Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jaipur, Day 12

Travel in India is always an adventure no matter what your means of transportation. As part of our experience I had booked several train journeys including one overnight in a sleeper car.. more on that later. Train travel is pretty cheap and an efficient means of getting around. India has been modernizing their system and I thought it would save us some time and we would enjoy the more relaxing aspect of it. For today we had to get up at the crack of dawn to be at the train station for our 3 hour trip to Jaipur. It was still dark out when we arrived and the first trick was to find a porter to help us with our baggage. You agree on a price beforehand. Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of this.. too early in the morning and my hands were full! The porters carry the bags on their heads... sometimes 2 piled up... ours was a bit brighter and decided to use the handle with wheels so he only carried one on his head. Next was negotiating a path to the train... you have to step over and around a zillion sleeping bodies. It has also been raining the night before and I think many had sought refuge in the station from the rain.... although I was told it was always like this. On the side of the cars is a list of passengers with reserved seats and their seat numbers. One would think this would negate the necessity for the mad dash when the doors opened. NOPE, think again. One could get crushed in the rush up the steps. Phew, we made it and the porter safely stowed our bags on the top shelf. We paid him and settled in for the ride. This was not one of the new trains but it wasn't one of the old ones either. Other than the cracked windows here and there, it was acceptable. They serve breakfast.. other than tea with boiling hot water we did not eat the food. We had our boxed breakfast from the hotel. We had been very careful about eating food outside of the hotel restaurants and while all the street food we passed looked yummy, we decided to play it safe and not indulge. The trip was uneventful and we arrived safely in Jaipur late morning. There are no porters to unload the luggage so poor Ned had to schlep the heavy suitcases which were getting heavier by the day! We were going to be met by our car/driver and driven to our hotel to check in. Here is where I need to put in a plug for our other tour company... TGS Tours and Nikhil Pandit. He arranged our car transportation starting in Ahmedabad and would handle most of it till we arrived in Delhi. We had excellent guides where we needed them. We decided we did not need a guide for our 2 days in Jaipur and Ned's Mumbai office arranged for a car/driver for us.... snafu... but we didn't find that out till later. In the meantime, Nikhil had been over to my website and blog and saw that I was into textiles so arranged for us to go visit a company that did hand block printing. I had spoken to the owner and set up an appointment for that afternoon.

Jaipur is known as the Pink city because most of the construction was out of pink sandstone. It is a lovely color. After checking in to our hotel and having some lunch, we headed out. Turns out our driver was not the brightest bulb in the box and when we tried to explain where we wanted to go, there was a disconnect at some point. We were ultimately going out to a suburb of Jaipur called Sanganer which is by the airport, but our first stop was to be at the offices of TGS travel in town to settle our bill. Up till this point (although they had our credit card info) they had not processed the payment. They needed us to sign. No big deal. We told the driver we wanted to go TGS travel and see Nikhil Pandit.... somehow he missed part of the conversation and heard only Nikhil and Sanganer. Turns out he knew A Nikhil in Sanganer who ran an export business.... we were not in the right place.... but lucky for us, Rangotri, the block printing place was close by. No harm done. We got a tour from soup to nuts. We saw how the original designs were turned into carved blocks for printing, then saw how they sequenced the printing. This is an art form. Everything has to line up perfectly! The fabrics go through several steps to get all the colors on for the complete design. They are then dried and put in an acid bath and rinsed several times and dried again. Then they go for ironing. The fabric is then checked for accuracy. They do 5 meter runs at a time. Next the fabric is sent out for sewing into what its final form will be and then returned and checked again for workmanship. It then goes to wherever. Mr. Joshi, the company's owner has just set up a cooperative with other block printers and is building a new factory... one that will be more ecologically and worker friendly. They DO NOT use child laborers here. They are setting up a system to recycle to water from the acid bath so it can be reused. The workspaces will be well lit, etc. They are really making an effort here. When I asked about protection when using chemical dyes, I got a blank look... oh well.. it's still progress. It was very gracious of them to allow us to visit during work hours. This firm is a wholesaler and now ships worldwide. He just had an exhibition in Paris and his products apparently sold like gangbusters. I wish him and his new venture much success. Back to finding the right Nikhil's office. Everyone in India has a cell phone. We put the driver and Nikhil in touch and instructions were given. We found the office and paid up. Nikhil then invited us to his club for drinks later.

We spent the rest of the afternoon seeing the sights and driving around. This city was also spiffing up for the upcoming Nuptials in a few days. The streets were alive with people and color.

City Palace, Jaipur

Now comes the possible disaster in the trip. Ned's office was supposed to be booking our train reservations. Unbeknownst to me, I could have (and should have) done them myself... live and learn. Turns out they sat on them for a week before finally ordering them. This being Diwali holiday time, and everyone off for vacation, everything books up quickly. Our next stop was in Sawai Madopur at the Rathanbone Tiger reserve for a mini safari. We were going by train from Jaipur and then on to Delhi on the night train. Because of the delay in ordering tickets, Ned got a confirmed seat on the first leg and I was waitlisted. On the night train from Sawai Madopur to Delhi, we were both waitlisted. We were ASSURED of seats and would know 2 days in advance. In this case 2 days for the first trip was our first day in Jaipur. When we called the booking agent to check we were now told.... oh, they don't release the waitlisted seats till 4 hours before train time!!!!! This was not my idea of fun. Nikhil to the rescue!!! He suggested we drive to Sawai Madopur from Jaipur and back and fly from Jaipur to Delhi. Sounded like a plan to us. We got on the computer to book the tickets to fly and had some issues with connectivity. By the time it went through the price went up. Seems like the Indian airlines can change prices at will without any notification. The fare doubled in price in a matter of a few minutes. We grabbed the tickets at that point. When we met later with Nikhil at his lovely club, we asked him to set up the rest of it, including a hotel for our short nights stay before flying out. Done.

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