Sunday 16th October 2016
Welcome to Rajasthan, the flamboyant state of culture and history. Feeling very much immersed into my quest for culture, arriving in Jaipur made me excited for the adventures that lay ahead. Jaipur is a city of colour and chaos. Bazaar after bazaar lead you through the old ‘pink city’ into the new. Amongst the beautiful historical palaces and architectural gates of the old city, you find yourself careering past dawdling elephants and camels going about their daily work, sacred cows littering the streets like pigeons, goats bathing in the sun, monkeys picking at the rubbish, and India’s national bird the peacock graciously lining temple grounds. Then you look up and beyond the chaos of the city, to see epic stairways leading up to hill top forts. It is truly enthralling here. This really is India.
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, founded by the great Jai Singh in 1726. The old city, also known as the ‘pink city’, was given it’s name after the Maharaja painted all of the city buildings pink, for the arrival of the Prince of Wales in 1876. You see the obvious transition between the old and the new, as you pass through the numerous pink city walls. The old city is home to the City Palace, which currently still houses descendants of the royal family. This was an interesting place to visit as it acted as a museum for Rajasthani culture also. There is also an area for local craft mans to demonstrate their trades; I was taught the art of weaving traditional rugs using camel wool, and was also shown some impeccable pieces of art which I did end up treating myself to! My favourite area ‘Pitam Niwas Chowk’, was an inner courtyard with four incredibly carved doorways depicting the four seasons; my favourite being the peacock gate depicting autumn. Other than this, the city palace is actually a little underwhelming and worn down compared to other places I visited here.
A stones throw from the city palace is the one of five observatories built by Jai Singh, the Jantar Mantar (roll the r’s and you’ll sound like a local!). It was a bizarre place to be honest, but interesting to those mathematically minded. The observatory looked like a contemporary art installation, until I realised that it is in fact sculptures built for measuring the heavens. Something to grit your teeth into, but not high on my list of Jaipur sights.
Another few minutes down Johari Bazaar, a shoppers haven, you will find Hawa Mahal. It is a honeycombed pink sandstone building rising high above the city, enabling ladies of the royal household to watch the local city life. I was told not to bother paying to go inside here as it’s very much the same, so I walked across the street finding a stairway that led up to a rooftop and a fantastic view of the fairytale structure. Although, I ended up falling over trying to escape a local pesterer!
Surrounding these famous sights of Jaipur are the well known bazaars, Johari and Bapu. They are two long streets full of touristy shops! Although the local rickshaw drivers will tell you the quality is bad, it was the type of cheap paraphernalia I was searching for. The rickshaw tour guides take you to places like Anokhi, which is all tailor made and beautifully hand printed, but will cost you a hell of a lot more (I suppose it depends on your budget and size of bag)! Be prepared to be bombarded by salesmen as you stroll the streets, all claiming they actually live in your country also, “Yes I am friends with Kate and John”. I ended up buying a beautiful turquoise and orange sari scarf with an embellished border and weighted tassels, along with some stunning woven traditional indian shoes with pom-poms and bells (£4). Again, these were something I really wanted as they give me such a nostalgic memory of ‘A Little Princess’, in which she gives the orphaned maid girl a gorgeous pair of velvet yellow slippers.Furthermore, I covered my arms in the best henna I have ever seen! It took the guy a few minutes to paint an incredibly intricate design all the way up to my elbow. I’m in heaven!
Jaipur is famous for it’s precious and semi-precious stones; in fact a lot of precious stones are exported from India. When wandering the streets of the old city, and honestly not knowing where I was going, I stumbled across a very opulent looking ‘Silver and Art Museum’ in which you could see how the stones are cut and set, and also purchase some beautiful pieces of jewellery. I somehow resisted!
For these local sights within walking distance, I decided to go solo, definitely more adventure in that and I often get sick of the tourist trail. However on my first day I was sucked in by a rickshaw tour guide named Imran and his ‘pink ferrari’! Don’t get me wrong he was a wonderful trustworthy man, but it was not quite the adventure I wanted. He took me to ‘local’ restaurants to eat (with commission for him), and out to the old city palace where all of the maharajas of Jaipur are buried. This was a beautiful place and clearly off the beaten track being there was no one there. He explained the beautiful marble structures and how the first maharaja had over 100 wives. Later on that day Immy took me over to the elephant village, Haathi Gaon, which is home to over 200 elephants in a local environment, which are used in the large Jaipur Elephant festival. To be honest I was ripped off, but don’t you have to get ripped off to learn? They bring you into their village complex, sit you down, offering you pani (water), and proceed to talk to you about spirituality. I was interested in what they had to say and felt very eager to discuss my beliefs about life, however (call me cynical) they then proceeded to whip out the price list. Feeling obliged, I spent to afternoon playing around with female elephant Rani. Of course it was wonderful but maybe not for the money. It put my mind at ease that the elephants lived in a safe environment and free to wander wherever they want. No bull hooks here.
The following day I was lucky enough to meet a lovely English couple in my hostel and tagged along with them to a place called the Amer Fort (pronounced Amber). Wow, it was spectacular! By the far the best experience I had in Jaipur. As we approached what felt like a set from an Indiana Jones movie, there are water buffalo bathing in the Maota lake that lay at the foot of the hill. More of a fortified palace, the fort is huge complex with regal gardens, temples, courtyards and private apartments. We wandered up the pathway into the hills, where goats basked in the sun, and large monkeys leapt across the rooftops. A 2km hidden tunnel connects the fort to Jaigarh fort, further up the hillside. My favourite section was the third courtyard where the Maharaja’s chambers existed; a stunning mosaic mirrored entrance, glittering like a jewelled box, overlooks the Mughal gardens in which the fountains spurted perfumed water in the days of it’s occupancy. You can imagine the pure opulence when the Maharaja Jai Singh occupied it’s corridors. It is just reeling in history. No.1 experience of Jaipur!
On return from the Amer Fort, you can view the Jal Mahal water palace from the roadside. It is a beautiful hotel situated in the middle of a ginormous lake, however you cannot actually go inside. Something nice to view on your return, however don’t be fooled by a rickshaw driver taking you there specifically and charging a fortune! That evening I ventured out to a recommended rooftop restaurant called the Peacock, located on top of the Hotel Pearl Palace Heritage Hotel. It’s sister hotel was used in the Exotic Marigold Hotel 2. Stunning and reasonably priced food can be enjoyed on the beautifully decorated rooftop terraces, with twinkling lights and ornamental peacocks. I would highly recommend it! The Thali, a large platter of small silver dishes, is perfect. I was invited to join a table of older English ladies who were so intrigued by what I had to say. One of the best parts about travelling the world is the people you meet and stories you share.
On my third and final day I wondered the city alone, until I decided to beckon a local rickshaw driver to take me to Galta, what is known as the monkey temple. Although the monkey temple was a intriguing site, it was what came after that really made my day. Not speaking much English, I presumed my driver was from the surrounding villages outside the city. Having explored the very run down temple, full of aggressive monkeys I had experienced many times before, he then asked me if I would like to meet his family. Slightly apprehensively I judged the situation and felt comfortable with the idea. As we arrived in his village it was like a scene from Slumdog Millionaire; astounded children ran towards me gazing up in sheer delight. I felt like royalty as they all wanted to shake my hand. He took me through the village to his house, by which time I had a trail of about 20 children behind me, and asked me to take a seat. He introduced his whole family to me, giving me food and chai. I was handed babies and toddlers! It was an unforgettable experience and exactly what I look for in my travels. I felt very welcomed and not threatened. They did not ask me for money, it was just my presence they wanted. Although I was in a safe situation, I still would have felt a little more comfortable if I had a companion. Regardless, I went home that night feeling very happy with my Jaipur experience.
My feelings about my travel techniques so far, are relatively mixed. I have always used a Lonely Planet book as a bible, but I am beginning to feel that I want to discover things on my own that no other tourist does. The book is there for security and it often gives you good advice, but I have decided to begin staying in local haveli’s (traditional painted guesthouses) rather than hostels. They have a hell of a lot more character. I also get my kicks from doing everything on a very small budget, it feels thrilling and you often see things in a different light. I do actually have a bigger budget than normal, but want to cut back a little more on my spending. There is excitement in the unknown.