Now well into my 3rd month in India, I knew that I needed to get up to Rajasthan as quickly as possible; I realised that I didn’t have time to visit the north east regions of Darjeeling or Kashmir but this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; it meant that I had more time to visit the north west regions. After leaving Auroville (which I’ll write about in a separate post) I made my way to Chennai. Now, the original information I’d been given led me to believe that I’d have to catch a train from Chennai to Hyderabad, then from there to Jaipur, which would be my first stop in Rajasthan. However, after a little more digging I found that I could catch a single, direct train from Chennai to Jaipur if I was willing to wait a couple of days; this was perfect as it meant I could catch up on things and relax in Chennai. So, after chilling, I boarded the train and got ready to face a 36hr journey to the north western desert region; everything to this point was fine and my spirits were high, until they arrived…
A young couple, one of their parents, and two unruly kids sat across from me on the train. For the best part of 2 days I was slowly losing my patience; patience that I’ve managed to keep throughout my time in India (at one point I even had a daydream about kicking one of the kids off the train when he went to the toilet- the train doors are left open in India). Anyway, after a gruelling, character testing journey, it’s safe to say I landed in the pink city a little tired and dishevelled; this was made worse by the dry heat and the ever familiar relentlessness of horns beeping their way around; I needed a couple of hours of good sleep.
After my much needed rest, I planned my time here. I didn’t know how long I was going to be in the city, nor exactly where I was going next, but one thing I knew is that wherever I went, I was going to walk it. Yes, walk it. Walking seems to be a strange phenomenon that Indians don’t seem to have heard of; they would rather pay for a rickshaw than walk a mile; it really is bizarre. So, when in Kanyakumari, I decided that from then on I’d walk everywhere (within reason-my daily limit being around 10 miles). This plan had worked fine so far and there was no reason for it to stop in Rajasthan so, after consulting the hostel guy, I planned my next few days in the city.
If you are planning to walk often, probably the best thing to have on your person (apart from water) is a compass, or a compass app on your phone; this is invaluable as it’s very easy to lose your bearings within the bazaars and backstreets of cities such as Jaipur and just knowing the general direction you’re heading in is beyond helpful. After meandering through the pink city I decided to tackle the 11km trek east to the Aravalli hills, which is home to the Amer and Jaigarh forts. If you do walk it you will no doubt pass by the Jal Mahal (water palace) which is worth a quick stop and a few photos; though if you do travel throughout Rajasthan you’ll find that the water palaces in Udaipur overshadow its beauty no end.
After a top up of water and a well deserved rest (the road to Amer is mainly uphill) I found myself set aback by the scale of the Forts. Set well into the hills, the forts are impressive to say the least; the lower fort (Amer) containing a royal palace, and the higher fort (Jaigarh) towering over, used as a backup if ever the lower fort and palace were breached. Visiting here, plus the walk back, were more than enough for one day and still being tired from the train journey, I called it an early night.
One place I hadn’t actually heard of in Jaipur was the Galtaji (monkey temple); if you climb up to the Shiv Mandir then down the other side you’ll find yourself in a very small valley (more of a crevice really) enclosed by jagged rocks, pools and, of course, monkeys. This place is a pilgrimage site for Hindus and you’ll find many people bathing here. I found that the temple complex is worth a quick look and after a few photo opportunities with locals (for them, not me), I made my way back to the city. One thing to note for Diabetics here is that on my way back I found a medical shop where I could buy another insulin pen (though it was my 3rd attempt in Jaipur). After shelling out a day’s budget on drugs, I found that I had most of the day left so visited a few of the closer sites within the city.
Now, if you get a decent map of the city from somewhere (most hostels have their own version) you can plan a route which covers most of the desirable places in a few hours; the easiest of these routes basically taking you around the perimeter of the pink city. Here you will find the architecturally impressive Hawa Mahal, the City Palace, and the Jantar Mantar among other little gems.
I actually had a genuinely amusing conversation, over Chai, with two Indian blokes sat on the road side. As I was walking by they collared me and asked me to sit with them and, before even asking my name or where I was from (the usual introductory questions), they asked me how long I’d been travelling. After giving them an inquisitive look, they commented that they could tell I was travelling by the relaxed, care free way I was strolling about on the road side. This actually pleased me somewhat as, when I first arrived in Mumbai, an Indian fella commented that I looked too ‘fresh’ (as I was very white, clean shaven, and was wearing clean, western clothes). So to these two guys I obviously looked unwashed, tanned, scruffy, and wearing less than decent attire (which again amused me quite a lot).
Anyway, if you wander around Jaipur you’ll notice a large Fort towering over the city; this is Nahargarh Fort. Now, I don’t generally like to say that you ‘must visit’ certain places (I’m not a ‘top ten places to visit’ sort of blogger-there are enough of those about) but when in this city you really should take the winding path up to this place or, if you’re lazy, get a cab. The path is actually surprisingly difficult to find as the narrow roads leading to it feel like a maze but, if you do make it, the views as you gradually make your way up (dodging herds of cows on their way down) are only surpassed by the views from the top.
The palace (where the King had 9 Queens- what a guy) within the fort is impressive on its own, but throw in the incomparable view of the city and the grand architecture and you’ve got a winner; this is by far the most impressive place of Jaipur. The atmosphere at the top is peaceful and there’s hardly a sound; you can actually hear the hum of the city from up here, which is genuinely relaxing. Whilst here you can also grab a bite to eat either in the royal courtyard (90r Dosa) or if you feel like spending a bit more, the hilltop restaurant, though it’s 200r just to enter and is overly expensive, but I suppose you get what you pay for.
Naturally, after visiting such a great place and feeling on top of the world, a cold beer was in order; luckily in Jaipur sourcing a beer is not an issue. I managed to find a dark, smoky basement bar not far from my hostel where, during my visits, I was given the chance to talk to locals until either we couldn’t talk without slurring, or we couldn’t walk in a straight line. What I’ve found possibly frustrating about other travellers/tourists in India is that most of them are reluctant to go into these local bars, instead opting for well known ‘tourist’ bars where beer is overly priced and the only people you get to talk to are other people like yourself. You can’t get to know the local people by spending your time in tourist hotspots- you need to go get lost and drink beer or chai with a couple of locals; half of the things I’ve learnt about India have been from half-cut Indian drinkers; there really is no other way.
Like all Indian cities, Jaipur is by no means perfect. Though the pink city is a great place to wander around, there’s no escaping the open sewers and urinals that line some of the streets (not to mention the ‘river’ that flows through the city, which is full of s**t and pigs). Jaipur is also one of the seemingly more densely populated places I’ve been to so far; besides from the abundance of rickshaws and cars, some of the streets are difficult to walk along to say the least, and the smog, which is clearly visible from Nahargarh fort as a blanket over the city, is largely noticeable in some areas. Of course, having been in India for quite a while now I’m used to such things but sometimes it’s a little too much. One thing I will say though is that the city mainly consists of low built structures; there are very few buildings that rise above 5 storeys.
In this sense, Jaipur is a very open, very safe city and helps create a good argument for visiting Rajasthan; Jaipur is a fitting gateway into this great state. I spent 5 days in this amazing city and, though it’s definitely not for everyone, I enjoyed my time here and will always see it as a highlight of the north…