Wow Jaipur, what a feast for the eyes! Pink buildings, a warm orange sunshine glow, a busy city full of character both in architecture and people!
Leaving Agra and making my way to Jaipur was a straight forward task. I’d got a 2nd class ticket on the Shatabdi Express, which is a fast train that usually also includes food and drink, and boy was it a nice experience – even though the ticket cost only Rs700 (appx £8-9). The staff were quick to stuff my big bag behind a seat and offer me the seat next to it, a window seat, even though this wasn’t my booked seat. No problem, they said! How friendly and accommodating. Then then food…. bottled water, soup and breadsticks, samosas, sandwiches, nuts… and THEN the main dinner came (!) curry, chapatis, pickles, tea… all of it veggie and most of it seemingly vegan which was fortunate as I’d had it in my head it was only a 2-hour journey, when in fact it was 4! So I was saved, I didn’t go hungry…
Arriving in Jaipur in the evening it was already dark and I experienced the first distinct difference of life in Rajasthan, although I think this is probably just Jaipur. Stepping off the train I was immediately flanked by 3-4 tuktuk drivers all vying for my business. Except they were offering a Rs30 ride to anywhere within a 5Km distance! Normally that would be nearer the Rs200 mark. I hadn’t even said yes, or told them where I was going yet they started lowering the price with eventually it being a FREE ride! What was going on?! I continued walking and slightly humouring them as I considered what the catch might be, when two of them got pulled away, apparently by police, for not having licenses. Ah so that’s it then. One of them smelled slightly of alcohol, so I avoided him and eventually a charming new guy made himself known and I thought what the hell, let’s go for it. We stopped briefly to refuel and to get cash from an ATM which also allowed me to see what Jaipur was all about. Another big city, it would seem. Very busy, crowded roads full of drivers who have a penchant to drive fairly fast. Fun! Arriving at my hostel the driver suggested he takes me on a tour of the city the next day and I agree, as this seemed like a good bargain and it’s probably for the best to make arrangements or I’ll just cower in the hostel for a day or two, wasting time rather than just getting out there.
The hostel, Moustache Jaipur, was excellent. Fabulous, welcoming staff, some sporting the logo’s twisty moustache (which I was later to realise is quite traditional for Rajasthan – rather than the trendy gentrified Shoredites of London, although I’m sure that had something to do with it as well) they had an excellent schedule of activities and I loved how we had to take our shoes off before entering the building. Complete with a rooftop restaurant and very smart bathrooms it was easy to feel immediately comfortable and get chatting to the other travellers, making friends.
The next day, I ventured to a nearby rather upmarket raw food cafe for brunch (Anokhi Cafe) that offered many, many vegan options – so many delicious meals it was pretty hard to decide what to have. I opted for the Thai cashew curry and forgot it would be cold when it arrived (raw food, dummy!) but was devine. Locating my tuktuk driver, we meandered through the Pink Palace area and I learned why it is pink (it is considered to be the colour of hospitality and was painted in this colour for the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria’s visit in 1876) although these days it is more orange in colour! Still a nice, bright, welcoming colour though I felt. From there, on his recommendation, we visited Gaitore (Memory of Kings), a crematory with impressive marble tombs in a quiet location away from the crowds and honking horns. I wasn’t sure I would like it at first, it was hot and I was low in energy, but it proved to be a relaxing place and good for photo opportunities.
From here we visited Jal Mahal, the ‘floating palace’ – or ‘water palace’ as it is apparently known as locally. Or at least, we stood on the bank of the lake and looked at it, as it is This was a special visit as out of all the places in India to see, it was my brother’s favourite. Unfortunately we got there a little too early so the colours were still a bit bland but I promised myself to return the next day when the sun had lowered more so I could try and capture a nice sunset shot. And in time for the actual sunset we headed to Galta Ji (Monkey Temple), a hillside complex with a snaking pavement up to a temple at the top and many, many monkeys, who are used to people and will happily and carefully accept monkey nuts from your hands. It was quite special interacting with them in this way, very gentle – and good karma too!
I’d taken a local ‘guide’ with me to climb up the side of the hill towards the temple, and this proved pretty valuable as he had lots of tips and knew the young children who also played there. I ended up going into a lot of places I wouldn’t have gone if I was alone! And on top of one building, he played with a youngster flying a kite. Kites were pretty popular here, was nice watching them all soar up in the blue sky with the orange sun shining down on us. Was a lovely way to end the day, overlooking the city, interacting with the locals and Just Being. Something I was beginning to realise Indians are very good at.
Returning to the hostel I made friends with my roommate who was about to head out on a night tour with the hostel and on to a ‘pool party’ later. I was in half a mind to stay put in my room but at the last minute decided to just go and meet some new people and see more of the city. The tour was mostly done in the car as there was only a few of us, but we visited Jawahar Kala Kendra, an arts and culture centre, for some delicious marsala dosas (naturally vegan!) and I really liked the ambience and architecture – was a great spot for families, couples, friends…. After here we headed out to the club for the pool party (thankfully bikinis were not needed as it was too cold to get in the pool anyway – I was not ready to don a bikini!) and enjoyed a couple of drinks, a bit of funky dancing to the latest cheesy hits and popular Indian tunes. Was quite an experience being in an nightclub in Jaipur – but it was a Saturday night, so why not!?! And this is where I made my two new best friends. My roomie, and a beautiful soul of a man from Argentina. (We would later change our plans to head to Pushkar together; I love it when things come together).
The next day my roomie and I went for breakfast and got chatting to a young local chap who offered us a great price to hire his tuktuk for the day. He was excellent fun, telling us cheeky jokes with his friend and taking us to a great local’s cafe for dinner (where they would also get free food for taking us there – how sweet!). We visited Amber Fort, which although as a foreigner you pay way more than Indians (which is quite typical in large tourist attractions in India) was very much worth the money and a guide took us around giving just enough information and just enough space and time to absorb it all and take photos, as well as enjoy a joke and some selfies! Then back to the Jal Mahal to try and get that sunset pic (didn’t happen, too hazy) and on to Monkey Temple again and some food at their favourite cafe before heading back to the hostel.
The journey back through town was pretty epic thanks to our skilful but mental young tuktuk drivers. They kept saying ‘Fast and Furious!’ And indeed it was. Speeding along, squeezing between cars and other tuktuks, heading towards three gates, the largest in the middle, of course they opted for the smaller side ones, where there were just inches free either side of the tuktuk and plenty of people coming through the other way…. it was pretty crazy and the more we screamed the more encouraged they got! But we arrived safely and booked them for the next day too! Much to their delight.
The next day we took the Argentinian chap with us and visited a mosque where we sat silently listening to the ladies reading from the scriptures, the odd melody creeping in here and there, was very peaceful and thought-provoking. Next we went to an old library in the Pink Palace which proved to be such a different and enjoyable non-touristy thing to do. Up in the balcony rooms we found ancient books, covered with dust and the light streaming hazily through the windows was just beautiful. More photo ops! Then more food at the local’s cafe, followed by a movie night on the hostel rooftop (Namesake – watch it if you haven’t already seen it. It’s beautiful).
Then the next day….. we were all set to take the bus to Pushkar! I was very excited about this. Fellow travellers were raving about the town and it seemed the perfect place to relax and rejuvenate, feel some peace and quiet away from the cities – something all three of us were craving. So after a final breakfast in the ‘Hole in the Wall’ cafe around the corner from our hostel (which had provided our lush breakfasts every morning so far!) we started our journey to Pushkar, making it up as we went along. Just three happy, wondering souls 🙂