My friend and I were waiting at the bus stop, waiting for the bus that would take us to Jaipur, the city hosting the annual Literature Festival or the JLF for the 9th time. Although I am an avid reader, I had never been to the Literature Festival. However, the festival only occupied half of my mind. The other half was looking forward to the stay in a traveler’s hostel for the first time. We were supposed to stay in ‘The Hosteller’. The thought of meeting travelers from different parts of the country excited me. I know I would love to hear their stories and probably share some of my own. The blissful exchange of views was sure to bear some fruit!
It was 2 AM when we reached the bus stop in Jaipur’s famous Sindhi Camp area. It was drizzling outside. We reached The Hosteller after a 30 minute drive with a sleepy rickshaw driver, who didn't curse us for waking him up at this hour and making him drive all the way across town (this was a surprise for us. We were coming from Delhi). Since it was new and operated inside a regular house, not unlike the other houses in the area, we were confused but somehow trusted our GPS which was too sure of itself in locating the place. We found the gate open and entered into the front porch of the house.
The doors were locked, obviously. We called up the guy who was supposed to receive us. No answer. We tried all the doors, hoping to find one of them unlocked, but all in vain.
I asked my friend if he was sure we were at the right place. He assured me that he had spotted their name on one of the flower pots on the 2nd floor. I think that is what he planned to tell the police if we were caught trespassing in that house! Suddenly my phone rang and startled the both of us. It was Sri, the guy who was supposed to receive us. He came down after a minute to open the door. The moment I saw him, I was ridden with guilt. A short guy, barely 25, was trying to welcome us. I say trying as it seemed a difficult job for him with his frail frame, those sunken, sleep deprived eyes and disheveled hair. With a smile on his face, which in no way seemed forced, he said, “Welcome to the Lodger. I am Sri.” he said, in a rather high pitched, enthusiastic voice. He was quite keen on showing us around. “I hope you did not have much problem finding the place. We opened about a month and a half ago. There is no indicators leading up to this place either” His tone was apologetic. I was listening to Sri as he spoke about the place. There was still some sleep in his eyes but it did not reflect in his voice. He definitely intended to show us around the whole place right then. He seemed happy to receive us, even at this hour.
“Breakfast will be ready by 9. However, I can understand if you guys want to sleep till late as it is almost 3 already. Do you need any water? Or perhaps a toothbrush?”
He went back to sleep in his room after we assured him we had everything we need. This was my first taste of Jaipur’s excellent hospitality.
Whatever time we were able to spare on the first day after the JLF was well spent in exploring the markets. Within Jaipur, two cities, the modern Jaipur and the walled pink city, coexist. Them being poles apart has, in its own way, brought them closer. The modern Jaipur keeps up pace with the rest of the big cities in India. The walled pink city has a life of its own. It remains aloof from the hustle and bustle of the modern Jaipur. The walls here are all pink and no one is allowed to repaint them! It is a great effort by the state government to protect their rich heritage and preserve the things as they were when the city was established by the then king Jai Singh. The Badi Chaupad, which is the Center of the market in Jaipur and is well-connected to nearby markets Bapu bazaar and Johri Bazaar.
As we strolled through these streets, I could imagine myself having been transported to the time when all this was new, when the workers had just finished building the city, the dream of Jai Singh. How the king had marveled at his child. How he had hoped that one day he will be remembered by the beauty of his child and so he is!
Near the Badi Chaupad, there is the famous Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Winds. As the legend goes, the king built it to house his queens and built hundreds of little windows in the palace so that there is an excellent ventilation throughout the palace as the city, being near to the desert, experiences a lot of heat. Now, the structure stands between the market, forlorn and forgotten.
Later in the night, we headed back to our ‘home’ in the city. We were tired but decided to spend some time on the roof where other guests of The Lodger were sitting around a fire and chatting away merrily. We joined in and shared our experiences of the day. This is what I had hoped and enjoyed the most about the hostel.
One of the must visit places is the three fort area- Amber fort, Jaigarh fort, and Nahragarh fort. Amber fort lies at the outskirts of Jaipur, in a town called Amer. It is a 35 minute drive from the center. Nahargarh and Jaigarh forts are also in the vicinity. We visited Amber fort for its Light and Sound show. It is held from the months of October to February. The show has been set with a panoramic view of the Amber fort, with the hills in the background. It starts as the sun disappears behind the hills and the twilight is dominant. The Son-et-lumière immersed us with the tales of its glorious past, of the Kacchwaha dynasty. The winter chill augmented the enthralling experience which held every person present spellbound and the hour-long show left us wanting more.
I would recommend everyone to make proper arrangements for them to be taken back to the city after the show. The place is deserted after nightfall. A reliable taxi service should be fine. Anything except Taxi For Sure. We had booked a taxi from Taxi For Sure a few hours before the show and were assured our taxi would be there on time. They messaged us the name and number of the driver half an hour before the scheduled time. However, when I called the concerned person after the show, he told me he was off duty for the day and hadn’t received any call from the cab company. Taxi For Sure then went on to blatantly tell me they are sorry and that they can’t send anyone now. God bless the man who happened to pass by and was kind enough to stop and give us a ride back to the city!
Rajasthan is a foodie’s haven. Pyaz Kachori, Mirchi Bada, Dal-bati-churma are just a few of the signature dishes of the state. Jaipur has several places where one can enjoy Rajasthani food, the most popular one being Chokhi Dhani which is a resort with a sole purpose- to give the visitors a taste of ethnic Rajasthan.
Its décor is in tune with the royal palaces of Rajasthan and the also has an area dedicated to the day-to-day activities of the village. The food served here is unlimited and we were forced to eat so much, we had tears in our eyes.
Another relatively lesser known restaurant in Jaipur’s Tonk road area is Tan-Sukh. The Rajasthani Thali served here deserves a special mention. Being economical and unlimited didn’t affect the taste of the food at all!
I feel Jaipur can never disappoint me. Every visit has something new to offer and every time I come back having experienced a different air of the city and hopefully, will continue to do so.