It's like we've not left the traffic madness of New Delhi as we arrive in Jaipur past 8 pm. Mukeesh,my driver, sheepishly admits this capital city of Rajasthan is seeing more traffic as we try to steer clear from the onslaught of rickshaws, motorbikes, bicycles,Tata Nano cars, huge carts pushed by skinny men, people holding hands while crossing narrow streets, and the king of the road of them all, the venerated cow, idly wandering the streets foraging for food. Driving in India isn't for those with a history of road rage.
My day was quite long. Mukeesh's was even longer. He waited for me at the Indira Gandhi International Airport an extra hour longer as it took my backpack awhile to reunite with me at the carousel. I never thought that even if my plane arrived at a sleepy 2:40 AM, throngs of walking vultures are so excited about making some business at the arrivals area. One guy from the airport came up to me saying "I'm from the airport to help you" and grabbed my backpack even when he saw me with my driver. "No!" was my stern reply. I should have kicked him in his balls.
Mukeesh drove me to Garden View Hotel in the tourist mecca of Karol Bagh. The area looks seedy in the pre-dawn darkness, just like Manila's Ermita. The hotel has no garden despite its name and my room is a windowless box with fake flowers in one corner. After some rest, I checked out before noon and we left to meet Brijj of Idiscoverindia.com who helped arranged my itinerary. Brijj was with Amit, the guy who started the business. We had drinks - I actually had Lassi (sweet yoghurt drink) - near their office in the hip Haus Khas district of New Delhi and talked at length about travel. Both guys showed me around a bit as there's an interesting 14th-century reservoir and ruins. Before we parted, both guys gave me a can of Darjeeling tea as a welcome gift. Nice!
It’s 5 hours to Jaipur and starting off in the clogged streets of Delhi even in the early afternoon is a nightmare. Mukeesh, his large weathered hands on the wheel, is so determined to move away from the city. “I like it bettterrr in Agra! No much trrraffic!” The smog is so heavy making the city look like it’s draped with a huge gray curtain. I wonder if those ubiquitous buses are really “propelled by clean fuel” as proudly painted on its sides. And as if that particulate matter in the air isn’t enough, another pollution is noise coming off from the constant blowing of horns. Nowhere have I seen an encouragement for noise barrage all day long – even trucks have their backs scrawled with Blow Horn or Horn Please.
We got hungry along the way. Mukeesh knew just where to stop, having made this tourist circuit on the so-called Golden Triangle of Delhi-Jaipur-Agra many times with other foreign visitors. To make it easier for me, I had Thali, basically a multi-course meal with a sampling of a variety of Rajasthani dishes served in one huge platter. One thing I always look forward to in an Indian dish is the bread and I was pampered with an assortment of rotis and papads. Everything tasted good and I paid only $6 for such a filling meal.
Incredibly, despite Mukeesh’s frequent trips to Jaipur, he couldn’t locate my next hotel, the Sarang Palace, self-described as a heritage hotel. “It’s my firrrst time to hear hotel name sirrr”, he apologizes. Thankfully, his Indian brothers on the road are quite helpful in directing us. I got my forehead dabbed with that colored powder by a hotel staff as I checked in. “Namaste. Welcome to Jaipur, Sir!”