We have noticed a pattern emerging in our travels especially during our recent tour of Rajasthan when we’ve been on the move every couple of days. The travel days are hard even though we have been spoiled by having our own car and driver – the ever patient Kamal. We just don’t like sitting in the car for hours on end and a couple of times we’ve emerged from the car, had a look around some ancient site, then got back into the car to be driven off again. This feels like real spoiled tourist stuff and definitely wasn’t what we set out to do. On the other hand, it’s been the best way of getting around Rajasthan which is huge, and has meant we can spend longer exploring our destinations rather than just getting from A to B. We usually arrive in the mid afternoon after a 4 – 5 hour drive and then try to walk around a bit and get our bearings. This can be difficult especially in the cities as walking involves total road craziness. Pavements are inevitably rough and broken, full of holes and open drains, piles of rubbish, stalls and hawkers, endless parked motorbikes, city dogs and sometimes cows and pigs as well! You end up walking in the road, taking your life in your hand and hoping not to be knocked down by honking cars, trucks buses, motorbikes or the ubiquitous tuk-tuks.
We stayed right in the middle of Jaipur so all the above applied. This was also our first hostel stay and all in all, it was a really good experience. The young people on the front desk were helpful and friendly and we had a nice private room, quite big, with a comfortable bed, clean bathroom and nice warm shower.
On the first day Kamal took us to the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) and to the enormous City Palace in Jaipur, where the Maharaja’s family still lives. The palace and surrounding walls are all plastered and painted a fleshy shade of pink; this was ordered by Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh in 1876 to impress Prince Albert during his tour of India. Since that time it has been illegal for any building to be painted any colour than Jaipur pink. We didn’t rate the city centre monuments as particularily interesting for foreign tourists. The Hawa Mahal was particularly disappointing as it is situated right on the main road with traffic whizzing by all the time.
The City Palace was full of art, fabric and clothing galleries and dealt a lot with the history of Rajasthan – it would probably be very interesting to the people who live in that state. Last stop was the Jantar Mantar, or ancient observatory built by King Sawai Jai Singh II in 1734. This was kind of interesting but would have been much better if they’d let you climb on the constructions!
A fantastic day of sightseeing on Day 2!
First stop was the Amber Fort which just might have been the most impressive site we have visited so far. The place is unbelievably huge and makes such an impact when you first see it from the road. The architecture and history of the fort are both very interesting, but the thing we loved most was the sense of discovery while exploring it’s miles of rooms, corridors, stairways, towers and ramparts. There were thousands of visitors there, but because it’s so big, you could wander around and see no one else for some time. The views from the Fort were also awesome, particularly the miles of ancient walls which climbed up and down the mountain ridges in the same manner as the Great Wall of China.
Next stop was the Nahargharh Fort which rises up on a very steep ridge behind the city, giving far reaching views of Jaipur. From the top, you are so close to the city that you can hear the constant ongoing hum of traffic, horns honking, dogs barking and the general noise of several million people gping about their daily life. We stopped off at the impressive looking Jai Mahal (Floating Palace) which takes a good photo but there’s no access so it’s just a view. I liked our last visit to the Galta Ji (Monkey Temple) which is a large temple complex built into a narrow ravine where devout Hindus bathe in the temple pools fed by natural springs. It felt like a bit of real India in contrast to the very touristy sites visited that day. The top pool was largely reserved for the monkeys and there were many family troops there including lots of playful babies and youngsters! They were quite tame and friendly, and the vibe there was very positive as the pligrims feed all the wildlife for good Karma.
At the end of the day, lovely Kamal recommended Handi’s rooftop restaurant so we finished by having some delicious Indian food, sitting overlooking the hustle and bustle of the city. A very good day indeed!
Next destination on our whistle-stop tour Agra.