New feature! Maps!
We arrived at the bus station in Jaipur mid-morning, to a level of noise and chaos very much reminiscent of Delhi. Luckily it wasn’t too hot (yet), and we managed to find our hostel with only a couple of wrong turns. We were also held up on the main road by having to constantly fend off offers of tuk tuk rides and other hawkers. There’s a well-publicised con of taxi/tuk tuk drivers offering a good price to take you to your accommodation, then telling you it is shut and taking you to another place where they will get commission. Luckily we’d chosen a hostel partly for the reviews saying it was walking distance from the bus station, so we could avoid all of that.
The other reason we chose this hostel was for the ROOFTOP POOL! To be fair, “pool” is probably a generous term for something so small, it’s really the hot weather equivalent of a hot tub. A cool tub, if you will. But it was amazing. After the horrific guest house in Leh and grimy hotel in Chandigarh, we decided to give up on budget hotels and just go for dorm beds in hostels, which tend to have a much more international clientele so are easier to navigate (and cleaner!).
After a nap we planned to go out and explore, but the heavens well and truly opened. For a couple of hours there was torrential rain and howling wind. So we did what any good backpackers would do and bought some beer to wait it out. As the storm made it’s slow progress across the Jaipur sky, it gave us all a proper fright when right overhead an enormous thunderclap scared every pigeon from every roof of the city!
Eventually the rain wore off and we headed out, catching our first ever electric tuk tuk into the city. Jaipur is known as the Pink City because the old walled city was painted pink to welcome Prince Albert Edward (later King Edward VII) in 1876. They also then built the Albert Hall Museum during his visit, which is beautifully lit up at night. The old buildings in the city have lots of lovely features, including ornate carvings and frescoes.
The next day we went full tourist and hit all the major attractions! We went for a coffee in a chain store that we’ve seen in airports and other tourist places, a sort of Indian starbucks. It’s eerily familiar in a lot of ways; big armchairs, wood veneer, wildly overpriced coffee. But then there was this truly bizarre poster of women with “coffee” printed on their arms. Super strange. We also had to dodge round a temporary roundabout of pigeons where people had chosen to give them food and water in the middle of the road!
Full of caffeine and with multi-site tickets for the major sights, we first headed to The Albert Hall Museum: the state museum for Rajasthan, housing various collections from across India and the world. Lots of lovely pottery and Maeve got particularly excited by some embroidered bats! There is also a small Egyptian collection in the air conditioned basement, featuring a mummy. We were most taken with the architecture though, spending most of our time looking at the building and the reproduction artwork which was painted directly on the walls.
In the truly sweltering heat we traversed the old city, to find the main palace. We got very lost in the little streets, which led to a wee touch of heatstroke for Jay, and when we eventually found the palace, it was not on our multipass tickets! Luckily though, the genuinely awesome observatory over the road was available to us. Even more luckily, it had a shady room to sit in and watch the ‘orientation’ video, so we spent a good half hour recovering from the solar noon adventures.
Outside we practiced our haggling and Maeve now owns actual hippy traveller trousers. Hmm. On our tourist map was a lake and we decided to wander up to have a look. Unsurprisingly, the map wasn’t to scale, and it took a very long time in the hot sun. When we reached it, the large square lake was surrounded by buildings, with only a few gaps between where you could see the water. It was algal green, and entirely full of rubbish and effluent.
We decided to take a tuktuk to the hill fort overlooking the city as our last trip. It’s a good few hundred metres above, and our driver gave us a good price. That is until he took us only a few streets to the bottom of a cobbled road that went steeply uphill between the houses, and said we had to walk from there. With no awareness of our surroundings other than that we were lost, and that we’d already been in the hot sun for too long, we refused to get out until he took us back to the main road.
We managed to get back to the hostel having acquired a watermelon to soothe our ire. We passed a very warm and much more relaxed evening, using the pool to cool the melon down, and managing a few skype calls before falling exhausted into bed.
On the 14th we decided to bite the bullet and get a taxi to Nahargarh Fort. The early morning streets were almost calm, the shops closed and showing no signs of activity at 8:30. The heat was rising and we were glad to be sheltered in a little box of aircon. We glided out of the main streets and along a wide boulevard hugging a turgid lake. Climbing through arid scrub upwards, the cab took a gentle course through a series of hairpin bends and switchbacks, and as we gained height it was evident that what from Jaipur was an expansive plain with a hill fort at one edge, was actually a sprawling flat city amid rolling, mountainous contours. The views once inside were incredible, and we got a sense of how much Jaipur has been developed over recent years.
The palace inside the fort is built around a central courtyard, with 9 self-enclosed living quarters which were for each of the King’s 9 wives: as we were told during an impromtu tour by one of the security guards (apparently that’s a thing here). There were no furnishings to demostrate how the interiors would have been decorated, although the architecture and frescoes were interesting enough. In lieu of decor, there was an exhibition of modern art throughout the palace, including, to Maeve’s amusement, a room-sized mozaic pelvis!
At midday we took a tuktuk to Amer to see the fort there. Outside a dry lake bed was adorned with signs about crocodiles. During this hot summer it had dried entirely, its base a mass of hexagonal mud blocks, cracked in the sun, and interspersed with the ever-present litter. There were no crocodiles, just a herd of goats. We spent a long time exploring the fort, its dark stairwells giving way to irredescent roof top terraces.
Once the heat beat us we took a bus to the water-palace, a structure built in the middle of a large lake on the edge of the city. Herds of buffalo were grazing on mud flats, alongside egrets and cormorants. A haze hung over the lakeside path, and the palace in the water shimmered. This lake looked like it could house predators. The only thing left to do on such a hot afternoon was to retreat to the pool!
On the 15th, our final day in Jaipur, we hung out and relaxed all morning before heading off for Hawa Mahal, or the ‘Palace of Winds’ (yes, we know).
Aside from the incredible architecture, we were very excited by a cafe inside that had a ‘Vegan Shake’ on the menu, especially as their ice was from filtered water. It was very expensive, but it was the first chance we’d had for a cold drink that wasn’t a bottle of coke or water. It turned out to be one of those lost in translation things.
This is cold coffee with ice cubes.
Yes, vegan shake.
But its cold coffee with ice cubes and it’s twice the price of the ‘iced coffee’ you sell. Why isn’t it just iced coffee?
Iced coffee has milk and sugar too, this is a vegan shake.
So iced coffee has more in it but costs less.
Because it isn’t a shake.
We had to agree to disagree here. At least we had coffee and a cold drink! After some lunch and a last wander around the bazaar, we collected our bags from the hostel and headed to the railway station for the next part of our adventure. We loved Jaipur, but there’s just too much else to see of this astounding country.