Fear and Loathing in Jaipur
There are two occasions when I have felt as though I have woken from the dead. The first was, aged 16, after I had an operation on my back, which had required a general anesthetic.
The second was last Friday when I came ‘to’ so to speak following a week off work ill following my trip to Jaipur.Coming out of a general aneasthetic isn’t like waking up from sleeping: it’s like waking up from unconsciousness, or from being dead, (a feeling one doesn’t have too often.)
Likewise, recovering from the acute bronchitis and laryngitis that I caught in Jaipur gave me a similar feeling when I recovered – waking from the dead.
That week of illness is a hazy memory. Day became night and night became day. During the day I was in and out of bouts of sleep. At times I would wake and set myself a task like make a hot drink of lemon. Once done, I would have no energy and then sleep again for four hours. At night I had hot and cold sweats. The cough was so deep sometimes I felt like I had stopped breathing.
When such a coughing fit was over, I would feel shell shocked – my whole body had heaved so much…
And I had an uncomfortable feeling throughout my body, especially my legs -a feverish feeling, a restlessness. My temperature was sometimes 102. I went from being boiling hot, my head emanating heat, to being cold, wearing a fleece in my Mumbai room. Throughout I had no appetite. But I could consume orange juice and so I drank and drank that and ate nothing. It all felt like how I imagined malaria would feel. I hated it. I vowed never to smoke a cigarette or shisha pipe again…For this is an illness smokers get, before they get lung cancer. This illness is not worth having, it’s horrid. My parents rang me every night. “Will your maid know what to do if she finds you in a worse condition?” my Dad would ask.
The reason for this grip of fever? The answer is: Jaipur.
Every time I see that irritating AD on TV with that blond girl in a red dress skipping along and hear that man’s voice booming: “Come to Rajasthan,” I want to strangle someone. It’s all marketing and no delivery, in my view.
You see, while there is nothing wrong with the monuments, forts, palaces and so on in the Pink City, there is everything wrong with the budget hotels, drivers and rickshaw drivers.
I took a hotel at Rs 900 a night.
I knew Jaipur would be cold at this time of year, but presumed (naively) the hotel would have central heating.
But No, it was one of those converted heritage palaces that did not just not have heating, but was designed not to let heat in, so in January, my room was colder than the freezing weather outside. What did the hotel provide to compensate? A thin blanket.
Every night I shivered to sleep, literally, and that was wearing a thermal top, two jumpers and a fleece.
I have no idea how the people who sleep in the streets there survive. What beats me is, why don’t they install radiators and carpets?
The entire experience in the hotel was like an episode from Fawlty Towers.
I asked for a fan heater and was given an instrument, that looked like it was 200-years-old.
I switched it on and smelly black fumes blew in my face. The choice appeared to be death from carbon monoxide poisoning or the chill. I choose the former.
I then touched the heater to move it to face me and got an electric shock. This heater had never been tested by an electrician, I mulled.
I rang up room service form the room phone.
Naturally, there was no line. I called from my mobile instead and ordered hot water, to take medicine with. The man arrived with room temperature Bisleri. “Garam hai” he insisted. In the morning I could see my breath in the air. I switched the shower on and cold water came out.
I touched the switch on the water heater, and a huge part of it fell onto me, broken by rust. I called the reception form my mobile. A man arrived, touched the water heater and more fell off. I had a shower in another hotel room down the corridor. My hotel sheets looked like they had never been cleaned. Dust was everywhere. The place was crumbling. There wasn’t a single Indian person in the hotel, which was telling. It was full of foreigners. I don’t understand why these budget hotels insist on making their rooms and experiences for tourists as horrible as possible. If nothing else, they give a very bad impression of India to foreigners. (When I first came to India as a backpacker aged 19, I remember staying in these kinds of places, and thinking that was how Indians actually lived like that…in crumbling rooms, with bursting water heaters, and toxic fume heaters.. Now I live here, I know it is not the case.)
The state government should start visiting all these hotels, and striking them off its list, when they do not conform to basic safety, hygiene and ‘liveable’ standards, rather than throwing so much money at TV adverts.
I have since been told by some Indian friends I should have spent Rs 3,000 minimum on my Jaipur hotel, and bribed the management to get better facilities. Is it true?
Even last year I took a week holiday in Rajasthan, that cost me and a friend Rs 1 lakh. That time we had a nightmare time with the driver that the reputable travel agent had provided.
He drove like a maniac around the state, insisted on stopping at certain restaurants en route, that charged us a bomb for food (and he clearly got commission), made deals with touts and annoying guides, even offering them lifts in our vehicle, so they could try and sell their services to us. When we stopped at a Costa Coffee, he strolled in and joined us, and when we stayed up late, he refused to pick us up the next day until after 12pm, ruining our schedule. I vowed never to have a driver again, after that.
This time, apart from my woes at the hotel, I had to suffer at the hands of the auto rickshaw drivers in Jaipur.
Every rickshaw driver in Jaipur speaks fluent English, unlike those in Mumbai.
“Where are you from?” one asked excitedly as he met me outside the festival. “Mumbai,” I replied.
“How come every foreign woman at the festival is from Mumbai?” he muttered disappointingly.
The same guy ended up getting me to use him to go to and from the festival. He said he knew better hotels, I stupidly let him take me to them – they were very shady and worse. I said I wanted to go to Barista. I sat down at the table, and he joined me. Bizarrely, he ordered an expresso. He then said he found me attractive and there was chemistry between us and listed previous a string of previous girlfriends he had – from Mexico to Denmark I told him I wasn’t interested.. He kept insisting he was in love with me. I kept telling him I was not.
I was so tired of having to shake this guy off. He clearly didn’t “get” that I was not a tourist. I’ve no idea what he wanted from me, but from experience of backpacking I know, that when these rickshaw drivers or guides or random street kids get extra friendly with you, and start joining you for coffees, at the back of their mind, they have some kind of scam planned, and the friendly banter is all a means to win your trust.
It is no surprise then it was in Jaipur, when backpacking around India aged 19, that I nearly got lured into a gems scam.
I’m sure these things don’t happen to Indians in Rajasthan – it is just something to welcome us foreign tourists.
If only the Rajasthan government would star experiencing a trip round the state from the eyes of a firang tourist rather than making these TV Ads. Currently the only safe way to travel round the state is to do so five star. Yet, it should be possible to go to Jaipur and have a perfectly nice time staying in a three star or two star hotel.
So, the best part about Jaipur was the airport. It was a huge modern building that ticked all the boxes, and was warm.
I sat in a really trendy café and drinking hot drinks waiting for my flights…By that time I had lost my voice and had fever. Luckily I didn’t have the rickshaw driver to contend with.
Back in Mumbai I was overjoyed to be home. The taxi driver at the airport didn’t declare he was in love with me.
The following day a doctor came to my house and diagnosed acute bronchitis and laryngitis. I went on to antibiotics and other medicines.
From my sick bed I sent an email to Natures Basket with a shopping list of drinks and fruits I needed. Then at 12.30pm the next day I took a call from a man with perfect English informing me they didn’t have cranberry juice or chamomile tea in stock. I was impressed.
Within minutes the groceries, exactly what I had ordered with no errors, had arrived. My maid checked on me very day (the invaluableness of maids). After a week of being ill in bed, I went to have a reflexology treatment at one of the many superb Bandra spas; I took a walk along Bandstand to gain fresh air, I started to read Maximum City, and started to regain energy.
Who cares if that girl in the red dress found love or not in Rajasthan. I’m not in a rush to go back there and find out. Not until someone improves the quality of accommodation. Or I can afford to stay at the Rambagh Palace.