It was two girls who decided to take on the world, well at least a part of it… okay, okay, a very small part of it – Jaipur, the capital city of the State of Rajasthan. Every kid in a decent Indian school has gone to a school trip to Jaipur and marvelled at the Hawa Mahal, eaten food at the Chokhi Dhani and looked at the vast spaces at the Amer Palace and wondered whether Jodha Akbar was really shot there.
Even I have done it and more than once. This was probably my sixth or seventh visit to Jaipur. But there was something different this time – I wondered what? The city was the same, its people were the same and the song that played in my head when I went around the city was the same. I realised that it was that feeling of freedom since it was just me and this amazing friend of mine, who visited every place, the history of which we probably already knew but just needed a little refreshing. You realise the city lives its history, the roads have old buildings on both sides which carry the same shade of red in which they were originally painted (any other colour paint is barred by law). Small monuments are a part of its infrastructure. One can spot a Rajputi canopy over some or the other building. The city offers an amalgamation of the old and the new.
We took the Ajmer Shatabdi from New Delhi to Jaipur which reached at 10:37 AM. The reason why I remember the time so precisely well was because it reached three minutes earlier and my admiration for the Indian Railways reached a whole new level (it was to come back and bite me in ass eventually). We had booked our beds in a Zostel which was about four km from the railway station and the autowallah charged us ₹120 for it, even though the Zostel had told us not to pay more than a ₹100. We later came to know that we could have gotten an Uber just for ₹50, but you are fresh off the train and don’t really know where to go so just took it and on the way made fun of the Jaipur Metro. Nothing beats Delhi Metro…period.
We reached the Zostel about 40 minutes earlier than the check in time and decided to just wait in the common room till 12 and met the people staying there. At 12 we checked in, freshened up and walked to the City Palace which is about 10 minutes walk from the Zostel.
On the way, we went to check out this emporium which sold Jaipuri handicrafts including a quilt made from 100gms of cotton. It was interesting but City Palace was an even better experience because the sun wasn’t out yet and the breeze was cool. We went from gallery to gallery like school kids trying to understand what would have happened when, since we decided not to hire a guide. We felt we had stumbled on a gem when we entered the art gallery at the Palace. It was a boggling collection of paintings and replicas of the originals and photographs clicked over the past three centuries of the city and its residents. Some of them forced you to wait and look at them to understand the meaning hidden in the layers of paint. You could see influences of English Victorian Art and Muslim Art on the paintings. On the way back to Zostel, all I could think of was why did my school not take me to the gallery…
The next day, we took an early start, since the last night the puppet show arranged by the Zostel had forced us to retire early (we have seen better). In just one day we had realised the city has not yet understood the meaning and purpose of traffic rules. But the one thing that restored my faith in Jaipur traffic was bus no. 29. It probably runs across the breadth of the city, because where ever we wanted to go, people told us to wait for bus no. 29. It was a godsend. Where tuk tuks were charging us ₹150 or more to take us to the Amer Palace, the bus left us at the Palace for ₹10 each.
The Palace, though… the location of it, touches something in your heart. This Palace had a sense of grandeur to it. It is bigger in its size than the City Palace, which we realised after our feet had started to hurt. The sense of grandeur also comes from the fact that it has three palaces in one. The earliest one probably dating back to the somewhere in the 1500s. Further, the views it offers are awe inspiring. The Sheesh Mahal, constructed over a period of 46 yrs is touted to be one of the reasons for the Palace receiving the honour of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The paint on the walls is supposed to be 400 years old.
We took the same bus no. 29 to the Albert Hall Museum, which houses a collection of art from almost every part of the world including Egypt. I saw a mummy, an actual mummy which had been brought there for the museum. They housed paintings, art work from different historical periods and some gifts that had been presented to the kings from artisans including shields that depicted scenes from the Hindu epics of Mahabharat and Ramayana.
We again took the bus back to the Zostel, rested for a while and headed out to the Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Winds. One thing I must note at this point, the place has very less winds for a name like that. My friend wanted to take a boomerang for her Instagram profile with a title ‘blown away at the palace of winds’. It took almost 15 minutes for there to be a strong enough wind for her to get a satisfactory video – where our hair would actually fly in the wind.
The evening was spent on a trek to the Nahargarh Fort. We almost died doing it, because of the exhaustion but it was worth it. The view from the top of the fort is breathtaking. One can see the entirety of the new Jaipur city. We waited till the sun slowly set, behind the clouds and one the trekkers with us knew how to play the flute, so we got a live musical show!
To cap the eventful day off, the entire Zostel went out to a pub and individuals from every continent shared drinks and dinner without having a clue about each other. We made friends with a lovely woman from Holland and Irish prince whose castle is now in ruins. We never let him hear the end of it 😀
The next day we had kept for shopping and the Jantar Mantar and other small monuments around. But the sleep deprivation from last night ensured that we were in no position to move. We actually bought our tickets to the Jantar Mantar, entered the observatory and sat down at the first place we could find and laughed at everyone around. I think they thought we were high. I don’t blame them, even I wasn’t sure, what tricks my brain was trying to pull.
We decided that this ain’t happening boss and headed back. Slept for another couple of hours and then went to grab a meal at Mutual’s in C Scheme. Might I warn you, Jaipur has a really dull food scene. We couldn’t find any good cafe to go to. I think we didn’t have a proper meal for the first two days. And any cafe that we did enter had astronomical prices. But Mutual’s offered great food at reasonable prices. I have a rule that I never eat vegetarian food when I go out, but I ordered a potato burger and it genuinely tasted heavenly. It had a buttery after taste that made my taste buds so happy, I kid you not. The coffee was great too.
That day we stayed in mostly. Our legs were still fatigued from yesterday;’s trek and back in the common room, we pulled out the board games and everyone became surprisingly very competitive.
The next day was a trip to the Sisodiya Rani ka Bagh, which was essentially a garden right next to the living quarters of a queen. You could stay there forever, but one of us had to catch a train to Udaipur and since it was our last day, we really wanted to try the Dal Baati Churma, the traditional dish of Rajasthan. We found a small restaurant that served it for a decent price and shared between four of us, everyone had to pay ₹45 for it.
We had booked ourselves the same train back to Delhi – the Ajmer Shatabdi, which was running 14 minutes late. The margin wasn’t much and we thought that the train would cover it by the time it reaches Delhi. But boy was I wrong. Our train was 35 minutes late by the time we came to New Delhi. I had cursed the Indian Railways so many times in these 35 minutes, that I was worried that a vein would pop. I was not angry about the delay, you expect that from an Indian train. But the train just stood in the middle of nowhere for absolutely no reason. We could see the station, there was no train at the station and yet the train just stood there as if waiting for a divine intervention.
But I never knew that Jaipur could be this fun. The town still needs to improve on its traffic mannerism but I am sure it will get there.