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MUMBAI – The cab from the Jaipur Airport to our hotel was driven at such a relaxed, normal pace it made me nervous. I looked L1001608around, wondering what nefarious activity this could signify. It appeared that everyone else was driving at a fairly relaxed, normal pace and that I had been in Mumbai too long. A day or two later I went out in the evening to walk around the old Pink City. I took a rickshaw back to the hotel during rush hour. The driver asked if I had ever seen such awful traffic. I said I lived in Mumbai. “Oh,” he replied, “That is too much bad.”

IMG_7236Jaipur is the capital of the mostly desert state of Rajasthan in north-west India. Even while still on the plane, it reminded me of Arizona. The approach is over brown desert and dark, rocky mountains and the first thing that strikes you upon stepping off the plane is the dry air and the smell of dust and spice. Preserved by the arid climate, the buildings do not have the scabrous, underwater appearance that everything but the solid British stone buildings in Mumbai do. Even the piles of trash in Jaipur appear cleaner.

It takes a while to shake off the stress and pace of The Maximum City. We arrived at the Sarang Palace Hotel in a foul mood. Still relative novices at traveling with children, we still had the subconscious expectation that one could arrive at a hotel, lie back, and relax for a few minutes. A hotel, to a three year old, is not a place of relaxation or romance, but a gymnastics course of bed shaped trampolines and new furniture from which to launch surprise ninja assaults. I think that too much time in Mumbai gives you a skewed perspective of everything else. A friend recently returned from Thailand. He told me his first trip overseas was to Bangkok and he remembers how hectic and chaotic it seemed at the time. Now, after a year or so in Mumbai, he thinks of Bangkok as an oasis of calm, clean order. There are times that I long for the quiet and efficiency of Honduras. These are all signs you have been in Mumbai too long.

In reality, Jaipur is plenty chaotic, but there is still a certain laid back feel. With a population of a little over three million, it is stillL1001612 tiny compared to Mumbai. Travel a short distance in any direction and you are in the countryside. Jaipur is, perhaps, the India of your Orientalist subconscious with rickshaws and camels, elephants painted with Hindu symbols, mountain forts with pointed archways, and temples on hills guarded by monkeys and sadhus.

Another thing traveling with children allows you to do is to be a shameless tourist. Guided tour? Absolutely. Silly hats? Why not? Elephant rides? Without a doubt. I look forward to our first Disney cruise. Of course traveling with two children, a toddler and an infant no less, anywhere in India, is far from a Disney cruise. Like much of the world, there are few regulations and even fewer safety rails. We traveled by motor rickshaw, with plenty of rushing wind and no seat belts. We rode pachyderms, an animal known for its intelligence, memory, and occasional murderous rages. A cobra (presumably defanged, it was a sad cobra) was draped me and my son. Up at the monkey temple (actually a sun temple but home to many vicious primates) we were well received. Perhaps it was because we brought our kids, maybe it was our eldest son who was a diplomat from the day he was born and could work a D.C. cocktail party by the time he could walk, but we were invited to sit a long time inside the temple, were hand-fed sweets, garlanded with marigolds, and my wife and son’s hands painted with henna designs, bindis painted on all of our foreheads. It may be that we were dedicated to the sun god and his legions of Hanuman avatars, but we escaped handily enough. We walked down the long hill, watching other sightseers being threatened by the monkeys who left us alone. I like to believe it was professional courtesy on their part.

P1010438We toured the Amber Fort, visited an elephant village and the Monkey Temple and met the man I believe to be the Pirate King of the TukTuk drivers. To me, the most fascinating thing was the bazaar section of the Pink City. Colonnades run in every direction housing shop after shop. The shops sell everything from the famous textiles of Rajasthan to cheap bangles, brass idols, and gemstones. Then you turn a corner and the shops are selling furniture, farm implements, and electronics. Walk a little farther into the domain of the spice dealers and the air is thick with the scent of turmeric, so heavy with the vapor of chilies that your eyes and throat burn, and then redolent of theP1010387 4 tea being scooped out ounce by ounce and pound by pound. Each major street eventually leads to one of the city gates but the place is like an alternate universe. Just when you think you have your bearings you are lost again and I found the best way to navigate, as I often have in India, is by noting landmarks and using a compass. The north gate, after all, will still be in the north. But perhaps the best way to navigate is to wander until you are lost then hail a rickshaw, observe the worlL1001667 2d from its exposed perch, and be slowly and steadily peddled to your hotel by a man who actually knows where he is going.

I could easily have spent the days we were there and more besides simply wandering the markets, watching the sun and shadows shift through the colonnades, setting the streets aglow. Like Arizona, the evenings were long with fantastic skies but all in all there were far more elephants and camels. Coming home to Mumbai we felt tough. Sure we could live in a place like Jaipur with its dry air and charming architecture. But we lived in Mumbai, The Maximum City. We had made it there so we could make it anywhere.

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