My first sense of India was stepping out of the new modern metro and down onto the street. It was there she launched her first attack on my senses. The sights and smells and the rising din. Bicycles, stacked high with family members or brown packages, taxis, speeding tuk tuks, limbs hanging out of buses, cars and wooden carts pulled by starving cows all merged into the traffic. We tried to take the route through the market to the amusement of the residents, the smell of chickens, fruits and roasting nuts. Then came to crossing the road, a rushing torrent with no way across. Somehow we made it, luggage and all. Just that gave us the rush of achievement. Then through a hidden door we stepped into our wonderful family run oasis, Shanti home.
Delhi is a run down city of fading grandeur. Connaught place, the city’s focal point, was a construction site, and mostly empty although the United Coffee House is worth a recommendation for dinner. The main tourist sites of the city were definitely worthwhile. We began with Qu’tb Minar – one of the first founding sites of the city. The imposing minar itself is quite a sight and the encompassing complex a pleasant and interesting place to wander around. Another favorite was Raj Ghat – the memorial site for Mahatma Gandhi. It was a very modest place, perfectly fitting with a serious air. The Lotus temple is a newer addition to Delhi’s architecture and it really stands apart. A bah’ia temple it is modeled on a lotus flower. Its surrounding pools of water add to its tranquility. P.S. It is a good idea to carry a bag to put your shoes in for all of these sites.
We rounded off our day in Delhi at dinner graciously hosted by friends. A glorious Indian feast which gave us a taste of the hospitality and warmth we would come to appreciate all over India.
Jaipur, the pink city, was the city in which we felt most at home, so named for the pink hue the buildings give off as they bask in the afternoon sun. The center of town is a giant bazaar laid out in a square, each side hawking a different ware. There is sari street filled with women stocking up on clothing and textiles, the jewellery street filled with precious stones and gold, the flower market resplendent with floral garlands, the food street selling chillies and spices which gave the flower market a run for its money in its colorful spread. Last but by no means least, dad’s favorite, was hardware street with strands of loose copper wire piled high and more nuts and bolts than Dad could ever imagine or I need. A wonderful stroll to while away an afternoon. To keep your energy levels up pop into LMB for a snack – their samosas were the best we had and you can eat them in the open shop area as you eye up the bewildering array of sweets on offer. Try the ladoo.
The Raj Mandir is an absolute must. Get tickets early (same day) to the left of the theatre (top tip: it helps if you write down the show time and how many tickets you want) and then come back about half an hour before showtime to ensure you have some time inside to take in the extravagant décor and get your popcorn. Take your seats on time since the show starts promptly with no previews and you do not want to miss the drawing of the velvet curtain accompanied by rapturous applause. Audience participation is encouraged. Don’t be worried about not being able to understand what is going on, we had no knowledge of Hindi and there were no subtitles but we understood 90% of the movie. Firstly, you can bet you have seen the plot before and the slow pace and regular use of English phrases is more than sufficient to allow you to follow along with ease. After the show, let it sink in over a delicious lassi around the corner.
Set a full day aside to visit Amber Fort. And go as early as you can to avoid the rush. A taxi takes about 30 minutes from town for 120R. Always use the pre-paid taxi booths at stations if you can as they were always cheaper than hailing one. Else bargain hard and stick resolutely to a fair price. The sandy colored fort is surrounded by a hilltop fortified wall which towers above. Amber Fort lies about half way up the hillside and was the palatial home to the ruling king. Jaigarh fort, perched above on the ridge, acted as its military defense and is also well worth a visit.
But first Amber Fort. The elephants trumpeting up to the imposing entrance gate helps transport you back in time. The elephants are majestic, all individually decorated in their Sunday best as they march through the gate to deliver their guests in the fort’s first courtyard. Upon entering the fort the site is a maze of palatial rooms, many intricately decorated showcasing a fine attention to detail. It is not hard to imagine the decadence in which these residents lived; seeing them dancing in their finery in the room coated with silver leaf or taking a wistful afternoon stroll through the peaceful rooftop garden. The fort exuded a sense of privilege and peace, in stark contrast to Jaigarh fort above. The day visitors tend just go to Amber Fort and leave but I strongly recommend taking the 10 minute trek up the hill. Jaigarh fort is red, crumbling and much more basic, and stern, in design. Its walls are particularly discouraging. It was here that the barracks were based, and where the royal family retreated if Amber fort was ever threatened. You can wander around the fort freely and the views are breathtaking. The decadence of Amber Fort clearly came at a cost, fiercely protected by the soldiers above. A wonderful day trip into Raj history. We took the bus back to town by following the locals onto the main road.
Another highlight of Jaipur was the Jantar Mantar observatory. A collection of sun clocks built long before their time the site offers unique insight into the scientific legacy of India. There are a collection of different clocks and instruments used to map the stars and understand the universe. You can even find the constellation representing your star sign. I would take the tour if astronomy isn’t your strong point.
During our stay in Jaipur we stayed at the truly wonderful home from home Rawla Rawatsar where we were treated like family. Its conveniently located close to the Sindi Camp bus station and Handi restaurant which comes highly recommended.