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Jaipur – sights and sounds

February 8, 2014

Hawa MahalFrom the moment I mentioned that I was going to Rajasthan, KP kept singing “Jaipur” – to the tune of the Slumdog Millionaire dance tune, with increasing intensity and volume as the day of my departure drew near. Many of us form our opinions of the Indian sub continent from a variety of media. For me it was through the pages of many books from White Tiger, to Midnight’s Children, A Suitable Boy, The God of Small Things, Heat and Dust, Eat, Pray, Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Life of Pi, Narcopolis to Shantaram and more, plus films such as Monsoon Wedding and the aforementioned Slumdog. Through food I now count many lovely people who hail from different parts of India as friends; over 40% of residents in the UAE are Indian nationals and via Fooderati Arabia I’ve got to know a lot more about the people, cuisines and country. So with all these preconceptions in mind I headed off with two friends for a long weekend in Jaipur; now I can hardly believe that we were there for only three days and the tumultuous impressions won’t all fit into one post. So this is part one about what there is to see in Jaipur, with more to follow about shopping, where to stay, how to get there and what to eat. This is not a guide book with all the facts and figures – these are my random experiences and impressions of the sites we visited (and loads of pictures).

Jaipur is known as the pink city as in around 1876, Maharaja Ram Singh II decided to give everything a fresh coat of paint in honour of the visit of The Prince of Wales and he chose pink. It is now a regulation colour for all houses and shops although the hue changes because of light, surface, age and circumstance from rusty terracotta to delicate rose. The original capital of was in nearby Amber but the new city, including many temples and palaces was planned by Sawai Jai Singh II who laid it out on a grid system, referring to the Hindu treatise on architecture (Vastu Sastra) with wide roads, a city wall and seven gates in collaboration with two architects Vidyadar Bhattacharya and Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob. Throughout the centuries the royal families activity encouraged artists and craftsmen to move to Jaipur and it is still famed for artisan craft skills such as block printing of textiles, hand-dyeing, weaving, blue pottery and paper making.

City Palace - Jaipur

City palace

Our first port of call and feeling vulnerable as we leave our tuk tuk and approach the arch to the palace.  A snake charmer appears and we pounce with cameras, but the lid is swiftly thrown on and the cobra disappears until notes are proffered. We refuse a guide but the signs are not very helpful (Jaipur 10 city walks has very clear info to all the rooms). We meander around taking in elegant pillars, the imposing palace fascia, some museum rooms of costumes and armaments, and the marble-floored Diwan-I-Khas, a private audience hall with enormous silver vessels that Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II filled with water from the Ganges to take with him on a two week trip to England.  The Pitam Niwas Chowk which portrays the four seasons and Hindu gods is truly stunning especially the peacock arch with delicate designs and vibrant colours. Closed doors indicate the continued residence of the current Maharajah; we are still in the presence of royalty.

City Palace - Jaipur

city palacecity palace detail

Jantar Mantar

These extraordinary and ingenious  structures, listed by UNESCO,  for reading the weather, astrology, astronomy nevertheless look like an extreme skateboard park from an inner city estate. Korean tourists with made to measure face masks wander in groups. A couple of disenfranchised young men, possibly lovers, use the surroundings as a tableau backdrop to pose and display their fashionable clothing; silk voluminous drop crotch pants for one, gold trainers for the other, sharp haircuts and cheekbones in common. The instruments are still used to used to predict the intensity of monsoons; pretty amazing as they were built in the early 18th century.  It’s quite peaceful, despite the tourist hordes and feels like a garden of modern sculpture.

Janta Manta

Janta Manta


Hawa Mahal – the palace of the winds

The view from the road is disappointing as pictures give the impression of serenity and isolation; it is nothing of the sort. Rickshaws lurch, camels groan, hawkers pester, aromas rise up from the drains, pores, nooks and crannies and the ornate facade that I took to be pink stone from the pictures, in reality, is painted pink. However, we seek the back entrance and the real delights unfold. The view of the street below is much more alluring when viewed through the eyes of the women in purdah from behind a screen.  The lacy lattice frames, the cacophony dims, the rapidly lowering late afternoon sun bathes everything in its kinder glow. Baboons frolic on distant rooves below; we are on top of the world.  Beginning our shaky descent we hear a sudden communal gasp. The fountains have been switched on.

Hawa Mahal

Jantar Mantar visible in the background

View from Hawa Mahal

Jal Mahal – water palace

In need of revitalising after our packed first day and thinking of roof top bars looking over the city on our Istanbul trip we ask Kadir (our guide) to take us to something similar. Arriving at a clean, modern coffee bar on the top of a petrol station we realise he isn’t quite on our wavelength but glancing to the other side of the road see that it looks out onto Jal Mahal. The evening light is perfect and we’re glad of the happy accident that has brought us here now rather than the next morning as planned. Families gather near the edge of the lake and there is a constant swell and thrashing of fish which come to the surface to be fed. Sari-clad ladies are occupied in the futile action of rolling a paste into small sausages to sell as fish food; patently these beasts will eat anything.

Jal Mahal

Jal Mahal

Amber fort (also called Amer fort)

Our tuk tuk engine starts to wail as it tackles the gradient of the winding approach road to Amber.  “No overtaking” we command as Kadir indicates with his body language that he is considering passing a truck on a blind bend. Suddenly the fort appears reflected in the Maota lake below in the misty morning light and there is a snake charmers 100 metre sprint to get to us as we stop with our cameras. Walking up the cobbled approach lane, painted elephants with tourists in swaying howdahs on their backs rise up above us. Warned to keep off the elephant road by a passing guard “elephants are very hard to control and it is dangerous”, the two routes eventually merge and we are forced very close to their pounding feet.

Amber fort The fort is vast and signage not great but we resolutely eschew having a guide so just ramble about happening upon labyrinthine corridors, purdah screens, latrines (there were more than 100 throughout the fort all leading directly out into the fresh air), the famous mirror room – the Sheesh Mahal – and the king’s bedroom which has private entrances leading directly to it from the ladies’ apartments.  The scale of the place is pretty mind-blowing and we try to imagine life there in late Medieval times; secure behind walls, freezing cold in Winter, a vast army of people required to maintain the life of the court. Not being part of a group means that we find ourselves alone a few times, a nice respite from the competitive clickers. ‘The garden in the lake is closed’ says a guard placed there for the sole purpose of communicating this information – it only opens at night during the light show and there are serried rows of benches set for this purpose. We climb higher along the wall which snakes through the surrounding hills. The concrete cladding, streaked black by polution-laden precipitation lends a weird sense of Cold War era Eastern block to the hills even though the Medieval forts lower above us on higher hills. We are shadowed by a man who is following us at distance to beg; we are relieved when he gives up after twenty minutes. Our entry fee to this astonishing place as foreigners is 200 rupees each – about 2 GBP (12 AED). The charge is 25 rupees for Indians.

Amber fort

Amber fort

Amber fort

Amber fort

Amber fort

Mirror room

Amber fort

Galtha, Galta, Galtaji, Galwar Bagh or monkey temple

This has many names depending on which guide book or guide you follow. We approached from through the Galta gate. Pigs wander about the dirt rubbish-lined track, monkeys swim in a water trough. A boy selling food to give to the monkeys thrusts peanuts in our faces. Through the grinding poverty Ravi approaches dressed in an bright white cricket jumper and chinos. “Galta is my birth place” he says proudly. Nervously, we scan the monkeys and dogs that line the route for signs of rabies and climb up the winding path giving us a view over Jaipur shimmering in the haze of pollution of a million two-stroke motors. Not sure we are in the right place, I keep asking about the tanks of water from seven springs which I’ve seen in the guide book but which is not apparent in this decrepitude. Cresting the brow of the hill, which has a cluster of shabby looking shrines and equally shabby Holy men, we descend into a valley. The red-haired monkeys are everywhere and doing everything, we quickly avert our eyes from one enthusiastic couple. Ravi gives us a pep talk before we reach the temples warning us that the first one is small, we will feel uncomfortable and they will demand money. We see what he means when we are level with the entrance and refuse the invitation of the persistent Holy Man. Walking round a rank pond of water (‘for the monkeys to swim in) we look down on the first pool over a high wall topped with jagged, coiled razor wire. Apparently a prevention against further suicides. It is all fairly grim but there is enthusiastic washing going on at the bottom of the stairs.

GalthaThe lower pool is closed for washing as the water is not clean – although it has exactly the same amount of floating debris and scum as the upper pool. The once grand temples are crumbling and dotted with modern Holy paraphernalia. A piece of string is tied round our wrists – for long life – and a blob of yellow dabbed on our heads by a young, earnest ‘Holy Man’; we give money. A less reticent member of the religious community harangues our guide as we exit and I sense that this is because we avoided the Hanuman shrine, which Ravi confirms as true. We retrace our steps up the hill, taking a ‘short cut’ which thankfully avoids aforementioned pushy mystics. Ravi chats about cricket and how the monkeys often raid his house and steal things like shoes (and his brand new trainers). “They are having sex” he points out helpfully; we quickly avert our eyes.  The path is steep and hot but we are rewarded by the view of Jaipur again as we reach the top. Proudly, Ravi points out the school where he is a student; small children are helping their mother wind thread on a rickety wooden contraption in a garden; families beg from tents along the track.  The approach from the Surajpol Gate has given us a pleasant walk and a very different view from just arriving at the main entrance to the shrine. The tranquil peace of the hotel grounds has never seemed so welcoming.

Monkeys in Galtha

Hindu Temple

We’ve had an uncomfortable moment when out in the bazaar and fled to find Kadir. It’s too early to eat but we have no more appetite for shopping. He speeds through the streets to a Hindu temple – we are all too tired to notice where it is. Removing our shoes we are too nervous to leave them at the street gate in case they disappear. Intending to carry them round, disapproval makes us leave them at the door but the rest of the greeting is in kind gestures and very welcoming. It is bright, light and every surface is dazzlingly reflective. People visit the altar or shrine in the middle then do a circuit in a corridor around it, touching pictures on the wall as they go. It is tranquil to the ears and soul, if not the eyes. Our bad experience is forgotten.

This is merely one dimension of our three days in Jaipur. I felt that I could hardly blink or I would miss something. More about the sights from street level, the shopping, where we stayed, how to get about and, of course, what to eat, to follow soon.

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  1. February 8, 2014 11:11 pm

    What a great trip. Look forward to hearing more!

    • February 9, 2014 7:53 am

      Thanks – need a few more hours to get down all my thoughts and sort through hundreds of pictures.

  2. February 8, 2014 11:42 pm

    What a rich and fascinating account about a city I knew very little about. Thank you! And enjoy your stay.

    • February 9, 2014 8:19 am

      Back in Dubai now but filtering all my thoughts and memories – so many packed into 3 days.

  3. February 8, 2014 11:51 pm

    Beautiful architecture! Enjoy your visit 🙂

  4. February 9, 2014 12:48 am

    I enjoyed reliving memories through your post Sally, Jaipur has such spirit. I’ve been twice now, 18years apart and it felt the same. The regal feel, art, music, architecture, smoky green backgrounds..and goodness the Rajasthani and mughlai food. Xx

    • February 9, 2014 8:20 am

      Spirit is a good word for it – it’s a collective creative culture that is unique to that city I think.

  5. February 9, 2014 1:05 am

    Beautiful pictures Sally… I have been to Jaipur almost two decades back and it felt good to see that it is still spectacular. I can’t wait to see the following posts. BTW, it’s good to write a different kind of a post sometimes – it’s rejuvenating, isn’t it? India can be quite overwhelming!

    • February 9, 2014 8:21 am

      Now, you’ve got to be honest and tell me whether you liked the slightly different style…. 🙂

      • February 9, 2014 11:46 pm

        I am being honest. That’s what I meant by saying that it’s ‘rejuvenating’. It’s sometimes breathes in a bit of fresh air into the blog, the blogger and the readers too.

      • February 9, 2014 11:47 pm

        Also gave me a lot of pins for my pin board!

  6. February 9, 2014 1:12 am

    What an amazing post, Sally! Such stunning photos – I love the shades of pink throughout the city, and I was struck by the thought that even though so much of India is coloured, and often brightly coloured, it never appears gaudy. Can’t wait to see what food you ate! 🙂

    • February 9, 2014 8:22 am

      You are so right Celia…wait till you see the pics of the wedding bazaar! Have you been to India?

  7. February 9, 2014 2:03 am

    What a great & fun trip you did! Great & beautiful pictures too, Sally! A very enjoyable post! x

  8. February 9, 2014 2:25 am

    Wow, fantastic! Thank you for making me travel through your photography and post. Great shots and places.



    • February 9, 2014 8:22 am

      Thanks Rosa – would love to know what you’d make of such rich subject matter.

  9. February 9, 2014 8:10 am

    Simply gorgeous travel photos, Sally. You saw so much & you captured it so beautifully. I also enjoyed hearing your impressions of the city. I will review some of those books & films! Looking forward to hearing more.

    • February 9, 2014 8:23 am

      There was so much left that we didn’t see…maybe a return visit….for the lit fest…

    • February 9, 2014 10:58 am

      I looked through my book shelf and was amazed to see how many Indian authors and books set in India there were. Will be waiting for your next post too.

  10. February 9, 2014 8:30 am

    Jaipur has been on my list for so long. Hope I can make it there soon.

    Stunning photos .. an absolute treat to the eyes. 🙂

    • February 9, 2014 10:57 am

      It’s just a short hop from Dubai. Will share details in another post but we went direct with Air Arabia – very cheap.

  11. February 9, 2014 10:09 am

    Absolutely beautiful, thank you so much for sharing all that beauty 🙂

    • February 9, 2014 10:56 am

      Sometimes it’s easier to see the beauty through pictures without the distractions of the hub bub around you. However, I was not prepared for the scale of magnificence.

  12. February 9, 2014 12:00 pm

    Gorgeous snaps Sally! 🙂 I visited the north side of India start of the year and it was an interesting experience. Beautiful historic sights and definitely worth the trip. My next itinerary will include Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur and a few others as well. If you plan on visiting India again, you must visit Manali in during the winter months, absolutely stunning. A mini Switzerland in India as I’d like to say. I will be sharing a write-up and images on the blog soon.

    • February 9, 2014 1:15 pm

      Great tips – Googled Manali immediately and it looks like it would appeal to the hiking tourist in me 🙂

  13. February 9, 2014 12:02 pm

    Superb Sally! I’m coming with you next time!

    • February 9, 2014 1:16 pm

      We were exhausted! It’s broken my reserve about India and I’m now plotting my return.

  14. February 9, 2014 12:27 pm

    Such a rich account of your visit to Jaipur – the pink city. I was able to reminiscence about my trip some years ago to this beautiful city. I always wonder how ‘foreigners’ sight snake charmers on their visit to any place in the North of India. Funnily, I have travelled far and wide in the north and I am yet to spot a snake charmer 🙂

    • February 9, 2014 1:19 pm

      We got terribly excited about the first one and you can see how he’s posing in the picture. After that they popped up all over the place and we felt we were being stalked by snake charmers. One woman was insistent I wear a snake when we visited Galta – I was equally insistent not to!

      • February 9, 2014 1:20 pm

        I have to see one. I will make sure I do when I go travelling in the north 🙂 Thank goodness you didn’t wear the snake. Such a scary proposition

  15. February 9, 2014 3:14 pm

    Lush, absolutely lush. Gorgeous photos and engaging narrative. Thank you!

    • February 9, 2014 3:20 pm

      Thanks Monique – what a nice comment.

  16. February 9, 2014 3:29 pm

    Lovely post Sally and your photos are amazing (that pic of the guard snoozing in the afternoon sun in Amber fort is just brilliant!) Can’t wait to read what you did next in Rajasthan! 🙂

    • February 9, 2014 3:33 pm

      The funny thing is, he kept jumping up in case he was caught. Like my dogs, flat out to fully charged in seconds.

  17. mita56 permalink
    February 9, 2014 6:38 pm

    So very very jealous – Rajasthan has been on my bucket list since forever….

    • February 9, 2014 7:12 pm

      Go Mita – very cheap direct flight from Sharjah. We did this all in a long weekend. Tick it off that bucket list 🙂

  18. February 9, 2014 7:12 pm

    Rajasthan has also been on my bucket list for seven years now, and to think that I go to India every year and still not make it. I absolutely loved this post – the history, your experience, and the gorgeous photographs! Looking forward to your next post.

    • February 10, 2014 8:00 am

      Thanks Nadia. Which parts of India do you visit? Where should I go next…?

      • February 16, 2014 8:17 pm

        My in-laws are from Hyderabad, so that’s where I eventually end up each year, haha. Food is very, very good. There isn’t much to see, though.

        Kerala is a beautiful place which I would recommend. You can book yourself a room in a resort (middle of a jungle, with a lake and waterfall) that provides good Ayurvedic massages. The food is sourced locally and is very fresh. There are several such resorts in Kerala that will make sure you return home relaxed and rejuvenated.

      • February 17, 2014 2:38 am

        Sounds like a plan…

  19. February 9, 2014 7:22 pm

    A beautifully written visit to Jaipur. It bought back a lot of memories for me. India gets under your skin…you’ll want to keep going back! Thanks you for the blog link!

    • February 10, 2014 8:01 am

      I really enjoyed your account and glad to have found your blog….look forward to reading about your next journey.

  20. February 9, 2014 8:38 pm

    Fantastic Sally! Brilliant images…And wow you seemed to have packed in quite a bit into 3 days…On another note quite a welcoming new style of writing/theme in your blog…very nice indeed

    • February 10, 2014 8:02 am

      Thanks Shy. Writing about travel is a different challenge. I wanted to get away from the ‘and then we went there’ style. Good to get your feedback.

  21. February 9, 2014 10:02 pm

    Beautifully captured. Though I have my roots in Jaipur it’s been long I visited my city. Your post refreshed my memories of the days spent there.

    • February 10, 2014 8:05 am

      It feels like there hasn’t been much change there for a long time – which is part of its charm.

  22. andreamynard permalink
    February 9, 2014 11:57 pm

    Fascinating post Sally, sounds like total assault on the senses. Stunning photos. The only place I’ve visited in India is Kerala (very rural, typical of me!) and I loved it, the colours, the life around the backwaters and the fabulous food. Look forward to hearing more about your trip.

    • February 10, 2014 8:05 am

      My travelling companion has been to Kerala and told us tempting tales of being on a house boat…

  23. glamorous glutton permalink
    February 10, 2014 12:04 am

    I did a trip to Jaipur a few years ago to visit a rug factory for work. Factory is a relative term! I’d arrived unknowingly on a national holiday and the factory owner arranged a visit to the amazing palaces. I could hardly believe how beautiful they were. The fabulous paintings and mosaics that I’d only seen in books were suddenly real. The shabbiness and smell seemed to recede into the background, I was so enthralled. Thanks for the reminder, I’m off to dig out my photos. GG

    • February 10, 2014 8:06 am

      Pre-blog? You should write about it. I’d love to see your pics.

      • February 11, 2014 2:49 pm

        Yes it was pre blog, so not many foodie pics but such a fabulous trip. I also visited a school that belonged to one of the factories which was amazing. I really DO have to search out those pictures! GG

  24. February 10, 2014 1:08 am

    I’ve loved India from the moment I went there and have been saving your post for my moment of relaxation tonight. I feel I am sitting with you and you are telling the story with all the animation your narrative depicts. Beautiful pictures of a beautiful Jaipur I hope to visit some day. Love and have read all the books you cited. Marvelous post Sally ;D

    • February 10, 2014 8:07 am

      So glad we have those books in common Karin. Must swap reading lists sometime.

  25. February 10, 2014 2:27 am

    I agree with Karin. These images bring back so many memories of my trip. I’ve been there twice now and Amber Fort was simply magical with my Amber. She was mesmerised. Wonderful to see the city through the children’s eyes. Discovered new things

    • February 10, 2014 8:09 am

      They are special moments aren’t they – we often refer to our shared trips with the girls. The adventures when travelling are the things they remember. They only see the wonder of it all.

  26. February 10, 2014 10:27 am

    what an amazing array of photos – and what an experience!

  27. February 10, 2014 12:13 pm

    What a stunning looking place and somewhere I’d love to visit.

    • February 10, 2014 3:35 pm

      The advantage of living here is that it’s just a short hop away.

  28. February 10, 2014 1:46 pm

    What a wonderful trip you have had. I loved Jaipur when I visited. Such amazing architecture, colours. Rajasthan is a sensory overload, but in a good way!

  29. February 10, 2014 8:31 pm

    Ah you missed my favourite Forster’s A Passage to India although I have many recommendations there to catch up on. The architecture is astonishing, I can’t imagine how many pictures you took. The nearest I’ve been to India is a trip around Neasden temple during Diwalhi, some of the indoor pictures reminded me of that.

  30. February 11, 2014 11:16 am

    Amazing photos! you just made me dream of India now….

    By the way, I sent you an email about another collab. I hope you’ll join again. 🙂

    • February 11, 2014 11:45 am

      Thanks – email replied to 🙂

  31. February 12, 2014 9:52 am

    Gorgeous pictures! I have never been to Rajasthan – ironically one India’s most visited states and every year I swear to make the short trip and never get round to doing it. Your pictures and post have made me want to visit all the more!

    • February 12, 2014 10:49 am

      A short hop on Air Arabia – and this is just one city!

  32. February 12, 2014 12:03 pm

    Awesome photos Sally my favourite being Jal Mahul what an extraordinary trip. One day…… xxxx

    • February 12, 2014 1:46 pm

      Bit further away from you now… 😦

  33. Linda permalink
    February 13, 2014 8:50 am

    Love the pics and it is now on my bucket list. How did you get onto your guide? Do you have contact details for him?

    • February 13, 2014 4:14 pm

      Kadir Bari – although he had a few names. More about him in the next post but he waits near to the Samode Hevali – visit his website.

  34. February 13, 2014 11:28 pm

    I have always wanted to visit India. Before the birth of Her Majesty, Stefano and I used to visit wondeful places all around the world. With a little girl, your destinations simply change. Your post and your photos made me want to visit even more. One day …

  35. February 17, 2014 9:26 pm

    Lovely photos about a great city – The pInk city of India 🙂

  36. March 12, 2014 5:14 pm

    When I first read this I showed it to Thomas, who has printed it out. He has always wanted to visit India and has only heard versions of it from my family and myself. I have never been to Rajasthan and want to follow in your footsteps. Thanks for taking the time putting these posts together.

    • March 13, 2014 8:56 am

      I’m so glad – these posts were subconsciously written to reassure people who had been thinking like me i.e. a bit scared of going!! In fact, now I would love to return.


  1. Jaipur – shopping | My Custard Pie
  2. Walking in Jaipur | Walking on sunshine
  3. Jaipur – eating, staying and getting about | My Custard Pie
  4. An Evening of Traditional Marwari Food | Daal Baati Churma |
  5. A Trip to Rajasthan And To The Farms | Where Is My Spice Coming From? |

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