Jaipur is our first stop in Rajasthan. It is located 240 km, a four hour drive, west of Agra. If you do this drive, I suggest you stop at the deserted ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri along the way, as well as the Chand Baori step well in the village of Abhaneri.
I requested the Baori as an additional stop on our trip, and was very happy that our fellow travellers were interested to chip in. It doesn’t feature on the normal tour, probably because it does make for a long day to get from Agra to Jaipur.
The Chand Baori is one of the oldest Baori (step wells) in Rajasthan, and was built by King Chanda of the Nikumbha Dynasty during the 8th and 9th century AD. This nearly 30 metre deep Baori is square, and provides wonderful geometric flights of steps on three sides. It feels like stepping into an Esher lithograph! (M. C. Escher – Wikipedia)
The north side consists of a multi story corridor, with pillars and projecting balconies. Built during the Hindu period, and later occupied by the Muslims and Mughals, a lot of the hindu statues have been defaced. However, enough is preserved to really make this a stop worth making! Most of the statues on display here are original, which means that they are 1200 years old!!!
We drive on to Jaipur, which is nicknamed “the Pink City”. The centre of Jaipur has a lovely old palace facade, as well as an old city wall with original fully functional gates. Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, and a large city with over 3 million inhabitants. This makes it only the 10th largest city in India, Mumbai has over 12 million inhabitants.
We will have an evening and a full day in Jaipur, enough to get a good taste of its highlights. This is our first visit to Rajasthan. A lot of tourists do the golden triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and it is not hard to see why.
We visited the old town of Jaipur, lovely red buildings and preserved old gates. The Hawa Mahal was built specifically for the ladies of the court, who could view the outside world without being exposed. This is the view most often shared, however, it is actually from the back of the palace. We enjoyed watching the street life at this spot.
The moment we got out of our minibus a snake charmer set up next to us. Quite an unusual sight, and we were about to get our phones out when our guide reminded us not to encourage this type of activities. The snakes are caught in the wild, defanged, and effectively tortured until they die. So, avoid the snake charmers, this is animal cruelty, not ending well for the snakes.
Amer Fort (Amber Fort, Amer Palace)
Driving on to the Amer Fort, we pass the Jal Mahal (the water palace). It is located in the middle of a lake, and feels like a vision from a fantasy book.
The Amer Fort (Amber Fort or Amer Palace) is definitely the highlight of a visit to Jaipur. It is located 11 km outside of Jaipur, in the small town of Amer. Located on the crest of a hill, with large walls, crenelations and towers, it looks exactly like what you expect a fort to look like. It is actually part of a set of forts, of which one is currently still occupied by the local royal family. Built on the site of a 10th century settlement, most of the current fort was constructed in the late 16th century.
We leave our minibus, and take a jeep up the steep ramps, through the small town and up to the main gate of the fort, the Surash Pol (Sun Gate).
The fort is an amazing place to wander about. We have a guide taking us on a tour and provide us with the historical background, and then get an hour to walk around ourselves. We admire the gardens in the third courtyard, google at the large number of tourists posing at the Ganesh Pol, and wait in line to admire the Sheesh Mahal, the Mirror Hall. The mosaics and frescoes are amazing, and the millions of small mirrored tiles in the Mirror Hall are stunning.
We get lost a bit in the corridors and courtyards, escaping the large crowd of tourists. A large part of the buildings and the courtyards are open to visitors, and getting lost is part of the fun! Up and down corridors, along balconies and a range of viewing points over the walls and surrounding area.
The Palace of Man Singh I is the oldest part of the Amber Fort and has a large pavilion in its centre. I can just imagine this pavilion decorated with layers of carpets and cushions, and screened with curtains, when it was still in use as a private meeting room for the queens (Maharanis). Today it provides a nice shady place for visitors wrapping up their tour of the fort.
Block Printing and Gems
On our way back from the Amber Palace we stop at an artisan place to see block printing. Block printing has existed in India since the 12th century, and Rajasthan is the place to see the original art still being practised. This collective only uses naturally derived dyes, which is interesting, as they change colour as they dry. Each finished fabric is the result from a series of steps. A hand carved block of wood is dipped in dye and stamped onto the fabric. The same block is used to stamp over and over, to fill the entire piece of fabric. Depending on the number of colours, this can be a long process as each colour is printed with a different block.
The other famous export of Jaipur is gems. Jaipur is well known as one of the best places to pick up good quality precious and semi precious stones, and there are a large number of shops and designers. And yes, there are also people who sell fake precious stones, as most tourist do not know how to spot the difference… so be careful where you shop (or bring a geologist along!).
We visit one jeweller where we see the entire process of selecting, cutting and polishing precious and semi precious stones. You can get just the stones, or have them set in a piece of jewellery.
My habit is to collect pieces of jewellery as souvenirs on my travels. It usually ends up being a pair of earrings. So when I wear them, I remember the fun I had travelling and where I bought it.
One throw and another set off earrings later…..
A Bollywood Movie in Raj Mandir
Jaipir has one of the best places in India to watch Bollywood movies, the Raj Mandir cinema. First there is the art deco decor, it looks like a mix of 1950’s Milk Bar meets meringue and cream cakes, with lots of gold embellishments and a grand staircase. We saw the movie “War” and had a great time. Despite this version not having English subtitles, we really, really enjoyed ourselves. We got about 30% (maybe) of the story line, the occasional English sentences were quite helpful. And joined in with the audience participation, we all jeered at the bad guys, cheered for the good guys, and got caught up in the meaningful stares and the spontaneous outburst of dancing. Do note that there are no real PDA’s (public displays of affection) in these movies. Instead of kissing, you get to see sunrises through forests or waves rolling over the beach.
Bollywood lovers definitely have something going here. You can’t help but have a great time! Move over George Clooney, we want Tiger!
6. Sirodhara Massage
We stayed in Jaipur for two nights, which was great as that meant we had some time to relax as well. On our free afternoon I had a traditional Sirodhara massage at the Kerala Ayurveda Kendra. This is a specific Ayurvedic approach to stress relief. How else to start a holiday eh?!
This massage starts with a full body massage, and finishes off with having a funnel with warm oil slowly dripping on your forehead, on your third eye. It is incredibly relaxing and de-stressing, and I slept like a baby!
Travel details and tips:
Accomodation: we stayed in a lovely small boutique hotel, Devraj Niwas, which consisted of a number of units set in a small garden. It was very quiet despite being in the heart of Jaipur, along one of the main roads.
Tip 1: Go for a meal, or at least a drink at one of the rooftop bars, watch the sparkling lights of the Tiger Fort and Jaipur as you let the day go past. This is a city built for entertainment, and there are a large number of venues to eat and drink.
Tip 2: Don’t take the elephant rides up to the Amber palace, it is way too hot for elephants in this region and the conditions in which the animals are being kept is apparently pretty horrible. Instead, get one of the small jeeps, just as much fun and you are not supporting ongoing animal cruelty.