Next day, dragging myself out of bed I eat aloo gobhi and ‘palin paratha’ (like flatbread) for breakfast which, if you’re wondering, doesn’t help a hangover. I think ‘ooh I haven’t heard of palin paratha before – I’ll try that!’ Turns out palin is a spelling error, they meant plain. I then take a tuktuk to the 16th century Amber Fort which is a massive palace just outside of Jaipur. Of course, one cannot simply walk into the Amber Fort. Tourists must first defeat the 3 bosses blocking their path, to make it to the next level. (3 locals who doggedly insist on being my guide.)
One tells me he will wait for me, and then we can go for chai together and he’ll show me around the area. Ahh that sounds nice actually, yeah, maybe I shou – NO! REMEMBER AGRA I tell myself. I manage to wriggle out of the conversation and scurry away, but for a while he trots behind me trying to engage me in conversation.
The palace is pretty awesome; it’s ridiculously huge and full of opulent marble carvings and mosaics, and a secret subterranean tunnel that leads to the higher Jaigarh Fort next door. It revives my childhood obsession with secret doors and passage ways – because here there are a shit load of them and I get lost at one point and almost slip down a pitch black set of stairs before someone tells me I’m not meant to be in that part.
I then climb up to the neighbouring fort where I get chatting to the headmaster of a local school – the kids from which are all here on a school trip and are up ahead. The conversation is difficult, with several misunderstandings because his English isn’t great, and my Hindi isn’t quite fluent yet. He tells me he teaches English but I’m not sure if this is another one of the misunderstandings. I get the sense he is secretly ecstatic about having run into a white Westerner but he’s trying to play it cool because he’s a headmaster and a grown man. He reminds me of a child who’s going to bed on 24th Dec knowing that when he wakes up it’ll be Christmas, but his parents have told him to calm down cos he’s being too hyper, so now he’s just quietly fizzing with anticipation.
We catch up to the school kids who aren’t quite as composed. If they’d had a throne on them I don’t doubt they’d have put me on it and carried me up the hill. They are each scrambling to ask questions and take selfies with me. Three girls of about 14 walk alongside me, chatting to me for the rest of the journey up (their English is better than their headmaster’s). They also teach me Hindi words and phrases – it’s either rude stuff or my pronunciation is shit because they keep laughing hysterically. When I ask them why they are fascinated with me/Westerners one shouts ‘BECAUSE YOU SO CUTE!!!’
The novelty of feeling like a celeb wears off after about 10 minutes when I start to feel a bit claustra and want to continue with my own route. Eventually I manage to slip away and get into this small old fort alone. However, almost immediately the security guard takes it upon himself to start giving me a tour. He speaks zero English and so the tour consists of him speaking in Hindi, making huge hand gestures and occasionally repeating English words like ‘round’ or ‘heavy’ several times. I just nod along with feigned interest. I can’t work out if he doesn’t realise that I don’t have a clue what he’s saying, or if he does but doesn’t care. I wonder how long I’m meant to go along with this, but the answer comes soon enough: until he’s explained and taken me round the entire complex (luckily not that big), and I pay him. I pay him for a tour I neither asked for nor understood, of an area that didn’t require a tour because everything was self explanatory. Cool.
I make my way back down from the fort and guess who is waiting for me as promised?! That’s right! ‘EMILIEEE!’ He hollers when he sees me, ‘You see?? I wait!’ OH FOR F— …I’ve been gone about 3 hours! I’m guessing he’s gonna bang on about going for this chai. Oh god maybe I should just go for chai with him. I do like chai. And maybe it’ll be the authentic experience I’d hoped for the other day in Agra?…. NO. I am under no obligation to drink chai with him. I didn’t ask him to wait. I smile weakly and mumble something about needing to get back to the city but it being nice to meet him. And I leave, pulsating with awkwardness. Now, just one more challenge to complete before I get through to the next round – haggling for a tuktuk back to the hostel. ….I make it through! When I get back, my American roommate has bought me a khasta kachori (an Indian puff pastry snack) after she’d discovered I’d not tried one yet. What a treasure.