Chapter 10: Amber Fort, Jaipur
Fully caffeinated, we headed out to the first stop of our day, the world’s skinniest palace, the Hawa Mahal.
We could, Jaya told us, climb a winding ramp to the top floor past all the administrative offices currently occupying Hawa Mahal, and visit the small archeological museum. Or we could go to Amber Fort and ride elephants. Janine and I raced each other back to the car. Because… elephants!
[NOTE: In response to protests and court cases, regulations have now been imposed limiting the number of trips and number of people each elephant is allowed to carry per day. It was an amazing experience, but one we would not repeat today.]
Lucky took one look at us and (correctly) identified us as prey. He showed us his camera, assured us he was most definitely licensed by the government, and informed us he would be taking our pictures. We declined. We explained that we had cameras. We told him we would not be buying his photos. We might as well have been speaking in Martian.
Lucky recorded every step of us hoisting our chubby tushes onto our respective elephants. He chased us up the steep hill, fending off other would-be photographers and snapping photos. “Lucky!” he screamed at us. “Remember my name. LUCKY! I will meet you in parking lot at end of tour. I will make Best. Pictures. Ever!”
As Lucky fell back, he was replaced by an army of vendors. With remarkable precision, they threw their wares high, flinging them into our elephant-swaying laps. Elephant-themed quilts, purses, hats rained onto us. We threw them back down, feeling guilty at our pathetic aimless tosses, especially when we saw what the elephants left behind.
Under the protection of an enormous circle of ramparts and forts above—including subterranean passages connecting the royal quarters to the higher Jaigarh Fort in case of attack—the Amber fort grew into a series of palaces, audience halls, and gardens.
We’d been exploring the fort for hours, but Lucky somehow knew the second we emerged. Back in the Jaleb Chowk, Lucky picked us out of the crowds to congratulate us on our good luck in getting to purchase the photos he’d promised, for a mere 1800 rupees.
I think the Academy Awards missed a category that year. Jaya would have been a shoe-in for the “Best Lead Tourist in a Bargaining Role” Oscar. And Lucky would have nailed Best Supporting.
Jaya: I am a photographer myself, and I wouldn’t have the nerve to charge such outrageous prices.
Lucky: I have many pictures. I will give you both album for 1700 rupees. Both. Album!
Jaya: I will give 500 rupees.
Lucky: I would lose money after I spent for printing and photo album.
Jaya: We didn’t ask you to print them. You can just keep them.
Lucky: [Holds out photos with the air of a parent handing a beloved child over to executioner] Just take. I don’t care.
Jaya: [Keeps refusing to take them for free. But we notice she doesn’t let go of the photos…] Both of these albums are the same. Why would we want extra copies of the same pictures?
Lucky: You are only coming on elephants one time. I made you the most beautiful albums.
Janine and I thought he had a good point, but we were too busy fending off other vendors who had circled us, sensing blood in the water. If Jaya didn’t reach an agreement soon, Janine and I would own a significant number of the elephant-themed items we’d thrown back down as we rode in.
Jaya and Lucky settled on 300 rupees per album. Both looked delighted. Lucky asked us to pose for a selfie with him, but Jaya refused.
While waiting for our driver, we bought paper cones filled with bhel puri, the incredibly delicious Indian street snack, washed down with orange juice squeezed on the spot.
We’d barely cleared our plates when Jaya piled us back into the car and Dashrath pointed the car up. And up.
[Please see my next post for buried treasure, a floating palace, and the world’s biggest cannon.]