K, my infinitely better half, and I had 10 days on our hands early this year before some of our leaves lapsed for good, and so, almost on a whim, we decided to push off for a backpacking trip. After much deliberation, we decided on visiting Rajasthan as we had never done justice to this beautiful and mystical land on our previous cursory visit here (we had only attended a destination wedding near Jodhpur once). And of course, it was the perfect time to visit Rajasthan, as it gets unbearably hot during the long summers. Another deciding factor was the Jaipur Literary Festival, the biggest literary fest in India, which was just starting in the capital city of Rajasthan.
We landed in Jaipur after a short, 3 hour bus journey from Pushkar, on a cold Saturday morning. We snuggled up to each other as we walked out into the misty sun of January. Because this had, since the very start, been an unplanned getaway, we searched for places to visit on our rickety bus journey (thank God for technology). We decided to make this last weekend as power packed as possible. Keeping that as the theme, we headed straight to an Organic farm about 25 km of Jaipur. As a sort of reward for keeping in budget for the rest of the trip (and also because we were pretty tired after the early morning bus ride), we convinced ourselves to splurge on a private taxi! Our driver of the Scorpio 4X4 was a mild mannered local whose Rajasthani accent was charming to the ears. He spoke at length about how weather played an important part in everything there, and that we were lucky that it was not raining which would have spoilt our trip to the farm.
We had chosen this place because it offered authentic and traditional Rajasthani food cooked on mud chulhas. The vegetables and other ingredients were grown on the farm itself and that added to the appeal of the place. We were in search of a simple, authentic Rajasthani place, and were pleasantly surprised by the other sights and sounds the place had to offer! We were greeted by a forest as we approached the place. Our welcome was by the farmer and his wife. This place was once a barren land, explained our hosts, but slowly, by using organic farming techniques it was slowly transformed into its current beautiful self – an oasis in the desert. Before getting busy with food, we wandered in the mustard fields and clicked selfies getting lost in the yellow hues. The best one was with a scarecrow with a bird on top of its head. We ambled around, getting mesmerized by the place and reminiscing about our own respective childhoods, and sporadic visits to our villages. In such nostalgic undertone we came into the built area of the farm all coated with mud. Soaking in the lovely smell of wet earth, we sat down on the floor even though charpai seating was available.
The cook, a woman dressed in traditional Rajasthani dress of choli and ghagara greeted us and briefed us about the menu. The chulha exuded warm rushes and carried with it the fragrance of the delicacies prepared for us. The spicy sweet warm kadhi was best of the lot giving warmth to our innards as it went down our throats. After topping up the food with brilliant chhaas we lay down on the charpai in the noon sun and relaxed ourselves. After resting for a while we had to bid goodbye to our first stop. We thanked our hosts for their hospitality and got back in our Scorpio to ride back to the main city.
This was the first time in Jaipur for me and I was was excited to experience the pink city in all its pinkness. The old city area was first painted pink in 1876, a tradition maintained till date. Even as the new Jaipur continues to develop and grow, this area still has the old world charm. As we submerged into the pink warmth of the afternoon, the Hawa Mahal appeared before us. Made of red sandstone and also known as the Palace of the Winds, the structure is designed as the crown of Krishna and consists of decorated Jharokhas (elaborate windows) from where erstwhile royal women used to gaze into the everyday life. Since we had a few things we had to finish before the day was out, we decide against going into the palace.
The old city outside the Hawa Mahal plays host to the oldest bazaars of Jaipur. Johri Bazaar was our first stop where I lost myself in the world of silver jewelry which was what this market was famous for. As usual, it took K a whole lot of patience and talking to get me to not buy the whole bazaar! It did not help that we walked into another market, Badi Chaupar, where I was serenaded by shops of sarees, bedsheets and traditional Rajasthani dupattas, jootis and so much more! I was once again amazed by the politeness of the local shopkeepers. No one hassled us and other tourists even when I took a lot of looking around and trying stuff, and then not purchasing anything.
Being book buffs, we were super excited about the Jaipur Literary Festival and the fact that on the last leg of our heady travels, we could make some room for our literary pleasures. After a quick lunch of Pyaaz Kachori, jalebi and milk we decided to make our way to the festival. Jaipur Literature Festival is the annual congregation of authors and book lovers at the Diggi Palace in the heart of the city and opens to all with its free entry, welcoming residents and tourists alike. People gathered by the hundreds as we entered the premises. It was a festival where discussions were happening simultaneously on Indian mythology, International literature, the art of writing novels, the non-fiction world of today and one on first time writer’s experiences. We decided to head for the Indian mythology panel discussion and were enthralled by authors Ashwin Sanghi, Anant Neelakantan and Amish Tripathi discussing their experiences while adapting Indian history and mythology into the modern tongue. Their books were bestsellers and it showed as this happened to be the most popular discussion going by the number of people attending it. We noticed that the readership of these authors ranged from teenagers to elderly people and the audience interaction that followed showed the forthrightness on the part of the audience as well as the writers.
Next up we visited the book stalls and browsed through the new publications. The rejuvenated interest in the written word of an emerging and a young India of today was matched with a growing number of Indian writers in English resulting in booming book sales. As readers, we had so many options to choose from and after an hour of reading back covers with book descriptions, we bought 6 books in all and immediately started enjoying our purchases over a cup of coffee. It was a great feeling, merging in the atmosphere of bonhomie where so many people had gathered, sharing and discussing their love for books with fellow book lovers.
We called it a day after the Lit Fest and headed straight to our hotel. Our hotel was near the older part of the town. It was a budget hotel with cozy rooms and comfortable bedding and most importantly spick and span bathrooms. Post an early dinner we went to bed. Next day was to be intense and we needed a good night’s rest to relish it fully.
Sunday began with spiced up morning tea which readied us for the breakfast that was to follow. We did not know what was to hit us in the form of Mawa Kachori. The kachori, which is flooded with dry fruits and dripping with the sugary syrup, was a delight for our mouth in the beginning but soon the law of diminishing returns caught up with us and we had to balance every bite of Mawa Kachori with the super spicy Pyaaz Kachori. It was quite a mouthful! With our bellies satiated (actually, bellies almost bursting through the seams!), we got ready and were soon on our way to the Amer fort.
The Amer fort (or Amer palace) is one attraction that everyone has to visit if they are visiting Jaipur and we were soon to find out why. It was around 15 kilometers from our hotel and on our way we spotted Jal Mahal. In the midst of a lake the Jal Mahal was a pretty site and we stopped by to click some pics. Approaching the fort, we took in its magnanimity. Built in 17th century and talking about 100 years to complete, the fort takes its name from Goddess Amba. We reached Amer fort just as the sun was setting in, and were overwhelmed by the number of tourists at the entrance gate. We could have taken the elephant ride and entered the fort like royals, however we decided against it as that would have taken us longer. We bought our tickets for Rs 25 each and chose the audio guide as opposed to the regular guide. This cost us another 100 bucks. We were greeted with traditional Rajasthani folk music as soon as we entered the gates and stopped by to listen. The musicians had a smile on and were enjoying the music themselves even though it would be a daily task for them. We decided to tip them before we moved ahead.
The audio guide took us to Ganesh Pol (gate). The magnificent gate is decorated with flower patterns painted using vegetable dyes. The fact that the colors haven’t faded away with time is testimony to the craftsmanship and the quality of the paint! This gate was used for the welcome of Royals by the queen. From there we moved towards Jai Mandir.
It boasted of the Diwan E Khaas where the royals would meet to discuss their affairs. The walls of the hall had flower patterns on them. The flowers are known as magic flowers as one could hide some part of the carvings to get different shapes of snake, scorpion and lotus, for example. Next to the Diwan E Khaas is the Sheesh Mahal or the Glass Palace, with intricate carvings of floral motifs decorated with mirrors – this was the most appealing part of the visit. They say that if you light one candle at night it is reflected in all the mirrors of the Sheesh Mahal,
making the ceiling look like a star filled sky. We could make this out as the tourists who walked in and out of the Mahal were reflected in the maze of the ceiling and it formed a kaleidoscopic view. The famous song ‘Jab Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya’ of the Bollywood film ‘Mughal-E-Azam’ was shot here. Located right opposite Diwan-e-Khas, Sukh Niwas is an amazing structure that has huge doors that are made up of ivory and sandal wood. A conduit carrying cold water ran from this hall and when the air used to brush past the conduit, it would be like a cool breeze to the people standing there. The room was supposedly kept cool by using this technique. Sukh Niwaas
was precisely the place where the Kings used to spend quality time with their queens or mistresses. For the same reason, the English translation of this place is called the Residence of Pleasure. After getting mesmerized with all this history, art and architecture we moved around and strolled through rest of the place. It was really hard to believe that this fort was more than 300 years old. The audio guide described the functionality of the different parts of the palace. Walking through the various sections, we began to comprehend how well design and function were synced together. We sat down on the grounds of the front yard, enjoying the breeze. Soon it was time to go but we did not want to leave, the weather was nice and sunny and the warmth of being steeped in history made our movement super slow.
We got in our jeep and moved upwards to Jaigarh fort. This fort overlooked the Amer palace and had brilliant panoramic view of Jaipur down below which made our drive worth it. We found the best attraction of this huge palatial complex is the world’s greatest cannon on wheels known as the ‘Jaivana Cannon’. For all its size the cannon was only test-fired once! Our driver, as he took us back down to the plains, addressed the Royals of the days gone by as ‘Humaare Maharaj’. This sense of belonging with the ancestral heritage has stayed with us even as I write this. After lunch at the foot of Amer we headed back to Delhi by road. The smooth highways during our entire journey made us resolve to travel in Rajasthan via road the next time!