It’s always a bad sign when one wakes up with a headache that can only be described as “hangover from hell” and the feeling that one has swallowed an extremely irritable panther. Day 3 had dawned with hope, optimism, and excitement. Day 4 dawns with me in a fetal position, grabbing my stomach and groaning.
Explosive shits are the worst. But when you are on a trip that involves walking around in old forts with questionable plumbing (even the modern bits) for several hours a day, explosive shits are THE WORST. Obviously, the intelligent course of action is to skip the day’s itinerary and spend it in bed on a diet of pills and water. After all, the itinerary involves Mahals of both the Hawa and the Jal variety, as well as forts (plural). Guess what I choose to do.
By the time we reach Hawa Mahal, a solid structure the colour of mild strawberry frosting, I am death warmed over. Not even very warm, barely ten seconds in the microwave. The father, on the other hand, is excited as usual, far more than a person with a soon-to-be-deceased son should be. While I sit on a bench (placed to receive as little of the shade of the adjoining trees as possible) and groan and the wife periodically asks “are you feeling better”, he slinks into the building with unseemly glee.
Not that I blame him. Although it looks a little tacky due to being unfortunately placed in the middle of the city, the Hawa Mahal is a grand old structure. Over two hundred years old, it’s not a building or a palace, but rather a section of the wall that surrounds the city palace. Shaped like a VERY liberal interpretation of Krishna’s crown and dotted with nearly a thousand windows, the Hawa Mahal was built to allow the ladies of the palace to observe the street below without themselves being seen. Yes, I realise exactly how much energy was devoted to protecting the women from the horrors of observation, and yes, it does make it weird. But as they say, the past is a different country. They do things differently there. Or something like that.
Of course, I am not in the state to observe all this at the moment. While the father is enjoying the light breezes once meant only for the queens and princesses, I am slumped over a decidedly less royal wooden seat, keeping the sun out of my face with a hot and uncomfortable jacket. The trip isn’t a total loss, however, because there’s a shop right next to me called, and I shit you not “Mohan Restaurant Court Stay”. There is no explanation, and thank god for that, because it keeps me amused for a solid 15 minutes.
Eventually, I even feel good enough to take selfies in front of some old doors. Because when you tour Rajasthan, you fucking take selfies in front of fucking doors. I think it’s the law.
Time constraints lead to a reevaluation of plans. The original plan was to visit all three major forts around Jaipur – Nahargarh, Jaigarh and Amer, but by now, it is clear that wouldn’t be possible. Amer is a can’t miss, because of the light and sound show in the evening, so Jaigarh is dropped. After a quick stop at Jal Mahal (which looks fantastic from a distance, but get any closer and the scummy waters around the edge of the lake are enough to make your stomach turn), we head towards Nahargarh Fort.
The Fort itself isn’t anything special, except for a phenomenal view of the city. Built in 1734, it’s far more modern and thus, less interesting. Never attacked, the Fort was primarily a place of residence for a succession of royal families. After the briefest of walkabouts, we decide to press on towards the more famous Amer Fort. One bit of trivia – while the Jaisalmer Fort is the actual Sonar Kella, parts of the movie were also shot at the Nahargarh Fort, as were some other Bollywood movies.
Before we exit Nahargarh Fort though, I have to talk about the scammiest scam we encounter during the entire trip. What is so heartbreaking is that this isn’t some poor sod trying to get fifty bucks from us, but a far more organised affair.
Right outside Nahargarh Fort is a gaudy replica of a horse-drawn coach, which is actually a ticket counter, selling tickets to two attractions – a wax museum and something called a “Sheesh Mahal”. The proximity to the fort (it’s right next to the fort ticket counter) and the way the whole thing is set up makes it seem like the Sheesh Mahal is a legitimate historical attraction.
It’s not. It’s a tiny little room with some admittedly impressive mirror work on the walls and floor, that was built in 2016. By some Bollywood producer. This, we are told by the “guide”, as if an overdressed room with no significance whatsoever needs a fucking guide. But then again, who will tell us about the opportunity to pay MORE money to play dress up and get photos clicked while sitting like an idiot on the horribly tacky “throne”? So yeah, you basically pull on your cloth shoe covers as if you are visiting the Taj Mahal, traipse up to the first floor, enter a gaudy room with an ungodly number of mirror fragments stuck to the walls with superglue, listen to the guide with a sinking heart as you realise that this is nothing more than expensive set dressing, gawk at a few gold and silver utensils strewn around, walk around the room, something that takes all of a minute (two, if you really want to stare), and then sheepishly leave the room because you are an idiot who spent 250 bucks on a room that looks like someone took a hammer to a Swarovski showroom. Yes, 250 bucks. For five minutes of non-entertainment. Our only solace as we walk out is that at least we didn’t shell out an equivalent amount for the “Wax Museum”.