And a bit more on Agra…
The Taj Mahal was so lovely and it is so famous that it is easy to forget about other sites in Agra. Fort Agra is magnificent. It has a palace inside. Surrounded by a large moat that once was home to crocodiles as a line of defense, the fort has a stunning double wall, wonderful views of the Taj Mahal, enormous plazas, a manicured garden, and more beautiful marble work by artisans of the ages. It was another nice place to tour with our friends.
Our next plan was to get on the train to Jodhpur, but it was not to be. We tried to take the 8pm train but it kept getting delayed. When it became over 4 hours late we returned our tickets and went back to our hotel. We changed plans and decided to go to Jaipur, closer and with more frequent train service. We had to awaken at 445am to get tickets which, miraculously, we were able to do. The problem became that the Jaipur train also kept getting delayed and left about 4 hours late. Then the ride, which we were told takes 4 hours, took 7 hours to reach Jaipur. The whole time we were this messy group of 10, with six kids and all the predictable inconveniences this suggests. But the kids are so happy with each other’s company, it was an adventure I think we all enjoyed more than expected. We watched many monkeys frolic around the train station, the kids put on shows for us, we ate snacks, and we all hoped we could sit next to the goat a nearby family had with them as they waited for the train. India rail is full of entertainment for us foreigners accustomed to beige, goat-free, monkeyless, and perhaps cleaner but far less interesting train stations.
We arrived in Jaipur weary from almost 24 hours of train delays and changing plans. Tuk tuk drivers swarmed the platform even before the train came to a stop, searching out foreigners like us and offering rides. We were ready, though, with a hotel that was walkable from the train station. We dodged all but one particularly persistent driver who followed us all the way to the parking lot of the hotel, which was inside gates. The man was harmless and somewhat annoying but the kids developed a pronounced dislike for him and even created a dance to express how vehemently we did NOT need a tuk tuk. Persistent vendors seem to be part of the Jaipur experience; we encountered them everywhere. It can be a hassle, especially when one is tired, but we came to expect it and became used to it. We settled into the hotel, with its gated lawn away from the chaotic streets, and it was dark before long.
The next day we recuperated from difficult travel by going to a pool at a nearby hotel. We ate wonderful Indian food and let the kids frolic. The day after that, we went to the central palace.
What a life! There were ornate doorways with a peacock motif, and delicate marble screens so the ladies could watch events without themselves being seen. The queens there had three bedrooms each, one for each season of summer, winter, and monsoon. They may have had to share a husband but their living quarters were beautiful and comfortable with inlaid stone and contemporary technology for temperature control. Their clothing, of course, was sumptuous but so heavy they could barely walk and so had a wheelchair of sorts pushed by attendants. We saw the family tree for the royal family, interesting photos through the years, and paintings of longer-ago royals. There was a museum of textiles showing original pajamas and other clothing of Rajasthan through the ages.
After the palace, we followed the advice of a friendly stranger and checked out a temple dedicated to Krishna. He said that there was drumming and dancing and that we would be welcomed and he was right! Dancing women in colorful saris and scarves beckoned for us to join them as they swirled to the music and threw colored powder and flower petals at each other. Soon we were also covered in the flowers and colors. We were given homemade sweets, a kind of fudge-cookie that was yellow. We all loved it, since we were with another family and so had 2 mamas and six daughters between us, adding to the all-female festivities. A drummer and singer made the music that seemed to have gone on for hours, maybe centuries, before we arrived and would continue long after we left.
The next day, we went to the Amber Fort. It is about 11 km from Jaipur on a hill above the city, though it used to be the city itself. The Rajput clan known as Kachawaha settled there in the 12th century and outgrew the area in the early 18th century when they founded Jaipur.
The fort is large, with royal residences, paved roads, a complex water system, and military lookouts. A wall with watchtowers surrounds the fort, with another, older wall downhill a bit from it. The views are mind-blowing, looking at the desert hills, the ancient city near the fort, and sprawling Jaipur. We also loved the tunnels, which used to form an extensive network under the fort. They were satisfyingly dark and lined with stone.
Our friends were off to other adventures, so we sadly parted and got ready for our stay in Jaipur without them. We ended up staying another week before going to volunteer at a farm. During that time, DH and I visited the fascinating Jantar Mantar, a site created by Maharaja Jai Singh in the 1700’s to observe and measure stars and planets. Singh is known for his skills in war, city planning (Jaipur, planned by him, is named for him), and astronomy, and he had five such observatories built. This one is the largest and in the best condition due to a restoration near the turn of the 20th century. It was awesome to walk among the large curved instruments, which still give accurate readings today. We also went to a local wedding and met another traveling family briefly and went to dinner at someone’s home, and to a school in the slums during that week. Much happening, trying to write when I can!