When we had a family dinner prior to my leaving for India, my father said “where are you going? Raspberry?” I said “no Dad, you remember the Raj? (yes) Well I’m going to Raj – asthan’. He’s 83 but he’s not forgetful, he just enjoys winding me up.
Of all the places in Rajasthan it is Jodhpur that resonated the most – because trousers are named after it and because it is where my cricket colleague PK comes from. But it is in Jaipur that the week in Rajasthan begins.
I think I should add here that we had one week and I’d never been to the north west of India before. This visit was to see the sights that are well known then come back later to explore more. Which I did, but for cricket purposes.
Jawa Mahal and the Pink City Centre
The ‘Jawa Mahal’ or Palace of the Winds was built in 1799 of red and pink sandstone. Jaipur is part of the ‘Golden Triangle’ for tourism in India, along with Delhi and the Taj Mahal and so the Jawa Mahal is frequently photographed and packed with tourists. That shouldn’t be a deterrent, but rather it should make you more determined. All these people can’t be wrong!
The architecture is old, dating from somewhere between the 1500s and 1700s , under the influence of the Mugals who themselves had a strong Persian influence.
The royal ladies inside the Jawa Mahal who were in purdah could look through the windows at daily life and festivals celebrated in the street below without being seen. Purdah meaning, among other things that they couldn’t show their face. The angle of the windows and the honeycomb design also captures in the breeze in summer providing welcome relief when it is excruciatingly hot. Hence the name.
It is located on a busy street in the City Centre where whole there is a whole grid of pink buildings that mainly house market-style shops, plus the occasional palace or temple.
Amber Fort (also called the Amer Fort)
Located above the city and about 10kms from the centre. Easy to get to by taxi or by auto. Here we learnt that foreigners pay ten times as much to enter the tourist attractions than local visitors, but it is worth it. Hitch a ride by elephant or walk up to the Palace – Sue and I chose to walk because we weren’t sure about the cruelty or not of their treatment.
The Palace is beautiful, with mosaics on every surface, mirrors and comfortable spaces.
Padao / Nahargarh Fort
Go in time for the sunset and sip a sweet lime soda as the sun goes down over the city. Then try and negotiate with the one lone auto driver to get back the hill. The view and the serenity are well worth it.
Jodphur. Awesome, very photogenic.
The story behind the trousers –
“Sir Pratap Singh, a younger son of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, popularised in England the style of riding-trousers worn in Jodhpur, a design that he apparently improved and perfected by himself and first tailored in India around 1890.
Singh was an avid polo player, and when he visited Queen Victoria in England during her Diamond Jubilee celebrations of 1897, bringing with him his entire polo team, they caused a sensation among the fashionable circles of the United Kingdom, with their reputation enhanced by the fact that they won many polo matches.” (paraphrased from Wikipedia).
And speaking of the Maharaja of Jodhpur – his palace is part of the Mehrangarh Fort, which sits above Jodphur, visible from all sides. It has been restored and is part museum and part luxury hotel.
On the day we visited a Bollywood film shoot was taking place. I dismissed it to my travelling buddy who’d not visited India before as just another movie set. Then when I got back to Mumbai and read the morning paper found out that it was none other than the Big B – Amitabh Bachchan, a bigger star even that Shah Rukh Kahn who’s a personal favourite. Dammit.
The rooms at the Palace are beautiful, airy, colourful and perfectly proportioned. There is an audio tour of which I availed myself and it takes you through the function of the various areas – thrones, art, various luxury transport options. It describes the lifestyle of the royal family over the ages, finishing with the Purdah room where women lived separate lives from the men.
This room leads onto a marble-tiled courtyard and as we walked through there was a narrative from one of the ladies who was part of the royal family when they made the transition out of purdah, making no judgements but commenting at the end that everything comes to an end and you have to move with the times. The languid and wise way that she spoke made me wish I could meet her and listen to her observations on life.
In the afternoon and early evening, it is worth taking a walk through the Old Town. It is mayhem. The buildings are painted blue. Cows are everywhere, the people warm and friendly. The streets are so narrow that in being careless with your elbows or toes, you might get them wiped out by passing tuk-tuks (autos). This type of chaos suits me and I mainly laughed. Not so much new-to-India and professional photographer Sue who had left us earlier on a photo-expedition. We tried to Google Maps our way to find Sue.
Kirrily: ‘Sue, where are you’?
Sue, sounding a bit exasperated: ‘I’m at a junction near a rubbish dump’.
Kirrily and I to each other: ‘Hmmm. Has she noticed that there is quite a lot of rubbish and every road ends in a junction’. Kirrily to Sue ‘look up, there is a clock tower we’ll meet you near there’.
Kirrily and I to each other ten minutes later: ‘oh, there is a rubbish dump at a junction that is bigger than the other rubbish dump and junctions. She must have been here ten minutes ago’.
We eventually found a fairly frazzled Sue and had dinner at a rooftop restaurant. All is forgiven.
At the foot of the Fort is an area around Toorji’s step well that is being restored and is becoming a hip and chic place to spend a bit of time.
Ranakpur – serene apart from the monkeys
The main cities of Rajasthan are connected by motorways, and getting away from the hustle and bustle is quite easy – just take the smaller roads. Ranakpur is part way between Jodhpur and Udaipur. It provides a welcome change of pace, especially at the Aranywas Hotel which is nestled amongst trees and on the banks of a river.
The main reason to visit Ranakpur is the Jain Temple. Jainism is linked to Hinduism. There is not much more I can tell you other than they have an extreme vegan diet. nAs well as normal vegan they can’t eat anything that grows under the ground like potatoes or onions.
The temple is gorgeous. Built in the Ankor Wat style and probably about the same time. There are 1400 carved columns made of marble that support the structure. It is built in such as way that there are areas of shade and sunlit throughout.
The priests and the signs welcome tourists but ask for respect. To us this meant covering our heads with scarves, which seems like a natural thing to do.
Kirrily attracts attention not only because of her open smile, but also because of a full sleeve tattoo. A monk quickly adopts her and then becomes even more friendly when he founds out that we are in India for cricket purposes. We talk about our favourite IPL teams and then he takes us aside and blesses us. And I feel blessed as we walk out.
The reference to monkeys was because there were so many along the road! Monkeys are not your friends. At best they steal your food, at worst they bite and scratch. But still pretty cute at a distance.
Udaipur – romantic
Shamefully I hadn’t heard of Udaipur before I visited. It turns out I had seen it because the Lake Palace was featured in Octopussy, a James Bond movie.
It is romantic – a dream location for a honeymoon. Think Venice and I don’t say that lightly. So many cities claim to be the ‘Venice of …. whichever country they’re in’. Udaipur is probably older than Venice and maybe Venice could be called the ‘Udaipur of Italy’.
As well as the Lake Palace there is the City palace and the Monsoon Palace. It was the Maharana of Mewar who made the original lake system in the 1500s, to support agriculture and the happy outcome was the beauty of it all.
Kirrily got sick, and as we walked back to the Hotel we offloaded her onto the motorbike of my tailor who took her to get some juice that was sure to make her feel better. In fact Sue and I left her in Udaipur according to our original plan, and knowing Kirrily and making a quick assessment of the man and the motorbike I was pretty sure she’d be safe. She was.
Sue and I took the long road back to Jaipur to spend an additional day there, which included a block printing workshop (big success). Kirrily stayed an extra day and flew direct from Udaipur to Mumbai.
Jaipur is the Pink City, Jodhpur is the blue city and Udaipur is the city of lakes.
Getting back to my father’s comments about the Raj. I was at Toast and Tonic in Bangalore choosing which of their exceptional gin drinks to try. There was one called ‘the British Raj’. I was scandalised on India’s behalf, in solidarity with them because Australians share their colonial past. Karan, another cricket colleague shrugged dismissively and said ‘it is part of our history’. i.e. we’ve gotten over it, why can’t you. Everyone is so modern, with their getting on with things.
We tried for non-franchise, boutique hotels that were medium to cheap and pretty much succeeded in finding some really nice accommodation options.
* Agathabertram.com has no affiliation with any of the providers listed below:
Shahpura House – a classy and affordable alternative to the Franchise four and five star hotels.
We stayed at Purn Haveli, Bhrampuri district. Eccentric and comfortable with a stupendous view of the Fort and a quick walk into the Old Quarter.
Also a honorable mention: The Arch Boutique Hotel , a really cool place next to the Toorji Step Well.
Hotel Aranyawas. If you Google it is, it is very similar to what you see in the pics. About 20 minutes from the Jain Temple towards the hills. .
Hibiscus Guest House. . Excellent location, 2 minute walk from the canal and Lake Pichola.
Jaipur and Udaipur are the main airports in an out of Rajasthan.
Train travel is relatively easy once you get a ticket. I must be missing something but I have found it difficult as a foreigner to book tickets online with international credit cards. It is easier to book through a hotel or a local friend / tour guide.
We hired a car and driver for the week we were there – the recommendation came from the tuk tuk driver Sue met on the first day.
Tours: there are many, and most are excellent and provide local insight. Because I had the benefit of two other people traveling with me we booked on our own and traveled at our own pace which was a better option for us.
The block printing workshop was booked through Jai Tex-Art and is highly recommended if you are interested in textiles.
Thanks to the hard working hosts of the Faraway Files linkup . This post is linked to #farawayfiles81. To go back, click here
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