Jaipur: The Pink City

Jal Mahal, Jaipur
Jal Mahal, Jaipur

My bus to Jaipur wasn’t until 11.30am and there wasn’t anything else I wanted to see in Agra (to be honest, I just wanted to leave) so I was able to have a relaxed start to the day. Because I was the only guest in the hotel, I was able to have a later check-out and decided to reward the hotel by braving their breakfast before I left. Mercifully, they seemed to be able to cope with a couple of slices of toast so I at least had some food in me before my 5 or so hour bus ride.

The bus ride to Jaipur was fine and uneventful. I reached Jaipur around 4.30pm, disembarking at Nayansingh Circle which I knew was about 15 minutes away from my hostel. After some hardcore bargaining with a tuk tuk driver, I was on my way to the hostel, which was just off Ajmer Road so a little out of the way from the main sights.

The hostel chain, Zostel, is slowly taking Rajasthan and India by storm. It’s an incredibly simple and cheap concept but is designed with the solo traveller in mind and just oozes sociability. Even as I walked in, the lobby/common room had people sitting playing cards and chatting. It was a really chilled place with a brilliant vibe. I loved it already.

Starving after my long bus ride, I used the pretty consistent Wi-Fi at the hostel to find a recommended restaurant nearby – the Peacock rooftop restaurant which was just off Ajmer Road down the other end. It’s the rooftop restaurant on the Hotel Pearl Palace, a colourful hotel down a quiet street. It was a good choice. The prices were incredibly good and the atmosphere was great. The sun was setting and they had some live Rajistani musicians there too. It soon began to fill up, mainly with other tourists and it just had a nice charm about it. My thali was pretty tasty too so I left a very happy man.

The walk back down Ajmer Road was a bit of a struggle as it was dark and many Indian roads seem to have an aversion to street lights. The headlights of the many vehicles guided me back (though I almost got lost) and I arrived back at Zostel for an evening of mingling with other travellers, drinking Kingfishers and watching Germany thrash Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final.

After a late and raucous night, I woke up pretty late. The heat in Jaipur was like nothing I’d ever experienced. It hit you like a brick wall which isn’t fantastic if you’re not feeling 100%. Meeting with some of the other guests, we decided the best way to recover was to tackle the Amber Fort… and, boy, we certainly did just that.

There were a couple of practical jobs to do first, like heading to the bus station to pick up tickets and drinking lassi, but we finally headed to the impressive fort by early afternoon. It’s quite far out of the city so we managed to negotiate with a tuk tuk driver to take us there and back for 400 rupees with a couple of hours waiting time. The pessimist in me expected to be underwhelmed but the fort looked truly incredible as we pulled up near it, especially with the sun beating down on it. It looked absolutely massive and was quite a climb up so, in our infinite wisdom, we decided to have a dress rehearsal.

Just opposite the entrance to the fort are a series of steep looking steps which lead all the way up to a dilapidated looking wall which would give truly stunning views of the fort. We couldn’t resist the challenge so decided to give it a go, though we didn’t really think it through. Firstly, the steps were really steep with massive blocks every now and then which you had to haul yourself up. Also, we had chosen to start our ascent at 1 in the afternoon with the sun beating down on us ferociously. And to top it off, we only had one bottle of water between the four of us. We were the definition of unprepared. We bumped into a couple of other climbers on the way up who were equipped with plenty of water, proper footwear and sunhats and I got the impression they’d been planning this hike up for ages. We still managed to beat them to the top though!

DSC_0296When we got to the top, we realised why we’d half killed ourselves to get up there. Finding a shady alcove, we admired the stunning views of Amber Fort and beyond and it truly was sensational. Shortly after, an Indian family arrived and we all delighted in taking pictures and having a laugh before the even more worrying climb back down.

I’d definitely recommend the climb if you have time. Just not at the hottest part of the day with little water. But you probably knew that already.

After getting back down, we recovered and drank plenty of fluids before heading into the Amber Fort. One of our party was relentlessly hounded to buy a hat with the salesman literally following us all the way up to the entrance in order to make this one sale. Eventually his persistence prevailed, albeit at a fraction of the price he had originally offered. Though in the time he took to follow us all the way up, he probably could have sold 5 hats, so I’d say it was a hollow victory.

After another long climb up (my legs had never hated me more), we made it to the main courtyard and rested for a while, debating whether to pay the entrance fee and go into the actual fort. We were absolutely knackered by this point but thought it’d be a shame if we didn’t get to see it. I was also lucky enough to have my student card on me meaning I got a 50% discount (100 rupees), so if you’ve got one, make sure you take it up with you. They won’t accept anything else as proof that you’re a student. Otherwise it’s 200 rupees or 400/200 rupees (foreigner/foreign student) for a composite multi-site ticket which gets you into most of the big sites in Jaipur.

When we went inside, we were so glad we paid the entrance fee as it was just fantastic. The architecture was stunning and the patterns and paintings were like nothing I’ve seen before. They were really intricate and detailed and you end up getting lost in them. The fort is huge and it’s brilliant wandering round into all the nooks and crannies. See if you can find the room which houses loads and loads of bats. It was quite a shock to look down and see them all casually chilling there.

DSC_0321We met and conversed with loads of people on the way round too. Some wanted photographs, others taught us Hindi. It was just a thoroughly brilliant experience. So brilliant, in fact, that we’d spent 5 hours there (including the earlier climb) when we had previously told our tuk tuk driver his wait would be a couple of hours max. Understandably, he was not pleased.

I had to go to the railway station anyway to pick up my train ticket for Udaipur so we got him to drop us off there and allowed him to escape, giving him a substantial increase on the 400 rupees we had previously agreed. I still don’t think he was very happy. I imagine him going home to his wife and recounting the day from hell where these four foreigners took him for an absolute mug.

He’d also dropped us at the back entrance to the train station so finding the reservation office was quite a challenge as it was right at the front. It’s a pretty nice air conditioned building and there’s a special tourist desk at counter 769 where they easily sorted my ticket out. I was booking quite late so only 2S (second class seated) was left. It only cost 175 rupees but I dreaded to think what it might be like. Luckily, I would be pleasantly surprised.

After a delicious meal at a thali restaurant recommended by the guys at Zostel (who were determined to fatten us up with unlimited thali, to the point we were begging them to stop giving us food), we headed back and parted ways, with the four of us now heading in different directions. It had been a very satisfying but tiring day!

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