Jaipur – The “Oxygen” Trip
Once in a while, life comes to a prolonged standstill. The routine becomes monotonous and today seems no different from yesterday. I was in the same job for two and half years doing the same things just a little better with absolutely zero social life and nothing exciting or interesting to look forward to. That I have almost stopped blogging is evident from my infrequent posts. Unfinished and half-baked posts and story ideas were languishing in WordPress, while I stared at them from time to time. I badly needed a bit of “oxygen” to rejuvenate my stagnant life and so made elaborate plans to spend the New Year in the forests of North Bengal. Even after paying the advance money, that plan tanked due to last minute backing out by my co-travellers.
So, a random chat conversation with Shailja who had relocated to Delhi in December 2011 was motivation enough for me to register for the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012, without even knowing for sure whether I would actually be able to make it or not. JLF has been a dream for me ever since it started in 2006. But lack of either money (till 2008) or time (since I started working in 2009) always hindered in my living that dream. I noticed a weekend in the duration of JLF 2012 and immediately committed to Shailja that I would accompany her. I lost no time to shoot off emails to three other friends with the subject line “Jaipur Literary Festival”, urging them to join the two of us for the trip.
Manavi, a friend from Bangalore sent her immediate assent because in her words “We are better placed than we have ever been to try and make it to the Jaipur Lit Fest”. My research in Cleartrip and Makemytrip began in earnest and I was mighty pleased to note that I was getting direct return airfare tickets for 7k. But booking accommodation proved to be a real tough job. Hostelbookers, Tripadvisor and every other possible websites were trawled for a decent hotel within a reasonable budget for the dates, but everywhere they were booked out for the Festival days! Finally we stumbled upon a pretty hotel called Tara Niwas with good reviews in the internet and fancy photos in their website. I sent them a prompt email requesting them to book for three of us and promising to send the advance money soonest.
Meanwhile, another friend Semanti cajoled us into promising her that we would not spend all our times at the fest and would go for sightseeing and only then announced that she would join us too! That made four of us and I had to send more emails to Tara Niwas, modifying our requirement.
The thread which was started now had over 50 emails and reading them used to make me super excited about the upcoming trip. On 2 January 2012, I suddenly realized that I had, somehow, forgotten to book my flight tciekts till then! I tried booking them on the internet but much to my dismay, my debit cards were not recognized, my credit card did not have the required limit due to unpaid bill and I had not activated net-banking in any of my savings accounts. It resulted in severe panic attacks throughout the day and finally, I made a SOS to my office Travel Desk of Cox and Kings. At the end of the day, I had my tickets, whose price had, by then, increased by several thousands!
Just as we paid the advance money to Tara Niwas, our fifth friend Ranjani excitedly confirmed her presence, which meant more emails to our guest house. Kamini and Tarun of Tara Niwas must have been fed-up with my emails with constantly amended requirements, but agreed to all my demands with a smiling face. From the initial two, we were now five friends who would be making the journey to Jaipur from different parts of the country.
Now when I look back, I realize that every aspect of the trip, be it the planning or the actual journey, was equally exciting. Around 11 am on 21 January 2012, we all met at the guest house amidst much cheer and hugs. It has been 2 years and 8 months, since all five of us have been last together in law school and this was our much-awaited reunion vacation.
Our two double rooms were pretty with every amenity in its place. Semanti had done a thorough research on must-see places and after a quick shower, lunch and much bickering, we decided to spend the rest of Saturday in sightseeing. Semanti took up the coveted front seat of our hired vehicle while the rest of us struggled in the backseat. It reminded us so much of the old days, that instead of complaining, we readily forgave her 😉
We crossed the Walled City and set off for the three famous forts of Jaipur. Our first stop was Amer Fort, the official residence of Raja Man Singh, the Kachhwaha King of Amber and a celebrated Navratna in the court of Emperor Akbar. The majestic fort blended both Rajput and Mughal style of architecture and consisted of a number of courtyards, Diwan-i-Aam, Diwan-i-Khaas, Sheesh Mahal, a charming garden and a magnificient view of the surrounding Maota Lake from the top. After much loitering, posing and jumping and jumping for photos, we made our way towards our next stop Jaigarh Fort, located some meters above the Amer Fort. We met an old and kind security guard, who gave us a tour of the fort and told us stories from its past.
Jaigarh Fort was built by Raja Jai Singh, to protect the Amer Fort, with which it is connected through subterranean passages. It houses the ‘Jaivana Canon’, which was then considered world’s largest canon on wheels. In the words of our guide “Yahaan kaaman daga aur samne wale ka kaan phat gaya tha aur 35 km tak gaya tha”. This fort was less ornamental and more sturdy, since it used to be utilized more during warfare. However, the Aram Mandir, used by the royalty and the garden within its courtyard has a beautiful triple arched entrance called “The Awani Darwaza” which used to provide fine views of the nearby Sagar Lake. Jaigarh Fort also has a very large underground water storage system, where, it was rumoured, that great treasure all looted during the warfare used to be hidden. We were told that a little portion of that treasure was used by Raja Sawai Jai Singh to build the city of Jaipur. Interestingly, raids were conducted at the order of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency to search for treasure and they were, allegedly, all taken away by the PM herself!
By this time, it was almost time for sunset and we hurriedly went to the highest fort of all, Nahargarh Fort to catch the most breathtaking view of the sun setting against the city of Jaipur.
The rest of the evening was spent in experiencing the Light & Sound show in Amer Fort in super cold weather, expert bargaining in the markets over bangles, bandhej dupattas, leharia suits and Rajasthani jooties and eating a very ‘teekha’ dinner at Laxmi Mistanna Bhandar restaurant. Back at our guesthouse, we all gathered under the comforter in one room and chatted till midnight, just like the old days.
Sunday 22 January 2012 was solely booked for the 5th DSC Jaipur Literature Festival. I was determined to soak in as much festival spirit as possible and store it for the next one year. I was forewarned about how maximum people, especially from Delhi land up at the festival for time pass, but nothing prepared me for the milling crowd at Diggi Palace. We were running late for the session on Holy Wars and the concept of Jehad with William Darymple and Ayesha Jalal, but were pleasantly surprised to see that efficient crowd management made the long queue move fast at the registration counter. The session, to be held at a room named “Durbar Hall”, with beautiful traditional Rajasthani décor was filled to its capacity, but the friendly volunteers allowed us to sit at the floor in front of the dias. I was also curious about the discussion happening at the “Mughal Tent” at the same time on Superpowers of the 21st Century involving Geling Yang, Thant Myint-U, David Melone being moderated by Shashi Tharoor but could only catch the end of this session.
By now, it was already time for the most-coveted session of this year’s festival – the Oprah Winfrey talk at the “Front Lawns”. The near-stampede that almost happened in front of the gates could only be avoided due to expert security forces. As expected, it was filled to more than its capacity and all I got was a minuscule area to rest one of my toes. Oprah Winfrey was greeted by Barkha Dutt, who was promptly complimented by Oprah for hosting without a teleprompter. For the next one hour, she went on to regale the audience in her inimitable style and spoke about her early struggle, success, religion, book club, talk show and even her personal life. Though she did not reveal anything new, it was enjoyable listening to the world’s greatest talk show celebrity up and personal, but sadly, not ‘close’, considering the fact that I could only see her on the big screen and that too, only if I craned my neck enough.
I also dropped in at the bookstore to browse through the works of all the attending authors. It was just beside the Mughal Tent and I could catch the melodious voice of Gulzar reading from his book “Raavi Paar ”. I spotted the author signing enclosure and rushed there, only to find a serpentine queue in front of Fatima Bhutto and Ayesha Jalal. I was carrying my special autograph book of handmade paper in the hope of collecting as many autographs of authors as I could but sadly, only managed Fatima Bhutto’s.
I went to the Jaipur Festival in the hope of rubbing shoulders with the authors, but instead ended up listening to them from afar, jostling for space amidst the milling crowd, eating overpriced sandwiches for lunch, fighting for a gap to rest my aching back and gaping at film and theatre celebrities, fashionable women, well-heeled men and a lot of security personnel. The whole event is undoubtedly glamorous and this time it also became quite sensational due to the Rushdie row, but I somehow felt quite detached from all the brouhaha.
We did some more shopping and exploring the Walled City, again landed up at the Laxmi Mistanna Bhandar for a late evening snack, happily stuffed on a variety of sweets, thereby gaining quite a few kilos each and ended the tour with more gossip, giggles, laughter and happiness. I gained enough oxygen to last one year, at the end of which we promised to each other to take another vacation together.