India is one of the countries that keeps calling me back. No matter how many times I have visited it, I don't mind going back. When I saw a direct flight add connecting Singapore to Jaipur direct by Scoot Airlines, I was determined to go. I had wanted to go to Udaipur and Jodhpur but didn't mind going back to Jaipur. As soon as my sister and cousins smelled my plans, they had invited themselves to tag along and added Agra to the itinerary. It was impossible to cover those cities in five and half nights said the first car rental company that I contacted, but the second one agreed.
Off we went, arriving at Jaipur slightly after midnight where our driver, Mr Mool was waiting for us. Thankfully, he had a 10 seater Tempo Traveller which was spacious enough for all of us, including our jumbo luggages. After having a good rest, we started our day tour visiting Jantar Mantar, an astronomical site built by Jai Singh II, the Maharajah of Jaipur, built during 1727-1734. Interestingly, based on the movement of the sun, moon and planets, the 13 astronomical instruments were able to "read" one's past life and predict
future life simply by his/her birth date, day and time. Up to now, Jaipur is well known for its astronomers, and in fact, one of my cousins tried it out and was surprised with the reading which was quite accurate.
Next stop was the City Palace where we decided to purchase a ticket to enter the seven storey building. Built between 1729 - 1732, it was initially built by Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amer, who moved the capital city from Amer to Jaipur in 1727. It was Jai Singh II who built the wall city of Jaipur, but it was his successor, Maharaja Ram Singh, who ordered the painting of the city to stucco pink in anticipation of the visit of King Edward VII. Today, Jaipur is known as the Pink City. Certain floors of the seven storey palace was closed to public, but we were allowed to enter the top floors of the palace. Today, the dining room is still being used to receive State Guests. My favourite was Chhavi Nivas or Hall of Images, located on the 5th floor of the palace, and it is used by the Maharajah for his retreat place in
the rainy season. Its walls are covered by indigo blue and white floral paintings. From the top floor, I could see the entire City Palace compound.
By the time we finished our lunch, it was too warm to walk around, so we decided to check out a handicraft store which was like a magnetic trap for the ladies. It has everything from sarees, shawls, handicrafts as well as precious and semi precious stones. Thanks to Maharaja Rajput, known for his good taste and arts, who dreamt of making Jaipur the centre for gem trade and gem cutting during his time, Jaipur today is the Mecca for precious and semi precious stones. The store owner, Baba, greeted us in Bahasa Indonesia, and soon, we invaded the three storey store, and covered it inch by inch. Each came back with big shopping bags.
For dinner, we went to Rambargh Palace for dinner. It was built in 1835 for the wet nurse of Prince Ram Singh II. It was later converted into a hunting lodge. It was Maharajah Sawai Man Singh II who made it as his principal residence, and by 1950, the royal family decided to convert it into a
luxurious hotel, run by the Taj Group. How we wished we could have stayed here.
The next morning, we left for Agra early in the morning. It would be a tiring day trip, but some of us had not seen the Taj Mahal. Prior to our departure, to cut the long queue, we had purchased the ticket online, of which price was inclusive of a complimentary guide. Reality turned different. We didn't see the guide who was supposed to meet us and handed us our tickets. After an hour waiting, we decided to repurchase our ticket at the counter and finally stepped inside the compound, an hour before its closing time. Looking back, the wait was a blessing in disguise as we got the sight of Taj Mahal at the blue hour, before it got dark. Crowds started to disappear. Indeed, it was late when we arrived back at Jaipur.
Tired, we didn't start the day early the next day, and left for Jodhpur just before noon. As the road trip took about six hours, it was getting dark when we arrived at Jodhpur. There went my wish to see Merangarh Fort as it was closed. Disappointed, we
were taken to Om Ganesh Export House.
The store was huge, more like warehouse; it was filled with everything that we wanted to bring home: ornaments, statues, furnitures, wooden doors, bowls and etc. We were led to the basement where the third generation of owner, Mukesh Jain, introduced himself. He claimed he was an antique textiles collector and owned some old Songkets from Indonesia. When shown his picture featured in India Fortune 500, we were at awe. He then seated us comfortably, served some milk tea and began showing his collections: throws, bed cover and bed spread as well as shawls. We completely bought his story when he said he had some remaining pieces ordered by International designers like Hermes, Etro, Kenzo, etc. and claimed that Brad Pitt bought 128 shawls from his store.
We were like being hypnotised; not only we bought his story but purchased plenty of throws and shawls from his store. After I returned and looked back, it had me wondered: if they were left overs from the designer houses, why would he have so many of them? I did google him and learned from one of the reviews that he had made reference
to Richard Gere buying the same amount of shawls from his store! Had we been had? Perhaps, but I was happy with my purchases anyway.
The following morning, we visited the famous Blue City. It's not that blue by the way, said our guide. The pictures had been photoshopped. Never mind. We were at Jodhpur, we had to see it. Soon, we walked among the small alleys where we could see stray dogs roaming around. A few months ago, an American tourist was bitten by a dog and had to receive twelve shots to avoid getting Rabies. Trying to take pictures while avoiding being followed by these stray dogs was not easy at all.
We were told Jodhpur used to have four caste population, and each would occupy different parts of the city. The Western part of Merangarh Fort was occupied by the Brahmin whose house was painted with Indigo blue for religious reasons. As Indigo turned out to be an effective insect repellent, the surrounding neighbourhood started to paint their house with it as well. Once Indigo was planted, the soil would not be fertile until three years later, for which reasons Indigo caught a high price.
Next day destination was Udaipur, and another six hours of car ride. Just like the day before, it was dark when we reached Udaipur, and only saw Lake Palace from a distance. We were told we could not have a dinner at this hotel as it was fully booked. So were the other two other heritage hotels we wish to visit. What a pity! It was my dream to visit Lake Palace in Udaipur. It was cool during early March, and it's the perfect time to visit the city. Udaipur was a much more safe city, compared to other cities in Rajashtan, we were told. Disappointed, we went along with the guide's suggestion to visit another handicraft store. By then, I suspected words must have spread among the guides that our group was a big spender and felt their intention of leading us to handicraft stores. Another damage was done.
Without realising it, it's the end of our trip, and had to fly to Jaipur the next morning and covered the rest in a day: Amer Fort, Jal Mahal and Hawa Mahal. Amer Fort was the palace before the capital city of Rajashtan was moved to Jaipur, and
Monkeys spotted along the way
from Jodhpur to Udaipur via alternative road
as we arrived in the afternoon, we could not have the elephant ride. We took a jeep ride which took us to the gate behind the palace. On our way back to Jaipur, we passed 5 storey Jal Mahal or Water Palace, located in the middle of Man Sagar Lake. It used to be the summer retreat for the royal family. It was not clear to me if it was open for visitors post renovation, as we got to see it from a distance only. We didn't have enough time to visit Nahargarh Fort, located at Aravillis Hills, used as a hunting palace for Maharaja and family.
The beautiful land mark of Jaipur, Hawa Mahal or Palace of Wind, located in Pink City, was built as the quarter for the women of the royal family. From Hawa Mahal, I could see the busy street of Jaipur. I had wished I could have an afternoon tea at the cafes across the street, while my cousin was looking for an Indian tray. I doubted the explanation: it was not advisable to be left alone without any local guide. Is the city that unsafe, I wonder.
On our way to the
airport, we stopped by at Lalit Hotel for a spa before our midnight flight back to Singapore. All I knew was we didn't plan this trip well as we left a day before the Holi Festival. What a miss! It gives me a reason to come back, and perhaps with the addition Jaisalmer and Pushkar to the itinerary. Would I take a road trip again? Definitely, but with longer stay in each city.
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