When I first visited (India), I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beauty and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds. It was as if all my life I had been seeing the world in black and white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor.” – Keith Bellows
I reached Jaipur after almost 24 hours straight of traveling, having left the hill station city of Darjeeling the preceding morning. I was shambling by the time I got into an airport taxi, and couldn’t find the energy to care when the driver charged me a couple hundred rupees extra. But even as fatigued as I was, when the staff at the Hosteller asked if I wanted to join a city tour leaving in just a few hours, I jumped at the chance. After the long haul to make it to the Pink City of Jaipur, I wanted nothing more than to see the colors of Rajasthan.
Myself and a Brazilian from Sao Paulo tucked into the back of a rickshaw, and the driver took us straight into the mechanized gullet of the city. Somehow, in spite of the chaotic flow of traffic around us, the driver remained calm and conversational — completely in control.
The buildings around us grew older and older until we found ourselves in the center of the bazaar. There, the walls of the buildings are the faded burnt orange sandstone which give the Pink City its slightly misleading nickname. We parked the rickshaw on a sleepy backstreet and stepped into a doorway, climbing a series of steps to find the entrance to Iswari Minar.
Built in the mid-18th century by the man whose name it bears, the minaret towers over the bazaar, giving those who climb it an excellent view over the city and of the landmarks beyond. We could even see the distant Amer Fort — our eventual destination.
As we made our way towards the Fort, our driver pulled over immediately after turning a corner, bidding us to look left. A huge facade rose just off the street, beautifully shaped jharokhas honeycombing the entire surface. It was the Hawa Mahal, a palace built for the sole purpose of keeping a ruler’s wives and concubines shielded from curious eyes while they watched street festivals. Nicknamed the Palace of the Winds, the palace is kept cool due to a combination of the openings seen below and the placement of several fountains in the center of the building — which together make for a clever form of air conditioning.
Our next stop was Galtaji, a Hindu pilgrimage site. Though there are several temples in the area, we were there for one known as the Monkey Temple. Sure enough, as we reached the top of the hill and took in an impressive view of the city, we stumbled across a monkey as well. Actually, two monkeys; I guess they thought it would be a romantic spot…
We left the monkeys to their shenanigans and trudged back down the hill, clambering aboard the rickshaw to go to the crown jewel of Jaipur, Amer Fort. Popular with tourists from all over India, as well as the rest of the world, it sees over 5000 visitors per day. The setting is impressive: the fort sprawls over the crest of a hill, and visitors have to pass through a garden next to a sparkling lake in order to approach the gates. The oasis below gives the impression of wealth and plenty, while the fortress above exudes a presence of power. The overall effect is one of timeless majesty.
Once inside, it felt as if we were in a world apart. The bleak terrain surrounding us was shut off by the high walls, and inside there was nothing but the sculpted elegance of the palace. Men in colorful costumes lounged about, posing with tourists in exchange for a few rupees. After seeing the Pink City below, I discovered even more of the colors of Rajasthan within the walls of Amer Fort.
In the heart of the Fort are a labyrinth of small passageways and rooms, as well as courtyards and gardens open to the elements. It was a beautiful place to explore, but crowded.
Panna Meena ka Kund
We spent a couple hours exploring the Fort, but our driver offered to show us some more places before wrapping up. The first was a step-well just behind the Fort. Used in the arid regions of the Indian subcontinent, step-wells are a key water storage solution in a region which only gets about 650 mm of rain per year. This one was small, but still cool to see. There’d been a much larger one featured in my favorite movie, The Fall, so I appreciated its inclusion on the tour!
Just across the street was a Jain temple, back-lit by the blazing sun. In front of it, on a crumbling wall, a gray langur munched enthusiastically on the withered petals of a Diwali garland. He looked my way once or twice, but seemed otherwise apathetic to my existence.
While most of the sites we’d visited thus far had been fairly bleak and/or imposing, Jal Mahal was nothing short of serene. A huge palace built in the middle of Man Sagar Lake, it gives the surreal impression of a floating castle drifting lazily with the breeze. We stood for a while and took in the sight; no tramping about, no scrambling for a better vantage point… It’s a place to simply relax and enjoy the view.
The Colors of Rajasthan
We were so tired, but more than that — we were hungry! Our guide took us to a popular local dive, where we gorged ourselves on naan and curried vegetables. After wrapping up the meal with some tea, we got into the rickshaw one final time to head back. As we settled into our comfortable spots on the terrace, we watched the sun plunge into the skyline of the city, painting the sky in vivid hues of purple and orange. It was gorgeous, and as night fell and the cityscape changed, I could still see the last traces of the colors of Rajasthan when I closed my eyes.
For more awesome tips on things to see and do in Jaipur, check out the Jaipur City Blog!
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