After a trip round the globe, it is now time to be at home to explore and experience the goodness of home.
Enter Jaipur - the pink city, the capital of Rajasthan State, the land of a thousand colours, art and craft. Jaipur is an experience in itself and to begin with let me talk of getting there. Getting to Jaipur is easy, in fact simple as it is well connected by road and rail. There are trains from almost all major cities in India and connecting flights from Delhi. There are buses from Delhi every half hour from the RTDC office on Pandara Road!
Like any city in India, the moment we set our foot in this city, we were thronged by people eager to take us to hotels, on sight seeing and they promised us everything. This was the right time to practise our negotiating skills, as almost everything is negotiable here in Jaipur.
We were in Jaipur without hotel reservation and we were swarmed by autos and rickshaw men who promised to get us a decent accommodation for a reasonable price. The idea was to first take us to a hotel which was overbooked and then to another and then to another. By then, we would be inclined to take any hotel and if we did take a hotel this man shows us in, then, he gets a commission and also gets money for driving us everywhere. We wanted to avoid all this. There are some good hotels here and only some hotels offer the advantage of 24 hours check out. Most Govt. tourist hotels offer only 12-noon check out!
As always, my dreams, my curiosity and my expectations were all building up and I was only too eager to start on my exploration. Sine all hotels were booked in Jaipur, we settled ourselves in 'Hotel Kailash' in Johari Bazaar. Initially, we were skeptical about this hotel as it is in the crowded business area and the only consoling factor was that it was listed in 'Rough Guides' as 'clean but cramped' hotel. At Rs.350/- per day on the third floor, it was an experience to be here.
So, what is about this pink city?
When Prince Albert visited India in 1883, the city was colour washed in pink as a welcome gesture and so Jaipur stands the way it is seen today. Its timeless appeal fascinates millions as it draws people from India and abroad.
After a good shower, we found ourselves standing on the streets of Johari Bazaar not knowing our next move. But we wanted to break fast first. One of the famous restaurants in Jaipur is LMB, right opposite to our place of stay. We had to contend ourselves with paneer bonda, Dokhla, Samosa, moong dal halwa, gajar halwa, badam halwa (the sweets made in pure ghee) and we soon realised this was just the beginning. Through out our stay, we constantly asked ourselves what to eat as most of the locals eat deep fried food at any time of the day. The local favourite is 'Dal Batti'. Batti is a special dish made form the flour of a certain cereal (I never understood what the waiter in the restaurant said about the batti) and this is round in shape and deep fried in ghee. This is served hot and half a batti was enough to keep me going for hours. As we walked along the streets of this city there were many small places where they served fried items like kachori, samosas, bread bonda, mirchi bonda and we could smell the aroma wafting in the air. The trouble was that we could neither resist eating these stuff nor could get ourselves to eat it!
We could see the Hawa Mahal from the streets of Johari Bazaar. As we walked towards Hawa Mahal, we saw the colour and essence of Jaipur. On either sides of the street were vendors selling colourful lehengas, bandhini salwar suits, tie and dye saries (bandhini prints) and ethnic silver ware, ethnic silver chunk jewellery, silver with meenakari work, colourfully embroidered jhuthis(shoes) and the list can go on. This is when I prayed God I needed another pair of eyes - after all I wanted to see as much as possible and take in as much as I could. The colours and the sparkling display is beautifully romantic. This is Rajasthan and these colours are what people from around the globe come to see. The other thing I would have loved to have was more money. This is a place where anybody can splurge money especially if somone happens to be a lover of ethnic work like me.
We walked towards Hawa Mahal or the Palace of winds. Since we got a good view, we took pictures even before we entered the Palace of winds. This was perhaps the best thing we did. Hawa Mahal is not beautiful from the inside. The grim state at which it stands saddens. Strewn around Hawa Mahal is filth and stench. As we entered the Palace and made our way to the tallest window, we found ourselves to be lucky not to faint. This place is thronged by tourists and it would do a lot of good if something could be done about the air (and smell) on the way up to the windows.
From the Hawa Mahal we could walk to the City Palace. This is a beautiful blend of Rajasthani and Moughal architecture. This place is well maintained and clean. In fact, part of Palace is even today occupied by the royal people. The Jantar Mantar is just outside the Palace. Jantar Mantar or the astronomical observatory was founded by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II who incidentally also found Jaipur. He built five observatories at Jaipur, Ujjain, Mathura, Varanasi and Delhi. The best preserved of the lot is in Jaipur and this was constructed in 1728. The 16 instruments present here can (even today) be used to study the planetary positions! The most fascinating of all are the sun dials - the Laghu Samrat Yantra and the Vrihad Samrat Yantra. These instruments indicate the local time with accuracy upto 20 seconds and 2 seconds respectively.
After a lot of walk and brain work ( to calculate the local time from the Sun dial) we decided to call it a day not until we realised that we had to also visit the Birla Mandir. We took a bus and got off at some point and after a good 15 minutes of walk, we reached Birla Mandir or the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir. This is a beautiful mandir made of marble. Its serene and tranquil atmosphere was quite a soothing gift after a long and tiring day. After a good darshan, we were back on the streets of Johari Bazaar. The street now seemed in festive mood. There were many people (tourists) negotiating price with vendors. Also shopkeepers keep calling out and bargaining is a must! I kept looking because I did not want to miss a thing and I would not have been surprised if my eyes were to get tired. I think every tourist should come here as this festive street is a treat to the eyes!
The next day, we decided to venture out to see the Amber Fort. Cited as one of the best-preserved forts, it is quite difficult to get there. We decided to take a bus to Amber.
We walked to Hawa Mahal from where we took a bus to Amber. On our way, we could see the 'Jal Mahal' or the 'Palace on Lake' where there is filth and wild weeds more than water and beauty. But still, it does look beautiful from the bus (only when we closed our nose). After a few minutes we were at the entrance of the fort. The fort is on a hillock and it takes a good 10-15 minutes of walk. There are elephants on which we could go up. The elephant ride was Rs.400/- (for four people and we were just the two of us). So, we decided to walk up as it meant just 10 minutes of walk (and also meant saving money).
Prior to Jaipur, Amber used to be the capital of Rajputs. The Kali temple in the Palace is thronged by devotees. This temple is open from 6.00 am to 12 noon and 4.00 pm to 8.00 pm. The Diwan - e - am has a fusion of Islamic and Hindu architecture. There is also a well decorated gateway called Ganeshpol which is to the south of Diwan-e-am. There are also well laid gardens and fountains inside the Palace. The most famous and most beautiful part of the palace is the 'Sheesh Mahal' or the 'Palace of Mirrors'. The walls and the ceiling here is embedded with mirrors in exquisite designs. Black stones are embedded to form floral patterns. Here a man stands to show 'Din ke tare' or 'Stars in daylight'. The man takes people in groups inside the 'Sheesh Mahal' and explains how the Maharaja used to make the stars to shine in the privacy of his bedroom. As the man shuts all the doors to shut off light, he strikes a candle and waves it around and we could se above on the ceiling small lights dancing like stars! This is one of the most memorable and beautiful and of course romantic sights! The Jas Mender above the Sheet Mahan also has mirrors but not in such profusion.
Back in Johari Bazaar was the usual festivity. So we walked on M I Road and stopped at an exhibition only to get tired and absolutely worn out.