Jaipur: Forts and Castles in the Pink City

Jaigarh Fort, Jaipur - photos by Mridula Dwivedi
Jaigarh Fort, Jaipur – photos by Mridula Dwivedi

Jaipur, India: Exploring Forts and Palaces in the Pink City

By Mridula Dwivedi

I ventured to Jaipur (also know as the Pink City) in Rajasthan in the last week of November. I have hardly traveled in 2008. I went to Lansdowne (a small hill station in India) in February and then to Oxford (UK) in June. It is really difficult to believe that I didn’t go anywhere from June to November end but that is so true.

So, I was really restless and when Blogger’s Mind offered me a Nokia N96 handset for one of my trips, I decided it was about time I went out again. The problem is that Sesha hardly ventures out anywhere unless the Himalayas are visible; I decided to go Jaipur with my younger nephew Sunil on a weekend trip.

Breaking into a Run

We decided to go by train this time. Shatabdi Express is a fast train between Delhi and Jaipur (known as Ajmer Shatabdi, Train No. 2015). It starts at 6.05 am from the New Delhi Railway Station and we barely made it on time. We actually had to dash from Platform 1 to Platform 2 and we just about made it with a few minutes to spare! This is not how I start a typical Saturday!

Where are you?

My trip to Jaipur was a little different this time. I have been following Arun’s Blog for quite some time now and when he wrote a post about his guide at Jaipur, I wanted to hire the same person. Even before starting from New Delhi, I had a chat with Raju and he decided to meet us at the Jaipur Railway Station with his auto-rickshaw.

As we both had each other’s cell numbers, we decided that we would be able to recognize each-other somehow at Jaipur. Now that took some effort. But after a few phone calls we could make out who is who by asking the colors of our dresses and the place where we were standing.

Selling pigeon feed at the Amber Fort
Selling pigeon feed at the Amber Fort

Raju asked us if we would like to check in at a hotel first. When we said yes, they took us to Hotel Banipark Palace. It is a budget hotel (550 to 1200 rupees, $6 to $24 roughly) but quite clean. For more options, look for unique Jaipur hotels and interesting tours of the city online.

After dumping our luggage and taking a quick wash we headed out. It was past 12.00 in the noon and we decided to have something to eat first. By this time Raju also told us that because of an accident he had met his own auto-rickshaw was out of order, his friend Gopi would take us around.

Pay us whatever you wish, you are our guests!

When Raju was taking our leave, I asked him what would be their charges for the day. I was quite perplexed with their answer, they told me to pay whatever we wanted to as we were their guests! I have read of a lot of horror stories that result from such an arrangement but then I had no option but to brave it as they would just not give me a quote.

Restorations at the Amber Fort
Restorations at the Amber Fort

A Hectic First Day

After this our itinerary was in Gopi’s hand. He said we could go to Jaigarh Fort first, followed by Amber Fort (pronounced Amer) and then Jal Mahal. But lunch came before all that. I wanted to eat the traditional Rajasthani dish Dal Bati Churma but Sunil wanted normal Indian food. When we told this to Gopi and he took us to a restaurant where both were available. If you are in Jaipur, do try Dal Bati Churma, it is quite exotic stuff.

After food we headed to the Jaigarh Fort. The fort is said to be built in 1700s for military purpose but it is quite a peaceful place now, disturbed by the chatter of tourists and monkeys!

There is an entrance free to the monument and the camera charges are extra. We Indians pay a lower entrée rate and foreign tourists are charged higher but don’t ask me why, I have no clue.

There is a huge cannon on the premises and it is said to be the largest canon on wheels in the world. There is a museum showing armors from ancient times. On the far end there was a puppet show going on and we spent some time there.

Amber Fort – Lot of Restoration Work

Jal Mahal
Jal Mahal

One can spend quite sometime inside the Jaigarh Fort but as we were heading back the next day, we decided to go to Amber Fort after a while.

Raja Man Singh started to build the Amber Fort. He was an influential member in Mughal Emperor Akbar’s court. And as is the story with many forts and palaces in India, the subsequent rulers kept adding to the structure.

There are many courtyards, a beautiful garden and other sub-structures within the complex but I find Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) the most impressive. This is a room covered in tiny mirrors and the total effect is mesmerizing.

This time around there was a lot of construction work going on at the Fort. There are elephant rides available at the fort but as we have lived all our lives in India, we outgrew it somewhere in childhood.

JalMahal A Palace on Water

On our way to Jal Mahal, Gopi stopped his auto opposite Hawa Mahal (The Palace of Winds), another stately structure within the old part of the city. It is in this part of the city that you will find almost all the buildings are pink in color and hence the other name of Jaipur — the Pink City.

Street food near Jal Mahal
Street food near Jal Mahal

The new Jaipur is hardly pink at all. It was already past 5 pm and the entry to the monument was closed. We were so tired (we started at 5 am from Delhi to catch our train to Jaipur) that I just clicked a picture sitting inside the auto and requested him to take us to the Jal Mahal which stands in the middle of Man Sagar Lake.

One cannot actually visit the palace premises inside the lake but even from the shores it is such a pleasant site. It seems to be popular with the locals and tourists alike for an evening stroll. The reason is not difficult to guess, there is a long stretch of walk on the shores of the lake with many street vendors offering their fares and camel rides available too.

Sunil and I just spent a quite time eating a road side snack (bhel) and clicking a lot of pictures. After this we were so tired that requested Gopi to drop us back to the hotel. He suggested the next door restaurant ‘Chitchat’ for dinner. He promised to meet us again the next day at 10.30 am. After a quick meal at Chitchat, I just crashed and fell asleep within minutes even though Sunil was watching TV in the same room.

Albert Hall Museum
Albert Hall Museum

Day 2 – No Less Hectic

On Sunday we had to take our train back to Delhi at 5:42 pm. Gopi promised to drop us back to the station in good time. He told us he would take us to Gaitore ki Chattriyan (Gaitore’s Cenotaphs), City Palace, Jantar Mantar, Albert Hall Museum, and let us do some shopping too.

You can see it is a packed itinerary. But that is what happens on weekend trips and we had no complaints. We started with Gaitore and it is a beautiful place.

It was actually the Royal Cremation Ground but apart from the first complex where they ask you not to step up on the structure, the rest of the place has very little resemblance to a cremation ground. The cenotaphs are quite impressive and the nearby hills lend more charm to the place.

I have visited Jaipur quite a number of times. To be honest, I studied near Jaipur for five years but never managed to explore the place properly, but that is another long story.

City Palace, Jaipur
City Palace, Jaipur

I am quite amazed that in all my previous visits I never managed to see the City Palace built by Sawai Jai Singh in the 1700s. It is quite a fabulous place with museums devoted to armories and royal clothes. Even the restoration work could not take much away from the place. In one part of the palace there are two doors with colors resembling that of a peacock, and it is really lavish.

Our next stop was Jantar Mantar an outdoor observatory that tracked the movements of sun and stars but we really spent very little time there. In between I shopped for jewelry and clothes. I am a person who is really not fond of shopping, yet when I am in Jaipur I always buy those fabulous Rajasthani style lac (wax filled) earrings and some bright colored Indian dresses.

Our last stop on this trip was Albert Hall Museum and on Sunil’s insistence we hired an audio guide. Narrowcasters India, a subsidiary of Narrowcaster Australia, has introduced it at many monuments in Jaipur (and a few other places across India) and it was quite fun to listen about the various exhibits of the museum at our own pace.

Soon it was time to hit the railway station. I have been quite sad with the recent Mumbai Terror attacks (November 2008) and have often wondered that it would deter many from traveling to India.

Gaitore ki Chattriyan
Gaitore ki Chattriyan

In old Jaipur, Gopi pointed out the place where bombs went off in May 2008. When you look at the beauty of the place, it is beyond comprehension that someone would like to set off bombs in such a place, or any place for that matter.

In the excitement of visiting so many places Sunil and I had missed lunch and we concentrated on eating as much as possible at the railway station restaurant called ‘Goel and Goel’, and soon enough we were inside the Ajmer Shatabdi again, heading back to Delhi.

We paid Gopi 500 rupees for each day ($10) and he felt it was a decent amount. And before you write me off as a miser, if you hire an auto for a similar trip from a pre-paid booth it will come to much less.

If you wish to hire an autorickshaw for the day Raju can be reached at 00 91 9829900473 and Gopi can be reached at 00 91 9352540301.

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