About a week ago we took a two-day trip to Jaipur and it was magical. Being there felt like going back to the time of maharajas (kings) and maharanis (queens) and we loved every minute of it. We saw palaces, forts and temples; we rode an elephant, hung out with monkeys, one of us touched a cobra (while another screamed) and we saw a bunch of camels. It’s very hard to describe Jaipur for it’s crowded and dusty and polluted like any other large city in India but it’s also quaint and beautiful and has so much charm and character that I highly recommend it to anyone visiting India. We are already talking about going back because we liked it so much. We took 700+ pictures and sifting through them and picking out the best has been difficult. I needed to blog about it because I wanted to share our awesome experience but I know I can’t do it justice, for which I apologize. It’s just one of those places that you have to see for yourself.
Everything about the trip was terrific except getting there and back, which was a royal pain in the neck. Jaipur is the capital of the state of Rajasthan. It is about 250 km (160 miles) southwest of Delhi and it took us 7+ hours to get there and 5 1/2 to get back. Yes, you read that right. Of course, the spoiled Americans that we are, we couldn’t possibly imagine it taking us more than 3 hours to drive that distance but we had never been outside Delhi. Now that we have, we know better. Traffic was just horrendous. The fact that we spent almost two hours barely moving at all didn’t help either. And it’s not that the roads are really bad. They were actually better than I expected but they were totally inadequate to handle the crazy number of vehicles (mostly trucks) that were heading in our direction. It looked like this:
And yes, there were dudes riding on top of trucks – on the highway (not that we were going very fast at this point but still)!
As wells as trucks pimped out to the gills – inside and out:
And of course, camels:
So, anyway, after an excruciatingly long journey, we finally got to Jaipur at 2 p.m., checked in at the hotel, grabbed a quick lunch and met our guide. I should probably mention that this being our first trip outside Delhi, we decided against taking our car and hired a car and driver. Apparently, a guide was included in the deal. At first we thought we’d be fine without a guide because we had our trusty Lonely Planet book but I am so glad we had the guide because without him we wouldn’t have been able to see half the things we did. He knew his city and was friendly and efficient and very good at managing our time.
A few words about the city: Jaipur (city of victory) was built by Maharaja Jai Singh II, ruler of Amber (more about Amber in one of my next posts) and a true Renaissance man. In 1727 he decided to move his capital city from Amber fort to a new location, where present-day Jaipur is. He laid out the new city using rules prescribed in ancient Hindu texts. Jaipur is in fact the first planned city in India. It is also known as the Pink City because of the characteristic pinkish-orange color used to paint the buildings in the old city. The color dates back to 1876 when the Maharaja Ram Singh II painted the city pink, the color of hospitality, to welcome the prince Wales, who was visiting.
Our first stop was Hava Mahal (the Air Palace). Built in 1799, this five-story-tall but only one-room-deep building was specially designed for the ladies of the royal zenana (harem), so they could observe everyday life and special processions in Jaipur in privacy through its 953 lattice-screen windows. There is a tunnel connecting the City Palace, where the ladies lived, and Hava Mahal and the ladies used it to move between the two buildings undisturbed. The palace gets its name from the cool breeze that flows through all those windows. I loved the windows themselves, which were made of multicolored glass and gave the place a whimsical feel. I was unable to get a street view of the palace, which would show all five stories but there’s always next time.
Next, we went to Jantar Mantar (literally “instrument to make calculations,”) an astronomical observatory built between 1728 and 1734 by Maharaja Jai Singh II, the founder of Jaipur. He was fascinated by science, among other things, and built five similar observatories all over India. The one in Jaipur is the largest and best preserved. It has 18 different instruments measuring the movements of the sun, stars, and moon, calculating time and date, predicting the expected date of arrival, duration and intensity of the monsoons, and the signs of the zodiac.
Our last stop on day one was Chokri Sarhad (City Palace). It’s a large complex with a lot of beautifully-decorated buildings, some of which are museums. The family of the ex-raja also lives there in their own apartments (top right of the collage below). Our tour ended on a high note with Nia joining a snake charmer on the ground to pet his cobra, which almost gave me a heart attack because at one point the cobra lunged at Nia. I know that the snake charmers remove the fangs of the cobras before they go out in the world and do their thing but I still screamed bloody murder when I saw that snake going for my daughter. Wouldn’t you?
We saw a lot more cool stuff on our second day in Jaipur, so stay tuned to Part II.