For the next leg of my month-long Indian adventure, Ricky, Sarah, Anthony and I headed to Jaipur and Jodhpur, otherwise known as the pink city and the blue city, respectively. Jaipur is famous for its coral-pink and terracotta buildings, which were painted in 1856 for a state visit from Prince Albert. Jodhpur, on the other hand, earned the nickname the blue city when members of the Brahmin class began painting their homes in the old city a bright cobalt.
After a long and dizzying drive from Ranthambore, we started our visit to Jaipur by picking up our guide and heading to the Birla Temple to watch the Aarti ceremony. Built in 1985, the Birla Temple is made entirely of brilliant white marble, and is home to the ornate statues of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and beauty). The Aarti ceremony involves the lighting and waving of oil lamps, in order to invoke the deities and put them to rest for the night (you may recall that we also attended one of these in Varanasi). We watched the ceremony, had a small bit of prashad, admired the Amer Fort sitting on the mountain adjacent the temple and then went on our way.
We then headed for dinner and a visit to the Rambagh Palace, a Rajput castle that now serves as a luxury hotel. Our tour guide smuggled us into the beautiful lobby and courtyard, eventually making our way over to one of the hotel’s restaurants, Steam. Made up of a series of repurposed train cars and outdoor seating (complete with movie screens and fire pits), Steam has a totally atmosphere. We sat inside one of the old steam engine cars and enjoyed a large meal of Mediterranean and Italian food – a welcome change after two weeks of dal and subzi. After filling up, we headed back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.
We started our first full day in Jaipur with a quick visit to the Hawa Mahal. This giant screened wall was constructed to allow the Rajput royal women to peek out into bustling street life without revealing their faces. The 953 latticed windows also meant that the strong summer winds could blow into the ladies chambers, providing some relief from the harsh summer heat – this led to the nickname, the palace of the winds. I had seen the Hawa Mahal online and was excited to get a glimpse in real life. It was so beautiful and totally lived up to my expectations.
From there, we continued on to the Amer Fort. Perched among the Aravallis mountain range and overlooking the Maota Lake, the Amer Fort is composed of a beautiful collection of palaces, temples and chambers. It features some seriously stunning architecture, as well as an unbeatable view of the City. The jewel in the crown of the Fort is the Sheesh Mahal, or palace of mirrors. A lovely chamber coated with pieces of mirror and coloured glass, legend has it that the Sheesh Mahal was constructed by the Maharaja so that his queen Maharani and the ladies of the court would feel as though they were sleeping under the stars.
After our sightseeing, we did a little shopping, stopping by Channi Carpets & Textiles to look at a Jaipur speciality, block-printed cotton. The boys had a few custom shirts made for around $30 a piece, and Sarah and I each ordered two pairs of custom cotton trousers. Channi has a seemingly endless selection of colours and patterns, and the items were delivered to our hotel within 24 hours. Other stores might have a different quality of goods and a different level of service. All of that can be kept in mind when you’re bargaining prices (and be sure to bargain – especially if you’re buying a number of items – or you’ll end up over-paying).
In addition to shopping for cotton, our tour guide brought us to a store to look at semi and precious gems and other jewelry. Jaipur is one of the leading locations in the world where gems are cut and polished, making it a great option for those looking to buy that type of item. We weren’t interested in buying anything along those lines, though, so we continued on our way pretty quickly.
After our shopping trip, we made a pit-stop at the Shreenath Lassi Walla to try a local specialty that our bus driver had insisted that we try – katchori. Basically a cross between a samosa and chaat, katchori is a deep fried pastry stuffed with spiced potato and veggies. It is served smashed in a small dish, topped with chutney and chickpeas. As you can probably tell from my other posts, I have eaten my fair share of fried food on this trip. While not exactly healthy, fried snacks are a good occasional way to enjoy street food in India, while limiting your chance of getting sick.
For our next day in Jaipur, we started by heading to Jantar Mantar. This UNESCO world heritage site is full of a collection of ancient astronomic tools, including the oldest sundial in the world. The oversized instruments are pretty unreal, and it’s hard to believe that the observatory is still actively used for astronomical research.
From there we hopped over to the nearby City Palace. This giant complex was an interesting change from the other palaces that we had visited so far on the trip, because portions of it have been converted into a museum. Those sections of the palace showcase clothing, textiles, artwork and military pieces used by the Rajput royalty in its heyday. I would especially recommended leaving time to check out the Pritam Niwas Chowk, an inner courtyard that provides access to the Chandra Mahal. The four small gates inside the courtyard (known as Ridhi Sidhi Pol) are decorated with four elaborate themes representing the seasons, and are definitely worth seeing. Also be sure to leave time for the beautiful coral-coloured Diwan-i-Aam, or Hall of Public Audience (pictured above).
The following day, we drove from Jaipur to Jodhpur, making it to our next destination just in time for dinner. Our tour company had arranged for us to have dinner Dhani Restaurant in the Ajit Bhawan Hotel. This restaurant, while not cheap, was one of the best meals of the trip. There are two menu options: a set menu of Rajasthani dishes in a thali, or you can choose dishes a la carte off of the regular menu. The service here was unreal and the staff bent over backwards to accommodate my veganism, even going so far to put my fenugreek and cauliflower dish on a thali plate so that I didn’t feel left out while the rest of my friends enjoyed the set menu. If you’re looking for a spot to have a nice, dress-up dinner, I would highly recommend scheduling a stop at Dhani.
For our first full day in Jodhpur, we headed to the Jaswant Thada, a mausoleum built out of intricately carved sheets of marble. Built in 1899, the cenotaph has some beautiful jalis (carved marble lattice screens) and is hung with portraits of Rathore rulers going back to the 13th century. It also has some very superb views across to the fort and over the city.
We then made our way over to the Mehrangarh Fort. The fort is situated 125 meters above the city and is enclosed by a thick loop of walls. Inside its boundaries there are several palaces known for their intricate carvings and expensive courtyards. It is also one of the most well-stocked museums in Rajasthan, including a selection of old royal palanquins, arms, costumes, paintings and decorated period rooms. After all that action, we stopped for a quick coffee break at the Cafe Mehran, a cafe inside the fort that serves real fresh espresso.
For our second-to-last stop of the day, we drove to Umaid Bhawan Palace. In the 1920s, Jodhpur faced a severe drought and famine conditions for three consecutive years. The farmers of the area faced sought the help of the then Maharaja Umaid Singh, and asked that he provide them with some employment to assist in their surreal. The king, in order to help the farmers, decided to build a lavish palace over a period of many years – using the farmers and the construction and artisan manpower. The Palace is beautiful, but because it was built so recently, it doesn’t look like most of the other palaces in Rajasthan.
While it was nice to visit, if I was to visit again I probably wouldn’t spend my time going to the Umaid Bhawan. It is divided into three parts – a luxury hotel, the royal residences and a museum for the public. The museum portion is quite small and doesn’t have much in the way of architecture or decor, so if you’re not paying out the nose to stay in the hotel, its probably not worth your time.
After the palace, we paid a visit to the Sardar Market and went on a walk through the old City. The Sardar Market is a full-on bustling Indian market, full of the typical sights, sounds and smells that make for a true Indian marketplace. In the centre of it all is a large clocktower (a very useful orientation point). We explored the narrow streets while looking to score some souvenirs. Some of the best purchases available in the market include jootis (shoes with a pointed toe), wooden handicrafts, spices and textiles (you’ll find a far better prices here for rugs, scarves, duvet covers, etc. than buying in Delhi). If you get hungry while you’re shopping, be sure to make a pit-stop at Shahi Samosa for a hari mirch pakora (a giant, delicious potato curry stuffed fried chili).
After a quick refresh at our hotel, we walked down the street to grab dinner On The Rocks. This jungle-themed restaurant has beautiful ambiance and tasty Indian cuisine, including lots of barbecue options. I loved enjoying our meal under the stars while surrounded by swaying trees and lush greenery. Overall this is a nice place with beautiful outdoor dining and good food, but be forewarned the service is quite slow.
The following day, we went with our guide to visit some Bishnoi Villages. The Bishnoi are staunch worshippers of nature in all its forms, and are especially focused on respecting the sanctity of plant and animal life. They make every effort to conserve the environment, and are strict vegetarians. We visited a few families that work as potters and weavers, watched a traditional opiate ceremony (no, we didn’t partake) and then enjoyed a lunch comprised of traditional Rajasthani village cuisine.
After a relaxing afternoon, we met up with Rishi and Rekha of Incredible Krishna for an Indian cooking class. This was one of the highlights of the trip. We visited this family’s rooftop home and over the course of an evening learned how to make more than 8 different dishes, ranging from Indian staples to restaurant-quality dishes. It was so wonderful to learn how to cook some of the food we had been enjoying over the last few weeks like aloo gobi, sabzi, parantha and biriyani. Rekha is an excellent cook and teacher, and it was so lovely spending time with their family and learning a little more about the basics of Indian cooking. She was even kind enough to tailor her recipes so that they were vegan!
These were definitely two of my favourite cities in India. There is so much vibrancy, beauty and richness in Rajasthani culture that makes it totally irresistible. Even though these were some of the longest stops on our trip, I actually felt like I could have used more time in both Jaipur and Jodhpur. If you’re planning a trip to India, I would absolutely recommend visiting both of these cities, and making sure you have plenty time in each, since there really is so much to see and do here.
Lots of love,