Friday, February 27 – Monday, March 2
We left the next morning to catch the train to Jaipur. Chhotaram escorted us to our seats where we found a cleaner ride than the one we all took to Agra. The trip was an easy six-hour ride. Bedding was provided, and I napped thanks to the wheels’ rhythmic clacking on the track. I also practiced my tactic of immediately using the toilet removing the future dread of having to use the head.
Jaipur is called the pink city, a color associated with hospitality. It began back in 1876 when the maharaja ordered all the buildings to be painted pink in order to welcome Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. To this day the law requires all residents to maintain that color. It does help that red sandstone was commonly used for construction.
This city, located due east of Jodhpur, is the capital of the state Rajasthan. Named after the boy king Jai Singh II (1688-1744) Jaipur is known as Northern India’s first planned city. The king began building this new city in 1727 due to a growing population at the old capital Amber and the need for water. Jaipur soon became a magnet for those seeking knowledge about the world via science, art and religion. The king even constructed an observatory close to the City Palace, which one can still visit today.
Our hotel here was a mock-heritage hotel meaning it was built in the style of a former maharaja residence but wasn’t one; however, it certainly didn’t detract from the archtectural style, which reminded me a bit of a Dr. Seuss house with terraces and stairways criss-crossing every which way.
The entrance boasted its altar to a deity with bowls of floating petals.
Our rooms was large and comfortable (with the exception of directly being under the breakfast dining room where a herd of elephants must have been dancing). The only disappointment was the staff, who were surly and not too happy to be waiting on visitors, both foreign and nationals alike. Thankfully the general manager at the front desk didn’t fall into that category for he was friendly and helpful.
That night we ventured out to the main street and dodged tuk-tuks, cars, and trucks to reach the opposite side. We found some refreshments for the room down one of the side roads only to then take a tuk-tuk to literally just cross the busy street (by now it was dark and there was no way I was going to risk stepping into the unorthodox streams of traffic).
Outside our room there were balconies, a private one where I hung laundry (and one day opened up to find a monkey staring back at me) and a public one where I noticed some construction going up in the distance.
Curious about safety measures I zoomed in only to find these guys hammering away on the edges with no preventive lines while a women loaded bricks on her head and another one tended to two small children. A brief glimpse into some people’s lives made me feel overloaded with luck. That saying ‘there but the grace of god go I’ never seemed more appropriate.
Our first full day Max woke up with Delhi Belly. We think it was the mutton we had shared the night before but it easily could have been some bug he picked up earlier. Whatever the cause, he needed to remain in bed whereas I decided to brave the streets alone to check out some handicrafts.
All was fine. I took tuk-tuks to certain areas then walked to others. The only harassment was by three small street children who, if I hadn’t had a tight watch on, would have grabbed that off my arm and run. I felt awful telling them strongly ‘No!’ when they began hanging off me. This experience was one of the saddest and worst of my entire Indian trip mainly because I felt like such a rich tourista who didn’t know how to give these kids what they really needed, which was definitely more than a watch.
Max rallied the next day so off we went with a hired driver/guide to see some of the area’s famous sites such as Amber Fort located roughly six miles on a hillside outside Jaipur. On the way we stopped at Palace of the Winds or Hawa Mahal. This five-story building was built in 1799 by the maharaja for ladies of the royal household to people watch without being seen. We didn’t go in but snapped the obligatory shot while craning our necks upward.
Back in the car we headed for the main attraction, Amber Fort. Built in the late 1500s by Raja Man Singh I and expanded by subsequent maharajas until the move to the new capital, Jaipur, this fort was the palatial home for the royal family.
It was pouring when we arrived but armed with a purchased umbrella and rented audioguides we proceeded to explore the four sections each with its associated courtyard. Later the rain stopped and we were able to wander around without getting soaked.
A close-up of the above stairway entrance shows some of the marvelous detail found in this palatial fort.
And, the view overlooking the Maota Lake was also stunning in spite of the overcast sky. Note the gardens atop the structure on the right.
The complex was impressive, especially the Hall of Victory with its inlaid panels and glass-covered paint and colored foil that sparkle even today. Imagine what this must have looked like when new and in candlelight. The pink hues, the delicate designs… I kept aiming and shooting and couldn’t stop.
In the courtyard of the Maharaja’s apartments a channel of water would cool off rooms while flowing eventually into the gardens for irrigation.
We wound our way up and down stairways, some with impressive risers and found ourselves in the back hallway of the zenana or women’s quarters.
In one of these courtyards we also found some translated plaques commemorating the fort.
On the backside of this compound we peered into the hillside and immediately felt an airiness not experienced in other sites. We finally realized this was due to the lack of people. Only some monkeys occupied the view.
Peering down into one of the courtyards facing the hill there was a colorful array of women in saris while a little bird kept watch.
We left the way we came in after admiring more monkeys keeping guard at the Moon Gate.
On our way back to Jaipur we stopped at a former duck-hunting, water palace, Jai Mahal. Constructed in 1799 by Madho Singh as a royal summer resort, this waterlogged structure sits in Man Sagar Lake created by damming the Darbhawati River in the 16th century.
Heading back into town we passed tarp homes along the busy city roads. Another reminder of the world’s have-nots living amidst the haves.
The rain that had stopped sprung up again, so we pulled out the umbrella and puddle-jumped our way to the entrance of the City Palace. Everyone said it was unusual for this time of year, that it was too early. It made for some interesting walkways.
At the City Palace we visited the impressive reception hall. Surrounding the large audience area there are large portraits of former maharajas including the polo-playing Man Singh II who was the last maharaja prior to the state becoming part of India. From there we wandered into the armoury and a museum sporting royal costumes from earlier years.
It was also in the complex that we saw the huge silver urns made for the devout ruler Madho Singh II so he could bathe in the holy Ganges water when attending King Edward VII’s 1902 coronation. There were two, and each one was over five feet high.
And, it’s also where my husband, who doesn’t believe in psychics, deigned to have his fortune told only to have the guy say almost the exact same words to me.
We ended our day back at our hotel and got ready to leave early the next morning. We were returning to volunteer at Mitraniketan, the NGO we’d visited with Noel and Diana earlier in our trip.
The next day it was my turn for not feeling well but luckily it didn’t include keeping vigil at a toilet. It did help when our stopover of five hours was in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India. The airport was new, modern, clean, and comfortable with lounge sofas where I slept for a lot of the layover. And, after three hours I had recovered enough to check out the shops… :)
Next stop, Mitraniketan!