India, Part 2 – Jaipur + Udaipur
After our lightening quick visit to Varanasi, we flew west to the India of many people’s imaginations, Rajasthan. India may be a rising global power and technology superstar but tourists flock to the largest state on the subcontinent to see the old stuff – the incredible palaces and forts of bejewelled maharajas which are now open either to stay in or have a squiz.
Our plan was simple – four nights in the capital city of Rajasthan, Jaipur, three in the lake city of Udaipur and three in the ‘blue’ city, Jodhpur. But you know what they say about plans. More of that later. Let’s kick off in Jaipur, the ‘pink city’…
view over Jaipur – from Nahargarh Fort, built 1734
While Varanasi is all about the spiritual, Jaipur is the retail queen – precious gems, textiles, furniture, you name it, the pink city has it in gold-plated, ruby studded spades. My friend Tania and I did a little window-shopping but our main focus here was sight-seeing: strange for me to say given I generally avoid the typical tourist stuff but in India ‘must-sees’ really are must-sees.
We started with the City Palace, a sprawling complex of different buildings. The best bits? A courtyard, Pritam Niwas Chowk, with four stunning ‘seasonal’ gates and Chandra Mahal, where the over-Instagrammed ‘blue room’ is located.
Pritam Niwas Chowk – courtyard of City Palace, Jaipur
Sukh Niwas – the blue room of Chandra Mahal, City Palace
One of my favourite buildings in Jaipur was the Albert Hall Museum. Built in the late 1800s in the Indo-Saracenic style, I loved the flamboyant umbrella-like chhatris and fancy finials. For reasons unknown, a bazillion birds do constant laps around the joint.
crazy birds, 1
Marwari horse with distinctive inward turning ears
fading light at Albert Hall, 3
One of the biggest deals in Jaipur is Amer (or Amber) Fort/Palace. Amer, just outside Jaipur, was the former capital and the fort was where the Rajput royals used to hang out. Considering it’s around 500 years old it’s in amazingly good nick – the pink and yellow sandstone has a beautiful patina but is still so solid. Architecturally speaking this UNESCO World Heritage site is a mix of Rajput (Hindu) and Mughal (Islamic) design.
500 years young – Amer fort
A note about the poor elephants who have to struggle up the long hill to the fort with one to two people on their backs – you can see in the image below it’s quite a distance. As the author of the very useful Love Jaipur guide, Fiona Caulfield, put it, “Please consider not being part of this tourism activity, which is the only real way of stopping the practice of breaking magnificent wild creatures and then condemning them to desperate arduous lives.”
the long walk up to the fort
monkey business, 1 – sacred Hanuman langurs
Not all the palaces in Jaipur are uninhabited relics – there are a small handful that you can stay in or, as in our case, just pop in for a nose around. They’re a bubble of opulence and romance that’s worlds away from the chaos of Jaipur’s crazy traffic and the struggle in the lanes of the old city.
life in the congested back lanes of the old city – worlds away from the palace hotels
Rambagh Palace courtyard
Our own digs were far more humble but much more homely and beautiful in an entirely different way. 47 Jobner Bagh is a small 10 room family-run hotel headed up by a charismatic Indian Richard Branson lookalike, Shiva, and the oh so charming Wakil Singh, who everyone calls John. The building itself was designed by an Italian architect in the art deco style and is Greek Islands white, spiced up with Indian accents such as jali screens and a peppering of Indian antiques and paintings. Almost everyone we met there were women from the US, UK or Australia, in town to do design business of one sort or another. Mary Ellen from Colorado, for example, visits Jaipur annually to source precious gems and oversee the making of her jewellery line. I found myself wondering what sort of business I could possibly conjure up that would demand I too would need to visit Jaipur and stay in 47 Jobner Bagh every year. A side hustle of sorts. If you have any ideas please send!
After three days in Jaipur we said goodbye to Shiva and John and headed off by car to make our way to Udaipur, a six hour drive away. To break the long journey we decided to stay a night in Pushkar, which was lucky because by the time we got there I was starting to feel a little nauseous. A little quickly turned into a lot and within a few hours I knew I was down with the dreaded Delhi Belly. Ugh! Boo! Having never succumbed to it before in my previous three trips to India it was a bit of a shock and I felt ripped off – with only two weeks here, I didn’t have time to be laid up in bed for days. I had so much more to photograph.
The next morning I shoved a Gastro Stop down to get me to Udaipur without incident – the worst thing you can do of course but I didn’t want to miss out on the lake city. Apologies for the detail but getting food poisoning in India is something most people wonder about and I’m hear to tell you it’s bloody awful! Mine was anyway, rendering me unable to walk upright for three days and leaving me about as weak as I’ve ever felt.
Once I’d semi-recovered (could stand upright, just, and without feeling like I was about to collapse) I forced myself out of the room to photograph the City Palace. I literally dragged myself around and just tried to keep the camera steady. I barely registered what I was seeing and it was only when I sat down to review my images weeks later that I fully appreciated how magnificent the palace was.
my first shot in three days – sunset, City Palace, Udaipur
cinematic – Octopussy, the James Bond film was shot here on Lake Pichola
By the way, you could assume looking at these images that I had the palace to myself. The reality is, like every other amazing building we visited in India, the place is crawling with tourists. If I hadn’t been so sick I’d have been here super early to try and avoid the crowds. As it was I hit peak hour and it was a battle. See below!
just you and a zillion others
Even with the crowds I’m so glad I forced myself out of my sickbed to see the palace. But that was all I could handle. I just wasn’t bouncing back so we decided there was little point in continuing on to Jodphur, our final destination, if I was going to be stuck inside a hotel room feeling sad and sorry. Luckily Tania had had her fill of India and wasn’t too disappointed about cutting our trip short. So that was it. We rearranged our plans and headed home. Happy-ish.
In total we were in India for less than two weeks, half of which I was sick for. After taking out the considerable travel time – the flights, the long drives, the many hours spent sitting in Jaipur’s shocking traffic – I really only had a few days of photography. Which I’m still grateful for but I had so much more to do – I barely took a portrait, something I was waiting to get stuck into once I’d left crazy busy Jaipur. And I was so keen to capture the beauty of India’s incredible crafts, flower markets and food.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this quick trip nonetheless, which began on a high – literally, from the verandah of the Brijrama Palace in Varanasi – and ended on what can only be described as a low! A low, however, that resolved itself fairly quickly after several lots of antibiotics and antiparasitics. And of course my little challenge was nothing compared to what millions of Indians have to put up with every day of their lives. Namaste and India, I still love you dearly.