The Pink City, The Blue City and India's Most Romantic City
21.02.2010 - 02.03.2010 28 °C
The Indian state of Rajasthan is recognized for its Maharajas, magnificent forts, lavish palaces and desert. It is also said to be the one of the most majestic and romantic parts of India. Though we were worn-out by the chaos that is this country and all we wanted to do is to head south to hit the beach, there was no way we were going to forgo dreamy Rajasthan. So we put a hold on our beach fantasy and book ten days to discover what they call the Land of Kings. Our stay would see us visit Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur.
While waiting for our train in at platform #2 at the New Delhi Train Station, we met Lara, a German from Berlin who quit her job and spontaneously decided to pack up, explore India and meet up with some friends here. This was only her second day in India and it was obvious that she was going through a serious case of culture shock. India will definitely do that to any normal person. Anyhow, though we traveled in different coaches, we met up again at our arrival in Jaipur and Lara followed us to our guesthouse where she checked in as well. We spent the next two days doing the touristy things in Jaipur with Lara.
So our first afternoon in Jaipur consisted of walking around the city to soak things in and sorting out our train tickets for our next destination. Jaipur is known as the “Pink City” since the Old City walls are painted pink. As we walked through Jaipur’s city center, we noticed nothing different than what we’ve seen so far. The same dirtiness, crowdedness and chaos was still present and the harassment had only intensified now that trio consisted of two blond giants and an Asian. The wall that encircles the old city was quite impressive but nothing else really blew our mind. Fortunately, that feeling changed the next day.
Though we’re not really fans of guided tours, the chaos of the streets had gotten to us so we signed up for a full day bus tour of Jaipur and its surroundings. The tour consisted of us and around 40 other Indians. The tour was in English even if we were the only foreigners in the group. The tour guide turned out to be useless because between the tour guide’s thick Hindi accent and the loudness of India, neither of us could understand a thing.
From 9am to 2pm we got to see the white marbled Laxminarayan temple, the Hawa Mahal, the Observatory, which had many massive, ancient tools used to tell the time, as well as the City Palace. The City Palace, a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture, was quite elaborate and spectacular but most of it was off limits for our camera, which was a shame.
We were quite famished after all that and we’re looking forward for lunch but our tour guide had different plans for us. He required that the whole bus stops and spends half an hour at this shop where everything is poor quality yet expensive, obviously he gets a commission out of every purchase.
After the shop we were brought to the very beautiful Nahargarh Fort where we also managed to have a quick lunch. Like all of our stops in this tour, except for the shop, we were rushed and didn’t get to enjoy it fully. After a forgettable stop at the Jaigarh Fort, we made the long ride to the highlight of the day: the Amber Fort. It was just spectacular, impressive and huge! We were given enough time to explore every nook and cranny of this place and loved all of it. The tour guide tried to force us to go to another shop, this time selling leather goods, but we weren’t having any of it. Lara, Mark and I refused to enter the shop and ditched the group to go explore the Kanak Vrindavan temple next door. After this long exhausting day, we dined on Chinese food then went back to the hotel. We said goodbye to Lara as we were going different ways the next morning, Lara was headed to Agra and we were going to Jodhpur.
Getting to Jodhpur was another case of very late train. However, once we got there, we felt this city was going to be different. It all first started with the rickshaw driver accepting an honest and reasonable price for the ride to our guesthouse. You should have seen our jaws drop, we’ve never experienced that in India. Arriving in the evening, the city looked very charming and colourful to us. Jodhpur is called the “Blue City” for a reason and we were looking forward to see it in daylight.
Our walk through the bazaar and Clock Tower area the next morning just confirmed our first impression of Jodpur. I’m not quite sure how to explain it, maybe it’s the small town feel, but the city definitely feels different. The bazaar was very entertaining with loads of shops selling spices, old dirty clothes, colourful textiles, bright powders for the upcoming Holi celebration and the most useless gadgets I’ve ever seen.
On our way to our next tourist destination, Janwar Thara, we stopped to ask a young man for directions. Like most Indians who strike up a conversation with a foreigner he asked us our names, where we were from, our marital situation, etc. His name was Rahul and he invited us to his home for some chai. We ended up staying there around a half an hour. All his family members came out to greet us and they were all excited and curious to have us there. He showed us his room and his favourite belongings, including all the cricket trophies he had won. Since Rahul’s English was limited and our Hindi is non-existent we obviously couldn’t communicate very well so after we finished our Chai, we thanked everyone and went on our way to Janwar Thara.
Janwar Thara is a memorial for one of the maharajas. It was exquisite and so peaceful. About 500 meters away was the major attraction of Jodpur; The Mehrangarh Fort, which would turn out to be my favourite attraction in India so far.
Though it is not as impressive or majestic as others, the Mehrangarh Fort is very well maintained and clean, and extremely well guided with a very interesting audio guide tour. The view of the city from this fort is also spectacular and we got to understand why this city is also nicknamed “The Blue City“. Most of the houses and buildings have one or more walls painted blue. They also had an on site palm reader who’s reading was so accurate, especially for Mark, it was chilling. After the Fort, we got lost a few times in the maze of nameless streets that is Jodhpur before finding our guesthouse.
We spent two more days in Jodhpur during which we visited the city’s Zoo & Garden and the Umaid Bhawan Palace.
The Zoo and Garden was a disappointment. Even though it had a few interesting animals (amongst which the most stunning tiger we‘ve seen), they all looked malnourished and neglected. The zoo keepers actually give the same food (some green grass) to all animals from birds to gazelles to turtles. As we walk around the grounds of the zoo, we felt like animals in cages ourselves as everyone was staring at us, trying to sneak a few pictures of us and even following us around the zoo.
The Umaid Bhawan Palace, located a little outside the city center, was remarkable even if we only got to see about 10% of it since the rest is still being used as the current Maharaja’s home as well as a super high class hotel. It costs well over $1000 per night to stay there! It had very impressive displays of the splendour of the maharaja’s home. On the topic of the Maharaja, we also dined at a rooftop restaurant in central Jodhpur owned by the Maharaja himself. It was delicious, the view was breathtaking and the rooftop factor allowed us to escape the madness of the streets for a couple hours.
The Blue City had been nice and interesting but we couldn’t wait to get to Udaipur where everyone raves at how romantic the city is. We took a flight to Udaipur two days before the big Holi festival, a national celebration, and got a quick glimpse of the city during the car ride to the hotel. We instantly understood what the fuss was all about. Udaipur seems to be a tad wealthier that the other Rajasthani cities and a lot more catered to tourists, who themselves, seem to be wealthier as well. The shops lining the streets are more modern and the products seems to be of better taste and higher quality. The quality of life also seems better than other cities we’ve visited. The traffic was very slow once you get to the core of the city but only because the streets are extremely narrow, the chaos doesn’t seem to be too present. That night we went to a recommended restaurant a few steps away from our hotel, Ambrai, which has spectacular views of the Palace at night. It turns out to be the classiest and romantic outdoor restaurants in the city, perhaps all of India, and it was quite affordable.
As we stepped out of our hotel and walk toward the main area the next morning, we can feel something brewing in the air, something very festive. The city was actually in preparation for Holi, the Festivals of Colours, celebrating radiance in the universe. During this day, people gather the streets and throw powdered colours or tinted water on each other. The actual party will only happen the next day but everyone seems to be very eager. And since everything will be closed, we rushed to go see the City Palace to make sure we don’t miss it. The Palace, which is the largest in all of Rajasthan, was very bright and colourful but not at as impressive as what we had seen so far. On the way home Mark decided to load up on those bright powders and some white shirt and pants readying for the big day himself. I got my hand hennaed as it is tradition to do so during any celebration.
The Holi Festival falls on the full moon of the lunar month of Phalguna and it also celebrates the first day of spring. It is a day to let loose and have fun throwing coloured powder and water at people. Though Holi seemed like innocent fun and games, everyone in India was concerned for our safety and highly suggested that we stay inside for the spring festival. The staff at our hotel even told us they were scared to venture out onto the streets on Holi. Unfortunately, some groups of men take it too far. Some get heavily intoxicated (from alcohol and ganga) and end up ganging up on tourists and also sexually harassing and abusing foreign women. Some people also use toxic coloured powder that can burn your skin or sting your eyes. After much reflection (only on Mark’s part since I was not going to go out there and risk getting molested), we opted to stay in but Mark still got to make use of his powders. We went up to the hotel rooftop to find some targets. We looked down and we saw a bunch of kids running after each other spraying themselves with coloured water. Mark took out his powders and started bombing the kids. Even though we were cheating a bit, being up on a rooftop, the kids still loved it and challenged Mark to throw some more. They even retaliated by throwing a few water balloons at us. It was a lot of fun.
Besides that we didn’t do anything else that day because of the chaos outside. Once it was over, around 6pm, we went back to Ambrai for supper and got ourselves the best table by the lake. We feasted our eyes on a stunning moonrise, a perfect view of the Lake Picola and it’s Palace, and a spectacular fireworks display. It was truly romantic and the most wonderful way to end our journey of Rajasthan.
Rajasthan is beautiful and although there are a lot of pics in this blog, we have many more to share. If you are interested in seeing more pictures, please click on the following link: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=400246&id=680240141&l=79f0910a8b
Varkala, Kerala is next and this is our final beach destination of our RTW trip. We’ve been told by countless dreamy eyed Indians and expats that Kerala is the most beautiful place in all of India. I have a feeling they are right.
Thanh and Mark
GO HABS GO!!