Where do we begin? Everyone we have crossed travels with in India has told us we would love Rajasthan; we are not disappointed! Exiting the Jaipur rail station we first saw the red turbaned porters, such a great contrast against their white garb. Navigating through the streets we continued to see many more men sporting turbans of all colours with such great moustaches (Bob fits in quite nicely here).
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan & gateway to India’s most flamboyant state. The city of Amber, about 11k from Jaipur, is home to the Amber Fort & was once the former capital. The Fort outgrew its population & resources so the then maharaja, with the aid of architects, planned a new grid-like city, now known as “The Pink City” (although it looked more terra-cotta to us). This city was well planned with streets & boulevards. We learned that “pur” means town/city & this city is named after Jai Singh II, hence the name Jaipur. Jai Singh liked astronomy even more than he liked war & town planning, so he built an observatory with giant bizarre sculptures to measure the heavens, tell time & do calculation of upcoming monsoons. These sculptures are quite scientific for the time period &. continue to amaze astronomers.
Visiting this formidable old Fort is a must. Built from pale yellow & pink sandstone with abundant marble throughout it truly is a palace within a Fort. Our visit started off with an elephant ride up the rocky mountainside & through the Sun gate to the main courtyard.
The Pink City nickname originated when the maharaja had the whole city painted pink, the colour of hospitality in India, to welcome the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). Even today all residents of the old city are required to preserve the pink facades.
The old city it surrounded by gates, with new city bulging out around it. We spent the majority of our time wandering the bazaars & alleys of the old city, making sure we saw the many marvellous old building & palaces. One of the more fascinating was the Hawa Mahal, one of Jaipur’s most distinct landmarks rising 5-stories above the bazaars below. It was constructed to allow the ladies of the Royal court to discretely view the street action below. So very interesting to see all the little shuttered viewing windows & carved lattice-worked screens, imagining the women scurrying to their viewpoint, giggling at the activity far below. This palace was so intriguing & really resonated for me for some strange reason! Other notable sights included the still functional City Palace (painted yellow for royalty) & the majestic Amber Fort.
Stop 2 on the tour, Udaipur, named after maharajah Udai Singh II, it is also known as “The City of Lakes” or “The White City”. Very romantic, with many natural & man-made lakes, fine palaces, a bit smaller so less hectic, wonderful winding streets, alleyways & remarkably clean. Culturally rich with numerous fine art galleries, shops & performing arts we loved roaming the narrow streets, viewing the street art & once again dodged the cows (dung), goats, motorbikes, cars, people, etc. This & Jaipur where a couple of the filming locales for the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” & for those James Bond buffs, the location of “Octopussy”, circa 1980, which plays at many restaurants every evening.
We arrived early in the morning, checked into our hotel, took one look & quickly checked-out making alternate arrangements – not sure who rated this hotel on booking.com (perhaps the staff working there), what a dump! We found a beautifully restored Homestay in the old town known as a “Haveli”, the first time we have encountered one, A Hindu word meaning “private royal residence”, they are tucked away behind the palace in a secluded area. Very old, ornately decorated houses are passed from one generation to the next & are home to multigenerational extended families. The current family has restored it into a beautiful 6-room boutique hotel with a lovely courtyard & rooftop lounges giving us a bird’s eye view of the city below with the City Palace a stones-throw away.
The shop keepers in Udaipur are delightful & invite you in to see their treasures “for only a minute”, yet keep you mesmerized as they pull out treasure after treasure tantalizing you to part with your rupees. We headed to Sunset Point one evening hoping to take a cable car to a temple high above the city with the “most very best view ever”. Arriving with plenty of time to spare, we encountered over 200 school children hoping to do the same. Plan B kicked in, we cashed in our ticket, found a park a few meters away & enjoyed the sunset with the locals, much better than our original plan & saved us several rupees, perhaps even our lives as the cable cars didn’t look very well maintained.
Almost everywhere we walked in Udaipur we saw amazing art work on buildings & homes. It looks as if it has become a trend to have horses, elephants, dancing men & women on walls inside & outside your house. Must say, I am in love with this art form! The wall art is completed by local artists & supported by the city corporation. The above are a small sample of some of the artwork we found.
There are so many “Kodak moments” to share in Rajasthan with the scenery outstanding, buildings so grand & beautiful, even those needing a lot of TLC. We have only scratched the surface; your tour of this region will continue in the next post, stay tuned.