The rain comes at first like a welcome mist, faint droplets on our overheated skin. Sometimes it fades back away; sometimes it builds to a squall.
The first faint droplets catch us as we enter Nahagarh Fort. We’ve hiked up the hill from Jaipur’s old city in the morning, despite our tuk tuk driver’s advice.
“I will take you there, but I don’t want you to feel misled by me. This is a sunset place for viewing the city. In the morning, you should go to Amber Palace.”
We’re contrarian. On nobody’s advice, we picked this fort from the map to start our day, and we’re sticking to it. So we hike up the hill under cover of clouds, and we’re not disappointed. There are parapets to climb, sweeping views, peacocks meowing invisibly from the bushes.
We feel the droplets.
“We might get wet,” I comment, my arms outstretched.
“I hope so,” rejoins Rick. But the moisture fades as fast as it came.
Our ride had mentioned a 9k way to Amber Fort from the top, so we check the map: sure enough, one skinny road along the ridgeline. We decide to hike it.
Cows meander across the road, tuk tuks, cars, trucks, and motorcycles swerve around each other. But it’s much quieter up here than in the city. There are views to either side. Down below, there’s a palace that’s half submerged in the lake. White buildings stretch out in a flat expanse interrupted only occasionally by ridges of green land.
Rick wanders into the bushes and finds peacock feathers; Eileen tucks one in her hat band. Stone buildings stand to the sides of the road in varying states of decay: from bare archways from medieval times to functioning temples. We find porcupine quills; I tuck one into my braid.
Motorcycles are clearly the conveyance of choice for this route: though cars barrel past, the motorcycles pull off the road and park for a good view.
On the road, we’re a source of bemusement. There isn’t a sidewalk, but it’s overall pleasant. I’m feeling surprisingly good in my body for having flown for two straight days and woken up at three am. But nobody else is doing this walk except the firewood gatherers, long branches piled on their heads, found peacock feathers (presumably to sell) resting on top.
“Why are you walking?” One tuk tuk diver asks us, point blank. He’s not even looking for our custom; he’s already got a fare, headed in the other direction.
“We like walking!” We assure him, and the cars, and the guy who yells after Rick, and the young woman who pulls over to offer a lift.
Motorcycles packed three deep with young men wave and laugh and smile at us.
At the second fort, Jaigarh, Eileen and I find ourselves posing for pictures with a young woman, an old woman, and a baby. We walk the walls, take in the (presumptive) world’s largest cannon, successfully buy water mostly in Hindi (I’ve been practicing, though most everybody speaks English).
Along a quiet side of the wall, we take a rest: Eileen on the stairs, Rick stretched out across a flat roof of cement.
“I felt a drop,” he says, eyes closed, “on my arm.”
But suddenly it’s several drops, then soaking rain. There’s no cover, but I find a dry place against a wall and settle in. I’ve brought my e-reader so I can read research papers for work, so I pull my feet in, tucked in the rain shadow to read. Only the hem of my skirt gets wet.
The weather passes: from the parapets, we watch the rain pass over Jaipur. And we, too, pass on: at last, to the Amber Palace.
This is clearly the nicest one: the most tourists (there are even a few non-Indians), the highest entry fee, meticulous gardens, mirrored walls.
A couple of young women approach me shyly. “One selfie?”
Rick and Eileen are getting the celebrity treatment too.
“Excuse me, sir.”
“Ma’am? One photo, please?”
We acqiesce, mostly. Everybody wants to stand together with us while one member of their party takes a picture, then swap out. It punctuates our wander of the palace.
We’re starting to tire when the rain comes in earnest. A few drops, then a squall, then a downpour. We shelter in an ancient women’s quarters, leaning back on the stone.
In a rain break, we make our way out of the palace, down to the exit archway, but though the rain starts back up, the souvenir sellers are too persistent. We brave the raindrops.
Down the hill, as the storm builds, we dash for shelter under an ancient gate. The woman selling chickpeas waves us out of the rain, smiling. We watch the corn seller at the edge of the road try to shield both herself and her coal burner under one inadequate black umbrella. Water rushes down the stone steps, she must be sitting in it.
A jocular crew of young men dash down the steps to join us, laughing as two of their crew embrace the downpour, sitting out in the rain. Rick catches my eye. “Should I ask them for a selfie?” So I take his picture as he goes out into the rain.
There’s an aqueduct under the gate by our feet, and it swells from a trickle to a torrent. We’re all chatting, language skills mutually iffy, but lots of laughter. There is some goading, then the chickpea seller dashes out into the wet to kick a big pile of corn husks into the roiling aqueduct. Her coal eyes light with glee. She kicks a few more stray husks, then rushes over to the garbage can and joyfully dumps that in too. It all mostly goes downstream.
When the rain at last subsides, we venture out. The stone stairs are puddled but clean, warm against the stone, and we’re in sandals. My clothes are damp but not soaked, and though we’re hungry and tired, our spirits are high. I bargain down a tuk tuk, blithe on the wet streets, ready to get home.