Saturday, 1 September 2012

Rajasthan, India


Coming into Jaipur from Amritsar was another long journey but at least by now the trains were available and came as a welcome relief from buses and jeeps. At least a train can't get a flat.

Jaipur is described as the 'Pink City', for the colour of its city palace among other things. I can only say I am still wondering where all this fabled pink actually is.

For a large city it's pretty easy to navigate and from the budget accommodation the Old City where the sights are is a short enough walk away that a rickshaw isn't necessary, you can just amble along soaking up the noise and chaos of the close set roads.

Within the Old City lies the City Palace, one of the more popular destination in Jaipur. However, having read so much about it and being excited about seeing it, I can honestly say it was the biggest disappointment of the trip so far, in so much as it took the shine off the rest of Jaipur as the sights didn't justify their guidebook descriptions, only Hawa Mahal in the Old City was remotely worth visiting.

The City Palace didn't even have a building you would consider a palace per se, just a colllection of buildings which were run down, poorly maintained and housing a limited selection of old artifacts, howrahs and palanquins are quite literally all it had to offer besides the token swords and guns which are ubiquitous with a place of this nature. Don't get me started on the exorbitant entrance fee for thsi place either.

Just round the corner is the Jantar Mantar complex, an astronomy playground for the city's founder Jai Singh II, again, as impressive as the structures were, they meant nothing to me. One of them was able to tell the time to two seconds by using the sun, but obviously it was out of commission and has been for some time now I would have thought. A guide was available but unless astronomy rocks your boat you'd have a hard time finding any interest in the place.

Still within the Old City was Hawa Mahal which offered some respite from the previous two spots as it had some interesting architecture and was enjoyable to walk around, even if there was nothing to see in any of the rooms adjoining the staircase which wound its way up five floors to the top where there were decent views of the Old City.

A couple kilometres walk out of town along a hidden winding route up to the top lies Nagargarh, Tiger Fort, built up on a ridge to the north of the city. Once at the top it became apparent that once again there would be nothing to do apart from appreciate the city views as sunset approached. The old fort building itself was under some reconstruction but I was still staggered by the fact there wasnt a single thing in any of the rooms, it was actually empty.

After a day of continuous disappointment, a beer was in order and just to take the cake there was actually an entrance fee to the restaurant with the best city view, speechless.

Although the area boasts more than a few other attractions, Amber Fort some 13 or so kilometres out of town being a big one, the prospect of staying here any longer was totally unappealing. That and the fact the next town, Jodhpur, also has a fort of repute itself which I would rather check out instead rather than as well as.

Hawa Mahal, close up

Hawal Mahal

Inner courtyard of the Hawa Mahal
Jantar Mantar

City Palace

Snake charmer with what looked like a fake snake

Walking up to Tiger Fort

Along the fort walls

Amphitheatre in the background

The bare inner courtyard


This was more like it. A smaller town than Jaipur for sure but with as much going on, just on a miniature scale. Jodhpur, the 'Blue City' is actually blue, with many of the local residences and buildings all bearing the same faded blue jeans colour. I guess someone did a massive paint job in the city some years ago.

Dominating the skyline and massive in size and scope is the city's main draw, Mehrangarh, the city's massive fort. Built in 1459, the fort was never taken, a beast of a structure with well designed gates and entrance to halter elephant attacks and walls so high scaling them would have been suicide.

Within the grounds, the fort itself has been converted into a museum full of artifacts and effects of the past royal families and many a room with a view. The audio guide which comes as part of the admission fee is very informative and a useful addition to explain the many things on display in the museum.

Outside of the museum, foot ramps lead up to the ramparts where a host of old canons lie, a temple at the far end and great views out across the city as far as Umaid Bhawan Palace and beyond. Outside the grounds it is possible to circumnavigate the fort and marvel at its sheer size as you walk around it.

Wandering around the city there is a more relaxed feel compared to other tourist towns with only minimal hassle, nothing you haven't had to deal with before. The main centre of town revolves around a clock tower which has many a market stall around it, with many locals plying their trade and scratching a living within eye shot of it.

There are many roof top restaurants offering fine views of the city and there is a peaceful ambience wherever you choose with soothing music, candles, cold beer and views of the fort in the moonlight, very peaceful. One place in particular was Hill View guesthouse, a family run place where eveyone went out of their way to make your stay in Jodhpur a chilled out and enjoyable experience.

View from the guesthouse

Fort's outer walls

Within the fort walls

View from the ramparts
Looking up at the fort
Still within the grounds
Water source by the fort

City clock tower


Arriving late and tired from an exhausting bus ride of never ending stop-starting, the guesthouse roof top offered well lit views of the city palace, something I was very much looking forward to seeing. Among other sights here is Lake Pichola which houses the Lake Palace situated on Jagniwas Island.
Suffice to say that when I went exploring the following morning and consulted the guidebook I felt a little let down that you can't actually go to the island and walk around the old palace grounds, it is just a top end hotel open only to guests now. Shame, but at least getting pictures from afar isn't hard as there are views of it from just about everywhere from the waters edge.

The palace grounds themselves were nice and again afforded decent views out onto the lake and the surrounding area across on the other bank. However, much to my consternation the vast majority of the palace has been converted into a musem, with very limited access around the ground once through the entrance and opening courtyard.

This came as a shock and a bit of a disappointment as I really didn't fancy walking around another underwhelming museum which housed much the same as every other museum in the state. Needless to say I took a pass and just soaked up the lake views and went for a walk around the perimeter, the town itself really is an attractive mishmash of structures which somehow fit to together nice and snug.

In the evenings, Bagore ki-Haveli, a building of repute within the city down by the Gangaur Ghat, puts on a show every evening based around themes of dance and music. The opening act involved a dance where two women balanced bowls with fire leaping from them, somehow they didn't topple off their heads. I was pretty glad of my seat at the back at this stage.

Other acts included the only one with a man, besides the three men playing the accompanying music for each dance, where he played an instrument I'd never seen before whilst dancing to himself while a woman covered from head to toe sang a warbling old tune.

There was more singing and dancing with groups of women coming out together and twirling around, sitting on the floor and clapping bells and symbals together in time to the music, before the final act where a woman came out to do a dance dedicated to the women of old who had to travel many miles each day to get water for their communities. This culminated with her eventually having ten bowls on her head while she paraded around the courtyard, not even in remote danger of dropping any of them. Amazing to watch and harder to believe.

Colourful view of the city

City Palace exterior

Lake Palace

Listen to the rhythm

Just chilling
Lakeside view of city
Of course, there is much and more to see in this state of Rajasthan, one of the more popular ones among tourists. There are plenty more towns with their own palaces, forts and various other attractions ranging from camel safaris to national parks. Sadly, tiger reserves across the country are currently closed due to the monsoon season, and coupled with a tight time schedule I have been unable to see everything this state has to offer. Of course, some places will be a let down, it's inevitable, but you take the rough with the smooth and overall it's been a pleasant experience.

Next stop, Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh to see the temples that inspired Karma Sutra.

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