It’s a month since we visited Rajasthan, and I figured if I didn’t write this post now, I’d never get to writing it. Ever since 2022 began, procrastination seems to be draping me like a comfortable shrug. And this is me shaking it off.
We had been meaning to take our girls to Rajasthan since 2018 when we moved to India, but one thing and another we had not been able to go there. In retrospect, I think, ‘Thank God, we did not go earlier.’ There couldn’t have been a better time than now to go to the place. Why?
a) Because, after three years in the country, the girls were in a better position to appreciate the vibrant culture of Rajasthan than they would have been before.
b) Because this will be the year ( fingers crossed), that both my girls will be leaving for Uni; so it is our last holiday together before they fly away from the nest.
c) Because my husband and I had been to Rajasthan twenty-one years ago; before the kids came along. The timing now is perfect- before we begin the second chapter of our lives.
I could list ten more reasons to tell you why we decided on Rajasthan– the desert state on the west of India. Other than the fact that they only needed the vaccine certificate on entry and an RTPCR test showing negative if the person has not been vaccinated, which was the case for my younger one. Still, the most important reason is that Rajasthan is where nature and man have come together to create a vibrant landscape, different from any other in India. It still holds an old-world charm that you don’t find in any other city. I’ll tell you a secret- when a foreigner (who has never been to India) is in love with the idea of India, he or she is thinking of Rajasthan – bright colours, moustached, turbaned men, women in colourful saris or long, mirrored skirts, palaces, forts, folk art and royalty.
Now for the trip.
16.12.21 The journey to Jaipur
5.00 a.m.The airport’s crowded with morning travellers in track pants and flip-flops, the shiny kinds. Everyone who can afford it – old and young, fat and thin- it’s the new fad.
6.30 a.m. The flight is wheeling on the tarmac, ready for takeoff. The lights are switched off. Most people are sleeping, including my girls and hubby, who is on the other side of the aisle because it’s a three-seater aircraft. It’s dark outside. The sun hasn’t risen yet. The journey by flight to Jaipur is 1 hour 20 mins from Mumbai. That’s all it is- a short duration flight, and yet it’s taken us 3 and a half years to take this journey. Thankfully, it’s happening finally.
6.45 a.m. The sky on our side of the flight is a pale blue. On the other side, I see streaks of brilliant orange and blue. My husband’s head asleep, and I wish he would wake up and take a picture. As luck would have it, he wakes up not because of telepathy but because the air hostess tells him that they will be serving sandwiches. I try to make eye contact with him before he dozes off again and motion him to take a picture of the sky. He does.
7.35 a.m. We’re flying over an island of clouds. There are mountains and seas of soft, fluffy white peaks. I nudge my daughter who’s on the window seat to take a click.
7.55 a.m the flight lands. We are in Rajasthan!
8.45 We are out of the small, ordinary-looking airport- the only point of interest was the Christmas tree and the Santa with a ‘welcome’ signboard. I take a quick click and we head out of the airport. A cold breeze nips us as we step out and sends an involuntary shiver down my spine. Fortunately, we have our sweaters in our backpacks. It’s 14 degrees centigrade.
8.55 An old, white Innova arrives to take us to our hotel. The ride is comfortable despite the car being rickety because the roads are wide and pot-hole free. Rajasthan receives very little rain- which could be the reason for the roads being in a better state than the roads in Mumbai. Yet, on either side of the road, there are manicured hedges and trees. However, the leaves are yellow-green, a poor comparison to the luxurious green of Mumbai. There’s not much traffic on the road- most of it is two-wheelers ridden by men and women covered in sweaters, shawls, monkey caps, and helmets. Even the pillion rider wears a helmet, unlike the other cities we’ve visited. The driver asks my husband to put on the seatbelt. Those few seconds are enough to indicate that people here follow rules. The car zooms past a woman in a red sari sweeping the streets. Her sari covers her head and half of her face and it’s not because it’s cold- it’s customary for women to cover their heads and faces here and is still followed by those still shackled by tradition. We pass by gipsy-children playing on the roadside while their parents sit on the pavement selling flowers, balloons and earthen pots. After thirty minutes, we reach our hotel- The Trident.
The hotel is made of desert brown sandstone with domes that overlook the Mansagar Lake and the Jal Mahal ( the Lake palace), which has two floors underwater and one floor above water. From the hotel, one can see the Aravalli mountain range in the background. The Trident is a good place to stay because it is conveniently located to the tourist attractions – Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort, Bapu Bazaar, Jauhari Bazaar and many others. If we had not gone to Chowki Dhani on day 3, which is at the other end of the city, I would have thought the whole of Jaipur was a city stuck in the past. This side of the city takes you back to a bygone era with elephants, camels and royalty. Staying in the newer parts of the city would require one to travel two hours one way to get to the old part of the city because of the traffic.
Since the rooms were to be allotted to us only by the afternoon, we requested the hotel to allow us to take breakfast until the rooms were ready. The hotel staff was kind enough to agree and soon after breakfast which was a delicious spread of continental and Indian food, we were allotted one of the two rooms we had booked allowing us to freshen up after our journey before we explored the city.
Our first stop was the City Palace, built around 1727 when the royal family moved from Amber to Jaipur and made it the capital. The royal family has let out a portion of the palace for public viewing and resides in the other portion.
The entry ticket to the palace grounds is minimal and is worth every penny. The entrance opens to a courtyard with an open assembly hall in the centre made of the same red terracotta stone that the entire old city is built from and from which the city got its name ‘Pink city.
The ceiling of the hall where the King held an audience with its white painting of flowers and crystal chandeliers is grand in every way. Two silver urns used to carry 4000 litres of water from the river Ganges by the King when he travelled to England in 1902 for King Edward VII’s coronation is kept for display. The urn was made by smelting 14000 silver coins.
From the courtyard, there is a gate that leads one to yet another courtyard which has 4 doors leading up to Chandra Mahal or Palace. Each smaller gate or door represents a season and is dedicated to a specific deity – for example, the ornately carved Peacock gate represents the monsoon season in India
The next place of the visit from the City Palace was the Jantar Mantar which is a five-minute walk away. Walking in Jaipur is delightful because the roads are clean and there’s a lot that you can see only when you walk. So, walk as much as you can if you want to explore the city.
Jantar Mantar is basically a collection of 19 astronomical instruments used to observe the astronomical positions with the naked eye. It was built in 1734 and is a Unesco Heritage Site. For those who understand how it works, it must be amazing. We were impressed by the fact that it has the biggest sundial in the world and we got to see it but as we did not understand the intricacies of how it works, we took a few pictures and left.
We asked our driver to drop us off at Bapu Bazaar for lunch which was a ten-minute ride away and where the very famous Hawa Mahal is. Bapu Bazaar is a bustling marketplace with shops running along the length of the street selling everything from skirts, tops, saris, shawls, bangles, embroidered shoes (mojris) to bedsheets, quilts and snacks. As much as you like shopping, If you’re like me, the sheer variety and options available can drive you nuts. The bazaar is great to shop in if you not only love shopping but are ready to move in and out of shops and bargain until you get the best price. As you walk into the building housing the stores (each store has a number), sellers will call out to you to visit their store. It can get very noisy and can be a bit too much if you’re not used to crowded markets.
As pictures of the bazaar will not do the trick of giving you the feel of being there, here’s a video that I took from the cycle rickshaw we went in, and you’ll know what I mean by a ‘bustling marketplace’.
We had lunch at shop number 22- a restaurant called ‘Kebabs and Curries‘ on one of the lanes turning away from the marketplace. We liked the food so much that we went back the next day. Not only was it safe to eat and hygienic, but it was also delicious too. We had roasted honey potatoes, chicken kebabs, lamb chops, rotis and chicken gravy the first day. I have just one picture taken at the restaurant of the honey potatoes, but I can tell you it’s cosy and prettily done up.
After lunch, since the hotel was barely twenty minutes away, we went back to rest our tired feet before the evening- remember we had started our day at 4.00 a.m.!
The second half of the day we visited the Albert Hall Museum which is the oldest museum in the State and serves as the state museum.
We did not click any pictures inside the museum because it had what all museums have- coins, pottery, art and artefact.
We ended our first day at Jaipur with a visit to Bapu Bazaar again to see Hawa Mahal as we were told it’s beautiful at night when the lights go on. It proved to be true. At night, the palace stands out against the night sky – each room lit up makes it look like a honeycomb. During the daytime, I felt it looked like a cardboard cutout. I had felt that the first time I’d seen it two decades ago, as well. I hadn’t seen the inside of Hawa Mahal then. However, this time we went back the next morning to check what the inside of the palace looked like.
You can see the stores on either side of the Hawa Mahal.
There is a building exactly opposite the Hawa Mahal which houses a cafe on the rooftop. A narrow winding staircase leads up to the cafe. The temperature was around 10 degrees at night. If you notice I can barely keep my eyes open because of the cold wind. The cafe is not a place you can sit back and relax. They have a few chairs and a lot of people waiting to take pictures. So, you need to order, take your photograph and leave. When we were there, there were around two newly married couples getting their photo shoot done. That’s how busy it is. In fact, that was one thing we noticed in Jaipur- a lot of couples do their photoshoot at touristy sites. It’s something I have not seen in other parts of India. Here, there are no photographers standing around offering to take your photograph. The only ones available are those who come pre-booked.
I hope you enjoyed travelling through Jaipur on our first day there. If you did, don’t forget to stay with me for day 2.
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