I have always been curious about hitchhiking. Having grown up in India and lived for a bit in the US, it always struck to me as something alien. Now that I have done it once and lived to tell, I wonder if it is something I will do again. In any case not now but after the pandemic.
It all started in Jaipur, my cousin (a girl five years younger than me) and I had just visited the Amer Fort and Panna Meena ka Kund. It was 3:45 pm on a pleasant December afternoon. Considering it was December, we had only a couple of more hours of daylight. The desire to see Jaivana, the world’s largest cannon on wheels made us want to go to Jaigarh Fort.
To save as much time as possible on transport, we decided to take a taxi to the Fort. The alternative was a time consuming, energy wasting 3 km trek from Amer Fort. In the hindsight, it might have been the better choice. Since we were nearing closing time of the fort, all app-based rides cancelled on us. Street taxis and autos were trying to charge us thrice the price of almost ₹300. The irony – just earlier in the day, my sister and I were discussing how taxis in Jaipur city were cheap.
With the drivers completely unwilling to bargain, we took our chances and boarded a public bus to the base of the hill. This time, the autos at the base wanted to charge us a lot more than before. I had no idea what we were trying to do when we decided to start walking up the hill road at 4:10 pm. The distance to the fort from the base according to my map was 6 km. After walking for a couple of minutes, we decided to try to hitchhike. Hitchhiking is something neither of us had ever done. Having been taught not to trust strangers since childhood, let alone getting into a car with strangers, we never hitched a ride.
The first vehicle completely ignored us. The second vehicle we tried to stop, stopped a few meters ahead. Peeking through the windows, we felt comfortable about joining them. The car was a taxi hired by two female tourists for their stay in Jaipur. Apparently, the two girls asked the driver to stop and let us on.
I started conversing with both the driver and the girls. The girls were traveling through India for two weeks and Jaipur was their last stop. The driver told me that they were going to Nahargarh Fort to see the sunset. We thought for a moment if we should also change our destination to Nahargarh but decided not to.
We alighted at the point where the road forks for the two forts. It was already 4:15 pm and we were still a good 1.5 km away from the fort. Entry would close at 5 pm. We started walking on this completely empty road as fast as we could. It was unfortunate we didn’t have much time since there were a lot of peacocks wandering around in the forest. The lack of vehicles and pedestrians made them roam freely on the roads.
About halfway through our trek, an auto driver asked us if we wanted a ride and quoted ₹50 to drop us at the entrance. Since we were only 10 minutes away and could see the fort, we refused the offer and continued to walk. Just a minute later, another auto came by and quoted ₹20. This time we got on.
It was 4:35 pm by the time we got our tickets and could enter the fort. We had just over 20 minutes to find our way to the cannon and back to the entrance. Since it seemed like an impossible task, we decided to get a guide. Our guide took us to the most important locations while narrating the story of the fort. Not faltering or wasting a single moment we got to see more than we hoped for. Towards the end, we were even able to enjoy the sunset from a beautiful lookout.
By now, the fort had gotten empty. The guide refused to take any money from us, not even the little we negotiated for. He said he showed us whatever he could with his heart and would not accept anything. We tried to give him some snacks we had, and he refused even that. This scared us, we were not used to such kind of treatment.
After walking around a bit more, we went to the exit. There were no vehicles at the exit, making us try to book a cab. Soon, we realized it was impossible to book one. Everyone had felt and the fort was too far for a ride to come. The employees at the ticket counter told us it was futile to wait for transport. Our best option was to walk to Amer fort and get a bus from there. The very option we avoided earlier in the day to save our time.
A police officer nearby also seconded that idea. We were a little worried about following the advice and walking alone along a forest path after sunset. Left with no other alternative, we went back into the fort. There were no boards helping us with directions. We asked another security guard for the way and if it was safe for two girls to walk. He assured us that it was safe and that there were no animals along the way.
Being an avid hiker, I was prepared for the situation. We started our trek to Amer with only one goal in mind – reach the fort before twilight ends. This meant we had no more than 40 minutes for the 3 km stretch. Once we got on the trail, we thanked our luck since the trek to Amer Fort was mostly downhill. It meant we would have enough time. As expected, there was no network on our phones.
Initially, we walked at a brisk pace. As we got used to the trail, we slowed down to admire the beautiful path. It was unfortunate that we did not have time to fully enjoy this hike. Thirty minutes in, as it started getting dark, we spotted a family of four walking ahead of us. This gave us the courage to slow down enough to stay in their sight. After another 15 minutes we reached the part of the trail close to the fort. We were close to civilization and saw enough people that we could start taking photos.
Once we reached Amer Fort, we wondered if we should stay for the light show at the fort. It was something we hadn’t planned since we didn’t think we would still be there that late in the evening. Ultimately, we decided against it, as we had enough adventure for the day. We went all the way down to the main road and got on a bus to get to Jal Mahal.
All we could think about that evening was how humane all our interactions. That evening made me trust strangers a bit more and opened my mind to the idea of hitching a ride. It’s a story that will stay with my sister and me forever.