If you’re excited to read my opinions on the tombs of Jaipur, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Jaipur’s not a very tomby place. It’s more of a palacy, forty place. So here’s a quick look at some of those.
This isn’t really a palace at all, but an old haveli (a mansion composed of courtyards) converted into a hotel. It’s where we stayed in Jaipur. It was lovely. The courtyards are decorated with fresco painting and have trees and fountains. While we were there, the hotel was hosting an International Sufi Festival, and had performances of sufi music and dancing every evening.
This is a palace, a former residence of the Maharajas of Jaipur, and now converted into a stunning five star hotel. We didn’t stay there, although at around £300/night for the cheapest double it’s probably within most Western travellers’ budgets to stay there briefly if you want to splash out on a bit of luxury. We went there for afternoon tea instead, which was excellent: sitting on the veranda, sipping Assam and nibbling on sandwiches and cakes while looking out over the formal gardens to a view of Nahargarh Fort. They also have the Maharaja’s private train, converted into a restaurant called Steam.
The biggest and most beautiful of Jaipur’s fort/palace attractions is actually a few miles outside the city, but easily accessible by autorickshaw. In fact you’ll have to fight quite hard not to end up with an autorickshaw driver cum tourist guide taking you there, within minutes of arriving at Jaipur station. It’s worth the trip.
If you’re feeling really touristy, you can take the short climb from the road up to the fort by elephant. We walked, braving the gauntlet of wannabe guides and aggressive souvenir sellers. The front sections of the palace, the courtyards and gateways, have all the extravagant decoration you’d expect, like the Sheesh Mahal (glass palace), a chamber tiled all over with tiny mirrors. In the back, there’s an Escher-like maze of corridors, stairs and chambers, which is where we had to run away from a guard trying to be a guide.
Between palaces, our ‘hilarious’ tourist guide Lucky decided to amuse us with some jokes.
- Lucky: This is India. Everything is possible! You know the one thing that isn’t possible?
- Me: Er…
- Lucky: Nothing!
- Me: That’s a category error.
- Lucky: You know the one problem in India?
- Me: Sanitation?
- Lucky: No problem!
- Me: No, I think it is sanitation.
Jaigarh Fort sits on a hill overlooking Amber and mostly consists of walls and ramparts which give good views of the plain below.
The most notable thing to see at Jaigarh is a MASSIVE CANNON called Jaivana. The locals say it’s the biggest in the world, but, to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, they would say that, wouldn’t they? It’s certainly one of the biggest. It has a calibre of 28cm and fires a 50kg ball. It was cast in 1720, although the carriage is clearly of 20th century origin, whatever the guides say.
There are a few other cannons lying around the ramparts, and several more in a small museum, with lists of the battles they were used in. I realise that by showing an interest in military equipment while on holiday, I’ve completed the final phase of transformation into my dad.
Nahargarh Fort is on a hill immediately overlooking Jaipur. According to everyone we spoke to, there’s nothing in the fort itself worth seeing, only the view from it, which you can get from other places too. Also it’s a bit seedy and run down and it’s where all the disreputable teens hang out. So we didn’t go there.
Outside of Jaipur in another direction is a complex of temples and water tanks known as “monkey palace” due to the large population of rhesus macaques living there. We asked our auto driver Lucky to take us there. He drove us to Galta Gate on the edge of Jaipur and handed us over to local teen and monkey guide Ram, who walked us up to the temples. We didn’t actually go the whole way to the Galtaji complex, just to a squalid little spot at the top of the hill, where a few monkeys were lazing around. It was a bit of a disappointment.
Jaipur is known as the “Pink City”, although really that’s just the walled old part of the town. Every building in that district is painted the same shade of dark peach, with white details, and many of them are ornately designed, with towers, domes, screens and chhatris. However, it’s still filthy, noisy and crowded, so it’s impossible to enjoy it from street level. It’s typical of India: it would be nice, if they cleaned it up a bit.
In the middle of the Pink City is the City Palace. The buildings themselves aren’t that interesting, but it includes a number of little sub-visits:
- Textile museum – the luxuriant royal wardrobes of the maharajas
- Armoury – elaborately jewelled blades, guns and powder horns
- Throne room – a sumptuously decorated audience chamber
- A collection of antique carriages in a back courtyard
- Two giant silver urns, the largest silver objects in the world
- Pritam Niwas Chowk, the Peacock Courtyard, with four frescoed doorways representing the four seasons
It’s pretty good. Definitely worth a visit. But be aware that the cafe doesn’t serve food at lunchtime, as one angry Scotsman discovered after sitting waiting at a table for some time.
HAWA MAHAL, “PALACE OF WINDS”
The Hawa Mahal is basically a facade, an elaborate set of viewing platforms for royal ladies to watch the street below. It’s pretty from the front, but to see it you have to be on the street. You can go inside as well, and look out of it… but then you’re looking at the street. The street isn’t nice.