Exploring Rajasthan’s “Pink City”; its sights and night markets
Our drive to Jaipur from Ranthambore took us five hours, including a couple of stops, taking us deep in to the heart of rural Rajasthan passing through many small villages. We had a very careful and respectful driver but there were still a few occasions where we found ourselves headed directly towards another vehicle, but having spent a week in the country we were starting to feel a bit more relaxed in these life-threatening situations. It did not feel too long before we found ourselves heading into the vibrant capital of Rajasthan, with its population of around 3½ million. Strangely enough it was this city that bought us to India, or more correctly its depiction in the film “The Very Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. Shallow or what?
Our hotel was situated in to old city, which took us a further 45 minutes to reach. As we passed through the gate that took us beyond the wall that surrounds the old city it was clear to see why Jaipur is known as the “Pink City”, with the walls of every building painted in a terracotta pink colour. The traffic came to a standstill and we soon discovered why as a procession approached us led by a very enthusiastic band. We were very excited to see an elephant in the parade decorated in bright cloth and paint. This was only the second elephant we had seen! At the rear of the procession was a float on which sat, cross-legged, a very stately looking Hari Krishna holy man, who was apparently very famous. Once the procession passed the traffic cleared quickly and we soon reached our hotel for the next two nights, the Dera Mandawa.
Hidden behind a wall, sheltering it from the chaos of the surrounding city, the Dera Mandawa is a peaceful oasis. It has a wonderful courtyard with lots of welcoming nooks with comfy seating; we felt at peace as soon we entered. We were greeted by the owner, a tall stately gentleman with a fabulous moustache, looking as if he had stepped straight from the set of a BBC period drama on the British Raj. His English was immaculate, a result of being taught in a boarding school with teachers from dear old blighty. Our conversation could have gone on for many hours, but we had to get ready for our evening tour of the bazaar. On entering our room, we were stunned! It was huge with an enormous bed at its center. There was a large window seat with a long cushion covered in silk and above the bed was a balcony overlooking the whole room. It seemed a shame that we were only staying for two nights with a busy schedule – there would be no chance to take the opportunity of this most romantic of rooms!
After a quick turn-around we set out to meet up with our guide for the evening. PK dropped us off outside the ‘Palace of Winds’ where we met up with a clean-cut young man, who was going to take us around the bazaars of Jaipur. We were really looking forward to this tour! Before setting out to the bazaar our guide gave us some history to the Wind Palace and Jaipur.
Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state, was founded in 1727 by Maharaja Jai Singh II who ruled Jaipur State from 1699 – 1744. Initially his capital was Amber, some 11 km from Jaipur. He felt the need to shift his capital city as its population increased beyond the resources around Amber, especially the scarcity of water. Jaipur was the first planned city of India and the Maharaja took great interest in its design. He consulted several books on architecture and architects before deciding on the layout of Jaipur. The Maharaja created free housing to encourage traders and business people to move to the city. In 1876, when the Prince of Wales visited Jaipur, the whole city was painted pink to welcome him and after that Jaipur was referred to as the ‘Pink City’. The paint is renewed on a strict cycle to keep it looking fresh.
Hawa Mahal (‘Palace of Winds’ or ‘Palace of the Breeze’) is a five storey structure made from pink and red sandstone. It was built in 1799 by the Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh to allow the female members of the royal family to watch the processions and events happening in the streets below without being observed by the common folk. It is a very shallow building with many rooms that have ornately latticed windows through which the ladies could observe what was going on outside.
From the ‘Palace of Winds’ we stepped through the tight alleys into the bazaar. There were hundreds of tiny shops selling a multitude of brightly coloured garments and trinklets. The sights, sounds and smells were overwhelming.
During our visit to India we had been discouraged from eating the street food but on this occasion our guide took us to a handful of food stands where we were able to try the delicious savory and sweet dishes on offer. We passed by a small shop selling pickles and tried their gooseberry pickle – scrumptious! The bazaar was extensive, with specific areas set-aside for specialist retailers. The most lavish of these were the shops selling products for weddings; saris, turbans and every possible accoutrement needed for the Hindu nuptials. The Hindu wedding is often a lavish five-day affair that will cost the bride’s family two or three times more than a typical western style wedding.
Two hours later our tour was done and as we had given our driver, the night off we had to make our own way (with help from our guide) back to the hotel and our chosen mode of transport was the tuk-tuk. As our guide went to hail a tuk-tuk (I don’t think there is an Uber for tuk-tuks) Karen noticed a man lying in the middle of the very busy road; cars, buses and motorbikes weaving their way around him. It was almost as if he was invisible! Sadly, India has a large problem with substance abuse, and in this case the man had apparently passed out from drink. There was no way Karen was going to leave him, so the guide, myself and a couple of passing men lifted the man and deposited him to the relative safety of the pavement. We made sure to use lashing of hand sanitizer when we were done. So, having done our good deed for the day we took the short tuk-tuk ride back to the hotel. For dinner we decided to eat at the hotel and chose a thali – which turned out to be delicious. Once again, we had a chance to talk to the owner who regaled us with more stories of his personal history and explained the history behind the family portraits that lined the walls of the dining room.
We had a busy schedule planned for the next day, so we were soon headed off back to our delightful room.
Lessons for the day:
- Driving in India is very different from the USA and Europe (for the most part … Italy could be an exception) so try and relax and not panic when another vehicle is headed your way.
- Street food is delicious – but buyer beware! The pickles are especially good!
- A little bit of kindness can go along way – or even save a life.