I was still in the Golden Triangle, which is often the only bit of India tourists see (those without a luxurious three months here, anyway), so I didn't expect a great deal of change from the atmosphere around Delhi. I'd always planned to go to Jaipur; it was one of the few definite ideas I had about India before I came. Other than that, I simply wanted to see the place, to wander into it and let it happen to me. But with me on a bike, obviously. Going around Rajasthan simply fitted in with that vague intention.
Jaipur is famous for the Pink City, the city palace at its centre, and for the forts that stand at the top of the surrounding hills. I was pleased to see the troops of elephants going up the road to Amer Fort when I rode past, though I didn't get very close as I was on the other side of the lake and I didn't want to pay to get in. I had a great view, and an amusing conversation with a load of tuk-tuk drivers about the gears on my bike.
I quickly decided that I'd only spend one night in Jaipur. I found a decent cheap hotel and wandered back to the pink city. This was a bit like that event in the TV show Gladiators where the contestant runs a gauntlet of gladiators who assault her with pads and sticks. I dodged the beardy rickshawman, shook off the "student" who wanted to practice his English, then encountered a very persistent little beggar girl who kept trying to take my hand. While I was trying to fend her off, the "student" made his second move but he seemed disappointed by my lack of response "hey, don't you like talking to people?" he asked. I continued to ignore him, bent down, turned the little girl round and told her to go home as gently as I could.
Tourist India (as I think of it) wasn't done with me yet, though. I wandered around the pink city, which is tumbledown and decaying, and atmospheric with it. I thought I'd check out the city palace while I was there - it's much better kept, and the armoury is as terrifying a collection of pointy, stabby, shooty, creative death as I've ever seen. They even had a camel gun, which, as I overheard a tour guide point out, wasn't for shooting camels, but was a 50 lb beastie to be used from the back of a camel in battle. I do enjoy overhearing snippets of other people's tours, though I don't feel I got the best out of the Hindi tour guide.
The lowlight of the City Palace was when I asked about going to the Chandra Mahal, the highest point of the palace, and the guy said it cost 2,500 rupees. For a second I thought I was back in Iran and he'd got his zeros mixed up, but no, that was the price. Per person. I suddenly felt proud of myself for having used my Stockton Borough Council library card to pass myself off as a student and get a discount on the entry. Sticking it to The Man.
There were a different set of beggars on MI Road when I walked back. They sprinted past me to pose pathetically in front of the Lassi shop, so my heartstrings remained unplucked that time. The same "student" didn't recognise me and started his patter until I said "oh no, not you again!"
I left Jaipur the next morning. I had an easy day's riding and I've had two nights of camping, two days of cycling around Rajasthan. I've had a perfect moment when I wandered out of my tent in time to see the full moon rise, I've tried to negotiate a vehicle swap with a Rajasthani camel driver, I've eaten roadside dahl and roadside macaroons and had a shave/face clean/head message (which was an amazing experience), I've left my bike with maps and iPhone on show in the care of street kids while I ate an omelette, and most unusually I've had some quiet roads and blissful camping.
Jonathan and I were taking the piss out of a group of Spaniards at the Ajanta Hotel who had wildly ambitious plans for their brief time in India; they were going to visit Delhi in a morning, then get a bus to the Taj Mahal in time for sunset, leave Agra the next day for Jaipur... As Jonathan said, they'd be lucky to get out of Delhi by then. It took me the best part of half a day to get a sim card, and in a car it was at least five hours to Agra. I hope it all worked out, but I don't think you can force India to fit your plan - I'm pleased to have the leisure to wander and let it happen to me, and especially pleased to get away from the tourist trail. I overpaid the macaroon seller this morning, and he insisted on giving me a cup of chai in return.
I think Jonathan would like this bit of India, which seems to be full of... well, people. People who stare at me and wave and smile and though they may see me as an object of curiosity, they don't look at me like a target. Also, the shave was hilarious. I've never been buffed before (it's quite like being hammered with very delicate hammers), especially not when the barber has to push the wires directly into the mains. I'm not sure Jonathan would have liked that bit, but we'd have laughed about it afterwards.