Jaipur – City of Victory and Gem Scams

India - Jaipur - Cityscape

Jaipur

We arrived via train and thanks to the prepaid rickshaw booth didn’t have to barter our fare. This time we booked ahead at Hotel Kalyan so there was no walking around in the middle of the night looking for a place to stay like we did in Agra. Jaipur is the gateway to the state of Rajasthan, the western desert state of India. In this bustling city of about 2.3 million people the main attractions are the old walls and gates of the Pink City, museums and palaces, and loads of bazaars. We got lucky in that we arrived just in time for the Teej Festival, which is held once a year and marks the arrival of the monsoon. Although in reality the monsoon hadn’t actually arrived yet.

India - Jaipur - Busy Street

Congested streets in downtown Jaipur

We decided to do the guidebook’s walking tour of the Pink City, which was about 1 hour total in walking time and hit all the major sights. At the start of the walking tour we passed by 2 bazaars, one selling marble statues and the other fine textiles. As with any other Indian city or town, we were constantly being pestered by sales people and rickshaw drivers although they were not as aggressive in Jaipur when compared with anywhere else I’ve been in India so far.

One younger guy was trying to talk to us but we brushed him off. He wouldn’t let up and we started to get real annoyed but he asked why Westerners didn’t want to speak to Indians so we told him it was because of the constant pestering and touting. He seemed to understand and asked if he could talk to us some more so we could exchange cultural knowledge. We agreed but partially only to prove to him that we weren’t against talking to Indians. We stopped for a soda, chatted for a bit, his buddy came by, and we agreed to meet later on for a drink and possibly food after the Bollywood movie we were going to watch at the famous Raj Mandir cinema in Jaipur.

Inside the Raj Mandir Theatre. Like stepping back in time!

Inside the Raj Mandir Cinema. Like stepping back in time!

India - Jaipur - Raj Mandir TheatreThe heat was once again stifling so the walking tour ended up taking up the entire day. I had to keep stopping for breaks in the shade to escape the oppressive heat. I completely forgot to eat lunch so I stopped at the McDonald’s next to the theatre for a quick meal before the show started. Walking out eating an ice cream cone was a bad idea; I had to shoo away the overaggressive beggars who were reaching for the cone and trying to grab it. The theatre itself was a throwback to the old days, it was beautifully restored with lovely chandeliers and décor that made you think you stepped back in time. The movie was quite entertaining although the plotline was hard to follow since it was all in Hindi and there were so many things going on in the movie: fatal tragedy, business blowups, evil syndicate, betrayal, murder, corruption, a love story, song and dance, downfall and resurrection of the hero. In true Bollywood fashion, the show lasted for 3 hours with a 10 minute intermission.

India - Jaipur - Haveli Facade

Hawa Mahal (women’s chamber)

I was really exhausted and wanted to go straight to bed but didn’t have a way to call those guys to tell them I didn’t want to meet. We ran into them at the designated meeting place outside the theatre. Rhiannon was tired as well and excused herself from hanging out so I went with them to Aishh’s flat in the nicer part of town for some drinks and food. I made it a point to tell him that I was really tired and would only stay for about an hour. His older brother (Ajay) was in the car as well and we made conversation. I noticed that he was doing most of the talking; the others were noticeably silent, perhaps out of reverence for the elder.

At one point Ajay asked if he could copy a map from my guidebook. It was an innocent enough request so I said yes and someone took the book into another room to make a copy. In reality the page describing the gem scams in Jaipur was ripped out.

When we arrived at his flat, there was one other foreigner there, the rest were local guys. They were really hospitable and insisted that I make myself at home. After speaking with several of them, all of whom kept speaking highly of Ajay and what a successful person he is and how he helped them all out. Before I knew it, it was just Ajay and I in the room, he was talking to me about his business and how I could make some money working with him. Basically he wanted me to carry jewelry out of India and deliver it to his clients in Western countries, saving him customs duties but putting me at risk. I saw through this scam pretty quickly but feigned ignorance and said I’d consider working with him in the future. He wasn’t aggressive about it but I didn’t feel comfortable in that situation. Not long after he finished speaking I said I was really tired and was going back to my hotel to sleep. For all I know it may have actually been a “legit” operation; he showed me documents and photocopied passports of other foreigners he had worked with, mainly Europeans. However in the morning my strong suspicion was confirmed. At one point Ajay asked if he could copy a map from my guidebook. It was an innocent enough request so I said yes and someone took the book into another room to make a copy. In reality the page describing the gem scams in Jaipur was ripped out. Sadly, I can no longer trust any Indians I meet on the street who live in whatever place I happen to be in. Indian tourists have all been very friendly and trustworthy as well as many shopkeepers.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent sorting out onward travel and catching up with emails. After a laid back lunch we headed over to the Pink City for the Teej Festival. There were probably about 2-4 thousand spectators at the junction north of Ajmer Gate, we managed to get a decent position in the middle of the junction. The festival started off slow with some teenagers dancing and beating on drums but not long after that local bands came out in full costume with elephants and camels. It was a really good parade!

India - Jaipur - Teej Festival

A Teej Festival celebration

Have you ever been nearly lured into a scam during your travels?

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