This weekend has most certainly been one to remember. Everything goes by so quickly, and yet so slowly here. One minute we are flying down the streets, or watching monkeys dig through trash and swing from buildings, and then next I am comfortably laying beneath my mosquito net ready for a six hour sleep. I arrived the same day as three other travellers- Susana (Spain, 43), Marie (Canada… my travel buddy, 21), and Cait (US *note that she is from California and it makes me feel at home to be around a Californian, 27) and we have been lucky enough to be taken under the wings of some seasoned volunteers, who organized an outting for us on Saturday.

We all travelled to Amber Fort (pronounced Amer), which is a 600 year old fort in what used to be the capital of the state of Jaipur. For the first time I saw a snake charmer! He asked me to sit beside while the snake was rising out of his basket, but I was having none of that! I stayed a safe distance away (your welcome, mom). A couple of the girls chose to ride an elephant up the 300+ stairs to the fort itself. There were many elephants, with colourfully adorned trunks and  ‘drivers’ steering by foot. Susana is a vegan and certainly did not want to ride the elephants, and I agreed with her sentiment that the elephants are not well-treated (which surprises me, as elephants are symbolic in Hinduism, and represent wisdom for Indians), and was happy to trek up the steps! We were all taken aback, once we reached the top, at the magnitude of the fort. The two most striking facilities for me were the Turkish bathing quarters, and the “womens’ apartments”. The marble baths were connected through tunnelways, and culminated in one huge (at least 10 feet deep) bath, in a circular room with windows overlooking the nearby lakes and desert mountains.

The womens’ apartments housed the twelve wives of Jai Singh I (a most celebrated ruler, to whom the locals still refer to as a ‘genius’). The women were constantly separated from all the men of the fort. This mentality today takes a different form, but is still quite evident. The only women I have seen on the streets, aside from those begging, are in vehicles or riding motorcycles sidesaddle behind a man (actually now I recall one woman driving). Of course the gender distinction is no where near as great as it looks when out in public- I believe the split nationally is close to 53/47 males to females.

But anyway.. time at the fort was well spent. When we walked back down to the tuk-tuks we had hired for the half-day, our drivers were no where to be seen. While we waited, the group of us was swarmed by salesmen- particularly memorable were two young boys (13 and 11) who began trying to sell us postcards and handmade trinkets, but were much more pleased when we began showing them we could count to ten in Hindi (ek, do, teen…) and asking them what languages they could count in! While they began as persistent sellers (the presence of which is so great here), the boys were easily distracted. I truly enjoyed the time we had with them- what happy boys! It is an internal battle not to simply just hand them some rupees… we have been firmly instructed to not do so, and also question how much of the money would go to the boys. These boys still have it a thousand times better than many their age- while peddling small goods sounds like an abhorrable lifestyle for a Western boy, these boys (in school, fairly clean, not living on the streets) seemed to have some of the better circumstances than other I have so far come into contact with- we will save that for another entry.

Today the four newbies travelled to Jantar Mantar- and this was INCREDIBLE! I loved it, I would even go again tomorrow! Remember Jai Singh, well he was the ‘genius’ who created the masterpiece observatory in the 16th century (over a period of six year). We saw the world’s largest sundial, which keeps time to two seconds, as well as a smaller sundial which we physically learned how to read (how exciting!) and many more instruments, spanning about two acres, for calculating longitude, the sun’s degree position, and also for astrological purposes. Twelve marble structures, one for each zodiac sign, were constructed in order to produce horoscopes based on a child’s birthdate, place of birth, and time of birth. Even writing this now I am amazed thinking of the mathematical and architectural skill involved in the construction of this observatory. A truly unique sight… many of you will be recieving post cards from this place!

While I do have so much more to tell, I must get to bed! Tomorrow I begin Hindi lessons in the morning, one and a half hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Then, off to the slum for teaching English- first, to a group of women aged 30 and up, and second, to a group of girls ranging from 6-14. Myself, Susana, and Suzanne (Ireland, 23) produced our lesson plan earlier today. I trust that you reading will wish us luck in sharing the lesson (as of right now I feel we need it, it is a daunting task, especially when wondering if you will have a translator or not the next day)! I am excited to tomorrow truly begin this, the most significant part, of my journey.

Namaste.

   

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