After taking a famous Indian train to Agra, we decided to take one of the famous Indian buses to Jaipur. Stephanie was again disappointed not to have chickens on the bus, but traveling like the locals is always a fun experience. Now, it wouldn’t have been a true local experience if our bus had… say… air conditioning or an onboard bathroom, but it did have great views of rural India as we traveled. No one rode on the roof of our bus, but plenty of people were riding on the roofs of other buses we saw!
On our first full day in Jaipur, our host arranged for 11 of us couch surfers to go see some of the sites. Our first stop was the Monkey Temple. The complex is beautiful and wonderfully crumbly. More importantly, the Monkey Temple is so named due to the large colony of monkeys that live in and climb all over it. Our driver said that there are over 5,000 monkeys living there! There are small temples throughout, and at the far end is a steep path that leads up to a sun temple with a spectacular view of the city of Jaipur.
The next stop was the Jal Mahal – a water palace. It’s closed to the public, so we never got more than a view from the shore, but it looks cool. We also bought a GIANT papadam – a crispy Indian snack – from a street vendor (once we got her down to a reasonable price, of course). And finally, we checked out a cemetery where many of Jaipur’s maharinis (wives of the maharajas) are buried.
After we recovered from Holi, we went to see one of the most famous sites in Jaipur – the Amer Fort (also called the Amber Fort). At first we planned to simply check it out from the outside since we felt we had seen plenty of forts in India. Once we got the lowdown on the insides, though, we realized we needed to go in. Even better, there are two ways up the impressive hill on which the fort sits: by foot, and by elephant. We decided there was no way we were going to pass up a chance to ride an elephant in India, so we climbed aboard an elephant (still painted for Holi), and let it trundle us up the hill. What a blast! And much more comfy than the camel we rode in Petra, Jordan a few years ago. I’ll take an elephant over a camel any day. The fort did not disappoint either. It is more elaborate and ornate than the Red Fort in Delhi or the Agra Fort, and it took us over three hours to explore the whole thing. Our favorite room was the silver mirrored Glass Palace.
Later that day we went to the Jantar Mantar, which literally translates to “calculation instrument.” The site is a collection of giant instruments built for astronomical and astrological calculations in the 1700s. With most of them, it was hard to determine how they’re used – even with descriptions right there! But the whole place had a “Neverending Story” meets “Knights of the round table” feel to it, which made it fun just to walk around.
We had one more day of sightseeing before departing Jaipur, so we went first to the City Palace. The seat of government of Rajasthan, this opulent palace complex has everything from cars of the maharajahs to an antique weapons collection. One particularly cool item was a pair of five foot tall water urns made from the silver of 14,000 coins. The Hall of Public Audience has paintings of all the maharajas of Rajasthan right up to 1948 when India won its independence from Britain, and formed a more modern government.
An external piece of the city palace is the Hawa Mahal – the Palace of Winds. Unfortunately, the beautiful exterior is under renovation, but we were able to see some of the beautiful colored glass windows from the inside as we climbed the seven stories to the top.
We also went to the Albert Hall Museum. This is the state museum of Rajasthan, filled with all sorts of interesting artifacts, and is definitely a place that locals frequent. Within minutes, we were besieged by people who wanted photos with us. I try to be a gracious celebrity, but after the 20th photo in five minutes, it was time to start disappointing people so we could actually see the museum. It was very strange to be followed by people who just wanted a photo. A few times we caught people hanging out nearby, waiting for us to accidentally look at them so they could snap a quick shot, even after they had asked us for a photo and we had said no. And more than one person simply video-taped us walking along. It was really frustrating, especially to Stephanie, who just wanted to see the museum without being followed and harassed. We did give in on occasion and pose for some photos, but it seemed that every time we said yes, there were suddenly a dozen people who wanted to be in individual pictures with us. Fortunately, the museum is somewhat small, so it didn’t take us long to see the whole thing and take our leave.
So what about Jaipur aside from the tourist attractions? Jaipur’s nickname is “The Pink City,” a name it was given because many of the buildings in the city are made out of red sandstone which turns pink over time. Other than that though, we didn’t think of Jaipur as representative of “pink,” which often insinuates “sweet.” We found Jaipur to be a tougher, grittier city than Delhi. Traffic is even crazier, horns blow louder and more often (which is hard to imagine once you’ve been to Delhi), and the vendors are even more relentless (they do *not* like taking no for an answer!) and bloodthirsty. We had one fruit vendor try to sell us bananas for 100 rupees. Luckily, we knew that was double the going price, and it helped us beef up our haggling skills even more.
The food in Jaipur had something for both of us. For me, it was spicier than anywhere else we’d been in India. For Stephanie, it was cheaper than anywhere else we’d been, period! (For you Indian food fans, dinner of Chana Masala, Dal Fry, Jeera rice and Naan for two cost us 85 rupees or about $1.56.) Stephanie was really happy that at the very least, food she wasn’t always crazy about was very economical.
Internet connectivity in Jaipur was extremely tough to come by. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t find free Wi-Fi anywhere! I guess they don’t do that. We didn’t expect to find Starbucks or McDonald’s there, but thought there might be some local chains that offer similar services. We did find some one-off internet cafes here and there but there was supposedly some crazy world-wide internet traffic attack that was slowing the internet speed terribly in five different countries including India! Jaipur was very badly affected, and so were we when it came time to pay our monthly bills. In the end, we hopped a local bus a day early and headed back to see our host in Delhi and to get better internet connectivity for one last night!