After an eventful first day in Jaipur, I was all set to explore the outskirts. Day-2 was going to be a big one, and I packed a lot of munchies in my handbag to keep me fuelled for the long walks that the enormous palaces would demand. I remembered to wear my new dangler-earrings that I’d bought the previous day.
The now familiar sights passed me by as we drove past Hawa Mahal and Jal Mahal. Then the scene began to change and I reached Kanak Vrindavan, a beautiful garden at the valley of the Nahargarh Hills. This garden has an elevated stage to the immediate right of the entrance, where tourists have the opportunity to dress up in the full Rajasthani attire of lehenga-choli (ankle-length skirt & blouse) and a veil that rests on a cone on the head. I strongly recommend every visitor to get their pictures taken in the traditional Rajasthani get-up right after entering the garden. That way, you can bide your time by strolling through the garden while your photo develops. Here, you will also find trinket-sellers you can buy mementos from. I couldn’t resist the urge to buy some key-chains, bangles, earrings and necklaces.
The ride ahead was uphill as we rose over the Aravali mountain range. After an hour-long drive, I reached Jaigarh Fort that was built to protect the Amber Fort. By then, it was lunchtime and I was beginning to feel hungry (despite the incessant munching on chocolate-filled cookies all through the ride). But Jaigarh knew how to trick my mind – the parking area was right next to the National Handloom Expo shamiana! My hunger for food vanished into thin air as my hunger for shopping surfaced. Jaipur is famous for its many precious and semiprecious stone-jewellery. Mirror-studded wall-hangings and pen-stands carved in wood make for good gift-items. I spent 45 minutes roaming through the expo area and brought back a pair of bright coloured Rajasthani jootis, a set of coasters with traditional Rajasthani glass-paintings, some ornaments and a silk-blend saree for my mum, which had been softened by placing it flat under a layer of Multani mud (commonly used for facials).
After my mini shopping spree, I walked into the restaurant next door and ordered a biriyani with vegetable koftas. Eating solo can be boring, but not if you are a good observer and silent listener, which I am. I watched as a couple of foreign tourists pored over the menu and summoned the waiter. I expected a difficult conversation full of broken English & Hindi, but was pleasantly amused when the male diner ordered for a plate of butter chicken and a few naans in fluent Hindi and also added his dietary preference for good measure.
I began touring the Jaigarh Palace complex by walking up to the enclosure that guarded Jaivan, the colossal cannon on wheels. The guide informed me about its claim-to-fame and helped take some pictures of me. Once inside the Jaigarh Palace, I took another guide to hear the stories of the olden times as I sauntered through all the courtyards and gardens and also saw a puppet-show. There is an underground passage that connects the Jaigarh Fort to the Amer Fort, but it takes an hour on foot to reach the entry-point to that subterranean tunnel. The only other way to get there was to take an electric car on hire, which I did. The buggy-driver, who also was my next guide, drove slowly and carefully down the cobblestoned slopes as he told me about the centuries old history of the tunnel which incidentally had been opened to tourists only a month before. My real task began once I reached the passage. It was well-lit at first as I was walking through a roofless stretch, but the tunnel got dark an narrow when I went further inside. Many explorers who were returning said that it gets very scary with hardly any lights and none that I met had actually finished the stretch. My guide had told me I had 40 minutes to navigate through the tunnel and get back before the buggy-service stopped. I stepped up my speed and the tunnel got lonelier as the screeching of bats echoed off the walls. I felt unsure about my decision to continue despite my boldness when I saw a group of strong young men return without going any further than I had. If I carried on, I’d be all alone in a deserted tunnel. I thought hard and let safety score over spunk. I jogged back to my buggy and a smiling driver-cum-guide.
I took my cousin’s car to the Amer Fort and Palace area as the tunnel-route yielded me no joy. I looked in wonder at the reflection of the Amber Fort on the Maota Lake. I only had 30 minutes before the complex would close for sight seeing, I read from my ticket and looked sad. This is when one of the guides said he would work his contacts and get me to stay for an hour. I was skeptic due to the high price that he quoted and decided to walk it alone. But he followed me and warned that it would take me atleast 2 hours to fully see the palace and I would not learn of the significance of any room I saw. I resigned and let him lead the way. I was glad I did that! The entire premise is expansive and extremely beautiful, and only a seasoned tour-guide can show you around all the places and tell you all the stories. He took me through the courtyards, the offices, the cooking-area, the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors) that has mirrors from Italy and coloured glass from Belgium, the underground living quarters of all the queens and the kitchen garden. It took us an entire hour even with my speed! The guide said it was a good idea for me to wear sneakers as we were able to run around, unlike other people who turned up in fancy shoes. He was a fantastic guide who did a fast-forward version of the storytelling (on my insistence) he’d normally reserve for regular tourists. He went on to advise me against travelling alone (I always take these pieces of advice with a pinch of salt 😉 ).
Coming up Next >>
- Chokhi Dhani
- Shopping in Jaipur – What, Where & Why
- Travel-Tips that Nobody Gives You