Sunday, 11 November 2012

Pretty In Pink

2nd-5th November 2012

If you were paying attention, you may have picked up from my last post that I was glad to leave Agra. Being organised types, we’d booked all our Indian trains over a month ago so we didn’t have to worry about getting a ticket and were looking forward to a pleasant few hours relaxing on the way to Jaipur. Mr Singh from our homestay gave us a lift to the station and we were off!

Or not.

When we got into the station we found our 5pm train was already estimated to be 3½ hours late. One hour later it slipped to 4½ hours. Suddenly our 10pm arrival in Jaipur was looking more like 3am (or later) and our first day there was likely to be a write-off. Time to check out the alternatives.

This is where India comes into its own. A quick enquiry outside the station and I managed to get a good price for a taxi (£45 for a 4 hour drive). Imagine pitching up at Edinburgh Waverley and asking for a taxi to Birmingham! Luckily we also found a fellow traveller who was willing to split the fare (Katherine from Oz). We all crammed into the Nissan Micra-sized ‘taxi’ and 5 hours and one chai break later we arrived in Jaipur.

Well rested, we were up early to explore the Pink City, so-called because of the salmon pink paint that covers a lot of the city’s buildings. Apparently it was originally done in 1876 to hide the poor quality construction materials from a visiting dignitary – the then Prince of Wales and soon to be King Edward VII.

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First view of the Pink City
Despite warnings in the guide book about the crowds and pollution, we found Jaipur to be much nicer than either Delhi or Agra. In contrast to Agra in particular, Jaipur felt more like a functioning city with it’s own identity. There’s clearly more to it than just the monuments.

But if it’s monuments you’re after then it doesn’t disappoint. There’s loads to choose from but our first stop – and my favourite monument so far in Asia – was Jantar Mantar: the Royal Observatory. It’s a collection of giant instruments designed to measure and predict the movement of heavenly bodies. The crowning glory is the magnificent Samrat Yantra a huge 27m high sundial that is supposedly accurate to two seconds - true in theory, just not in practice. Walking among the instruments was like being in a land of giants. Fantastic!

(In the interests of balance I have to admit that Karen wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was. Must be a boy thing.)

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No idea what this does but it looks the business
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Same thing but with bits missing! Love it!
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Something to do with the zodiac - I should have got the audio guide...
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Samrat Yantra - how big is your clock?
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At the third stroke it will be a quarter to April
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The inspiration for "Stairway To Heaven"
Right beside the observatory is the City Palace. Karen’s experience was soured slightly when she was stung by a wasp as I bought our tickets. A nearby Indian gentleman, who I’ve no doubt was only trying to help, claimed it was only a butterfly. A butterfly with a huge stinger that looked like a wasp perhaps…

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Entrance to the palace
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What's an Indian urn? Answers on a postcard.
On our second day we walked out to the Water Palace (Jal Mahal) via the Palace of the Winds (Hawa Mahal). Hawa Mahal is the iconic image of Jaipur, originally part of the City Palace and designed to allow the ladies of the court to observe the goings-on in the city without being seen.

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Hawa Mahal
Just north of the city centre, Jal Mahal is a palace built in the middle of a lake. No idea why, maybe the Maharajah loved mosquitoes. Anyway it’s very pretty.

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Jal Mahal
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Another view of Jal Mahal
The day’s wanderings also led us to a couple of new food experiences. First some delicious, cold lassi from Lassi Wala on the MI Road, served the traditional way in clay cups.

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The Lassi Wala crew. Looking cool.
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A nice lassi
We’d also noticed lots of street vendors selling what looked like small green peppers or chillies. Intrigued, we decided to try them.

I thought they tasted like young coconuts but Karen guessed right: they were Indian water chestnuts! Delicious and refreshing, especially when washed down with a fresh pomegranate (not pictured – we ate it too quickly).

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Indian water chestnuts
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Inside view
When we arrived at the Water Palace – a five-mile walk from our hotel – we were quite thirsty so we treated ourselves to a refreshing cup of fresh sugar cane juice. The Indian version is served with some crushed lime and a little salt/spice mix at the bottom of the glass. The lime I like, but you can keep the salt and spices.

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Looks like mud but tastes good
Not fancying the walk back, we caught a rickshaw back to town. Our driver tried his best to divert us to the bazaars but we resisted. He did take us round the corner to see where they were painting the elephants, supposedly to be ready for Diwali, but I suspect it’s just for the tourists.

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Bet he feels silly
On our final day we had another late train to catch (this time, thankfully, it was on schedule) so we spent the day visiting the Amber, an abandoned city 10km or so north of the city – the round-trip rickshaw cost about 350 rupees.

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Amber
Similar to Fatehpur Sikri, it had the usual collection of courtyards, audience chambers, balconies, walkways and alcoves. It was fairly well preserved and unusually, most areas were open for exploration rather than blocked to the public. It’s hilltop location and surrounding walls made for some striking views from the upper levels.

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Snake charmers on the path up to Amber
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Palace gardens
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What can you see from there?
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Aha!
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City mosque (with school trip)
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Close-up of the colourful uniforms
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Yoga practice
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Mosque and gardens
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Secret passage from the Amber up to the nearby Jaigarh fort
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Amber with Jaigarh fort in the distance
Having taken a strong dislike to Delhi and being less than enamoured with Agra (the Taj Mahal and our Sikh hosts aside), I’m pleased to say that I really enjoyed Jaipur. The place has a nice buzz about it (apart from the wasps) and there’s lots to see including some real gems. I'm glad I went and I’d be happy to go back.

Next stop Jodhpur!

Current location: Delhi until 14th November
Next stop: home

1 comment:

  1. Great pictures BUT You didn't tell us if your beloved wife suffered from her wasp sting.

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