After a coupla days in the rather disappointing Jaipur, we find ourselves in Delhi. It’s a strange old place – the backpacker ghetto we’re staying in is reminiscent of the scungier parts of Amsterdam or Kowloon, but the rest of Delhi (or New Delhi, at least) is unlike anywhere else we’ve been in India, in that it’s a) spacious b) orderly and c) reasonably affluent. It’s full of wide boulevards (with real lanes for traffic!) and open spaces, and the upmarket shopping strips look more like Regent Street or Collins Street than anything else. There are no homeless people, or at least none that we’ve seen – I’m sure they’re around somewhere, but they’re nowhere near as prominent as they are in Bombay.
For all that, Delhi doesn’t have anything like the spirit that Bombay does – it’s a curiously soulless sort of place, and not one that I’m keen to spend a lot of time in. Depending on the degree of arsing about required to secure tourist visas for Nepal and L’s ancestral visa for London, this might be a forlorn hope, but we’ll see. In the meantime, Delhi does have its charms, namely a fine selection of restaurants (had some very acceptable Thai food today, which makes a nice change from our usual diet of Western breakfasts and Indian lunches and dinners), along with a couple of fantastic bookshops.
As for Jaipur, well, it was essentially a tourist trap. One of the sadder aspects of our travels thus far has been seeing perfectly pleasant places ruined entirely by tourism. Of course, even thinking this probably makes me the worst sort of hypocrite, but the fact remains. Jaipur was obviously once a beautiful place, and there are still many beautiful things to see there, but where’s the incentive to maintain anything when you can just charge 200 rupees for entry to anything, watch people happily take a couple of snaps for the holiday album, then sit happily on the profits?
In fairness, elements in the Indian government and the various state governments do seem to be making some sort of effort to ensure the preservation of their heritage, as opposed to just cashing in on it. Also helpful are the various private trusts, often set up by ex-Maharajahs and the like for the maintenance of their ancestral homes, monuments etc, but all too often the “sights” are disappointing – you feel like you’re being shunted along something that’s simultaneously akin to a treadmill and a conveyor belt, where the only thing that really matters is the money in your pocket. I dunno, call me an unrepentant leftie, but rampant commercialism leaves me cold, and being confronted with a swarm people (often government-sanctioned) trying to sell you souvenirs and other uselss consumer items before you’ve even managed to leave the palace / temple / whatever basically shits me to tears.
The one pleasant experience we did have in Jaipur was a trip to India Textiles, a small clothing co-operative set up by an Australian ex-pat along with a couple of Brits and various others. We bought a heap of clothing – the prices were probably a bit over the odds, but the clothes are all hand-made, the company apparently provides employment for a heap of widows and other social personae non grata, and the chai was good. And they didn’t once say “Hello my friend”, which is good enough for me.
Anyway, enough bitching. More positive comments next time.