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Published: April 15th 2015
We were travelling west from Fort Madhogarh to Jaipur
, and we didn’t want to leave. We were woken early at 5.45am to the blasting sound of music from the village below. We’d watched a wedding procession through the village the day before, in which women were dancing from house to house behind an old land rover with a massive sound system on board. We thought the music was related to the wedding celebrations, but we later discovered that it was a very modern and hip call to prayer!
We sat down to breakfast at 8am, and we were freezing cold. The morning mist that was blanketing the village was sweeping over the open dining area, and we had pulled on every piece of warm clothing that we could muster. I had cornflakes with hot milk, potato and onion bhajis
(deep fried potato and onion fritters), masala omelette
(spicy omelette with red onions and green chillies), toast, dry biscuits, coffee and a banana. We checked out of Fort Madhogarh, jumped into a minibus and retraced the route we had taken in jeeps the day before until we arrived in Tehsil Bassi at 9.45am. We turned westward to Jaipur. The
cold and thick morning mist had lifted by the time we hit the main highway, so we travelled easily, arriving in Jaipur at 10.30am. We drove straight to the imposing Amber Fort, made our way up the stone pathway (avoiding the tourists who opted to ride elephants to the top) and spent two hours touring the incredible monument. The surrounding hills were lined with a defence wall that was not too dissimilar to China’s great wall.
We made our way back down the stone pathway from the Amber Fort, and while we waited for our minibus, Ren grabbed a hot potato chaat
(street snack) in a cardboard bowl from a small street small. We then headed to the Ganesham Textile and Handicraft warehouse, where we watched an old Indian craftsman demonstrate block screen printing. We also picked up a few silk scarves as presents from the warehouse. We then headed to lunch at Surabhi Restaurant at 2.30pm. We shared a kair sangria
(rare Rajasthani desert beans in a thick gravy) with chapathis
(unleavened flat round wholemeal bread), naans
(leavened bread cooked in a wood fired oven), beer and lassi
(frothy yogurt and milk drink), and the meal was incredible!
We jumped back in the minibus and braved Jaipur’s chaotic mid-afternoon traffic on our way to the Wall Street Hotel. We arrived at 3.30pm and were greeted with a glass of refreshing rose water as we checked in. Ren’s cough/cold symptoms were not easing (they had persisted for the last ten days), so we walked to a nearby chemist to pick up some cough syrup and cold tablets.
We walked to the Peacock Restaurant for dinner at 7.30pm. We ordered two Rajasthani specialities – laal maas
(goat cooked in traditional Rajasthani gravy) and kadi pakora
(chickpea flour dumplings in a yoghurt sauce with fenugreek leaves). We shared the dishes with chapathis
, and they were phenomenal. The goat was cooked ‘Indian spicy’, and the waiter was concerned for us, but it was just right. I think we’ll need to ask for extra spicy next time! We finished the meal at 9pm and made our way back to the hotel. The traffic on the way to the restaurant had been manic (which made walking difficult), but it had quietened down as the night wore on, so the walk back was a lot more relaxed.
This had been
another fantastic travel day. I’m really starting to warm to northern India, especially the food, landscape, monuments and atmosphere of this fantastic place.
We woke early at 6am and headed out for a walk around the back streets of our hotel. We had a chai
(tea) from a tiny makeshift street stall (chai ki thadi
), and there were at least six rats scurrying around under the stall as we stood and drank our chai
. I kept wandering the streets while Ren went back to the hotel. The caste-based poverty in the back streets of Jaipur was apparent and confronting. Two young girls, each with a large bag, were sifting through a pile of rubbish on the side of the road while children in freshly pressed school uniforms walked past them without even a sideways glance. A small puppy lay dying on the footpath. Dirty water was thrown from a second floor window into a rubbish-filled narrow laneway that I was walking through, missing me by few metres. A guy walked towards me holding his trousers up with one hand, and when I turned to look as he passed I noticed his trousers had no fabric at the back.
We jumped into a minibus at 10am and made our way to Marco Polo Jewellers, where Ren picked up two sets of Rajasthani earrings for herself. We finished jewellery shopping at 11.30am and made our way to the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) in the Old City. Stepping off the minibus was not ideal – every tout in the area knew we were tourists. They pounced on us like tigers and didn’t let up until a police car (fortuitously) stopped beside us. The touts disappeared within seconds, which gave us breathing space to take a few photos of the palace which is located in the heart of a very long and busy street. As soon as the police car drove off the touts returned, so we decided to make our way by foot back to the hotel through the Old City.
The old centre is a chaotic place, so the long walk back to the hotel was difficult at times. We finally arrived at 1.30pm and decided to lunch across the road at the Ratnika Restaurant. We sat in a small sunny courtyard and we both opted for a thali meal
(several small meat and vegetable dishes served on
a platter with rice) – I had the Rajasthani royal delight and Ren had the Ratnika thali. They were fantastic. We quenched our thirst with fresh lime sodas
(fresh lime juice, sugar syrup and soda water). Ren was struggling to shake her cough/cold, so she decided to rest during the afternoon, as we were heading out to a Bollywood film in the evening.
My laptop had lost all mouse functionality, and it was barely operational with key strokes. I normally check email on my laptop, but that was now out of the question, so I had to use the hotel’s business centre. We also post our travel blogs from my laptop, but it was becoming more and more unstable, so our only option was to write now and blog later. I’d tried in vain to fix the damn laptop during the afternoon, and by 4.30pm I realised there was one final option – buy an external mouse. I walked about 200 metres from the hotel and found a tiny street stall that had a USB mouse for 140 rupees (AUD $2.70). It didn’t seem much, so it was worth a try. I got back to the hotel, plugged it
in and voila! – it was working again for less than three dollars!
At 6pm we headed out to the Raj Mandir cinema complex to see the Bollywood film ‘Dolly ki Doli’. We arrived at the cinema, waited around in the foyer until 6.30pm and then headed in and grabbed our seats. Indian cinema is an experience! The film was in Hindi without subtitles, and the crowd was very ‘vocal’. We couldn’t follow the dialogue but we could easily follow the film. It was a fantastic experience, and there was a few great dance numbers. The film wrapped up at 8.15pm, so we made our way back to the hotel restaurant for a buffet meal. It was surprisingly good. There was a never-ending supply of naan
on the table, which we ate with chicken curry, dahl, vegetable curry, paneer curry
(Indian cottage cheese curry), pappadams and gulab jamun
(fried doughnut-like milk-based balls, soaked in spiced sugar syrup). We finished our meal at 9pm, picked up our laundry and headed to our room. We had an 8am start the following day, so we caught up on our travel notes and finally crashed at midnight. It had been yet another rewarding
and fascinating travel day. SHE SAID...
We were woken up at 5:45am by the temple music in the village below our room in Fort Madhogarh. We had planned on waking at 6am anyway, so we got up and managed to shower just before the power went off again (phew! I didn't really fancy a cold shower on a five degree morning). We were leaving the Fort to travel to Jaipur (the Pink City)
, the capital of Rajasthan.
We walked up to the turret of the Fort just outside our room. In the foggy dawn greyness, we could see flickering lamps in the main village temple, and we could hear the sounds of bells and chanting that signified Morning Prayer. Then the power came back on, and as we watched the little lights flicker on across the plains below, the sounds of a waking village floated up the hill. A single dog barked, metal cooking pots clinked and straw brooms made a harsh noise on concrete paths. The morning light finally brought the birds out.
Breakfast at the Fort was simple but filling – tea and coffee, papaya and bananas, masala omelette
(spicy omelette with red
onions and green chillies) with toast, and potato and onion bhajis
(deep fried potato and onion fritters). We left the Fort at 9am in a comfortable minibus for the two hour trip to Jaipur.
Before I write about the journey, I need to de-brief about one of our travelling companions. To say she’s a drama queen would be an understatement. On our first day she talked about the fact that India was a dream trip for her, which made us all think she was going to have the time of her life. Well, we were very wrong. She was seemingly going for the world record for being as grumpy and sullen as possible, while simultaneously striving to win the award for most-things-one-could-complain-about-in-24hours. To make matters worse, Ms grumpy-pants had caught a tummy bug and we had to hear daily accounts of her comings and goings. I had clearly had enough, as had most of the others.
When we all piled into the minibus that morning, the bus moved ever so slightly as it was parked on an incline. Ms grumpy-pants made a scene about refusing to get into the minibus until the driver arrived, but her need to
get the front seat overcame her perceived fear and she got in – at which point the driver (unseen by Ms grumpy-pants) released the hand brake and we started coasting downhill. I have never seen any human move so fast...she nearly pushed our group leader Mohsin out of the moving minibus as he attempted to close the door. I will never forget the look of complete bafflement on his face. We all erupted into hysterical laughter, which made Ms grumpy-pants even grumpier. She retorted that she would have been the only one laughing if she had escaped and we had plummeted to our certain (imaginary) death. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t appreciate us pointing out (in between fits of laughter) that if we were indeed plummeting downhill, it would have been easier and safer for her to reach for the handbrake from her seat and save the whole minibus than to run for the door and jump out of a moving vehicle.
Apart from that little episode, the rest of the drive was uneventful and just beautiful. However, it was still very foggy and the traffic followed the main principle of Indian driving – overtake at all costs! The landscape was
much like the day before – filled with small villages and farms. Men in beanies and blanket-wraps sat in little circles around small fires drinking steaming hot chai
(tea), while the women were always working on household or farm chores. Uniformed school children piled into trailers towed by tractors, and camel carts transported all sorts of produce and building materials.
We came over a pass, looked down into a valley and saw Lake Maota. On the hilltop beyond the lake was a vast fort with high yellow walls. It spanned the entire ridge line of the hills around us – this was Amber Fort. We drove through narrow streets to the vehicle entrance of the Fort. We then walked up a series of wide stone steps to the hilltop complex of the Amber Palace that sat within the Fort. It is possible to get to the top on elephant back, but of course that’s not a lot of fun for the sad looking elephants who were in very bad physical condition. Poor elephants. Lazy tourists. 😞
Apparently the palace was gradually built over a period of two centuries for Rajput Maharajas. At the top of the stone steps
we emerged through the Sun Gate into the main public courtyard (there are four main courtyards in the palace). We walked up a steep staircase into the second courtyard which contained the many-columned Public Audience Hall and the magnificent three-level Ganesh Gate which led into the private palace quarters. The third level of this gate had latticed window screens which enabled the royal women to observe the activity in the courtyard below without being seen.
The third courtyard contained the Hall of Mirrors which I expected to be tacky, but strangely it was my favourite part of the whole palace. The walls and ceiling had pressed metal panels, inlaid coloured glass and convex mirror mosaics – it was designed to look like a box of jewels in candlelight. There were formal gardens, water features, stained glass, painted ceilings and elaborate zenana
(ladies quarters) apartments in the fourth courtyard (with hidden entrances so the maharaja could visit a wife without the other wives seeing him). There were internal rooms for winter use that were mirrored to make the most of the sunlight, and open summer rooms with hooks for hanging shade curtains that were set around a garden with water
features. When one maharaja’s wife decided that her heavily embroided outfits and volumes of gold jewellery were too heavy to walk with, ramps were built throughout her quarters and parts of the palace so that she could be wheeled around. Would this be the earliest version of 'disabled' access (even though there was no disability)??
Eventually we re-emerged into the main public courtyard we’d started in. I was really glad the sun was finally out – it is so much more pleasant walking through a sun-warmed marble palace! And I was also grateful for the extra light so our cameras could capture the subtle colours of the ancient frescos.
I loved the design and ambience of the Amber Palace and could have spent more time there, but by the two hour mark the big groups of loud tourists had started to get to me. While waiting for our minibus on the side of the road, I spotted a street stall selling chaat
(street snacks). The wallah
(seller) squashed a hot potato fritter into the bottom of a bowl and topped it with crunchy fried bits of chickpea dough, fried bread, boiled chickpeas, spices, tamarind sauce and yogurt. It
We got back into our minibus and continued on for another 11km to Jaipur. The approach to Jaipur is marked by a steep climb on a narrow road with stone buildings closing in on the sides. I was surprised to see that some buildings in Jaipur really are pink-hued as its name suggests - although they were terracotta-pink rather than pink-pink.
Jaipur has three parts to it – the ancient Amber Fort area, the old medieval town of Jaipur and the newer modern part. The old city was designed by royalty and has been a popular tourist spot for centuries.
A few people in the group were interested in fabrics, so we visited the Ganesham Textile and Handicraft emporium where we watched a demonstration of block printing on cotton. Wooden blocks are stencilled using a hammer and nails in a very precise manner, and the blocks are then dipped in vegetable dyes and printed on cotton. Silk block printing is done with metal blocks. There was an old man demonstrating the art of block printing, and he was lining up the block patterns very sharply using only his naked eye for line guidance. Up to
seven block patterns/colours can be used on one fabric. The fabric is then sun dried to seal the dyes. The fabric emporium was huge and we were spoilt for choice. I thought about getting a silk top made but couldn’t make up my mind, so we just bought a few silk scarves instead.
Lunch was at Surabhi Restaurant, which offered a unique Rajasthani dish of desert beans and desert peas in thick gravy – kair sangria
. It was delicious with freshly made chapathis
(unleavened flat round wholemeal bread) and naans
(leavened bread cooked in a wood fired oven).
The Wall Street Hotel markets itself as a business hotel, but thankfully it had a bit of character. We were on the edge of the old walled pink city, but within walking distance of the old bazaars and the restaurants in the new area. As soon as we checked in, Mohsin walked us to the nearest pharmacy, as my cough and cold were getting worse and I needed some cough syrup to calm it down. Pharmacies in India are relaxed affairs and you can even get antibiotics without a prescription. I stuck to buying cough syrup and paracetamol flu tablets
(we were already travelling with legit antibiotics from home, which I started taking that night).
We chilled out at the hotel until dinner, and then a few of us walked to the Peacock Restaurant, which was about 20 minutes from our hotel. The traffic on the way was hectic! We had to cross a busy city street (that felt like a busy highway) to get to the restaurant and we waited for a break in the traffic for what seemed like 10 minutes. We eventually made a dash for it and halfway across the street I felt Mohsin grab my elbow when a car got a bit too close for comfort.
The Peacock Restaurant was a funky rooftop bar restaurant in the corporate area. We had typical Rajasthani dishes of laal maas
(goat cooked in traditional Rajasthani gravy) and kadi pakora
(chickpea flour dumplings in a yoghurt sauce with fenugreek leaves), with chapathis
. The laal maas
is supposed to be eaten very spicy, so for the first time we were brave enough to ask for it 'Indian spicy' – we feared it would be too hot to eat, but it was just perfect.
morning we asked a guy at the hotel reception where the closest chai
(tea) stall was, and he was amused that we were opting for local tea over the hotel’s English tea. As he walked us outside to point us in the right direction, he saw one of his staff leaving for the day, so he asked him to take us. The chai
stall was as local as it got! There were groups of men huddled around little fires, and some men were standing in the sun with newspapers. They all stared at us in stony silence. It wasn't unfriendly, but it wasn't friendly either. The chai
guy refused to be photographed (only the second camera shy person I've come across in our Indian travels so far – the first was a guy selling purple carrots in Old Delhi). As we drank our chais
I noticed some movement under the stall, and I realised that the broken up bits of dusty brown pavement were the same colour as the dusty rats running in around it. I was instinctively repulsed at first, but as we watched the rats I realised that they were just going about their business, scurrying about gathering
food from a discarded chip packet, peacefully coexisting with humans who walked only centimetres away from them. I amazed myself that I actually found them quite cute to watch. As I walked back to the hotel I watched some local children playing with kites on the rooftops.
The old city of Jaipur was meticulously planned by Maharaja Jai Singh and built in the early 1700s (in a time when grid patterned streets and numbering system for shops were probably not that common). As much as I love meandering through mazes of lanes in old towns that have evolved organically and unpredictably – I have to admit that I have a lot of love for a well-planned city. Those of you who read our blog on Pondicherry would know of my love for grid town planning! 😊
Jaipur is a large busy commercial city with a lot of in-your-face poverty. However, it is also a very friendly place. The Jaipurian specialities seemed to be semi-precious stones, textiles and folk-based arts. Jaipur is famous for its silver and precious stones too, so on Mohsin's advice we all packed into our minibus and were taken to the multi-level Marco Polo jewellery
store. I like to buy a piece of jewellery and a scarf from each country I visit, and while I’d seen a few things I liked in Kerala, I decided to wait until we got to Jaipur to make my ‘Indian’ purchases. The Gollum in me was a little transfixed by the bright and shiny sea of jewels and metals (and was whispering we wants it, we needs it...must have the precious...) but I was adamant I would only buy something that was typically Indian. I got a pair of earrings in a very old traditional Rajasthani design, and another more modern Indian design in blue enamel and silver.
The minibus dropped us off at the pink sandstone Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds). I had seen the Hawa Mahal in afternoon light the previous day, and I fell so in love with the building that I wanted to come back as see it in morning light too. The intricate carving of the pink sandstone gives the impression of delicate honeycomb walls. It’s a thin five storey high building that was built specifically for the royal women, and the windows were designed so that the women could see out into
the city without being seen by the public. The Hawa Mahal is not only an example of exquisite architecture and engineering, but it is also a great landmark from which to orient yourself around the city. 😊
The City Palace was very close to the Hawa Mahal, but Andrew and I both agreed to skip it. I wondered if we were already palaced-out?!? We had another ten days of palaces to go... oh dear.
We walked back to the hotel through the crammed but colourful bazaar towards the city walls, navigating ourselves by the number of city gates we passed. The bazaar was full to the brim with anything and everything. The bit of the bazaar on the main road closest to the palace was really hectic, and it was also full of very pushy touts selling cheap hippy clothing and trinkets, so we made a hasty retreat. The rabbit-warren interior of the old bazaar was very different to the street-side bazaar – there were courtyards crammed with wooden hand carts and porters heaving sacks on their backs, along with an endless line of little shops and stalls.
There was a very large section of fabrics and
tailors. Merchants sat cross-legged in their stalls drinking chai
and haggling with customers over vast piles of saris and bangles. The sheer volume and texture of the saris was overwhelming, and the impossibly shiny and intricate details almost made my eyes hurt. Shop assistants proclaimed to me that they had the finest silks, the softest cottons and the best glass bangles. There were also piles of fruit and vegetables, rows of barbers sitting crossed legged on the ground, and henna artists applying elaborate designs to women’s hands and feet. We walked past the ghee
(clarified butter) shops and chai
stalls, and just as we got to the city gate that took us to our hotel in the newer part of town, we came across the noisy motorcycle repair shops.
Most of you already know that I love a good market. To me, markets are not just about buying and selling goods – I find they explain the intricacies of a city and its culture in quick snap-shots. This bazaar was an age-old centre of trade, and it amazed me that after all these years it was still centred around essentially the same range of traditional goods and services that
were core to the locals and their lifestyles (apart from all the plastic crap for the benefit of the tourists of course). I loved it.
By now we were quite tired (read: I was starting to get ‘hangry’) so we decided to have lunch at the first decent looking restaurant we came upon, which was Ratnika Restaurant right across from our hotel. We both had thali meals
(several small meat and vegetable dishes served on a platter with rice), but as delicious as they were, I had started losing my appetite and could only have about half of mine...my damn cough and cold was really starting to annoy me now!
That evening we had the chance to experience the over-the-top extravagance of a Bollywood blockbuster. It was a ten minute walk from our hotel (through the city which was shrouded in beautiful pinky duskiness) to the spectacular art deco Raj Mandir Cinema. The cinema reminded me of baby cupcakes – it was all girlie soft and swirly and painted in candy pinks and greens. We paid 300 rupees each to see Dolly Ki Dolli. We were there as much to see the film as we were to experience
When the film started and the hero appeared, there were wild cheers and whistles. The movies are an interactive experience in India! The story had all the elements of an over-the-top drama, with musical interludes and a large dose of tragic romance thrown in for good measure. In Shakespearean terms it was probably a comedy, even though the boy didn’t get the girl in the end. There were no subtitles, but it really wasn’t hard to follow the story. I hadn't expected to enjoy the film as much as I did.
We had a late buffet dinner in the hotel restaurant, which was surprisingly good. Predictably, I tried everything offered at the buffet! We had chicken curry, paneer curry
(Indian cottage cheese curry), vegetable curry, dahl and pappadams – which went very well with the never ending bowl of freshly cooked naans
on our table. For me the highlight of the meal was the gulab jamun
(fried doughnut-like milk-based balls, soaked in spiced sugar syrup) with whiter than white kulfi
(thick Indian ice cream).
As much as I enjoyed our time in Jaipur, this wasn’t a city I would rush back to in a hurry.
Having said that, I can’t really put my finger on any specific reason for why I feel that way. So I can only attribute this ambivalence to the fact that I hadn’t been feeling very well. The highlights of our visit were the Amber Fort/Palace and the Hawa Mahal – I cannot tell you how intensely exquisite the Hawal Mahal is!
Next we head south east to Ranthambhore National Park to hang out with tigers (hopefully!).
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