In the pink
After Delhi, Jaipur was the place we spent most days in so far, also this time not intentionally, but had to postpone our onward tickets due to a good old acquaintance of most travelers: diarrhea. Not surprising for anyone who plans a trip to India. The good news about it is that Jaipur is a much more pleasant place to get stuck than Delhi was, in fact one of the places we most enjoyed so far during our trip.
One factor of it is certainly the climate, which already gave us the feeling of getting closer to the desert: sunny, dry, warm during the day, fresh in the evening, pretty much like Santiago, so we got some homelike feelings being here. Also we experienced people to be very friendly and polite and even Tuk-Tuk drivers are much more relaxed than in Delhi. And as the cherry on the cake our hotel offered an absolutely marvelous, artistically decorated rooftop restaurant – the “Peacock”, symbol of beauty and eternal life – with a view and an ambience which compensated for the middle-rate food quality.
Besides the nice basic prerequisites, Jaipur offers a large variety of interesting sights, at the heart of it the so-called Pink City, the historic centre. It received its homogeneous painting coat – in reality more of a red-orange-brown tone – in 1876, in preparation of the visit of prince Albert Edward, the crown prince of Wales, being a symbol of hospitality in Rajasthan.
Just wandering the streets of the Pink City, packed with bazaars and busy vendors of textiles, spices, jewellery – Jaipur is famous for gems and silver work – but also tableware, electronics, sweets and so much more a consumer heart could desire, is already and experience. Additionally, the old town hosts a number of historic monuments, with the City Palace in the heart of it. Still today, the main entrance of the Palace is reserved to the royal family and the plebs like us must enter through a side access. Part of the main City Palace is the Hawa Mahal (palace of the winds), one of Jaipur´s landmarks. It was built by the end of the 18th century in the intention of allowing royal ladies to observe everyday life in the city without being seen, as they had to preserve strict face cover.
Another fascinating site inside the palace walls is the Jantar Mantar, an astronomic observatory, which allows to determine the position of stars, durations of the day and seasons and many other things by measuring sunlight angles with huge stone constructions.
Even though the city already offers quite a lot, the surroundings of it host the top sights according to our experience. After the diarrhea had calmed down, we rented a Tuk-Tuk for a whole day and went to visit Amer Fort at about 15 km outside the city, the Water Palace and the famous Monkey Temple (Galwar Bagh).
The fort is located on a hill, so that one has to climb up the steps to get there or alternatively can rent an elephant. It’s an impressive building with many terraces, courtyards and secret corridors, even though we think it is even more impressive to look at it from the outside. The old, small village of Amer right next to the fort offers another surprising heritage sight. However, in contrast to the fort, hardly anyone comes here. The Indians call it “stair wall”: an old swimming pool built by one of the Maharajas with numerous interplaying stairs leading down to the water. Sadly, the monument seems to be in fatal decay and the water at its bottom resembled more to a stinky slurry than to anything someone wants to have a bath in. Also the water level was quite low, but we were told that in monsoon time it could rise to the top.
Despite all other interesting places, the highlight of our day was definitely the monkey temple. It is situated in the periphery of Jaipur and hidden behind some hills, so that is not at all easy to find and a 2 km walk from the entrance gate. The whole area around the temple is however already dominated by monkeys: the small commercial area in the entrance, the walls and small temples bordering the way up the hill, trees, house entrances, just everything. They also seem to be the leaders among the other animals present on the street – the habitual cows and street dogs, goats and small pigs – may it be due to their number or to their astuteness and somehow aggressive behavior.
In any case the whole area seemed to be kind of a monkey slum with humans being mere visitors in it. The only persons of seem to be living permanently in the area are the holy men – skinny elderly men with long beards with an orange turban and wrapped into orange sheets – who seem to be worshipping Hanuman, the god of wisdom and protector of villages, who manifests himself in monkeys.
The actual main temple is very much hidden between to hill peaks and can therefore only be contemplated from the inside. It is a huge and architecturally beautiful construction, merging the natural stone walls of the hills with the human build temple parts. It is built around a holy spring, whose water aliments several swimming pools where people take their ritual baths in (even though again, cleanliness of the water again put in doubt whether this bathing procedure is too healthy). The inside of the temple is more a combination of various smaller temples. Unfortunately, we were advised not to go inside of any of them, as when entering as a tourist the respective priests use to ask for high donations in order to receive good karma – a problem we encountered in several places in India.