in itself. There are problem areas inside internet that one needs to be aware and careful of. One needs to learn a great deal while using internet to be using it effectively. Internet is not for the ones who give up easily.

Perhaps, India has a huge bunch of web illiterates. Perhaps, that is why they think blocking internet in Kashmir can be of any good. For, little do they realize the value of the greatest innovation of mankind (after the wheel, of course) that they so comfortably withhold from Kashmir.

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Monday, July 4, 2016

Haridwar

This notorious place. Do anything you want, but never eat a thing from here. They are probably taking all their water from the E-coli filled dirty sacred holy river Ganga. We had no plan to eat at the bank of the river, but it rained and we got trapped near a place and we ate some and the story turns worse.
But before that, we had some nice time walking by the side of the river. We had reached the Haridwar railway station by afternoon. And the Russian would leave for Delhi in the 18:15 Shatabdi Express. He was particular that he goes in an air conditioned train because of what had happened on our journey from Delhi to Dehradun. All of us had something to cover ourselves with, except him. We were in sleeper compartment. He went to his berth like a Russian and we assumed Russians were resistant to cold. Turns out they aren't. They just have excellent warming systems in their place. So, the outside temperatures might go below zero, but inside the homes are warm. And in the morning all of us had woken up from a good night's sleep except him. So he couldn't miss this AC train to Delhi.

But we still had some time to pass before the train would arrive. There were so many police officers deployed in the railway station. Turns out it was indeed a special occasion and we would have cursed ourselves if we had reached there a day later. It was going to be an 'ardh kumbh mela' next day. Means a lot of devotees running to the river. Anyhow, we walked perpendicularly towards the river.

The banks were surprisingly calm. There were a few devotee groups sitting here and there. People dressed like Lord Shiva kept walking by us. The river was mighty, filled to the brim. We walked more than a kilometer like that and took enough photos on the way. After all, the river is a river.

Panorama

We were walking towards a huge Shiva statue. But it was too far for us to walk to and it appeared to be on an island all by itself. Instead we decided to go to this part of the river where they would float lamps on. We were there, but it wasn't time yet for the devotees to come in masses with the lamps. So we decided to check out the shops on the parallel road. This is where it rained and we got charmed into eating thalis and kesari from a dhaba.

When the rain subsided, it was time for the Russian to leave. We dropped him back at the station waving him goodbye. On the way to the station we had nice warm tea at another shop too. And then we came back to the place where the lamps would float.

The lamps had started floating. There was a small mandir on the bank where people would fetch these from. There also was a monkey on its roof trying to steal the bananas offered to the God there being rattled away by the priest. Then there was this set of people standing in the river with water up till their knees. They would use a piece of glass (or transparent plastic?) to look through the surface of the river on to the bottom and pick something from the bottom using their long magnetic stick. Turns out, coins. Look, pick, transfer. Repeat.

We observed them and the floating lamps for a while and then walked around the city. There was a Chinese corner where we had noodles and soup. Night had fallen and that would be our dinner. We then walked to the riverbank again. There were cold seats to sit on. We sat with the breeze hitting us hard and the mighty river tempting me to jump into and die.

After a while, we went back to the railway station. They had a waiting room upstairs. Filled with people though. We spread a newspaper and sat outside. Our train was coming only after midnight. I slowly drifted into sleep.

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Mussoorie

We reached Mussoorie around 4 o'clock. Although we saw the youth hostel on the way we weren't sure if they provided accommodation and it was a bit far from all the places we wanted to trek to. At the bus stand an agent approached us asking if we wanted rooms and then led us to a nearby hotel where we got a large room where the 4 of us could stay. The Russian asked if a room warmer was available. It was, at ₹200 extra. We went for it and that decision was a lifesaver as you will soon come to know.

By then the Sun was going to go down and we didn't want to waste that day by not going anywhere. I calculated the distance to various places we could go to and settled on going to Everest house. The distance could be covered on foot in about an hour said Google Maps. But that hour easily stretched into two. I'll write about how GPS-enabled/dependent our treks were in a later post.

We did get lost once and reached a high-security hotel with dogs that would look like they could rip you apart. But we retraced, walked, and stomped our way forward. At about 800m to Sir George Everest House you reach this cafe called Seagreen. It was really dark by then and so we decided to go to the Everest House first and then go to the cafe on return even though we were really hungry and hadn't had any food (I had promised my travel mates that there were so many restaurants on the way where we could eat from, but turns out the map is different from reality). Here, two dogs joined us on the upward climb.

The climb is steep but there is a clear unpaved path upwards and although it was dark we had enough moonlight to see our way. The dogs - we named them Schwanan (Malayalam for dog) and Hillary. We were so late that the tiny shops on the sides which would sell soft drinks and noodles were closing down one by one. It was still wonderful how there were people running such shops everywhere. Schwanan was leading the way at times and at other times slowing down to catch up with Hillary who was trailing. But I realized that day that these were probably the descendants of those very same dogs which gave Sir George Everest company when he climbed that hill to set up his house on top.

And then we reached the house, quite literally at the top of the hill and at the edge of the land. But to call it a house would be a mistake because all that remained were a few walls which have now been written over with names of couples inside huge ❤ symbols.

And then there was a surprise. There was light! There were the Himalayan mountains far away glistening in red, orange, and all the colours of the setting Sun. The horizon was a rainbow between the starlit dark sky and the snowy white mountains. We were the only people there, the last trekkers of the day. The 4 of us and Schwanan. Hillary had gone away somewhere else.

We spent only about 15 minutes on the top because we were hungry, it was getting cold, it was getting darker, and we had taken enough panoramas and selfies and timer shots. On the way back, we had to intermittently shine a fridge market torch one of us had to make sure there were no snakes or holes. And we did stop here and there to look at the stars and make out random constellations that didn't even exist.

As we had decided we took a break at Seagreen Cafe where we had a large pizza and hot coffee. More importantly they had a room warmer which worked on coal maybe and we took a lot of warmth from it. Working on his tablet was a fellow traveller who was spending some time in North India before flying to Scotland to meet his girlfriend. We waved him goodbye and walked back, trying and failing to hitchhike. On the long way back which felt shorter, the 3 of us who were Malayalis sang some of our boat racing songs to keep us going faster. When we got tired, the Russian taught us his marching songs too. We reached our rooms and slept peacefully with the warmer first on, and then off.

This is where warmth comes from
For next day, I had decided that we would trek to a "Tibetan Buddhist Temple" which looked good in photos on Google Maps. We woke up early, had breakfast and started walking. We weren't even a kilometer down when it started to drizzle slightly. We walked on till the rain got heavier and we had to find shelter in a building on the roadside. As we stood there we tried to find a hike to the temple but unfortunately it was too early in the morning and there were no vehicles going that side. The rain gave in slightly and we continued to walk. checking off landmarks to make sure we were on the right path. But then, all of a sudden there was heavy downpour and our woollen clothes were absorbing all the water like a camel at an oasis. We tried taking cover again, but by then we were so wet and so close to the temple on the map that we decided to brave the rain.

There was ice on the road. It was a hailstorm. There was water everywhere. Our shoes were wet despite our best attempts to not step on water. And the hail was hitting us hard too. Anyhow we reached the Buddhist temple. Like the rain wasn't enough, the temple was closed that morning. We could not go inside, but we could take photos from outside and see the valley. As I was trying to take a picture of the temple, I realized to my horror that my fingers were getting so cold that I could not bend them to click. It was the case with everyone. We were going to die probably while still searching for an open cafe to buy some warmth.
This was everywhere!
But there was a saviour. The language teacher of a Tibetan school there was going to Chandigarh in his car. And after removing all the hailstones from his car's windshield he was willing to drop us back to the city. We jumped in and he turned the AC on to full heat, dropped us near our hotel, and we ran to our rooms after thanking him and wishing him a happy journey. When we reached room we were drenched and shivering. The only warm thing in the room was the warmer and we sat around it warming our clothes and body in turns. The wet socks were fuming. Shoes definitely had to be dried. The room service brought cups of tea and we had bought some bananas on the way. After about an hour we were dry enough to pack up and leave.

We had brunch at a nice warm restaurant just above the bus stand. It was still raining. The Mussoorie Library were Ruskin Bond is known to frequent was right next to us but we were in no mood for reading. The buses to Dehradun are the same buses that come from Dehradun. We waited for about half an hour and got our seats back to Dehradun.

As soon as we reached the bus stand I realized there was a train about to leave from the station - the Dehradun Allahabad Link Express. We ran to the station and made sure the train hadn't left and then ran to the ticket counter which is outside the platform and took tickets and ran back to the train and got in to the general compartment and the train started, all within a span of ten minutes. The compartment was full and the Russian got the taste of general compartment journey and we alighted at Haridwar.

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Dehradun

The Delhi Dehradun express stops for long time at various places and reaches Dehradun by 9 in the morning. We woke up by the time the train reached Haridwar and saw dried Ganga on the way.

At Dehradun railway station, you can walk outside to the Dehradun bus stand where there are half hourly buses to Mussoorie from 6 in the morning to 9 in the night. We walked further, had breakfast, and walked through the market to reach clock tower. From the clock tower a small bus took us to Forest Research Institute at ₹10.

There were a couple of other tourists waiting in the electric cart at the entrance. We quickly bought entry tickets and sat on it. I was at the tail, looking back when the cart went forward. The straight road cut at right angles to several buildings, all in lush green plots.

The cart dropped us at one end of a large, imperial building built of red bricks. This was the Forest Research Institute. Some of the corridors reminded us of Hogwarts.
See?

There were multiple "exhibitions" inside the building. The entry ticket would cover all of them. But the exhibitions were rather the various departments of the Forest Research Institute. For example, there was this pathology exhibition, in which the pathophysiology of all the plant diseases were shown (with pathological specimens just like our medical college). Siviculture exhibition was about cultivating forests and there were tiny models of forests showing how the trees looked at different height. In another room, there were cross sections of 800 year old trees showing tree rings that corresponded to different years in the history. One of these rooms, I heard about cordyceps sinensis which is a fungus that parasitically grows out of worms apparently more expensive than gold and extremely difficult to procure.

A nearby school had come for picnic there and when we got outside the Institute's garden was full of kids playing different games in their own little groups. This is also where our Russian friend saw someone posing in one of the classic Bollywood hero poses and imitated those himself. We started walking back and got on to the electric cart about a minute down the path. Then we took a vehicle back to the Dehradun city back to where we started from.

At the bus stand, there were regular and frequent buses to Mussoorie. All we had to do was stand in queue and reserve seats in the next bus that was going up. The ride is just under a couple of hours but the road is winding and uphill.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Delhi - my city

I love cities. And I love them more when they are big and when they do not sleep at night. Maybe it is my love of nights that make me love cities which never sleep. But the fact is, I love cities. Cities are full of life - schools, offices, markets, hospitals, shops, malls, movies, parks, high speed Internet, opportunities, energy, technology, people, government, facilities, sound, lights, and did I miss nightlife? I love it when all the action is around you. And Delhi is the capital of all action. That is why I love Delhi.

This was my second time in Delhi. The last time too when I was in Delhi I loved it, albeit a lot less. This time I was talking to my friend who lives in Delhi as if he came to my city and not the other way round. But I am digressing a lot. I need to write about my trip. And it is about time that I finished the entire series. From this point onwards I might not maintain the chronological order of events in my posts, more because I have begun forgetting details and sequences than because the rest of the journey involves me visiting the same places multiple times with different people.

We stopped at NOIDA and stayed at my friend's house where we had nice mutton specialities.

Next day morning we took to the metro. Got a ₹150 tourist ticket to travel throughout the day.

First stop at Akshardham temple (which did exist the last time I came to Delhi, but I didn't know). This is a huge temple built after AD 2000 with "donations" of a large number of devotees. There was marble and gold all over and the story of Swaminarayan. But, because of a previous bomb blast here, to get inside is a huge task. First, you put your mobile phones, ear phones, non-transparent water bottles, etc in your bag. Then you fill a form with your details. Then one person from the whole group should carry all these inside to the baggage counter where they keep the bags "safe". There, this person is supposed to take out all the mobiles and lay them down to count (which is very stupid because in our group we had a lot of phones and I didn't even know where in the bag the phones were when I went to the counter). After showing your face, etc into the camera you get a metal token number. Now, you can all walk to the body checking counter where you have to remove your belt, wallet, etc which will go through a metal detector kind of thing and then get frisked.

All this for walking through some marble. I don't know why, but religion immediately colours my view of magnificent structures in a bad shade of greenish-pink.

There are many "dwars" (holes) you have to pass through before reaching the central shrine which has very elaborate designs all around. There is water surrounding these areas. Next to the shrine is a statue of Swaminarayan which hosts the lights and sound show in the night.

Near the way out I found the most fascinating thing in the whole place. A very large solar panel that moves with the sun such that it gets the maximum sunlight all day! That thing probably powers the entire place. We also had some snacks in the restaurant at the exit. The toilets here are great too!

I did come back to Akshardham a second time a few days later. This time we saw the water show. It was splendid, with laser lights being used (unlike just lights in Amber). The laser allowed showing much more delicate things and even animated videos.

From Akshardham two of us had gone to Qutb Minar while the rest went to Sarojini Nagar market for shopping. Aeroplanes were constantly trying to hit the Minar and missing it. There was a plaque at the bottom that specified Qutb Minar was shorter than Taj Mahal by 5 feet. We saw the iron pillar that never rusts nearby too. I wanted to send a picture postcard to a friend back in Kerala but couldn't find a post office nearby.

Misses it every time.

We then went to Sarojini Nagar Market where you could buy all things original or all things duplicate as you prefer at costs you decide. We learned bargaining skills, and fell for tricks too. Had nice coffee there. Did a lot of window shopping. Almost got bitten by a dog. Heard a person say "these are stolen items and you get these at unbelievable discounts. No guarantee these will be here tomorrow". Saw so many clothes that you would never buy clothes from anywhere else.

That night as I was chatting on my phone my friends came up with a cake singing happy birthday with "Happy Birthday ASD" written on it. I had turned 23. Quite a wonderful birthday this one.

Next day I split from this group I was travelling with till now and went to join another set of friends in Delhi, near Jasola Apollo. We had food and by evening went to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Saw the red soil at Raisina Hill, the canons, etc. up close. Looked at the long Raj Path till India gate choosing not to walk it with our heavy bags.

That night we would leave for Uttarakhand, reaching back 5 days later.

After returning we had brief visits to Chandini Chowk market, Akshardham (lights & sound show), etc. At Chandini Chowk market we had Dahi Bhalles. But by then, as you will soon learn, our stomachs wouldn't accept most food items.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Agra

We took the 19'666' Udaipur-Khajuraho express to Agra from Gandhinagar railway station Jaipur. It came right behind the double decker express to Delhi. We took general tickets and later upgraded to sleeper tickets from the train and got allotted the same empty seats we were sleeping in after getting on.

Outside Agra Cantonment railway station, there was government approved sightseeing packages with small cabs at ₹750 for half day. We had only one place to visit, actually - the Taj Mahal.

Taj is large and Agra is small (like Mysore palace and Mysuru). There are multiple gates to the Taj. We took the one near the red fort. (The red fort of Agra is not the red fort of Delhi as I used to believe. At least, that explains how Shah Jahan could see the Taj Mahal from his prison in red fort where he was put by his son). The crowd of rickshaw riders, camel riders, vendors, guides, and photographers who approach you here is larger than you would expect. We fought our way through to the Taj, yet falling for buying some shoe covers.

There is tight security at the entrance. Bags are checked and so are people. The entry ticket was a QR code printed on a rectangular piece of paper. It was scanned at the entrance.

Once inside, we got a guide for ₹100 which was cheaper than all the guides outside and also stupid because he didn't "guide" us for more than 10 minutes and also led us into a photographer's ambit. More about that later.

There is a row of houses just opposite to the grant entrance gate of Taj Mahal which supposedly belong to the descendants of the sculptors who built the Taj Mahal. The story that Shah Jahan cut the hands of the workers so they wouldn't build another Taj Mahal is most probably a myth. I was imagining how cool their address would be - "House 21, Taj Mahal".

The design of Taj Mahal complex is mostly symmetric. For every building on the left, there's a similar building on the right. The Taj Mahal itself looks the same from all four sides. The only asymmetry for us was that when we went, two diagonally opposite minarets were being cleaned because of all the color they've been losing and these were draped in metal stands so the workers could sit on them while scrubbing the white turned yellow marbles with some ancient technology of scientific restoration. The entire Taj seems to have turned as yellow as my teeth and I'm sure the next time I go, it'll be the central dome that is being cleaned like this.

There were giant writings on all walls, especially at the darwaza (door). The first look at Taj Mahal from front through this door is quite a moment. The monument is very large, larger than what you would expect from photos. And it just stays there. White. Stone.

Just inside there is a large number of photographers telling you how the mobile camera is not as good as their professional camera in capturing both your faces and Taj Mahal's simultaneously. Our guide, at this point, told us the story of how Shah Jahan wanted to build a black Taj behind the white across Yamuna (which is a myth and a fantasy created by a writer later, according to wikipedia) and about how the minarets are inclined by 5 degrees outwards so that in the event of an earthquake they won't fall on the dome, and then he led us to a photographer who would waste our time and vice versa. First, he tells ₹25 per photo. Then he tells, only hard copies. What would one do with printouts? He said he can give soft copies too. We took so many photos. Then we chose 4 photos and he said he can't "waste" a CD for just 4 photos. So we chose to get hard copy of just one group photo and then he got so angry and deleted all the photos he took. I had started walking towards the Taj with one of my friends while this drama was happening because after all, people enjoyed Taj even before photography was invented.

There is a long and narrow garden and pool in front of Taj which is well maintained. At just about the right spot for photographs there is an elevated platform. When you walk right from right below the Taj, you reach the free shoe racks to keep your shoes. We turned in all our shoes. Even those of us who had shoe covers. For a moment we thought the shoe cover is a shoe made of cloth to be worn on naked foot, but just as we moved away from the racks we saw others wearing the shoe cover over their shoes. I was walking barefoot anyhow, because I wanted to feel the marble. All of us walked barefoot.

There are two paths everywhere. One for general tickets, one for VIP tickets. I assume the VIPs are those foreigners who are forced to pay ₹500 and above. The general entrance is towards the right again. We get to enter the Taj from behind. There are two buildings just flanking the minarets. One of these is a mosque. Among the other buildings in the complex is a VIP guest house where ministers and others can stay when they come to Agra.

The marble was cold even though it was around noon when the skin of our feet touched it. Like I said, the general ticket holders enter via the backside and so we saw the Yamuna first. The river flows parallel to the backside of the Taj. There is a garden on the exact opposite bank and nobody can be blamed for thinking Shah Jahan wanted to build a black Taj Mahal for himself there.

Once you climb on the platform where the minarets are, you can no longer see the dome and therefore the Taj Mahal becomes so unlike what you know from all the pictures. The symmetry of the construction is mathematical. Yet there is an entrance at the front wall, the marble sides of which are carved with flowers and other designs. The entrance directly leads to the dimly lit tombs of Mumtaj and Shah Jahan. There was a tunnel to go underground where the actual tombs are, but it remains closed now and we can only see representations in the top. The marble here is translucent, as demonstrated in the transilluminence test at a corner by me and many others. There are glass doors everywhere with small round glass arranged like honeycomb on them. People trying to write their name on this glass had broken several of the comb compartments already.

We came outside and sat on the marble and under the shade of the marble mausoleum for a while. Yamuna brought breeze. After collecting our shoes and calculating how much money the shoe keeper would get as "happiness allowance", we walked through the less busy side road into the Taj Museum.

The museum welcomes you with a read board that describes what it exhibits - coins, maps, letters, pictures, stones. The center piece is this map of the entire Taj Mahal complex which definitely didn't include a black Taj. My hypothesis is that Shah Jahan wanted to build a small house for himself on the other bank where he could sit and watch the Taj Mahal till his death. (Remember Aurangzeb put him in the nearby Red Fort (which is not the Red Fort of Delhi) which had a similar view, probably on his request)

We went to the toilets in one corner which is free for foreigners (payback for paying so much to enter) and well maintained. Displayed on the wall outside till the exit, are pictures of various monuments in India pretty many of which I'm yet to see. While exiting, I couldn't fail to notice the awe and wonder on the face of people who were entering then and getting their first glimpse of the Taj. Once outside we had to rush to our car escaping from the e-carts, rickshaws, and camels. And then through the waste-filled gullies of Agra to the inter state bus terminal where we would catch a fast bus that plies on the Yamuna express way to Noida.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Pink City

Jaisalmer Delhi express reaches Jaipur by 5 in the morning. Even if it is late at Jodhpur Junction by an hour. Maybe we were too fascinated by the consummation of train 14660 (ours) by 14662 (Malani express) to think about how trains can run fast and catch up on lost time. It works like this. Our train reaches platform 2 of Jodhpur Junction by around 11. We can then get down and go to platform 1 to have tea and refreshments. That is when you can realize your worst fear of seeing your train move forward with your luggage but without you. Soon, our train comes to our platform, in reverse, as if it remembered you and came back to pick you up. But it has actually come to pick up the coaches from Malani express which has been waiting there. And since this has to happen necessarily, railways will reschedule the departure for you to have your tea without worries even if the arrival was late.

So, how do you wake up on time even though your alarms were scheduled an hour late? Enter North Indian aunties. They talk lovingly to each other at decibels higher than our alarms. And fortunately we had a double family next to our berths. They woke their children up and explained how Jaipur is coming up in half an hour and all I had to do was wake up and listen.

First thing you notice when you are on the roads of Jaipur is how wide, clean, and organized (straight) they are. We would later hear in the lights and sound show at the Amber fort that Jaipur is the first planned city in India, as we guessed.

At Jaipur, we stayed at the guest house of my friend's uncle's institution. We got some more sleep, then got up, dressed like summer, and set out in the car that was arranged for us. 

We were traveling through Jawaharlal Nehru Marg  when I found out all interesting things on either side of the road with the maps.me app on my phone. Most interesting of these was the ruins of a fort just over the white Birla Mandir. This fort apparently has a temple which opens only once in an year and that's the only time public can go there. Actually, good for the fort because it looked dilapidated.

Then, Sawai Mansingh (SMS) Medical College, the government medical college of Jaipur that is the counterpart of our college in Mysore, by appearance, location, importance, and even the fact that the hospital and college are on either side of the road like in MMC. Must be endearing, there is a small crowd of MMC undergraduates doing post graduation here, including one of our Malayali seniors who came to meet us when we were shopping in the Jaipur market later that night.

The only association I had with Jaipur apart from it being the capital of Rajasthan and being called the Pink City was that Hawa Mahal is an important attraction here. But apparently Hawa Mahal is just the windows of an otherwise unremarkable building. And we literally didn't even step out of the car to take photos.

But right behind Hawa Mahal are the interesting places we spent time till lunch. (One good thing to note here is that there is a composite ticket for many places available and there is even a student discount if you carry your identity card.) First, the City Palace. At the entrance to this place was sitting a snake charmer and his two hypnotized cobras posing for photos with foreigners. The gate he was sitting in front of was so elaborate we took some photos there, even including the police officer who was standing guard. The City Palace is a fairly large place and we saw the numbering of audio guide spots in the wrong order so there is a definite chance we missed seeing many things. But we definitely saw many interesting leftovers of the royal past. Two giant vessels with tiny wheels, used for carrying water while the king was traveling, made out of melted silver coins. Among other armory, a special kind of dagger you can play with wearing it like Wolverine claws and when you pull on the bar with your curled fingers, the covering sheath of it would slide away to both sides pushing out the knife within. Totally oversized clothes of kings, pyjamas that could accommodate an elephant (probably belonging to Madhosingh who was that large according to sources). Pashmina carpets. Huge chandeliers above the hall where royal proceedings used to happen - surrounded by the portraits and brief history of all the kings that ruled there and the wall paintings of Krishna. (The wikipedia article on the palace describes even more things which I should have read when it mattered)

Right outside is Jantar Mantar - the collection of astronomical instruments that are large enough to climb on. We went in the reverse order as usual, and without a guide, so we didn't have to learn any broken science that the guides were feeding the foreigners. Most of the instruments I could figure out did one of the two things - tell time, find the declination or azimuth of an astronomical structure. The largest sundial gave the most accurate timing (local time off by up to two seconds) because that's the way shadows work. We were not allowed to go near the markings of the large sundial and so we couldn't read the small markings. The large markings were visible from far away yet we couldn't find out the time correctly. It was around 1 when we were there but the shadow had crossed more than 2 markings. The local time could definitely not be off by more than half an hour from IST. Something was wrong, yet we took some photos climbing on the walls opposite and still being unable to get the whole dial inside frame. There were smaller dials facing different directions next to the large dial. These would be useful in different seasons when Sun moves around. After passing through many more instruments clueless we reached the dial which was shaped cylindrical with two flat ends facing North and South and sloped in the angle of the slope of the Earth's equator. This dial had the 24 hour markings in addition to the markings that didn't add up earlier. That is when the search pages started loading and I confirmed my hunch that the unit of time for the users of these instruments was gatis and palas, and not hours. One day would be divided into ghatis and then into palas and so on. And that would explain everything.

Having figured it out we came outside, had mutka kulfis, and went towards our next destination - forts. On the way we saw from the road the Jal Mahal which is a palace in the middle of a lake. Didn't see any boats to reach there, though.

The Jaigarh fort and the Amber fort are adjacent to each other. In fact, the right way to visit them both would be to reach one and travel through the ancient path into the other. There were military personnel on the way and there seems to be some kind of Indian Air Force activity happening here. 

We reached Jaigarh fort first. Jaivana, the largest cannon in the world was right in front of us and we thought that was all there is to this fort. We walked around looking at holes in the ground figuring out which of them are tunnels and which are water ways. There were also holes in the walls in the characteristic shape of fort wall holes with large opening inside and small opening outside. And there were monkeys and pigeons everywhere. We were hungry and there was a restaurant inside the fort which didn't exactly look attractive. So we decided to go back down the hill but I curiously went to the other end of the courtyard and saw a board showing directions to a lot of places inside the fort. We had missed almost the entirety of the fort. The King's palace, the Queen's place, the giant courtyard where the soldiers would line up, the large water tank. The dining rooms where there were fully dressed up mannequins dining rubber chappathis, green grass in green gardens. 

As soon as we entered a guard there self appointed himself as our guide insisting that he be not paid if we aren't happy - an offer that is difficult to refuse. He led us into the above places and more. The Jaigarh fort is located higher on the hill than the Amber fort. Jaigarh fort housed soldiers while Amber fort housed the King and Queen. When the King is with the soldiers preparing for war, the Queen might decide to pay a visit. Then, she is transported in pallaquin from Amber fort to Jaigarh fort. At the entrance of the Jaigarh fort from that side is an elaborate Bhool Bulaiya (maze) of pathways which is designed to confuse enemies. We saw the path to Amber fort, the gardens and courtyards inside it, and identified even some locations where Jodha Akbar was shot from the balconies (or watch houses) of the Jaigarh fort.

The balconies also gave a splendid view of Jaipur city between the hills surrounding it. And the water system that was in place for the forts. There was a small lake at the base of the hill. Rainwater would be collected in this river which is then carried up by elephants into water tanks high above. The tanks have outlets connected to the irrigation system and the gardens below are watered with the same. 

There was a gallery in the central courtyard of Jaigarh fort with photographs of the army and Kings in various moments of twentieth century. Turns out, even after independence, the kings had formidable power for a while. On the opposite side there was a gallery of armors in which the most interesting exhibit was a "time bomb" which looked more like a large cracker with a long safe thread to burn.

Next we went to Amber fort, having in mind some spots discovered earlier in the aerial view. We had some nice tea at the entrance of this fort. There were writings about the structures in the front yard and we didn't take a guide. The large front courtyard was where the public could come to meet the king. Around the courtyard there were toilets (which were vertical holes on the ground), massage parlors, baths, and balconies. The paths everywhere were highly interconnected - you could directly go to many rooms from wherever you were standing. 

Amber fort might be the more beautiful of the two. Fountains dripping water in front of a palace full of mirrors, pigeons taking bath in them. Gardens, facing a marble stage where dance and entertainment could take place. Better view points and more photogenic spots, especially when you climb up on either sides to the roof. All you have to be careful is not to tear your jeans by running faster than the high steps allow you to.

At the exit there are gift shops some playing nice Rajasthani music. There are also independent vendors who sell expensive, so called hand drawn, paintings (the same paintings which we found out in the hands of another vendor later after lights and sound show), cheap fancy earrings, key chains, and bangles.

We were hungry by then and went down to the city below to have some nice cheap kulchas and pachoris. We were eating right outside the lower gate of the Amber fort from which we could go to the lights and sound show. There are two shows everyday - English first, Hindi next. We chose English but we were running through the long stony route to reach the spot on time. The show hadn't begun but we didn't take tickets from the counter below, rather choosing to pay the ticket checker directly since he said that will be better than going down and taking the tickets now that the show was about to start. But this might have cost us dearly as we paid ₹200 per head whereas wikitravel says there's discount for Indians and students. What made me not doubt the cost was the website which showed the costs and a phone call to the enquiry desk which both said the fee was ₹200. 

Anyhow, the lights and the sounds were all realistic. Different parts of the forts would be lit in different colors and the lights would dance in perfect synchronization with the sounds - of battles, feuds, celebrations, marriages, Kings, soldiers, horses, swords, just, unjust - of history. At the end of it I was cold because of the night and calm because of the happy ending after all the tumult. There was a road till the place from the other side and we didn't have to run to the place on the way there, we were told by that same ticket collector. On the way out, we went to the toilet where, unusually, the gents had a queue and the ladies didn't. Then we got into our car right there, no walking, no running.

We had some time left to go shopping in Jaipur market. Jaipur must be famous for cotton saris because we bought some 5 saris among ourselves. Our train was early morning next day so we hit the sacks early after packing all new things.

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