Jaipur has become a home base for us for a large part of our time in India. The major reason is that DH has a very part time job (6 hours/wk teaching English online) for which he needs excellent wifi, difficult to find everywhere we have been in India. He is able to condense his hours to four days on, ten days off. We found a hotel with great wifi and though we can’t afford to stay there every night, he has been able to work there when he needs to. There is plenty to do on the ten days between his work commitments- the farm where we volunteered and the other places we have visited are easy enough to reach from Jaipur.
Aside from wifi, housing and food have worked out well here for us. We found a nice hotel (our first visit, and there’s Gulab, above) that has welcomed us and given us a very good rate. It is a historic building inside the pink city walls near markets and tourist attractions. It is undergoing renovations and I think it will be both fully booked and out of our price range when it is complete so we are here at a good time. The property is at least 100 years old and is organized around a central plaza that has a skylight for a roof.
We feel like royalty sleeping there with gold-painted, bannistered sleeping areas built into the walls. It is where we met Gulab, whose farm we visited, and they have held mail and luggage for us here as well.
We have found some great food within walking distance, namely street stalls near Hawa Mahal, a beautiful historic building close to our hotel. We like a potato and chickpea curry by a cheerful rotund man who we’ve gotten to know a little.
He makes various breads there to go with it- a fry bread, potato chapati, and some others. He refills our plates as much as we can handle and charges us the equivalent of about $1 each. As a bonus, we can watch the monkeys in the large tree by his stand. A short walk away is my favorite chai seller. Chai costs the same at all the stands-10 rupees, about 15 cents- but his is the best. He boils it up when you order it like all stands do, but he just gets the milk-tea-sugar-ginger-whatever-else ratio just right for me.
He looks a little stern and wouldn’t pose for a picture for me, but he has big smiles for all of us when we stop or pass by. We’ve also seen him give chai for free to beggars and the elderly. Awesome. Down a side street is a great lassi place which, rather than plastic, uses the terra cotta cups we like so much. Also a very stoic guy but he always waves when we walk by. Also great pricing-20 rupees compared to the guidebook-recommended place which charges 50 rupees. Across the street from the chai guy is my favorite dessert place – Pandit Kulfi*.
Kulfi is rich, caramelized milk frozen on a stick, similar maybe to ice cream but so dense and creamy it is almost chewy. SO good. You can watch them make it in thin metal molds placed in salted ice water as you wallow in the decadence of the kulfi on your tongue. Only 20 rupees, I don’t know how they do it. A restaurant we like, AviDay**, is a short auto-rickshaw ride away, worth the cost since it saves us from paying the tourist prices at closer eateries. Many places have local prices and tourist prices- we have been told this repeatedly. AviDay does not seem to do this, so I like it for that alone, and the food is great too. Anyway, for these reasons we have returned to Jaipur three or four times after our initial arrival when we came from Agra with our friends.
Of course, with food and housing covered, we have explored the tourist offerings of Jaipur. The major ones- City Palace and Amber Fort- we had seen with our friends. DH and I had visited Jantar Mantar, the observatory built in the 1700’s, one day but while he was working, I brought the kids one evening for a “sound and light” show. We see these advertised at various historical sites in many Indian cities we have visited but had not attended one. We were the only ones in the audience; I don’t think this makes the itinerary for most tourists. I thought it was quite well done. It told the story of Jai Singh (the Jaipur king who designed the city and observatory) with recorded voice acting and music, changing lights, and images projected on the large wall of one of the observatory instruments.
Under a darkening desert sky, as we waited for the show to begin, we sat among the curved, large, oddly-shaped, centuries-old structures that were built to measure the stars. The twins did cartwheels until chastised by the guards. There was a bright crescent moon and bats flew overhead. When the show started, the lights beautifully highlighted scalloped arches along the covered walkway and suggested movement and mysterious conversations in the night. The kids complained it was a little boring for them with the history and mathematical explanations, but it was only an hour long and I found it entertaining.
I attended another evening show with Cleverly at Hawa Mahal, a coral-colored, many-tiered, shallow building constructed for the ladies in 18th century Jaipur to watch processions and other public events without appearing in public themselves.
Inside the building is basically a hallway with rounded viewing windows looking out onto a main street. It has a graceful rounded shape that brings to mind Krishna’s crown, at least according to tourist information I saw nearby. The evening performance took place in the plaza behind the building. It was lit with different colors and the structure looked amazing at night. There were musicians playing several types of drums, horns, and a wooden box instrument with a type of bellows and keys similar to an accordion. The dancers performed traditional Rajasthani dances, one of which is recognized by UNESCO. These are tremendously glorious, with sparkling, lavish veils and skirts that spin out nearly perpendicular to the dancer. Bells adorn the dancers’ ankles, which they stamp with the music. For one dance, they balanced flaming pots on their heads while twirling and dancing.
For another, a dancer bent backwards and picked up a ring from the ground behind her with her teeth. A male dancer, every bit as graceful as the women, danced around the stage and balanced a heavy terra-cotta pot filled with water on his head. The pot was balanced on four drinking glasses! On his head! The attendance here was also light, but Cleverly and I enjoyed the event.
We kept hearing about the Monkey Temple so we went one morning to check it out. There are rumored to be 10,000 monkeys around this hilltop temple overlooking the city. I’m not sure about that, but we saw plenty. We were dropped off by the auto-rickshaw driver and we walked, following the road uphill. We saw many monkeys and we fed some with peanuts we had bought. The monkeys weren’t aggressive, in fact one sat on Really’s shoulder rather peacefully for a time. We walked up to the temple and looked at the pink city from up there. We looked out at the city of Jaipur from the hilltop temple.
Funnily enough, monkeys aren’t allowed in the Monkey Temple at all. There were people there and also a dog to chase them out. But they would get in occasionally and sit on the temple wall, seemingly contemplating things with their serious faces. Until a dog or person shooed them away. A plaque out front says it is called the Sun Temple and is dedicated to Surya the sun god. It is recommended to go at sunrise or sunset because of the vast view, though we didn’t make it. Everyone except Fiercely and I went back for a second visit, armed with a larger bag of peanuts and some fruit that time.
We went to the Central Museum at Albert Hall one night for the evening hours (7-10pm, 1/3 the daytime price). Elegant building, great exhibits, and not all are local. There was an Egyptian mummy, for example. I happened to have a sari on that day, so we did a small photo shoot among the beautiful columns.
We met an inspiring man named Nitim who works teaching kids in the slums and we visited a short time. We later went with Nitim, his young daughter, and a group of Nitim’s friends who are mostly foreigners to Pushkar for Holi, which was awesome.
We were invited to a wedding reception so of course we went! It was a scramble finding clean clothes and we eventually bought new dresses and scarves for around $10 total after much haggling at the market. Nothing fancy, but the kids were presentable, and I was able to get a promise of a borrowed sari. This never materialized and I was disappointed but our host had assured us we could wear whatever we liked. We did see a mixture of everything from sparkly saris to turbans to jeans and button-down shirts, so it turned out fine. It was day 3 of a wedding, held at a wedding garden with a large lawn, ear-shattering sound system, a video camera on a giant robot arm, a stage with thrones, a stage for dancing, and bountiful food. I kind of made a fool of myself trying to dance, but it was basically a great evening.
We did so much and saw so much and I am sad to leave Jaipur and Rajasthan. But our visas expire soon, and soon we leave the land of historic forts, bountiful mustaches, imperious camels, vast lively desert, and all of the loveliness we have encountered here.
* If you’re looking for these places in Jaipur: Pandit Kulfi is on the same side of the street as Hawa Mahal and if you are facing Hawa Mahal, it is to the right about two blocks. Facing Pandit Kulfi, the alley across the street and behind you has the lassi place. Cross the street and look a few stores down on the right. Again from facing Pandit, to your left on the sidewalk on the other side of the street are the chai guy (in front of a temple) and then the curry guy (at a corner with a large tree).
**in Emerald Plaza on MI road, not far from a Pizza Hut.