Asia, India, North India, Travel

Rajasthan Part One: Jaipur

Arriving from Agra we were introduced to a new state, style, cuisine, attitude, language and landscape. We passed desert shrub land as if in the Sahara with plants dying of thirst and plastic embedded within the sand. Jaipur is a city within a city. The city itself takes the form of any other city in India, with the exception of the area of Bandi Park, where we stayed, which was a quiet middle class area, filled with pug walkers and luxurious leafy apartments (as if we were in the southern coasts of Spain).

painterThe real Jaipur, the pink city, the old city, the Venice of the east, is where you want to spend most of your time. Here, large beautiful gates welcome you into every entrance of the city with swirls of patterns and floral designs, white paint on fading pink, making the walls more of an orange tone. Here, every street seems to take the form of some sort of bazaar. Wander through alcoves and past parked motorbikes and moving tuk tuks to explore the various “departments” on each street. You can see handmade trunks to fit families clothes, clocks to hang on your walls, brass pots and tea sets to welcome and entertain guests with and artisan handicrafts to take home to remind you of your time in India. We found it difficult to ignore the brightly coloured kaftans, so if you are in a shopping mood, make sure you bring a strong will and your bartering attitude with you.

Snake CharmersThere is tiny art gallery tucked down an alleyway and up some stairs called Vittorio’s art gallery which is well worth a visit. If being the end of my trip, I would have brought half the shop, as we met the artist and told us of his style of work, using old paper as a background and delicately painting a range of subjects with various materials. In the centre of the old city, Jaipur has some wonderful sights that are integrated into the city, as part of the landscape and its history.

jaipur Acting like Royalty

Hawal Mahar is a building of ladies apartments with beautiful architecture and stained glass windows. Jantar Mantar is an observatory created in the 1700s, with different ways to read the sun and the stars. The various instruments to do this are unique and intelligent pieces, so make sure you have a wander around. From here, the city palace is very near, where traditional guards with red turbans and silver horns drawback curtains of flowers making your initial steps into the palace perfumed and fragrant. The architecture is beautiful and the museum is interesting to see what those in the palace wore some time ago. There is a sound and light show here, as well as a dinner and dance, both for high prices, but if you want to sit back on embellished cushions under the stars in a serene setting, then here is the place.

A Royal Welcome Behind the floral curtainOther sights outside the old city is Amer Fort, the main sight which steals Jaipur’s thunder. You can get here by taxi, auto or bus (there is a straight bus here, don’t listen to the lies people tell you). Set by a lake, the fort stands imposing and strong on the hill side, a labyrinth within itself with winding corridors disappearing into dark rooms that are latrines or baths. Allow yourself time to get lost in this place, then you will really get a sense of just how big it is. If you are planning to see the whole of Jaipur in one day, (like we did), go to Amer Fort first, as this sight is the most tremendous. On the way back from Amer fort, make sure you stop at the Water Palace, Hal Mahal, which is en route, a palace with golden roofs, sharp and pointy as if a traditional oriental costume, better suited in Thailand. A beautiful and picturesque palace.

Jaipur Fort Jaipur Fort doorAnother fort to visit is Tiger Fort, which is just within the city, up a steep path to reach its height. If going by auto here, make sure you ask to be taken up to the top via the road, otherwise you will face the steep ascent which will make you huff and puff, whilst motorbikes speed past you smirking at your suffering. Here is a magnificent view of Jaipur. The fort itself is a little disappointing after Amer Fort, so it is best to visit at sunset, to see the Indian sun dip low over Jaipur, its rays warming the orange walls whilst you pretend you are standing on top of the world.

Sunset over Jaipur Yes they are goats! heroicOther attractions near Jaipur are the Ranthambore National Park. Here you can organise a safari through a national park. Just a short train ride away, you are whisked into a denser shrub land of a national park- don’t expect jungle, Rajasthan is too dry for that. Trying to organise a tour online, although the system continuously failed us, meant we resorted to booking through a tour operator. Although a hefty commission included in our price, we were able to pick up our tickets at a nearby hotel to the park before our safari, allowing us to have a lunch in their garden and to sunbathe by the pool, (the other side of being a tourist in India).

Bird in the treeDriving past monkeys, peacocks, deer and crocodiles, our guide led us deeper into the park to catch a glimpse of a tiger. You have a high chance of seeing a tiger in this park, compared to others, although it really is just pure luck and chance if you do so. Picking the cheaper option of a canter rather than a jeep, meant we shared a vehicle with 18 other passengers meaning a running commentary from two Chorley pensioners on the safari who sat in front of us, and loud jeers and chants from Indian families were included in our experience. We had the fortunate luck to spot 3 tigers, all strutting amongst the jeeps and canters, as is posing for our pictures, acting sassy. With 8 vehicles swarming the tigers, some professional wildlife photographers, others mere school children, I felt the safari to be more like an open zoo, impersonal and quite dangerous for the animals to adjust too, the continuous cycle of vehicles driving past, stopping and starting. Maybe its because I have been on safari in Kenya and have seen what the real wild is like, but if you just want to see a tiger- then here is the place.

Tigers in the park Feeding BirdsJaipur being near to Agra and Dehli, means that for many people, it is the start of their trip, especially those who travel around the north first- making tourists easy targets to scam. Every auto driver is a tour guide as well, meaning some are just downright friendly, others only friendly for the sole purpose to be your tour guide for your trip in Jaipur, burning a hole in your wallet. All tuk tuk drivers receive hefty commissions in various restaurants, hotels, shops and tailors so be wary of this. After turning down our first tuk tuk driver as a tour guide (from the station), we quickly caught on what the scam of Jaipur was. Soon after we made another “friend” who showed us where the travel desk was, telling us of a great restaurant and wanting to take us to all these obscure amazing places. Then we made another “friend”, who only wanted to “chat” and was also a tuk tuk driver, funnily enough, who recommended the same restaurant. Sick of their treatment to us, their obvious bullshit and their swarmy attitude, we arranged both “friends” to meet with us at the restaurant, so we could all “chat” just like they wanted. Their shock and surprise on each other’s faces was priceless. Suddenly, excuses of broken tuk tuks and places they needed to go were told to us, as they realised neither would receive commission and we knew their plan. So, newbies to India, be wary of this around India, as well as in Jaipur.

A fantastic restaurant we went to in the Old city was Monan restaurant, which is cheap, charming and delicious, (as well been there for years). Having a special thali for 100 hundred rupees meant we were satisfied for hours. Although, if wanting to try a bhaji, be aware it is not the same as those in the UK- deep friend onion, but rather a sweet potato dish- although still delightful.