We arrived at Jaipur Railway Station at around 1.40pm and were immediately set upon by a taxi driver who, for some reason when told we needed to call our hotel to send someone to pick us up, wanted to help out. He offered to call the Pearl Palace Hotel from his mobile phone, but as I was reading out the phone number I sneaked a look at his phone and saw the numbers he was entering were slightly wrong. A smile crept across my face, but I wanted to play along to see how far it would go. At the moment he was about to ‘dial’ our ride appeared bearing a sign with ‘Appleford’ written on it. The expression on our ‘helpful’ taxi driver’s face was priceless, and the crowd of others who had gathered to watch him ‘help us’ (I assume were also taxi drivers) burst into laughter. It was great way to start our visit to the Pink City of Jaipur.
Our new friend, Raj from Rajasthan
Raj from Rajasthan (it’s how he introduced himself) led us to his tuk tuk, loaded our gear in and took us to our hotel. He was a great guy, young, spoke really good English and we hit it off right from the start. We chatted about how we’d been travelling around India for just over a week, our nomadic adventure and that we’d just come from a two month stay in Thailand. He told us about his days partying on the beaches of Southern Thailand, the other travelling he’d done, and we could tell we’d found a kindred spirit to help us with our visit to Jaipur.
Our first taste of Jaipur
By the time we checked in, caught up on a bit of work and figured out what we were going to do with our time here, it was late in the afternoon and only time enough to go for a bit of a walk and get our bearings. We got the map out and headed for the old part the Pink City of Jaipur. As usual we were asked by what seemed like every rickshaw and tuk tuk driver in town if we needed a ride, but we’ve become experts at moving them on when all we want to do is go for a walk. However, there were a couple that were very persistent, telling us their life stories, or giving us some philosophical insight into the workings of the world. We’d hear them out as we walked and they drove alongside us oblivious to the rest of the traffic on the road, then simply say no thanks when the inevitable question came about needing a ride, and we got on with our exploring.
About 45 minutes into our walk we realised that our crappy map wasn’t good enough, but knew we were close to our destination. It was getting late, we were getting hungry and soon enough it would be time for Jack to go to bed. So we walked back, had dinner at the rooftop restaurant at our hotel, retired for the evening ready to hit the ground running the following day.
Making plans with Raj
We’d arranged for Raj to take us sightseeing for half the day, with the Amber Fort and a few places like the City Palace, Hawa Mahal and Jantar Mantar in our crosshairs. Unfortunately for our sightseeing plans it was the last Friday of Ramadan, and a lot of the Pink City was blocked off due to the enormous Muslim crowd of over 100,000 making their way to various mosques to celebrate the end of this holy month of fasting. So in the end we had to make do with the Amber Fort and a quick trip to the Government Central (Albert Hall) Museum.
Here’s a list of things we got up to during our stay:
The Amber Fort is set on a hill top overlooking Maota Lake, about 30 minutes by tuk tuk outside of the city centre. It’s an incredibly impressive place, filled with breathtaking palaces, halls, gardens, and temples. There’s a number of ways to get to the main entry gates, you can hire a Jeep, ride an elephant (900 rupees, and only until 11.30am), or do what we did and walk. Once again Jack had fallen asleep by this stage so I carried him and his pram up the stairs to the top. It was hot and a long way so I was sweating profusely by the time we reached the main gates. Still, the climb was worth it as we were treated to a wonderful experience exploring Amber Fort.
It cost me 200 rupees to enter, but because Sarah has a student card she managed to get in for 100 rupees. If you want to visit the museum it costs a bit more, but Sarah and I aren’t really into that so didn’t bother. For the entry fee alone you get to take a look inside and see plenty of the Fort. A woman in a uniform who worked there took a shine to Jack and decided to give us a bit of a private tour around part of the complex. She took us into places that seemed to be cut off from the general public, and we thought we were getting some special treatment. But as always, when it was time to carry on with our exploring, the hand came out asking for money. We were a little shocked given she was in uniform working for the Fort, so we said no and carried on. We should always remember in India, if it feels or sounds like it’s too good to be true, then it definitely is.
We wandered about for almost two hours before making our way back down the hill to Raj to continue our sightseeing tour. Be aware, there are many, many people selling all manner of souvenirs such as umbrellas, drums, and toy elephants, and they find it hard to take ‘no’ for an answer. We started off being polite, but in the end you just have to tell them in no uncertain terms that you’re not interested.
Albert Hall Museum
When the foundation stone of Albert Hall was laid during the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1876, it hadn’t yet been decided what the building was going to be used for. It was decided the grand building would be used as a museum to showcase local art, and continues to house a rich collection of artefacts such as paintings, carpets, ivory, stone, metal sculptures, colourful crystal works, etc. to this day. The building is beautiful, and if you like feeding birds you can buy seed outside for the thousands upon thousands of pigeons that congregate here looking for a free feed. But museums and feeding birds aren’t really for us, so we continued on with our site seeing.
On the way back into town from the Amber Fort we stopped at Jal Mahal just to get a photo. It’s a palace located in the middle of Man Sagar Lake, and visitors can catch a boat there to take a look following recently completed restoration work, but we weren’t that interested to be honest.
Discovering the Pink City
Jaipur is called the Pink City because it was originally painted this colour to imitate the red sandstone architecture of Mughal cities. The present earthy red colour originates from repainting of the buildings undertaken for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1876. We entered via New Gate, an impressive entrance point to what lay beyond the walls, but there’s quite a few equally as impressive Gates to enter from.
We walked around for a few hours, wandering past some really stunning tourist attractions such as:
- City Palace and Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, a vast palace complex occupying nearly one-seventh of the Pink City.
- Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observatory built between 1727-1734, now a UNESCO world heritage listed site.
- Hawa Mahal (Palace of Breeze), a five storey high red sandstone structure complete with over 950 windows. The breeze (or hawa in Hindi) circulates through these windows giving the palace its name.
But the truth is we couldn’t be bothered going inside any of these places. We’re much happier just wandering around a new city, checking out the lives of everyone gong about their business. Of course, we always visit places that are incredibly impressive and we’re particularly interested in, like the Amber Fort for example, but we neither have the patience or the funds to see every tourist attraction there is!
It was fascinating, albeit exhausting, wandering around the Pink City. As always we were asked to come into every store to see what was on offer, but we were much more interested in seeing what was going on in the street. Cows were everywhere of course, the traffic was heavy and noisy, and for a few hours it was good fun and fascinating to watch. There are so many things to see, smell, touch and hear that your senses are overloaded before you know it. Every area of town has its own market or bazaar selling everything you can think of like spices, clothes, electrical equipment, and auto accessories just to name a few. But the sun was getting to us and we’d been out and about for most of the day so it was time to go home and get some rest.
The smaller of the three forts dotted around Jaipur, Nahargarh Fort is famous for its vast views of the sprawling city below. Raj took us there just on sunset (750 rupee fare) and it was definitely a great way for us to bring to an end our stay in the Pink City of Jaipur. The ride takes around 40 minutes from the city centre up a long, steep hill, but the ride is well worth it. It costs 50 rupees to enter, but when you get to the restaurant at the top you cash your ticket in for a free non-alcoholic drink. From here you enjoy the most amazing views of the city, as far as the eye can see including Amber Fort and Jal Mahal on Man Sagar Lake.
It’s a beautiful place to get away from the chaos of the city below, a chance to unwind and enjoy a bite to eat and a drink at the outdoor restaurant. I highly recommend you take a trip up there and soak in the incredible views.
There’s plenty of other things to do in Jaipur that we didn’t get around to seeing. There’s heaps of palaces, monuments, temples, gardens, activities and entertainment, and of course Jaigarh Fort, that we either didn’t have time to see or didn’t interest us. If there is one place we would have liked to have gone to it would be the Galta Monkey Temple, a ruinous Hindi temple nestled in peaceful surroundings between two granite cliffs and three sacred pools of water. One of the pools has been taken over by thousands of monkeys that congregate there to swim and bathe. You could easily spend a week in Jaipur checking everything out, although for us that would be a few days too long.
We spent our remaining few hours back at our hotel before making our way to the Railway Station to catch our 11.45pm train to Jaisalmer, where our adventure in the desert will begin.
Click on the images below to check out a photogallery of our stay in Jaipur…