Jaipur, India

Where: Jaipur, (capital of) Rahjasthan

When: October 2011

Why: I visited Jaipur on my Himalaya adventure and Indian back packing trip. On this trip I visited Delhi, Dharamsala, Bir and the Himalaya, Agra, Varanasi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Mumbai, Goa and Hampi.

I spent three days, two nights in Jaipur – in between Varanasi and Jodhpur.

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Map

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Intro

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan. It is known as the pink city, as the central enclave of the city, within the city walls, is mostly made up of pink buildings.

Jaipur is also the third point of the golden triangle, along with Delhi and Agra – and so is a must-see for many tourists travelling to the key sites in north India. There are some amazing sights to see in Jaipur, especially the Jantar Mantar (the observatory), the Maharajah’s Palace and Amber/Amer Fort.

What I mostly remember about Jaipur though is dust and traffic and noise. as Jaipur today is a big, busy, bustling city.

There were some beautiful sights in Jaipur and it is well worth a visit. If you can afford to stay in a nice hotel with lovely grounds and be transported around then you will find a wonderful, interesting city with a great mountainous backdrop, a cool lake and pretty places. If you are on a budget though, and have to get into the nitty gritty of this city – then it’s not so pretty.

However, Jaipur did seem to be developing and I think that one day it will be a beautiful, successful city. Business seemed to be booming and the city did feel really industrious.

I liked Jaipur and I do recommend it for a visit, but I think I would have had a better time if I hadn’t have been here on my own – and if I had stayed on the Amber Palace side of the city – as there is a beautiful lake here and so less dust and noise.

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Getting there

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I caught a train from Varanasi to Jaipur. It took 17.5 hours and cost me 1,200 rupees (about £18) for a second class, air-conditioned bunk. I pre-booked my tickets through Cleartrip.

I didn’t really enjoy this train journey for two reasons. One was the very strange group of English ladies that I ended up with and the other was the lack of toilets in Agra.

At Varanasi station, I had had a little chat with a very proper English lady, who was traveling around India with two friends. It turned out that we were in the same carriage. An older lady on an upper bunk by them asked if she could swap with me, so that she could have my lower bunk – so I said okay. But this then meant that I was with the English group and they had really strange politics and relationships that they kept trying to drag me into. It was like the other two women were the lackeys of this proper lady and they ran everything by her – and they almost expected me to do the same. It was very strange. They were also quite pettily nasty to each other and it was a real relief to me when they got off at Agra. You can meet some strange people when you are on the road.

The other reason that I didn’t like this journey was that when we left Agra, we traveled through some very poor areas where people were going to the bathroom in the fields – right by the train. And I got to see rather a lot more than I would have liked to. This is one of the reasons that I believe that everyone has the right to a proper toilet and I support Mr Toilet House in Suwon and his World Toilet Organization. People deserve better than this.

Other than this – the journey was just very dull. We traveled over the plains of India, through scrubby fields, through occasional towns – with very few hills to break up the journey. I did a lot of reading and a lot of daydreaming on this journey.

Jaipur also has an international airport. This has mostly domestic flights and a limited number of international flights. If I was to tour India again, I think I would fly more,as distances between the major cities are huge! The airport website says that bus 6A runs from a bus stop five minutes from the terminal to the centre of Jaipur.  www.jaipurairport.com.

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Getting around

In Jaipur, I initially tried to walk to my hotel, as the hassle from the rickshaw drivers at the station was horrendous (one followed me for ten minutes, even though I was shouting at him to f off and leave me alone). However, as soon as I was away from the craziness of the station I flagged down an auto-rickshaw and asked him to take me to my hotel. It was only a three minute drive, but I wasn’t sure where the hotel was so it was worth 100 rupees just to get there directly.

Mostly in Jaipur I got about on foot – although this may have been a mistake as the city was very hot, crowded and dusty. I did get a bike rickshaw once (poor guy) because I was a little bit lost – other than this I walked within the city.

Amber Fort is located about ten kilometers from Jaipur, so I caught a local bus here. It cost me 12 rupees (about 20p) and took about 30 minutes. The bus dropped me off right outside the palace entrance.

I caught the bus back to Jaipur after my visit to the palace. On this journey I was hassled by a group of stupid Indian teenagers – being stooped and boyish and teenagery – so a nice, elderly Indian lady let me sit behind her and they left me alone after that.

Bus routes in Jaipur are now embedded in Google Maps, so this is a good way to navigate the city. I just had a look and apparently the buses to Amber are now 3B and AC1. AC1 departs from Ajmeri Gate. Transport Rajasthan has information in English on the bus routes, frequency and fares. 

According to Wikitravel they are currently building a Metro system in Jaipur.

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What I did on my holiday

Explored the Pink City

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Ajmer Gate

Before I went to India, I imagined the pink city to be a romantic tangle of alleyways, around a majestic central castle or fort (a bit like Jodhpur). It’s not. Most of the pink city is actually busy, bustling, crazy, dirty, industrious shops and workshops – set along busy roads full of traffic, bikes, people etc. Many of the buildings look pre-fab. The walls are pink, but they also look flimsy – like walls made out of cardboard or something – almost like a movie set.

Walking through the pink city sounded romantic to me but in reality it wasn’t. I spent most of my time dodging people, businesses and cars (there didn’t seem to be any pavements) and avoiding hassle and letchy men.

Around the palace it is pretty. There are one or two streets with hidden temples and colonnaded pedestrian walkways – these would be lovely to stroll along except that most of the businesses have spread out into the walkway, so you are constantly dodging pots and pans or shoe displays or something. It was interesting, and funny at times – but not fun or romantic.

I entered the pink city at Ajmer Gate (which was pretty but had a lot of traffic going through it) and I walked down to the palace. It took me about 30 minutes.

Jantar Mantar (UNESCO)

The Jantar Mantar is possibly one of the coolest sights in India (after the Taj Mahal of course). The Jantar Mantar is the old royal observatory and it is huge! It is the coolest observatory in the world and definitely a world class attraction. 

The Jantar Mantar was built by Maharajah Jai Singh in 1727 to look at and study the stars. He built sixteen huge pieces of scientific equipment to observe the universe, and today you can visit these and learn about how he used them. One of the structures is the largest sun dial in the world.

It’s a unique place and really fascinating, though the scientific explanations at times did make my head hurt. I spent about an hour looking at the equipment and taking funky photos.

The site is quite exposed – there’s very little shade, apart from under the sundial. I visited at the hottest part of the day and that was a mistake, though there was a nice cafe by the exit. 

Entrance was 100 rupees (about £1.30).

www.jantarmantar.org

City Palace

The city palace is gorgeous palace complex in the heart of the pink city. The complex is made up of the Chandra Mahal and the Mubarak Mahal Palaces and is the home of the Maharajah of Jaipur.

The city palace is so pretty it almost looks like it’s made out of icing sugar. It has beautiful gates. They are very ornate and regal – with a a cannon outside.

Upon entry to the palace, the first part that I visited was the Sawai Man Singh II Museum, which was in the first courtyard. This museum was full of clothes, weapons, carpets, jewellery and miniatures. It was quite busy and I wasn’t really in a museum mood, so I rushed through it in about five minutes.

I then walked through the main palace gates, past the funky guards, to the second courtyard. In this courtyard there was the lovely audience room. This was built in the Mughal style, with concentric tulip like archways and was very pretty. They had treasures decorating the walls, gorgeous carpets lining the floor and musicians. It was a lovely place to sit and relax and this gave me a taste of what it would have been like in the days of the Maharajah.

After relaxing for a bit, I had a look in the last central courtyard which had some very pretty, peacock doors.

The palace was not huge, and I couldn’t visit the Maharajah’s private apartments as the royal family still live here, but it was a very pretty palace to visit and was very relaxed. It was well looked after. There was also a great, posh cafe in the palace, where I had a lovely lassi (it’s posh like the Ritz posh. I liked it!)

Just outside the palace, I saw a snake charmer. He was so cool! This was a lovely end to a very authentic, Indian tour.

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Entrance to the palace cost me 300 rupees (about £4).

www.msmsmuseum.com 

Palace of the Winds

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You’ll see pictures of the Palace of the Winds in every guidebook about Jaipur. In truth though, pretty as it is, it’s just a nice façade, in the middle of busy street. I walked past it and took a photo. That is all.

Amber/Amer Fort and Jaigarh Fort

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Amber Fort is a fort in Amber, about seven miles to the north of Jaipur. This amazing palace is like something from an Indiana Jones movie: it’s set in a dramatic, dusty, desert-like landscape; there’s a series of huge courtyards, where armies would amass; and ornate, opulent gardens and rooms, made for princes and courtiers to lounge around in luxury, whilst they plot each other’s downfall. It’s a magnificent setting.

Amber Palace was built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh and was home to the Rajput Maharajas.

Amber Fort has a sister fort further uphill: Jaigarh Fort. The two are connected by an underground tunnel that the royal family could use to escape. Jaigarh Fort is situated on the Hill of Eagles and it overlooks Amber Fort and Maota Lake. Surrounding the whole complex is a great wall, which rings the mountain valleys, clinging on to the steep cliff-sides. It looks like a mini Great Wall of China.

I travelled to Amber from Jaipur on a local bus. I caught bus 12 from a roundabout near to my hotel, but I could have also caught this bus by the museum or by Ajmer Gate, at the entrance to the pink city. The bus from Jaipur to Amber took about thirty minutes and en-route we passed the large, pretty reservoir to the north of Jaipur and through the dry, dusty, scrubby foothills to the north of the city. Just before we got to Amber Fort valley, we passed through a gateway in the defensive walls and then the bus stopped just outside the complex, on the edge of Maota Lake.

The lake and the gardens next to the entrance were very pretty, a great, ornamental entrance to the palace; though the lake was quite dry when I was there. There were lots of stalls, hawkers and sellers at the entrance, though they weren’t overly pushy – which was nice.

Amber Fort (the lower palace) is an impressive, majestic stone fortress. The palace is based around four main courtyards.

The lower courtyard was the public courtyard, which is entered through the impressive Sun Gate. This open space was so huge and open that I could picture massive markets taking place here, or elephants lining up, or huge armies amassing to be viewed by the maharajah. There is an important Shiva Temple in the courtyard, which used to be used by the royal family, and when I was there there were queues of worshipers waiting to visit the temple.

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Up above the main courtyard is the first of the private courtyards. This overlooks the main courtyard and the town below. You get great views here and I spent about ten minutes watching all the goings on of the people down below me (which is probably what the royals used to do). From this courtyard you can venture into the first of the private apartments and poke about in all the old rooms.

After this is the royal courtyard, where the maharajah had his private apartments. This courtyard is based around a wonderful, patterned, ornamental garden – with cool fountains and marble pathways. You can’t actually go into the garden area, although it is the heart of this courtyard area. Here you can see the royal bedroom (very open, jewel inlaid and nice). You can see the audience rooms, and you can climb high on the walls and look through the lace marble screens from which the royal ladies would have peered down at the world. This courtyard is the heart of the palace.

The final courtyard was very impressive, but had not been so well preserved. This is also a huge courtyard, and I think where the business of running the country took place. I spent a long time walking all around the outside of the central courtyard and I had fun getting lost in the maze of bare stone rooms and rough staircases. Occasionally I emerged onto balconies, balanced precariously out over the central area – from which I got amazing views of the courtyard below. In the central courtyard there were a series of ruined rooms and the central audience chamber, which was still quite intact. This was a great place to go to get out of the sun and to chill for a while.

After I had visited Amber Fort, I made my way out of the fort and took the path which winds uphill, along the side of the palace and uphill to Jaigarh Fort. Apparently, there are usually lots of elephants transporting people up this path, but the day I was there there was only little old me, and so I strolled up to the upper palace pretty much alone. Maybe everyone was being sensible and driving to the upper palace, as it was hot and the path was quite steep in places! But as I’d just climbed the Himalaya I thought I was pretty invincible and so I was determined to struggle on up there.

Incidentally, if you do go and you do want to have an elephant ride, I’ve heard the best thing to do is to make your own way up to Jaigarh Fort, but then to get an elephant back down. Apparently it costs 900 rupees (£12) for an elephant ride up to the top, but only 400 rupees (£6) to come back down. 

Jaigarh Fort is much more rough and ready than its lower sister. It’s less impressive and more fort like – though it too has its fair share of pretty courtyards, gardens and towers. As it is much higher than Amber Palace, it also has much better views – and from the watch towers you can look a long way over Jaipur, Amber and a lot of Rajasthan. You can see why they built the castle in this location. Jaigarh Fort is built out of red sandstone and is surrounded by high defensive walls. It’s very impressive.

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Although this fort looks much older than Amber Fort, it is actually 200 years younger and wasn’t built until the mid-18th century. This fort was the defensive fort – used to protect the jewelled royal palace, down int he valley.

This fort used to be one of the largest cannon forgeries in the world and so there are some museums in the fort, of arms and stuff (not human arms, but weapons and stuff). At the top of the palace they have the largest cannon in the world, called Jaivana. You have to pay to go up to the cannon (I didn’t bother – I just looked at it from about ten meters away).  Apparently it has only ever been fired once, with half the gunpowder it should have had, and even that shot went 35km!

There were also evil, thief monkeys at the Jaigarh Fort. I was very hot after walking to the top, so I treated myself to an ice cream – but it was stolen from me by some viscous monkeys. I was very upset, I can tell you. 

I could have spent a full day at Amber Palace and Jaigarh Fort. There is so much to see and do and explore here and these are two amazing buildings. Visiting here is like stepping into a regal past of maharajas; a world which no longer exists.

Entrance to Amber Palace was 200 rupees (about £2.50); entrance to Jaigarh Fort was 85 rupees (£1.15).

The ticket from the Maharajah’s city palace, allowed me free entrance to Jaigarh Fort within 24 hours. So I used my City Palace ticket and was able to visit here for free. 

Bus number 12 ran from Jaipur to Amber Palace. It took about 30 minutes to get to the palace and costs 20 rupees (30p).

You can get up-to-date opening times and visiting prices at www.amberfort.org and www.jaigarhfort.com.

Swam at the Alsisar Haveli

I love to swim. I will book a hotel and pay double just to have access to a pool. I had been craving a nice swimming pool since before my trip – and after climbing the Himalaya, I felt like I deserved a nice dip in a pool.

Sadly, my budget didn’t stretch to me booking somewhere with a pool, but many nice hotels will let you pay a little to use their pool and grounds – so I did this. Even though it cost me more to visit the pool than to pay for my own hotel.

I first tried to visit the pool at the Diggi Palace. This is a beautiful Indian Royal Palace that has been converted into a hotel. It is a gorgeous building with stunning grounds; something straight out of the Raj era. A green, lush oasis in the heart of the hot, dusty city. This is where they hold the Jaipur Literary Festival. The hotel were very friendly to me, but sadly their pool was closed for refurbishment.

Another place my guidebook said you could just use the pool was the Alsisar Haveli, and so I went here to swim. For 400 rupees (£6) I was allowed into the hotel to use the pool and the facilities. The sun loungers were nice, but for a four-star hotel the pool was quite dirty: there were birds nesting in the pool fountain and their feathers and muck got into the water. The pool was also really cold. However, it was still nice to have a swim and I met some really nice, interesting people there. I only stayed in this temporary luxury for an hour or two – but it was so worth it as for hours after I could feel the cool on my skin.

www.alsisarhaveli.com

What I didn’t do but really wanted to

I didn’t do a lot of partying in India, as it’s quite a dry country and the towns and cities don’t tend to have bars, but I really did fancy going for a drink or two in Jaipur – and according to my Rough Guide there were a few cool places that I could have gone to for a beer or two. One of them was a revolving bar at the top of the tall, circular sky scraper in town. I tried to go here, but sadly they were having a private party and I couldn’t find anywhere else in my book, so I just went home and went to bed early.

I also didn’t go to the cinema – even though this was highly recommended to me. The Raj Mandir Theater is apparently one of the best cinemas in India and a great place to catch a Bollywood Movie. Apparently you get people dancing in the aisles, singing, partying. It sounded great – but I kind of didn’t fancy it on my own, so I wimped out. 

The Raj Mandir Theater is located next to McDonald’s on one of the main cross roads into town. I did go into McDonald’s though – it was all chicken burgers and veggy burgers, which was interesting.

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To the north of Jaipur, on the way to Amber/Amer, sat in the middle of Maan-Sarovar Lake, is Jal Mahal – the water palace. This is a very beautiful, stunning, photogenic palace, sat in the middle of the lake. The palace actually has five stories, though only one peeks about the water. From what I understand, you can’t actually visit the palace but you can walk along the lakeside and admire it from afar. The lake is apparently  also a great place for bird watching. www.jalmahal.net and Wikipedia have more information.

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Where I stayed

Vinayak Guest House

The Vinayak Guesthouse is located on the station side of town, about 20 minutes walk from the center of the city.

It’s a nice, family run haveli. The family who ran the guesthouse were lovely and helpful and the guest house was a beautiful building. I did feel as if I was staying in someone’s home though. 

I stayed in a single room, which cost me £3.40 per night. It was very simple – with just an uncomfy bed and a chair, and it had an internal window which looked out on to the corridor. It was a bit cell like, but it was cheap.

The haveli had a cafe on the roof, and free wi-fi – and the food was nice.

The only bad thing about this guesthouse was that it was a little bit quiet, and I didn’t meet anyone else. I think by this point I would have preferred to be in a bit more of a party hostel, with more people to meet.

So the Vinayak was good, but not what I was looking for at this point. However, it was extremely cheap and a nice place to stay in a quiet area. I booked it through HostelWorld

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Useful links

www.wikitravel.org/en/Jaipur

www.lonelyplanet.com/india/rajasthan/jaipur

www.jaipur.org.uk 

www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/india/rajasthan/jaipur-around

www.india.com/travel/jaipur

jaipurtravel.com

 

Disclaimer

Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.

All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny, unless otherwise stated. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.

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