The winds of Rajasthan beckoned to me. And I gave in to the call. This time the wisp guided me to the hustling bustling city of Jaipur. I couldn’t find a direct flight to Jaipur, hence I booked a connecting flight with a 3 hour stop in Delhi. You can also travel via train to Jaipur, but you will need to change trains at multiple destinations to get there. It’s a 3-hour journey from Bangalore to Delhi by plane and about an hour’s travel from Delhi to Jaipur. If you do choose to go by train, it’s a 1-and-a-half-day trip.
Unfortunately for me, my flight from Delhi to Jaipur got delayed by 5 hours due to the dense fog that covered the city, making it difficult for planes to land.
I finally arrived at Jaipur at around 6:00pm in the evening. The airport is just a 30-minute taxi ride away from the pink city (which is the centre and the oldest part of the city). On the way, I crossed a massive palace. With vast well maintained grounds covered in grass and fountains, one cannot even guess that such a grand structure is in fact a museum. It shocked me too. Upon a bit of enquiry, I found out that the city museum is housed within one of the many palaces owned by the Royal family.
The sky had turned grey and as we approached the (much awaited) pink city, I could sense the energy in the air. All the shops were lit up. Even the street vendors had personal little bulbs of light that kept their carts illuminated. There were lots of sounds, cars honking, people talking, children screeching, but I could always distinctly remember hearing the faint sound of melodious yet fast beat, music. This set the entire theme to the place. And as I took another breath, Jaipur took over me.
Now, there are multiple options you can choose from for your accommodation. There is a wide variety of hotels ranging from grand and luxurious to basic for the constant traveller. I however chose to stay in a youth hostel. I figured that interacting with people who had known Jaipur for a little longer than I did, would help me understand the place better. A hostel is apt for a pocket friendly visit. It also encourages you to interact with a lot of people who come from different walks of life. I was able to meet a set of people who told me all about Jaipur. They were leaving the next day after a stay of about 3 days. It was from them that I learnt, That Lal maas (a traditional Rajasthani Recipe for lamb) is something that I cannot leave Jaipur without tasting.
The hostel I had stayed at is called Zostel. I had heard amazing reviews about the place and decided to give it a try. It didn’t let me down. There are 4-bed, 6-bed and 8-bed dorms. Each dorm is beautifully designed to fit the Jaipuri culture. The hostel also has a common room where you will find an assortment of books, board games and toys. There are other games too like my all-time favourite, Jenga. Coming back, from a long day, to this game with a nice group of people was an awesome experience.
The people from the hostel are very helpful and are glad to fill you in with any details about Jaipur. You also have standees portraying the various places one can visit.
The “Zostel” is located right in the middle of the pink city. Many of the major attractions are within a short distance away. My first day began with a visit to the Hawa Mahal. The ‘Palace of Winds’ or the Hawa Mahal, was built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, for the viewing of street festivals while performing ‘Purdah’. Purdah is a concept that was strictly followed by women. The tradition was followed religiously by the women of higher status, like from noble or royal families. This concept was widely followed by Islamic women as well. This particular tradition has played a major role in Rajasthani as well as Mughal architecture.
The Hawa Mahal is designed to allow the cool breeze to enter the palace during hot days. It is a row of windows that are intricately carved to specifically let in cool air and keep the warm air out. The entire structure makes you wonder how much ‘perfection’ plays a crucial role in man made structures. As promised, the insides of the Mahal seem cool and comforting.
Next I was directed to see the ‘Rani factory’ or the ‘Queens factory’. Now Jaipur is known for its handicrafts, Two in particular, Block printing and Jewelry cutting. It is also known for its Tie-Dye Saris called Bandhini. At the Rani market you will see artisans working on their specific projects. Either block printing or tie-dyeing. Little further ahead, merchants sit within a big room. The walls are lined with shelves reaching the ceiling, consisting of traditional handicrafts. You are first directed to the clothing area. Here the shopkeepers show you the different types of garments that are native to Jaipur. Bandhini saris, Rani saris, Block printed Kurtis and saris. They also have garments (although limited) for Men as well. Among all things, the most famous is the 1 kilogram blanket. These blankets find home in this city as well. They are made specifically to keep you warm when it’s cold and to keep you cool when its warm. The entire blanket only weighs about 1 kilogram and can be rolled up, folded or scrunched up very easily because of how thin it actually is.
You may spend some time at the market, looking at all the different wares that the Jaipuri artisans have to offer, or you may move on with your day and visit the city palace which is very close to the Rani factory. Jaipur is a very common wedding venue for families who wish to hold a destination wedding. Due to the number of palaces that adorn the city, there is a wide variety of options to have one of the famous “Grand Indian Weddings”. Never-the-less, be warned that these weddings are anything but pocket friendly, although the experience would cover up for any expense.
Due to one such wedding the city palace was off limits on the day I had planned to visit. However, the nice palace guards did allow me to click a few pictures from afar. Even from a distance you can marvel at the structure. It is so beautifully built, with so much thought and effort put into the process. The city palace was built by an entire line of rulers beginning with Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh 2, who started construction in the year 1729 and went on till 1732. The palace is known to have Rajput, Mughal and European styles of architecture.
Moving on, the Jantar Mantar monument is also located very close to the city palace. This particular piece of work is one of the most celebrated in Jaipur. It has been considered a world heritage site by UNESCO. The monument houses about 19 different types of astronomical structures built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, to study the wonders of space. The Jantar Mantar is also famous for its large stone sundial. This sundial is the world’s largest and must be visited during your stay at Jaipur.
A fusion of science and culture, the Jantar Mantar has multiple astronomical structures that were used for science. The kings of Jaipur had always been interested in the workings of time and space. One king in particular, Maharaja Jai Singh 2.
The city museum is located just outside the pink city. A major part of it currently serves as residence to the Royal family. The palace is called the “Chandra Mahal”. It’s famous for its peacock gate. The gate reflects the traditional style of architecture. There are intricate engravings that imitate the tail feathers of a peacock. The museum has excellent audio guides that explain the entire story of the Mahal, however you may also opt for a tour guide if you happen to be in a group. Both guides are very informative and will charge very reasonable rates.
The palace consists of 7 storeys, each named and designed differently. The interiors of each floor are designed as per the name of the room. However only the ground floor is open to visitors as the other floors are where the royal family resides. The entire property belongs to the Royal family and is very well maintained.
While researching about Jaipur, I stumbled upon the concept of a home hosted meal. A family would prepare an authentic Rajasthani meal for you and upon request, would also teach you one of the famous recipes. I had the pleasure of being invited to Pratap Bhavan, a property owned by Himanshu and Deepti. A wonderful and sweet couple. Himanshu, A multi-talented superb nature guide who also loves wildlife photography. He also happens to be an excellent chef. Deepti is ever hospitable and her sense of interior design is mind blowing. It is here, where I learnt how to make kachri chicken hundi sula smoked. It is an ancient recipe that belongs to Himanshu’s grandfather himself. After a hearty meal, I bid adieu to the couple and their beautiful daughter and set my course back to the hostel.
A walk in the city streets is most recommended. I joined a few friends for a walk and I got to learn so much about the people and the city itself. The four of us were walking down a narrow street, when one of the locals called out to us. Understanding that we were tourists, he insisted that we see the local lifestyle of the people. Hesitantly we followed him. Turns out, his nephew was getting married and the entire house was in the mood of frolic and fun. I even got to meet the bride and congratulate her on her engagement day. The women were cooking a typical Rajasthani meal called “Daal, Bati and Churma”, and the men were setting up a space on the terrace where the engagement ceremony was to take place that evening. We were taken to the terrace from where we could see an amazing sunset as well as get a 20-minute cooking class. The entire family accompanied us as we bid farewell. We were escorted by many family members as we left their wonderful house. It was truly an amazing experience.
After dinner one of us retired to bed, however the remaining three of us had our eyes on a procession called the ‘Baraath”. It consists of the groom, sitting on a white horse and his family and friends dancing to a live mobile band. The procession dances all the way to where the marriage ceremony would take place, this is also where the bride sits waiting for her groom to arrive. One, from the three of us, couldn’t help himself and began dancing a little away from the Baraath. Soon enough we were all invited and were dancing our socks off along with the entire family. I joined the women who preferred to dance behind the groom whereas my friends remained at the front of the procession. The energy was hitting the roof and we danced to our hearts content.
My last night at Jaipur ended with the three of us buying firecrackers and letting them off in a park nearby. It was the end to a beautiful beginning.
The next day I was to leave for Jodhpur, but how could I leave Jaipur without visiting the famous Amer fort? I had a plan in place and went about executing it. At 7:30am I checked out of the Zostel. They are nice enough to keep your luggage in their store room for you even after you check-out. And so, I left my luggage in the zostel store room and left, via taxi, to the magnificent Amer fort.
The fort is about a 30 to 35 minute drive from the center of the city. Apps like ola and uber work in Jaipur and you can book a cab to take you to the fort. Tuk tuks do not go there. You may also catch one of the public volvo buses that move to and from the place every 10 minutes. A cab gets you there faster and since I was on a bit of a tight schedule I ordered myself an uber. Jaipur is even more beautiful early in the morning. You can see pigeons that over-populate the city, you may also see a rare crane occasionally. The suns light colors everything a dull orange and a feeling of peace is in the air.
Amer fort is at a steep climb. Any mode of transportation you chose (apart from any self-driven vehicle) will drop you off at the foot of the fort from where you can hire an entire jeep for 400/- to take you to the top. You may also opt for an elephant ride which would cost you 1200/- per head. There was quite a bit of a crowd for the elephants and so I took the jeep. At the foot of the fort you can see a palace. This currently in ruins as it is one of the oldest structures in the entire city. This was the palace where princess Jodha bai and her ancestors resided before her marriage to the Moghul king, King Akbar. This reunion, had marked the beginning of a long relationship between the Rajput’s and the Moghuls. Jodha bai and Akbar established Hindu and Muslim relations with this marriage. She, later, went ahead to give birth to a strong and proud line of Kings who shaped the history of India drastically.
Upon reaching the fort, I would recommend you opt for a guide to show you around. The guides are government professionals and they charge you a fixed rate for their services. For just about 300 rupees, my guide ensured that I see every nook and cranny of the fort.
The Amer fort was built by multiple generations of kings over 400 years. It is spread across a huge piece of land, and has three major gates for entry. The fort is so well planned, it was impossible to penetrate. Even today you can see marks where cannon balls have hit the walls. The architecture of the palace is a mix of Moghul as well Rajput styles. The three gates are called the ‘Tripoli’. One gate is meant for the entry of the majestic elephants the other is meant for vehicles and the third is for people walking or on smaller vehicles like cycles or even people on foot. The entire fort is made up of sandstone and marble. Beautiful intricate carving adorns every wall, pillar and window of the fort. The walls were also painted using paint made from natural ingredients like spinach and turmeric, or gold and indigo. These colours haven’t faded even till this day. The walls have beautiful floral paintings that you will not be able to take your eyes off. the paintings, like the carvings, are also very intricate, covering entire walls, doors and gateways. Some of the paint used, was made by crushing precious stones to a powder and mixing it with either glue or water. Most of the interiors were painted using this paint. The ‘Diwan-e-aam’, or the hall for the common audience consists of pillars made entirely of sandstone. The heads of elephants and peacocks are carved at the top to signify pride and valour. The King would sit amidst the pillars and the common folk would sit around him in a courtyard. This was an arrangement to allow the common folk who seek audience with the king, put forward their issues. The Ganesh pol entrance is situated overlooking the Diwan-e-aam. Lord Ganesha is said to remove all obstacles in life, hence the Ganesh pol gate is the first entrance into the inner sections of the fort. Above and on either side of this gate are large windows covered in a mesh carved out of stone. This was to allow the women of the court to reside in gatherings without being seen. The mesh windows provide purdah, allowing the women visibility from the inside but restricting any visibility from the outside.
Once crossing the Ganesha pol, you come across a beautifully maintained garden where many Bollywood movies have been shot. With a beautiful fountain at the centre, the gardens are laid in a Moghul fashion. The rooms have a cooling system using that helped air condition the entire room. The system was designed to cool the entire room using water that would flow through a pipe into a section built into the wall, Fans with feathered blades would turn slightly dipping their ends into the water and provide a cool wind that would flow throughout the room. The water in-turn runs out into the garden via a drain embedded in the room.
On the other side of the garden lies the ‘Sheesh Mahal’ or the palace of mirrors. All the walls in this hall are embedded with tiny mirrors that are convex in shape. They reflect the light, hence illuminating the entire place. The kings’ quarters are also very close to the palace of mirrors. He would reside there during winters. The mirrors reflected the light and heat hence insulating the room and keeping it warm. The ‘Sheesh Mahal’ was used as the Diwan-e-Khaas or the hall for the Special audience, where the king would meet his special guests. The mirrors embedded are magnificently yet intricately arranged to form floral patterns all over the walls of the palace.
Walking through the halls of the Amer fort, I felt overcome by the history of the place. So many stories and events have taken place here. The Kings themselves have walked these halls, laid foot on the same floors. It’s an amazing feeling.
The water was harvested from Rains during the monsoon season. This water was stored in large overhead tanks. It could be accessed using a pulley system where multiple pots tied to a thick rope could me moved to and from the tank using a wheel. The wheel would be turned manually and the pots would move upwards, dip into the water in the tank, and then move downwards where the water was collected. A lot of thought and work, very evidently, has gone into the planning of this system, as being located in between a desert area, there was a large scarcity of water. Hence its storage and use was required to be very thoroughly planned.
The 500-year-old fort still stands strong, displaying the ever-proud Rajput and Moghul spirit. Just taking a walk in the halls of this massive structure gets you to picturise their way of living. You also realise the amount of work put into the construction of this piece of architecture. Artisans have spent their entire lives planning and constructing this fort for their beloved kings. It not only stands as a symbol of the kings’ rule but also as a tribute to all who worked to build it.
My time at Jaipur had come to an end. And as I left the fort to pick up my luggage, I asked the wisp “what next?”, I could hear distant music played on the Ravanahatha (a Rajasthani violin) and I heard whispers chanting “Jodhpur…. Jodhpur”. With a smile one my face I turned towards the “blue city” of Jodhpur.
P.S: I have listed below, some information that will help you move around Jaipur.
1) Distance between the airport and the zostel – around 13kms which would take you about 35 minutes to travel.
2) Zostel – www.zostel.com (they have hostels all around India)
3) Distance between Hawa Mahal and Zostel – 1km
4) Distance between Zostel and the city palace – 3kms
5) Distance between Zostel and the city museum – 8kms
6) The Zostel is located centrally within the pink city and all the bus stands and train stations are located within 10 kAms of it.
7) Mr Himanshu Who graciously hosted me for an authentic Rajasthani meal: +919829074354
8) Mr Sharma who was my guide at the Amer fort: +919829523926