Jaipur, The Rajasthan Capital

Trip Start Jan 18, 2008
Trip End Feb 02, 2008

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Monday, March 24, 2008

21/1/2008 - 23/1/2008

Jaipur 'Royal' Accommodation...
We arrived at our hotel - Umaid Bhawan, (a 3 stories high, heritage hotel) located outside the old 'pink' walled city around dusk.
The parking area is limited for taxis, so Sanjeev dropped us off and we agreed to meet him the next morning for the start of what was going to be a busy day.
The entrance gate, hotel exterior and lobby was like something out of a bollywood set - lavishly painted archways and alcoves, walls and ceilings adorned with beautiful murals, carved terraces, lots of plants in various decorated sized pots, and antique polished furniture, enhanced by allot of lighting.
The staff were friendly and reasonably helpful, and after looking around, I noticed there were 2 cubicles with Internet connected computers (turned off by 9 pm).  We were led (our bags/luggage taken to the 2nd floor using the lift) to our 'Royal Suite' (one of several suites) and WOW! what a large and decoratively painted and furnished room, with large ensuite and corner bath (no plug though!), and a side room with little lead light windows that led on to our private terrace. Even had a bar fridge, jug, A/C, heater and modern amenities., AND hot water (which you had to turn 'on' outside the room near the door every time you re-entered the room after it's been locked, as the power goes out, and then wait 10 mins to heat up).
There are elegantly furnished lounge/siting rooms or reading rooms and large furnished terraces on each level and a good rooftop restaurant, where we enjoyed our Indian dinner and teas and inclusive 'American' breakfasts. Unfortunately, our room was below the dining area, so if you wanted to sleep before 11 pm or have a sleep-in in the morning after 7:30 am, it was difficult to do because of the scraping of chairs, clanging and banging of dropped kitchen utensils and brooms being used, every so often. Other than this, our stay was very pleasant.


Getting to know Jaipur...
After breakfast, Sanjeev drove us to the 'Pink City', so called because of the salmon pink painted walls, and drove us to Isar Lat - 'heaven piercing minaret', which when climbed (as we did) to the top offers fantastic views of Jaipur.  Sanjeev then dropped us off at the back entrance of Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds), built mainly from pink sandstone (and decorated in contrasting white quakee or limestone 'paint')  in 1799 for the Royal wives and harem of the Kings and Emperors, so they could live and watch the markets below without being veiled or covered up and watched. It has 5 stories, many windows and 'peep holes' and ramps (that wheel chairs could access) to each level. It was a fascinating place, that offered great views of Jaipur from the top floor, and we found a local guide - Dinesh, who has a genuine passion for the Palace and Jaipur itself, who was friendly and informative, and happy to take his time with us and be our photographer!
We then went to a silver factory (Sanjeev's suggestion), but didn't buy anything, just checked out the prices, and decided then it was lunch time.  We had a good value vegetarian lunch at the Rainbow Restaurant (where locals and tourists go), then Sanjeev took us to the Musical Art Gallery - a music, instrument & repairs shop that also had a display of very old and classic instruments, as I wanted to buy an Indian drum, which I did - a customised base Tabla that was assembled in front of us with an aluminium shell, non animal skin and a spare skin, tuning bolts, a cotton ring (to put the drum on) and a cover, and made sure all parts were non wood or leather so it would go thru Australian customs - all for $103. AUD, including a cup of chai.  Janice and I then opted to go browsing and shopping at the markets - so many stalls that we only covered a small area. 
We later met up with Sanjeev for dinner and requested that we wanted to eat with the locals at local prices (not the touristy ones), so Sanjeev took us to a little Tandoori cafe (where drivers and the working class often eat at) and we all had a scrumptious meal with drinks for only 85 INR (about $3. AUD)!, and we had some curious onlookers!
The highlight of the night, was deciding to go to the movies (12 'stand-alone' cinemas in Jaipur), so we went to the Raj Mandir, and after queuing for half an hour, at 9:20 pm we saw a new release "Hulla Bol" - a drama genre film (about sticking up for your rights and what you believe to be the truth despite everything) and it was excellent (had rave reviews), with the acting excellent too!  We understood about 85% of what was going on (no English sub titles) and just confirmed the story line with Sanjeev during the interval, as it was a 4 hr movie! The Indian people (often a family night out) really get into their movies and boo and yell out, arms flinging out at the 'bad' guys and cheer and yell out when the 'heroes' have the upper hand. The cinema interior (shame we weren't allowed to take photos) was fit for Bollywood!, (or Tinsel town) so decorative, (very theater like with different levels of seating) and the lighting effects and fixtures were impressive. I think we were the only 'tourists' there, and we enjoyed the experience.
It was cold outside - 10 degrees C (after a pleasant 21 degrees early afternoon), and headed back to the Umaid Bhawan for a good night's sleep.


More delights of Jaipur
The next day, after breakfast, we all headed to a textiles and clothing premises that support poorer villages and women folk who, by hand, make allot of the varied and colourfully patterned textiles of all sizes (wall hangings, bed spreads, etc.), as well as garments, shirts, scarves, table cloths....and they also had beautifully hand crafted antique, appliqued pictures, hangings and skirts. Training is a must for the younger generation to keep these arts from dying out, and a percentage of all products sold goes towards this. Janice bought a few lovely things, and I bought a couple of shirts and we were given a scarf each, as a thank you.
As we both wanted a Salwar Kameez (Indian long top, usually fancy or embroided around the neckline that is worn over matching or colour co-ordinated corded/elastic long pants), and 'made to order', where we choose the fabric, are measured, and then sewn to the style of your choice, usually the same day (if not too elaborate); we went to Rainbow Textiles.  Block printing ( blocks of wood carved in various designs and stamped into paint and on to fabric) is popular here, and we were given a demonstration. We both wanted something fairly plain, and though I didn't find anything I really liked, Janice eventually found a fabric she liked and discussed the style she wanted and voila!, it was ready and delivered (pre-paid) to the hotel at around 9 pm.  It suits and fits her well too!
In the afternoon, again going through 1 of 9 huge gates to the old 'Pink' City, we visited the historic observatory, Jantar Mantar (meaning 'calculating instrument'), which consists of fourteen major geometric masonry devices for measuring time, predicting eclipses, and tracking stars in their orbits, with references to the Zodiac.  It's an amazing observatory even with renovations in progress, and the huge sun dial still shows accurate time. Our guide was a complete contrast to Dinesh (Hawa Mahal guide), still polite but rushed us through the 'tour', just covering the basic facts.
As the markets were fairly close, we did more browsing, more buying (the shop/stall owners offering teas till we were tea-ed out!), ate vegetarian freshly cooked snacks and sweets at the street stalls, and enjoyed the atmosphere, and we weren't hassled so much either.  While purchasing clothes, I felt that need to go to the 'you know where', so I had my first Indian toilet experience!, and it was almost dusk too, so after being led through a maze of laneways and around the back of a house, I arrived at the toilet 'hut', entered, closed the door (most of the way, so there was some light coming through as it was pitch black in there) and turned to see 2 corrigated grooved out 'steps' (where you place your feet) on either side of a pit, and you squat down do your business, so to speak, into it. There's a little bucket nearby with a little bit of water in it to wash your self if needed.  That was OK, and lucky my 'guide' was nearby waiting for me so I'd find my way back!  When we were purchasing silver jewelry, we were offered Indian Kingfisher Beer - quite a good brew too!  We also bought a box of delicious, varied sweets (with help of an assistant who advised us what they were and let us sample some first!) from the best and largest sweet shop in Rajasthan - the LMB, which boasts 300 sweets! It also has a restaurant, where we bought dinner (good food), and for dessert - Kulfa Indian ice cream, with pistachios, saffron, dried fruits, and milk syrup - just divine!
A few shops away, is a store that sells recycled paper, cotton paper, products and stationery made from these papers and some were intricately hand painted from natural colours/dyes of minerals/stones, and a variety of decorative envelopes - really interesting, and cheap to buy; plus other trinkets as well.
By the time purchases were made, and packing of products done (Janice bought a box full of items for her shop), it was 10:30 pm, so a tuk-tuk ($2. AUD) was hired to take us back to the Umaid Bhawan (10 minute drive).


Price Guide:
* Accommodation (twin or double) at Umaid Bhawan - varies from 1600 INR or $46 AUD (deluxe room) to 3500 INR or $102 (Royal Suites) per night, and includes breakfast.
* Entry price and guide to Hawa Mahal - approx. $4. AUD.  
*Admission price (a few to choose from depending on where you wanted to be seated) to the Cinema (for 2) and 2 bars of chocolate at intermission - approx. $7.50 AUD.
* Entry to the Jantar Mantar Observatory and guide - approx. $3.50 AUD

Useful Links:
http://www.umaidbhawan.com/index.htm  All about what the Umaid Bhawan has to offer, location map, plus info on Jaipur and things to do while in Jaipur.
http://www.indiasite.com/rajasthan/jaipur/facilities.html  Not only does it provide lots of info on Jaipur, but also all about the state of Rajasthan including towns we visited and towns we didn't  have enough time to visit.
http://www.indovacations.net/visitRajasthan/DistanceChart.htm  For distances between cities of Rajasthan and links to other distances throughout cities of India in each State, plus info on many places in India.
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