Jaipur: Hawa Mahal and Betel/Paan Chewing

Good morning everyone,

Jaipur, finally.  Yay!  Hawa Mahal (pronounced by Jagdeep Ji as Hava Mall)… amazing!!  What a beautiful building!  It’s in an older part of Jaipur where many of the building are actually pink but this one is beige with the exception of one wall of latticed windows which remains pink.  Who says beige is bland?  This is worth the price of the composite ticket (Rs. 400 which gets you entry into 7 different sites).

It’s five stories high and you can wander through about half of it, with an audio guide if you wish.  I could have spent many hours wandering through this palace.

Hawa Mahal means Palace of the Wind.  It contains a high screen wall so that the women of the royal family could watch street festivities without being seen.  It is near the City Palace and Jantar Mantar and extends all the way back to where the women’s quarters were.

The latticed windows were to hide the royal women who were to be in strict purdah (veiled) at all times.  The windows also allowed for the air conditioning of the palace during the hot summers.

Some of the windows are also coloured with red, green and yellow panes in various patterns.  It’s been recently renovated (2006) and is now taken care of by a trust to preserve the historical monument for the future.  The original cost of the renovation was roughly $100 million Canadian because it had been neglected for some time.  Hopefully the trust keeps up on the maintenance.  $100 million is a lot of money anywhere in the world, much less in India where it could be used elsewhere.

The details everywhere in this place are just amazing.  There are even little fountains in tiny courtyards between rooms in the women’s quarters.  Surprise though – they were dry.

The palace is also filled with macaques – as is every other monument in Jaipur.  They stayed on high vantage points though and didn’t pester anyone for food.  I did watch two of them trying to play with a kite that had landed on one of the roofs though.  Their interest stopped though as soon as they had torn the kite up sufficiently.

This is definitely a must see if you get to Jaipur.  Plan for a couple of hours here.

Now let’s talk about the paan and betel chewing… and worse, spitting the residue on the ground… everywhere.

Betel is a leaf that has stimulant and psychoactive effects.  It is usually chewed as paan, which is a mixture of betel, areca nut and tobacco (all carcinogenic) and sometimes cloves or other spices and herbs are added.  The tobacco is optional but even without it, the betel and areca nut are still both carcinogenic.  It causes tooth decay and loss, staining around the mouth and gums and oral cancers.

Chewing it causes excessive saliva to form – red, thick globulous saliva.  It’s really quite disgusting.  You can swallow that stuff (but who would want to?) or you can spit it out.

It is sold here legally and out in the open.  It’s very popular in a lot of places in India but of all the places I’ve been so far, Rajasthan takes the betel/paan chewing trophy.  It seems like everyone here chews paan, including my auto-driver (and maybe even Jagdeep but I don’t know that for sure – just a suspicion).  

Most people spit it out … on the street … while they’re walking, while they’re driving, while they’re riding on the back of a camel.  It’s red betel juice flying everywhere.  I suspect that the goop that I was walking in at Mehandipur Balanji was made up of a good portion of betel juice and just enough other garbage to form a thick goo.

The tell-tale red stains of it are everywhere you want to look in Jaipur.  So is the smell, which is hard to describe but once you know what it is, you can’t forget it.  I got in the habit of looking down while I walked to ensure I could sidestep the stuff and I stopped sitting anywhere – no benches, no stones, no concrete railings.

I even found it in the exit hallway at Hawa Mahal and all over the place at all of the forts I visited.

Come on.  If the fact that you’re putting three different vehicles for carcinogens in your mouth doesn’t stop you, and the red staining and tooth loss doesn’t stop you, and that smell doesn’t stop you… this is your city, your monuments.  Why on earth do you have to spit it everywhere??  Spitting is disgusting without the betel juice in it.  With the betel juice… seriously gross.

I have no doubt that the poor street animals and the cows, camels, horses and donkeys who I see eating garbage on the street, are also getting good doses of betel juice with their meal.  If you don’t care about your cancer risk and your gross spitting habit, why are you going to do this to the cows, the dogs, the camels, the horses, the donkeys and the macaques?

I try not to judge these things but seriously?  Betel should be a controlled substance and spitting betel juice in public ought to be outlawed.  There are cleaner people, who choose to chew this brew of cancer causing substances, who carry little spitoons with them to spit in.  Please, I beg you, use them if you must chew.

Gross.  It’s the only thing I’ve seen that has seriously disgusted me in India to date.


Going to shower now.

I feel gross just talking about it.

And Jagdeep, dear Sikh boy that you are, if you do chew this stuff, cut it out.  For your family’s sake and because it’s forbidden to us.

Next time we’ll continue our tour of Jaipur at the museum (I suspect).  I am caught up with the writing but now I have to write posts to cover the period of time that I’ll be travelling in Kashmir.  Wish me luck.  Until next time,

Peace and love all,

P.S. I’ve just returned from Kashmir where I can tell you that there is no betel spit all over the place.  The gardens… spit free.  The boardwalk… spit free.  The monuments… spit free.  The walkway in front of the hotels… spit free.  They sell paan in same little shops but no-one seems to be spitting it all over the ground.  Bless the Kashmiris and the whole of the Kashmir Valley.


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