A perfect weekend getaway in winters, Jaipur, the capital of the state of Rajasthan, is just a 5-hour drive from New Delhi. It is well connected by rail and air and boasts of an international airport. Its rich history attracts school excursions, the majestic beauty fascinates foreigners, it’s a paradise for handicrafts, heaven for shopping, it enthralls architects, forms a perfect locale for film shootings, is small enough to visit most places of interest in two days, budget friendly and welcomes guests with its best of cuisine.
Amer Fort – History & Architecture
Here we were, on the outskirts of Jaipur, after a comfortable drive from Delhi. We crossed via Amer town and were right in front of the majestic 16th century Amber Fort. This place is best visited early in the morning. It’s a beautiful walk up the cobbled ramp to the entrance of the fort. Alternatively, one can ride on elephants or take a jeep. To get that royal feel, we sat on the elephant one way and decided on using the jeep on the way back because we were tired with all the walking around the fort. Even the short jeep ride is exhilarating as they maneuver sharp turns in the narrow alleys.
The entry fee for Indians is Rs. 50; foreigners is US $4. The fort is quite well maintained and boasts of Rajput architecture with Hindu and Muslim style of ornamentation. The guide informed us that lately a secret tunnel was discovered in the fort that connected Amber to Jaigarh Fort. It was opened to the public for some time, adding to the excitement of the fort.
Do carry water and a hat and wear comfortable shoes. We reluctantly left this place after two hours as we knew there was so much more to explore in Jaipur.
We were starving by the time we reached our car. We had ‘Amer ki chai’, cheese pizza and hot Chinese bhel at a cute little roof top cafe, “The Stag Restro Cafe & Lounge”. The cafe offers a spectacular view of the fort. Wanting to save our appetite for some authentic Rajasthani cuisine, we didn’t gorge too much.
Otherwise, for the bold, the place is dotted with small eateries that offer the ubiquitous tea and salted snacks (‘bhujiyas’ of assorted types).
We intended on returning to the fort the next night, to watch the beautiful sound and light show, which focuses on the history of Jaipur, but unfortunately we ran short of time.
Jal Mahal – History & Architecture
As we made our way to the city, we crossed the Jal Mahal located in the middle of Man Sagar Lake. Colourful camels ‘take people for a ride’ along the serene lake. With the backdrop of Aravalis, this would have been a real eye soother if the lake had not been littered with trash at some places. Just a stop of 20 minutes is enough here.
A road from hereabouts turns into the hills and winds its way to the other two smaller, but important, forts – Jaigarh and Nahargarh. Since we were told it was best to visit the forts in the morning, we deferred it to the next day. It seems the road going up the hill has some dangerous turns and it becomes risky to drive here after dark.
Just before you enter the city, the Amer road on either side is lined with shops selling handicrafts, the famed blue pottery of Jaipur, brass and copper work antiques, gemstone paintings, textile, lac bangles etc. We stopped to pick up some reasonably priced knick-knacks as souvenirs. Do remember to bargain a bit. People in Jaipur are very friendly, don’t cheat and are open to bargaining.
Hawa Mahal – History & Architecture
This fascinating five-storey palace is a ‘must stop’ for at least a photo. Although getting parking space her is quite difficult, ghe problem has been solved by ‘touts’, who for a nominal sum, help you park and take you to one of the houses facing this ‘Palace of the Winds’, for a perfect photo. They fill in as ‘guide’ too and we learned that this Palace with 953 windows (jharokhas), was built in the 18th century for women of the royal families to have a ‘look-see’ at everyday life outside; since they were not permitted to appear in public.
The place around this is abuzz with tourists and is a shopping haven. Remember to bargain!
City Palace: Constructed by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II
We wanted to use our time well and check out the famed City Palace and Jantar Mantar, as they close down at 5 pm. The ticket at City Palace can be used again at Jaigarh, so please keep it safely. One can hire a golf cart for Rs. 200 per person if you don’t want to walk. We wanted to savour and get a feel of royalty, so we walked around, stopping to admire every niche.
This place is perfect for history lovers and those interested in architecture; which is a blend of Rajput, Mughal and European. The various museums exhibit the royal costumes, the armour used, the carpets and royal furniture. Four beautiful gates, representing the four seasons are the main attraction of the inner courtyard. The entire area was well kept and the attendants were quite friendly.
The descendants of the royal family live in the private palace, the Chandra Mahal, just beyond this courtyard.
Jantar Mantar – History & Architecture
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an architectural marvel. Built by Sawai Jai Singh II, it is situated close to the City Palace. Do hire a guide who will explain the various fascinating 18th century astronomical instruments. It’s amazing to see how our intelligent ancestors managed to construct instruments to such fine precision in the absence of theoretical knowledge. This complex houses the world’s largest sundial.
Exhausted with so much information and fascinated with the monuments, we decided to check into our hotel, Narain Niwas Palace. This beautiful hotel itself was fascinating, with its royal architecture and exquisitely decorated walls and ceilings.
We had planned on having authentic Rajasthani cuisine and had zeroed down on Chokhi Dhani. Although we could’ve booked here for a night to enjoy the surreal feeling of a typical village, we preferred the city as Chokhi Dhani is almost 20 kms away.
Chokhi Dhani – An Ethnic Village in Jaipur
We had booked our tickets on-line in advance. To get an experience of the typical Rajasthani culture, one needs to spend a few hours here. The place promotes and preserves the traditional heritage hospitality of a typical Rajasthani village, albeit in a 5-Star environment. Right from their welcome, to the vibrant atmosphere inside and to the ‘manuhar’(delicately requesting the guests to eat to their heart’s desire); the detailing is perfect. There are activities for all age groups and it was a great ‘pass time’ for all of us. We had opted for the vegetarian meal and the ‘dal-batti-choorma’ was a hit. Other dishes such as ‘gatta’, kadhi, kair sangri, dahi tinda, missi roti, bajre ki roti, chaas etc had us full in no time.The stress on pure ghee cannot be undermined and this meal may not suit those with a delicate stomach.
Most of the desserts too, uses pure milk and ghee and maybe if we had starved ourselves for 2-3 days, we could have done justice to that meal.
Back to our hotel and we slept like logs till the first ray of sun showed up at our window.
Birla Mandir and Moti Dungri – Jaipur, Rajasthan
We had planned on invoking our religious feelings in this beautiful city that seemed to be dotted with temples at every nook and corner. Since we didn’t have time for more than two, we decided on one contemporary and one historic temple. As luck would have it, two of these are situated side-by-side near the Moti Dungri fort.
The Moti Dungri Fort, atop the Moti Dungri Hill, is an imitation of a Scottish Castle and looked very inviting from the road below, but we were told that it’s a private fort (Late Maharani Gayatri Devi spent most of her time here) and is open to the public only once a year during Shivratri. A temple in the premises, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. We were told that on the day of Shivratri, the queue of devotees extends all the way to the bottom of the hill.
Birla Mandir, built in 1985, sits snugly at the base of this hill. This beautiful, white temple can be seen easily from the busy road. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his consort, Lakshmi and is also called the Laxmi Narayan Temple.
Almost adjacent to this temple is the most revered, 500 years old Ganesh Temple, which is a part of the Moti Dungri Palace. The beautiful idol of Ganesha here, has his trunk towards the left, which is considered very auspicious.
Do keep in mind that the temples are closed in the afternoon, between 1.30 and 4.30 PM.
Yes, our religious feelings were invoked to the fullest. The feeling of peace and goodness enveloped us. Our steps were lighter as we came out of this place.
Nahargarh Fort – History & Architecture
Almost 15 kms from Jal Mahal, it took us almost half an hour to reach Nahargarh (means Abode of Tigers) Fort. The winding road up the Aravalis, gave a scenic view of the hills. Some hairpin bends on the road, had us on tenterhooks.
After visiting the Amber, this fort seems to have nothing much to offer except a most impressive and panoramic view of the city. We walked around the roof terrace of the fort, soaking in the spectacular sight of the Pink City nestled below, had coffee at “Once Upon A Time’ and after we admired its interiors set off back on the road to Jaigarh.
Jaigarh Fort – History & Architecture
The highlight of this majestic fort is the presence of the world’s largest canon-on-wheels (which incidentally was only test fired once) in its courtyard, an impressive palace complex and a well-kept garden. The rumor that is circulated in hushed tones is about the discovery of buried treasure here and how it was ‘stolen’ away by the government. It is said that truck loads of gold were moved away from here just in a night and to this day no one knows about the whereabouts!
Back at our hotel, we rested our feet for some time and it was time for the most important pastime — shopping !
We stopped just for a photo opposite the Albert Hall, a museum, as we were told that after seeing the museum of the palace, this would be a downer.
We made a bee-line for one of the main roads of Jaipur — M.I Road — and relished the most famed sweet lassi (drink made with yogurt), reasonably priced at Rs. 25 for a glass and had a sumptuous meal at Niros, next door.
We shopped for knick knacks and the famed ‘choorans’ (helps in digestion) at Bapu Bazaar and picked up beautiful textiles from Ratan, lovely ‘bandhej’ dupattas (type of large scarf) from Pratapsons and some cotton dresses from Anokhi.
A lovely dinner at Little Italy and we were finally satiated with our short and very interesting trip to Jaipur.