We made our first stop in northern India in Rajasthan's state capital, Jaipur - a very cheap and cheerful flight from Mumbai.
We made a fantastic and flukey choice of accommodation, "Nana-Ki-Haveli" - truly wonderful, family-run with lovely hosts and a beautiful, heritage haveli (traditional, ornately-decorated home). It was a little more expensive than we were used to paying but we felt it was time to up the budget - our bed bug run-ins had proved to be "the straw that broke the camel's back" for budget accommodation. We also received a free pick-up from the airport, so we avoided all arrival hassle and enjoyed a relaxed start to what is regarded as one of India's most chaotic and hassle-loaded cities.
Our first impressions of the "pink city" were good - it's certainly busy within the old city walls but full of character and the people of this more northern latitude India, are welcoming of us Brits.
Venturing into the city for the first time, we met a festival procession (a warm-up to Holi) of typically bright, vibrant colours and much merriment. The procession was led by elephants and camels and many brightly-coloured flag bearers. We were dragged
into the thick of it, dancing and covered in red gulal (paint powder). We eventually slipped away to do some sight-seeing, a little extra colour in our appearance. Indians chuckled when seeing our colourful state, shouting "Holi!" (reference to the coming festival of colour), other tourists stared in wonder to which we stated "sun burn" to a few cheap laughs. That's on thing we noticed whilst spending our first day in Jaipur, the foreign tourists or should I say the large quantity of tem. There are far more tour groups, particularly French and Japanese and also a far greater number of young, independent travellers. At times in the south, we felt like we were the only independent, under 50's travellers around but here in the north we've found some of the others. We're not alone after all and we thought they were all in Goa!
On our first day we visited the beautiful, pink Hawa Mahal
- a palace for the many wives of the Maharaja, to observe the goings on in the city. We also explored the Jantar Mantar
, a giant collection of astronomical instruments built by Maharaja Jai Singh, who was a keen astronomer. We finished off the day
with a visit to the City Palace which still houses the current Maharaja of Jaipur. The marble galleries and decorated courtyard gates, were well worth the admission.
Our second day of sights took us outside of the city to the famous palace of Amber
and the looming fort of Jaigarh
, both well worth the autorickshaw ride north of the city. Elephants take people up along the battlements, through the giant gates and then it's a bit of a ruck through the first sections until the mass of tourists are sufficiently dispersed. It's easy to get lost in the various corners and narrow corridors but it does mean you can find quiet and seclusion away from the crowds.
From Jaigarh, the views over Amber and beyond are spectacular and on reaching the summit you get to see the largest movable cannon in the world.
We ended the day at the Royal Gaitor where the Maharjas of the past are buried in beautiful marble cenotaphs.
Two hectic days of sight-seeing were enough so we then set about our newest passions: filling our weight allowance and gorging ourselves on north Indian fodder.
Until now we'd bought few things
on our travels, choosing instead to wait before breaking our bags and cramming trinkets into every remaining space in our rucksacks. We headed to Rajasthali, the fixed-price government emporium to get a sense of prices for bartering in the bazaars. As it turned out, we enjoyed the hassle-free shopping experience and bought some stuff there anyway.
We enjoyed some good north Indian food - much more like the stuff we get back home and also dabbled into some Rajasthani favourites like "dhal bati churma" (lentil soup with sweet, flour balls). The food is less spicey than in the south, is more bread than rice and much sweeter but like anywhere in India you can experience pan-Indian cuisine if you wish.
The crazy streets of Jaipur and every death-defying crossing maneuver, eventually shakes your nerves, so when we were set to leave we were definitely ready for a more languid pace again. We headed for Pushkar next - famously laid-back, a place for chilling by its spiritual lake.
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