Continuing our Rajasthan Saga, the next pit stop was Jaipur, the capital city. The overnight train journey from Jaisalmer to Jaipur was quite uneventful. We reached Jaipur before 5 in the morning. A 10 minute auto ride from the Jaipur Railway station took us to RTDC Teej where we had our rooms booked. Uptil now, our experience of the RTDC Hotels at Jodhpur and Jaisalmer was quite satisfactory. Teej was going to be an exception. Firstly we encountered an extremely rude and inhospitable receptionist who refused to give us even a single room before 12 although there were empty rooms. We spent over an hour and half in the lobby. Finally at around 7:30, they opened us a room on the second floor. A hotel without a lift is quite a rarity in today’s world. Bent upon not wasting any time, we were ready and went down to breakfast at 9.
Since we had two days in hand, the plan for day one in Jaipur was to cover the places located within the city. We hired an auto to the Jaipur City Palace. The ride took us through the old city which had pink buildings and markets on either sides of the road; a colour which gives the name of Pink City to Jaipur. The entry tickets to the palace were gross expensive and truthfully speaking, after the expansive forts and palaces of Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, the city palace did not make an impressive sight. The only thing worth mentioning here was an amazing collection of armoury and weaponry. There were enough weapons stocked here to declare a small war. The Durbar hall was a nice sight too; but I had found the Durbar in the Mysore Palace much more impressive.
Jantar Mantar was right opposite the city palace. This turned out to be better than I had anticipated. The flag fluttering on the top of the city palace and the Nahargarh fort perched on the mountains were visible far beyond. There were structures made for each sun-sign and we clicked photographs against each of our individual sign. Audio guide is a must inside Jantar Mantar; the only thing that I could gather without one was that most of the structures were used to measure the x and y axis co-ordinates of heavenly bodies.
Once out of the Jantar Mantar, we made our way to the Hawa Mahal; a 15 min walk through the bustling bazaars of Jaipur. Hawa Mahal is quite a two dimentional structure where one needs to go up the ramp forever to finally come out on the narrow balcony on the top overlooking the Pink City. Although called a mahal(palace), people never lived in it. Keeping with the pardah system that was prevelant in olden times(although much hasnt changed for the ladies of the villages in Rajasthan), it was visited by the queens of the Jaipur; it gave them an unhindered view of the city and an opportunity to enjoy the evenings with cool breeze blowing through the crevices of the Hawal Mahal. It indeed lives up to its name; because if you stand with your face close to the walls with innumerable small windows and openings and carvings made in the walls, a fluttering light cool breeze brushes across. We came out to the front of the Hawa Mahal and clicked photographs from the opposite pavement.
Soon it was time for lunch; after which we headed to the Albert Hall Museum. I find museums extremely boring. There are two noteworthy things worth mentioning about this place. One, there are hundreds and thousands of pigeons that fly around the building. Secondly, there are lots of small human figures made from clay displayed which depict Indian men and women dressed in the traditional wear of the various Indian states, saints in various yoga positions and men of different village professions. These figurines reminded of the famous Krishnanagar Matir Putul.
Our next stop was the Birla Mandir or the Laxmi Narayan Temple. We reached there at fifteen minutes to four and found the gates closed. The guard on duty told us that they’ll open at 4. There were a couple of other temples nearby. So we walked over. We found a circle which had sweet shops all around it and the besan ke laddus looked extremely inviting. We bought a box full and had some while we waited in the shades. Finally a little after 4, we made our way again to the gates of the Birla Mandir. This time, we were allowed to pass. The whole structure is made from marble; and the milky white temple against the clear blue sky and the old MoonDoongri fort in the background makes for a pretty picture. Jaipur had been disappointing (atleast for me; and strangely I was expecting it to be so too). And the walking of the day had made us tired. So we took an auto to our hotel and spent the next 2-3 hours relaxing and drowsing.
I had earlier decided that we would go over to the Chowki Dhani for the evening dinner. But not everybody was up for it. So we had a quiet dinner at the hotel and went to sleep. The next morning, we woke up to heavy rains. The newspapers carried articles of heavy rains that had lashed Jodhpur and Jaisalmer the previous day. We had made it out of there in time! Today was the last day of the trip. My spirits were higher than they were the day before. Probably because it was time to go back to the forts again. We finished our breakfast by 9 but were forced to wait for sometime in the lobby because it had started raining again.
At last the rain stopped and we set off. There are 3 major forts near Jaipur. The one closest to the city is the Amer fort. Jaigarh and Nahargarh are located on top of the mountains. We hired an auto. The driver was a good one; who agreed to take us around the whole day for 600 bucks. The rains had brought in mist and fog; and the ride upto Nahargarh was quite a dangerous one. Visibility was next to zero and the driver drove only on instinct. On one side, the mountains rose above while on the other there were deep ravines. The road to Nahargarh is super bad. Finally after a cold bumpy ride of more than 40 minutes, we arrived at Nahargarh. It appeared to me more of a haunted haveli than an ancient fort. A distinct feature of this fort is that all the handmade paintings on the walls are made from vegetable dyes. We walked about 500 meters to reach the famous city view point. The boundary walls of the fort are constructed right on the edges of the mountains and beyond it, one can get an unhindered view of the pink city. The clouds made the view vague, but it accounted for some great photographs.
After Nahargarh, the next stop was a couple of kilometers downhill at Jaigarh. It was a fort built for the army. The kings resided in Amer fort while the soldiers in Jaigarh kept watch uphill. The major attraction here is the world’s largest cannon Jaivan and a huge underground water tank where Indira Gandhi’s men found tonnes and tonnes of gold hidden in a chamber underwater! There was a nice Government shop selling the famous Jaipuri rajai. We selected one but due to bad network connectivity, the payment couldn be made through credit card. Unfortunately we were not carrying enough cash and hence had to leave the rajai behind! A bad miss for sure.
Next we made our way to the Amer fort which is the biggest of the three forts. We hired a guide there. A majestic way to go up the fort is to take an elephant ride. I wish we had taken that. One can even ride up in a car. The other exciting way is to climb over 100 stone steps to get to the huge courtyard that opens out on the flat mountain top. The view from the top is enchanting! And the clouds, rain and fog gave the illusion of a hill station instead of a city surrounded by deserts! The once-upon-a-time saffron gardens in the middle of the artificial lake that surrounds the fort; an Indian version of the Great Wall of China, 12 km in diameter, encircling the fort; the beautiful Sheesh Mahal; the colourful and magnanimous Ganesh Pole (Gate) and the silhoutte of the Jaigarh fort seen in the distance; these are sights which will remain etched in my mind forever! And the rains made these all the more magical!
The guide informed us that the precautions the Amer Kings took of building the imposing Jaigarh fort to keep the army ready over the Amer fort and the city walls with gateposts at regular intervals to keep a watch over possible infiltration were never really put to test, since Amer was never attacked by any enemy.
By the time we got down, it was past 2 o’clock and we were hungry. On our way back to the city, we passed by the colourful Kanak Valley garden and the famous JalMahal: a palace and now a 5-star hotel built in the middle of the Man Sagar lake. We got down to click photos with the lake and the palace in the background.
Lunch at the Khandelwal House was ordinary. Our plan for the evening was shopping. Our autodriver understood our tastes and took us to the Maharani Market. We found some amazing Jaipuri print fabrics there. Saris, dress materials, quilts, bedsheets, jewellery, handicrafts; you name it and it was there! Finally as the day drew to a close, we found ourselves once again at the gates of RTDC Teej. We went up to our rooms and just fell on the beds. After a good 2-hour sleep, it was time for dinner. Our train to Delhi was after 11. We checked out at 9:30 and were at the station by 10. We spent the next couple of hours chatting on the platform of Jaipur Railway Station. The train was on time. Early next morning, we disembarked at the Old Delhi Railway station and took a taxi amidst heavy rains to Gurgaon.
And thus culminated our Rajasthan Saga! Be it that sunny day at the Mehrangarh fort and Jaswant Thada in Jodhpur, or be it the exciting camel safari through the sands of the Thar desert, or be it that aimless loiter in the havelies and bylanes of Jaisalmer town, or be it the sight of the golden city from the top of the Golden fortress, or be it the colourful Jaipur rains… Rajasthan has been terrific! Its set standards for holidaying that’ll be hard to match and given us memoirs that’ll last a lifetime!