Being a serial planner, I usually find it very difficult to relinquish control and give the task of planning to someone else. But then you also have to be smart and pragmatic especially when you know that the job would have a better result if it were done by someone who knew what they were doing. Hence I let Thomas Cook India plan my recent holiday to India and thank god I did. My brief to them was that I want to soak into the history and the cuisine of Rajasthan and ensure that my mother had a great time because this was her first holiday in many years and also our first holiday together.
We reached Jaipur on a sunny afternoon utterly excited about the trip. There was a car waiting for us at the airport with a very affable driver who drove around the city showing us the sights while giving us tips on what to do, where to go and how to bargain. We were put up at the lovely ‘Park Regis Hotel’ which had a perfect location, not too far from the main attractions and still away from the bustling and noisy city center. After settling down in our room, we ordered a hot cup of Chai and then stepped out to travel to ‘Bapu Bazar’ for some shopping as suggested by the driver.
Bapu Bazar is a bustling shopping market in Jaipur that has shops selling clothes, shoes, food items and Rajasthani artifacts. One of the first things that struck me was how clean the place was, while it was still bursting at its seams with traffic and people, it was spotless. We saw the stunning ‘Hawa Mahal’ on the way to the market. Built-in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh it has a unique five-story exterior like the honeycomb of a beehive with small windows called jharokhas decorated with intricate latticework. The reason of this lattice design was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life and festivals celebrated in the street below without being seen since they had to obey the strict rules of “purdah,” which forbade them from appearing in public without covering their face.
We then proceeded to shop for some clothes before being shooed away from Laxmi Misthan Bhandhar as we sat for dinner because it is “Lunar Eclipse” and they wanted to shut down the restaurant during that time. We finally managed to have some authentic Rajasthani food at “Shree Thaal.”
Our driver was ready for us at 8 am next morning to take us around sightseeing. Our first stop here was “City Palace” which was the main seat of the kings of Jaipur who ruled the city from here. The palace has several buildings and gardens, but the two main complex is the Chandra Mahal and the Mubarak Mahal.
We made the mistake of taking audio guides and found them to be really cumbersome and difficult to follow. The palace has approved ASI guides which a really good and I would definitely recommend you hire a guide outside the ticket booth.The palace itself is massive, and you need some time and stamina to walk around admiring its beauty.
Mubarak Mahal is a now a textile museum and has an impressive collection of royal robes and textiles.
Other notable structures are the Pritam Niwas Chowk, Diwan-i-Aam, Diwan-i-Khas, Bhaggi Khana, Maharani Palace and the Govind Dev Ji Temple. There is also a local market inside the palace complex where you can buy some local handicrafts including the famous Rajasthani Mojris.
After spending two full hours in the palace, our driver suggested we go to Amer Fort and recommended we hire a guide which thankfully we did. The guide was really knowledgeable and took us around the fort talking about its history. Situated in the town of located in Amber, 11 kilometers from Jaipur, it is one of the most famous forts of Rajasthan.
Amer, initially, was the capital of the state before Jaipur. Built-in 1592 by Raja Man Singh with red sandstone and marble is one of the most magnificent forests of India. It is This fort is also very popularly known as the Amer Palace. The Amer Fort was built in red sandstone and marble and is an exemplary example of Mughal and Hindu architecture.
The fort has Four main sections each with their own gate and courtyard. The first gate which faces the east in the direction of the sun is called Suraj Pol or Sun Gate. The entrance of the Amber Fort is through the Dil-e-Aaram Garden, which is laid out in the traditional Mughal architecture and is truly stunning. The palace that I found the most interesting was the Zenana which was used only by the women including the queens. Completely secluded and heavily guarded the kings would visit their queens and harem in the cover of the night amidst hidden passages and alleyways.
We then decided to have lunch at 1135 AD which is a restaurant located on top of the Amer Fort and offers stunning views of the city. As we waited for the food to arrive which almost took an hour, I took the time to explore the restaurant, and I am glad I did. Beautifully done up with a few different rooms for sit down meals, the restaurant had beautiful doors and some exquisite paintings and architecture.
The food, on the other hand, was disappointing as we were expecting a traditional Rajasthani fare and while the food was excellent even though really late, it was your typical North Indian fare that I could have easily made at home. Anyways we explored the fort a little more after this and decided to go to the nearby “Nahargarh fort.”
Nahargarh is another beautiful fort located on the edge of Aravalli hills, offering incredible views of Jaipur city. The hunting residence of the maharajas, the fort was a place of retreat during the hot summer months. By the time we reached the top via a winding road, the sun was almost setting, there was a slight pinkish hue in the clouds, and we could see Peacocks and other birds just chirping around.
We started the 3rd day with a fabulous breakfast of Kachoris and Ghevar at Rawat’s which is an iconic eatery in Jaipur. The food was delicious as we were told it would be. We overindulged and overate, buying sweets for friends and family. Our driver then recommended we go and check out ‘Jantar Mantar.’
A Unesco world heritage observatory Jantar Mantar is a unique example of the astronomical skills that India had even during the 18th century. The site has a set of 20 fixed instruments specifically designed for astronomy. Prince Jai Singh II, the creator of this impressive site, was a huge believer in science and cosmology and ordered to build it using the Ptolemaic positional astronomy concepts.
Jantar Mantar has stood the test of time and has been a witness to many astronomical events. Even today it is used by astrologers to depict birth charts and the exact position of the sun and moon. From telling you the time of the day to the locations of the solar system, the instruments can also give you accurate readings of the latitude & longitude. We hired a guide here as well, and it was definitely a right decision as he was able to describe everything in detail and was very patient as I continued clicking pictures. We then proceeded to have lunch at the highly recommended but very run down restaurant called as ‘Santosh Bhojanlaya”. The food here was basic and authentic and very cheap. We ate a hearty meal without burning a hole in our pockets and then proceeded to check out the ‘Albert Hall Museum”.
As a history lover, I was utterly thunderstruck by this museum. Build in 1887 by Samuel Swinton Jacob this museum was created to house the artifacts that were created by the local artisans. However soon its Indo-Saracenic architecture became famous for its Indian styles of design from Mughal to Rajput, paintings, and artifacts from all around the world. It took us almost 3 hours to explore the place, and we did it slowly, savoring and enjoying the well-maintained space.
This was the first time that I had seen a musuem in India that was so well preserved and maintained and I felt really proud. There is a collection of pottery from various countries, coins, marble art, carpets, jewelery and everything else that you can ever think of.
We spent the last day in Jaipur exploring Gatore ki Chhatriyan. We reached the place at 9 am and there were no tourists around. So we were easily able to spend the morning in this hidden gem of a place.
The Crematorium for the Royal family of Jaipur, Chatriyan means umbrella or cenotaphs and these intricately carved monuments both in the interiors and exterior is really impressive. This is a place that I would highly recommend you to visit if you ever get a change to visit Jaipur.