Only 265 kilometres from Delhi, Jaipur is an ideal weekend getaway for anyone with a passion for history, heritage architecture, art, food and shopping. Here’s my guide to making the most out of your time there without fainting with exhaustion.
My friends and I decided to drive down and make a road trip of it. I know it sounds tempting but unless you want yourself drained of all energy, its not something I would advise. That the condition of NH8 (the highway linking Delhi and Jaipur) is deplorable is a huge understatement. There are enormous potholes, no lights, improperly marked diversions, lots of trucks and in some places, mere dirt tracks. The poor car was quite beat up (not unlike us) by the time we reached Delhi. It took us EIGHT hours, a scraped engine guard and a flat tyre. Also, the fact that we paid about Rs. 500 in toll tax (both ways) for a highway that didn’t exist, did not do much to improve my mood.
However, don’t let this put you off. Despite all the inconveniences (I’m putting it mildly), we had a fantastic time! Jaipur is a lovely city with so much to offer. Just take the train. Take the Shatabdi to Jaipur and the Double Decker back to Delhi:
2015 Ajmer Shatabdi departs New Delhi Railway Station at 6.05 a.m. and arrives at Jaipur at 10.45 a.m.
12985 Double Decker leaves daily from the Pink city at 6:00 am and reaches Delhi Sarai Rohilla at 10:30 am and 12986 departs from Delhi at 5:35 pm and reaches Jaipur at 10:05 pm.
1. Jal Mahal (“Water Palace”): Located in the middle of Man Sagar Lake in Jaipur, it is an architectural marvel built in the Rajput and Mughal styles of architecture. Stop on the way to Nahargarh Fort, walk along the pavement overlooking the palace and admire the palace and its rippling reflection. Some sweet coconut water makes the day even better (Rs. 30 for a coconut from any of the roadside vendors).
2. Nahargarh Fort: Built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, this fort on the edge of the Aravallis overlooks Jaipur city and is probably my favourite place in the city. The Madhavendra Bhawan built by Sawai Madho Singh is a beautiful palace within the fort and has spectacular views of the city. The fort also has two cafes, Padao Cafe and Durg Cafe. The food isn’t great but I would recommend Padao for the view and the ambience. Its reasonably priced and overlooks most of the Pink City.
3. Jaigarh Fort: Between Nahargarh Fort and Amber Palace lies Jaigarh. This fort also has excellent views of the city and in addition, houses an armoury and the largest cannon in the world. Don’t miss it!
4. Amber Palace (Amer Fort): Connected to Jaigarh Fort by a subterranean passageway, Amer Fort is located on the “Cheel ka Teela” (the hill of eagles). This is where you would find the beautiful “Sheesh Mahal” (Palace of Mirrors) as well as a Diwan-i-aam (hall of public audience) and a Diwan-i-khaas (hall of private audience). It has been laid out over four levels and overlooks Maota Lake. You might want to watch out for the monkeys while exploring! It also houses the restaurant 1135 AD well known for its Rajasthani and North Indian food. It is on the expensive side but offers great service and the experience of dining in palatial surroundings.
4. Walled City and Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds): A wall with seven gates was built around Jaipur when it was established by Maharaja Jai Singh in 1727. In 1853, all the buildings here were painted pink to commemorate a visit from the Prince of Wales. Jaipur has long since expanded beyond these walls. However, all the buildings here are still painted pink. Walk around the alleyways, there are lovely shops selling Jaipuri “juttis” and “chappals”, lehriya and bandhani (tie and dye) dupattas, colourful turbans and jewellery. If you can bargain, you’ll get the juttis for as little as Rs. 100 and dupattas in cotton silk for Rs. 200. Marvel at Hawa Mahal which forms a part of the city palace and is designed in the shape of Krishna’s Crown. Its small windows are decorated with intricate latticework and it is five storeys high (it looks larger in pictures though).
5. City Palace: In the heart of the Pink City, it includes the Chandra Mahal and the Mubarak Mahal. A part of it has been converted into a museum while the rest of it is still a royal residence.
6. Doll Museum: In Albert Hall on Jawahar Lal Nehru (J.L.N.) Marg, this houses a beautiful collection of dolls from all over the world. It also houses some beautiful paintings and sculptures.
7. Jawahar Kala Kendra: Close to the Doll Museum on J.L.N. Marg, it has lovely art exhibits by artists all over the world. It also has a cafe run by the “Indian Coffee House” which is a great place to have idlis, dosas and coffee in between browsing the galleries.
8. Elephants: I grew up in India but I’ve never seen so many elephants in a single day! Check out their beautifully painted trunks.
9. Magnificent Moustaches: Rajasthani men take great pride in their moustaches which are quite magnificent.
Food: Rajasthan’s food has been influenced by its arid climate. The savoury dishes are spicy and delicious and the desserts, unique. The best way to try everything in one go is to order a Rajasthani Thali, it will have small quantities of most of these dishes:
1. Gatte ki subzi: “Gatte” are gram flour (“besan”) dumplings which are incredibly soft and cooked to perfection in a yogurt gravy. Wonderful to eat with “Missi Roti” (bread made with a combination of wheat flour and gram flour) or “Khasta Roti” (flaky bread made with wheat flour, gram flour and semolina). I tried to ask for rotis without butter but was earnestly advised against it. They were right! Butter makes these delicious rotis absolutely divine!
2. Kair Sangri: This is a tangy combination of desert berries and dried beans cooked in spices and yogurt. Eat it with the “rotis” AND the “gatte ki subzi”.
3. Baati: These are hard wheat rolls soaked in “ghee” (clarified butter). These are served with “daal” (a delicious source of protein that doesn’t add to your holiday weight) and “churma” (this is a dessert, ground wheat cooked with ghee, sugar and cardamom). I know I seem to be advocating very high calorie, ghee and butter filled unhealthy meals but I find it so difficult to eat healthy on a vacation! Also, walking around the city and the forts will burn at least some of those calories!
4. Laal Maans: A spicy red meat curry cooked with red chillies! Reach out for another of those butter laden “missi rotis”! However, “laal maans” won’t be found on a typical Rajasthani Thaali which is vegetarian.
5. Ghewar: A traditional Rajasthani dessert, it is usually made from ghee, flour and sugar. There are many varieties of ghewar, try the “paneer ghewar” at Lakshmi Misthan Bhandaar in Johari Bazaar).