I moved from the expansive bustle of India's capital of Delhi to the compact chaos of the first planned city in India, Jaipur. Jaipur is called the Pink City due to its light sandstone hue, though if they don't do some cleaning soon, it may become the Beige City.
The Hawa Mahal shows the blushing architecture best in the walls of the old city where there are many tiny shops selling everything from shoes to scarves and even sets of tires if you find yourself in need.
Jaipur is the capital city in the Northwestern state of Rajasthan, in the so-called Golden Triangle with Delhi and Agra making up the points of this Indian tourist haven. There are a few highlights to hit in Jaipur like the City Palace, floating in the middle of Man Sagar Lake, reachable by wooden Rajput style boats, but I was holding out boarding a boat until the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, coming soon. There's also an interesting observatory, fort and opportunity to ride the local animals, but luckily not in traffic as we saw so many do. By Jaipur, I was getting used to sharing the streets with people on elephants, cows roaming on their own and monkeys doing their thing wherever they pleased.
Janta Manar is Jaipur's observatory built from 1728 - 1734. They've slowly been refurbishing the instruments here to remarkable accuracy to tell time and track constellations and orbits around the sun. Now if only they can figure out a way to strap some of these large objects to my wrist. Astrology is still of upmost importance in Delhi as many use their signs to help match people for marriage. I found my sign, but we'll see about that match!
Amber Fort is the big palace just outside of Jaipur where the Rajput Maharajas lived with their families. Like most strong forts, it's perched up on a hill, which means you'll need a jeep or an elephant to take you to the top.
Building began in the 1550's and took 125 years to complete. You'll see a mix of Mughal and Rajput art and architecture. The Palace of Mirrors is worth a stop and a couple of photos. It was designed to shine a single ray of light in multiple directions to illuminate the entire space. Mission accomplished and a stunning area to take in.
If you missed out on riding an elephant up to the Amber Fort, you can go for a walk on one in a more natural setting at Dera Amer. You'll mount your 7 ton animal and lope through the wilderness reserve, spotting other four-legged friends like you're on safari. Afterwards, you can enjoy a full-cooked local buffet meal in the great outdoors to further enjoy the serene setting.
The most peaceful setting of all in Jaipur was at Samode Haveli, a former Manor house for the Samode Royal family. Descendants still own the home, but it has now been converted into a unique boutique hotel with spacious, well manicured and decorated sitting areas and a restaurant. The flowers alone were award-winning!
We were able to get a first-hand cooking demonstration on site, where the chefs used open fire to cook many of their items like they've done for ages. We were graced by the presence of the Prince from the Haveli, who swaggered in with chic looks and suave charm, adding his two cents to the cooking process. It was all well-received as we dined on our recent fire-cooked mutton (an Indian favorite), chicken pounded with corn and green chili, sautéed spinach and garlic, dal, smoked cluster beans and basmati rice with fenugreek leaves and cumin. It was indeed a meal fit for royalty.
It's hard to know which was more fabulous - the food or the dining room. With exquisite artwork, elaborate chandelier and etched plates and glasses, the room provided plenty of entertainment throughout the meal.
From the pink of Jaipur to the blue of Jodhpur, my Indian adventure continued to yet another beautiful accommodation, thanks to the good taste of my culinary guide, Peggy Markel, who hand selects each hotel. She worked on the prince in Jaipur for several visits before he allowed our small group to stay at Samode Haveli since he doesn't take groups. Of course Peggy never leads any typical group, so we were eventually allowed in and like other spots, were given privileged access to places like the hotel kitchen to see firsthand how our meals come together.
RAAS Jodhpur is another special spot, based in the walled city, with one of the best views in town of the hilltop Mehrangarh Fort. The roof deck is where you want to be to unwind with a cocktail and some grilled and skewered meat while basking in the glow of the illuminated palace. Most of the large rooms have patios as well to take in all of the views so there's not a bad seat in the house.
When you visit Mehrangarh Fort, you can see the view in reverse, plus the reason why Jodhpur is known as the blue city. Some say they painted many of their homes blue to keep them cool in the summer. Others say it's related to India's priestly caste system, and still other's say termite repellant caused it. No matter what you believe, the blue homes dotted across the city make for a pretty backdrop.
My favorite collection at Merangarh Fort was the palanquins. What's a palanquin? I had to ask too, but then I got to see them first hand. Palanquins are the pretty means by which royalty often traveled up until the mid 1900's. They're usually covered to protect people from the weather, and of course are environmentally efficient since they're hand-carried by 4 to 6 people. Be happy you're not one of those people! These don't look light.
The other thing that you want to do while in Jodhpur is shop. They have beautiful textiles and we were sucked into the largest, most narrow and non-descript building that was stacked high with colorful pieces of fabric stuck in every nook of the many storied building. Peggy mentioned that she had shopped in this place before, Jain Textiles, not far from the hotel and the clock tower, so I put my faith in her continued good taste. The manager, Mukesh Jain, is a fast-talking man name dropping all of the labels he purports to manufacture including Kenzo, Armani and Hermes. He claims he has some of the overruns and sells them for a fraction of the cost.
He did indeed have some beautiful scarves, pashminas, blankets and duvet covers. Whether they were in fact the real deal or not, they were exquisite to the touch and eye. Most of us just wanted to wrap ourselves in the silky and luxurious fabric. The good news is that they ship and my package arrived home before I did!
Just a few more stops left on the trip. If you've missed any of my India trip, you can catch up here.