5th July – 8th July, Jaipur
Jaipur – our first stop in North India. It was a mission getting here, our train journey was meant to take 21 hours (overnight) but due to many stops etc it ended up taking 26 hours, leaving at 9pm from Mumbai, arriving in Jaipur at 11pm the next evening – Epic would be a good word to use I think. However it did us a chance to dry out all our wet clothes, shoes and bags from the Mumbai downpour, and get stuck into the train food!
Jaipur is a city of 2.6 million and lies to the south west of Dehli in the state of Rajistan, being in the north we were expecting some heat – but due to the arrival of the monsoon things didn’t get too bad – probably around a manageable 25 degrees (and the monsoon rain was normally only for 30-60 minutes a day). Jaipur is known as the pink city due to the old city being built out of stone that carries a pink hue to it; anyway enough of the history, into what we got up to:
We arrived at 11pm and checked into Atithi Guesthouse, probably the best accomodation we’ve had in India (apart from the Ratnams apartment in Banga’s), a really nice spot. After a huge sleep and decent breakfast we took a walk around the city, although much of it was closed due to a nationwide strike of businesses in reaction to rising fuel prices; restaurants bars and some shops were open though so that made things alright! The old city is surrounded by a brick wall with four main openings, one of them being quite a grand archway with around 50 windows rising high into the structure – quite impressive. We had a snack at a Jaipur institution, LMB, who have been serving up Indian food for 85 years and also tried out the local bakery who were certainly up to scratch. After Jono faced a couple of balls in cricket with the local lads, we decided we’d earned a beer so sat down at a local bar and made our way through a couple of kingfishers. The traditional bars here are quite strange, they’re very dimly lit, decorated as though it’s the 30′-40’s and there are no woman in them; we assume this is the old british influence and they have not yet moved on from it (although there are certainly some much more upmarket metro bars around – they’re just out of our price range!) That night we hit Thali House for a pretty damn good Thali (Indian meal).
Our day of exploration in Jaipur and the surrounding hillsstarted off by catching up with a Indian guy, Dishrath, who we’d met on the train and he’d said he’d happily guide us around the place for a day (he was a uni student on a 5 day break). After we’d negotiated a auto-rickshaw fare we were off to Amber and Jaigarh Forts, around 10-15km out of the city and perched upon hills. Amber Fort was built in the 1500’s, for Jai Singh, and was the ancient capital of Jaipur state. The fort was impressive, intricate murals and stonework but what made the forst really stand out for me was the setting. It is situated at the peak of a hill, with 360 degree views across Jaipur city and the surrounding desert landscape – not something I’ve ever seen before. After Amber Fort we moved onto Jaigarh fort, again a structure situation on a high vantage point perfect for defending. Jaigarh is used often in Bollywood movies and holds the largest wheeled cannon in the world! It can shoot a 50kg cannonball 36km, but has only ever been test fired once – it was never need to defend the fort.
The rest of the day was spent exploring Jaipur city, visiting Rockies, a popular spot with the locals for Chai (tea) and snacks – it was our rickshaw driver that took us there and he said in the morning the place has queues. We enjoyed a couple of cups of Chai from there and a snack call Kachori – a pastry filled with lentils and masala paste, out of this world! We also visited a pretty special Hindu temple, certainly the most impressive I’ve seen so far being brightly decorated and spotlessly clean. Jono visited a guru who told him a few interesting things about himself – personally I didn’t dig that sort of thing! We did the obligatory stops as a fabric store and gem store, that it seems all drivers need to make and being seasoned travelers told them all we were not interested in fabric and gems – we’re 26/27 year olds from NZ for crying out loud!!! The evening was finished off with a couple of beers from a rooftop bar overlooking the city with our driver and Dishrath, then Jono and I looking after ourselves at Thali house with another amazing meal!
Our final two days in Jaipur were pretty relaxing, not pushing ourselves to get out and see too many more sites – hell this is a holiday and it’s coming to an end! We checked out a local supermarket and made a purchase of the all important peanut butter to keep us happy at breakfast time! Oh and we saw/heard the biggest strike of lightning we’ve ever seen/heard before…We were sitting in a travel agents booking all our remaining train journeys for India when this shattering crack came from outside. I’d been facing inside, but Jono saw the lightning bolt land about 50 metres away behind a fence, he could see the diameter of the strike, from where he was sitting was 10cm and not like the normal pin width lightning we see in the sky. It shook us a little when the trave agent told us that wasn’t normal – we tried to avoid tall building for the rest of the day!
Best meal in India yet! Yet again we were impressed by Indian cuisine, in particular the meal we had last night at Peacock restaurant. A boned chicken masala, served up with a butter Naan and washed down with a couple of Kingfishers. The chicken masala was something else, a thick tomato and spiced gravy and chicken thighs cooked with the bone in; I have never had a masala as good as that!