My latest trip to India was almost at an end. I was up early and checked out of the hotel, the Bundi streets were strangely quiet first thing in the morning, as was the station, but the buses were still running and I managed to catch one to Jaipur just as it was leaving. The roads were surprisingly quiet as well so it only took four hours rather than the five and a half I was expecting.
Jaipur and its bus station were a bit of a shock to the system however, as it was easily the biggest and busiest city in Rajasthan. Fortunately it was only a 15 minute walk to my hotel, the Hotel Arya Niwas. Although I think built in the 1960s or 70s, it had a very “days of the Raj” feel to it. Underlined by the fact that later I was to have a slice of pineaple sponge cake and a pot of tea from a silver tea service. But back to today. As I didn’t have much time, I decided to head out immediately to explore the city and then tomorrow I was to spend the whole day at the Amber fort.
Big, busy and brash, Jaipur is Rajasthan’s largest city and economic powerhouse. The manic traffic and dense crowds deter some visitors, although the city more than compensates with a stellar array of attractions. Certainly the City Palace attracts plenty. I got to the gate at the same time as some tourist coaches disgourged passengers. Not my scene. I had visited the Palace on my trip in 1994, so I decided I would rather just mooch around the streets. It’s a bit of a funny place, the so-called pink city, as the streets are planned in a strict grid fashion and actually seem rather modern. It certainly lacks the ancient, crowded alleyways more common in other Indian cities. I did find a few interesting markets and people though to keep me amused. It was fairly hot and dusty, so in one back street I decided to slake my thirst at a mobile juice stall. The most disgusting drink I’ve had in India! I think it was carrot and beetroot with added salt. Anyway, after my mooch I was back in the relative quiet of the hotel, on the lawn, kicking back in a comfy chair, getting ready for tomorrow’s trip to one of the highlights of Rajasthan – the Amber Palace.
Another early start. I grabbed a trishaw and was heading out of Jaipur’s quiet streets at 7.30am. It’s only 12kms so it didn’t take me long but it was already fairly crowded in the small town below the fort. It was a Sunday and packed, perhaps some sort of festival was on. Anyway, I was soon away from most of them and following the main ramp up to the fort which dominates everything around. Amber or Amer, Fort or Palace? I’m not sure which but I was soon at the ticket office paying my foreigner fee of 500Rs.
I guess the hubbub in the town must have been a local event as here in the palace it was very quiet. Just a few foreigners. The man at the ticket office told me the foreigners all came in the morning and the Indians in the afternoon. There are plenty of descriptions of the palace elsewhere but I will say, it’s a really impressive place. Probably the highlight of my whole trip. As I was finishing the tour and handing back my audio guide, which was pretty good, I asked about the other fort which you can see from Amer and is even higher, probably only a few kms away. I was then directed to a hidden “secret” passage under the palace.
There was a small signpost at its entrance which everyone else was ignoring but I followed. The passage itself wasn’t so dark and soon I was in the open again on a cobbled path going up the hillside. I eventually got to the entrance of the fort – Jaigarh Fort which turned out to be a bona fide tourist attraction itself and the usual accompanying fee of 200Rs. This time there was no audio guide or map so I was soon lost wandering the lengthy battlements, until I started following an Indian family who seemed to know where they were going. They led me to a part of the fort where I could hear music and this led me to a large room where there was a puppet show taking place. Other “highlights” of the fort included the World’s Largest Cannon and some rooms containing models of mararajas and a small museum. Quite an interesting but low key place with fantastic views of the town and palace below.
So my trip really was almost at an end now. Just time for one more stroll around the streets of Jaipur. I love a good market and one thing I had noted on this trip was the lack of meat or even fish markets (fish not so surprising as it is a landlocked state) but most of the people in Rajasthan are vegetarians and indeed my present hotel was another all-veg hotel and I had in fact been vegetarian for the entire trip so far. Strange then that one of the “traditional signature dishes” of Rajasthan was Laal maas which is a mutton dish in a spicy thick red sauce. I decided for my last meal to splash out. I went to a highly recommended restaurant to try it – Niro’s, but I have to say, I was very disappointed. It was a fairly run of the mill mutton curry to me – my only meat dish of the entire trip and nothing like the delicious vegetarian food I had been eating for the last three weeks – especially my first meal – the delicious Govind Gatta at the Kesar Heritage hotel in Jodhpur. A memory already deep in the past.
All that was left was a final train journey to Delhi and my flight home. However, no sleeping!