Are you a culture vulture? Or a historian? Maybe, a shopaholic? With a need to gorge on every new food item you come across? Trust me, Rajasthan is one state that can give you all that you want (and more)
With a few diwali holidays in hand, I decided to visit India's pink city - Jaipur with a few extremely proud Jaipurites to show me around. Firstly, NO, I was not living in a desert. Infact, Jaipur has a history of being the first planned city of India, thanks to Maharaja Jai Singh in the 17th or 18th century . The city looks like a blushing princess with beautiful pink buildings standing tall. On day 1, we visited the Amer Fort which is located on a hill overlooking a lake, a little away from the main city of Jaipur. The palace has multiple entrances - you can either walk up the serpentine staircases, like most people or you can take a royal elephant ride through the fort's huge gates. The palace, maintained extremely well, has beautiful courtyards and a small palace of mirrors inside called the 'Sheesh Mahal' - the walls and the roof have mirrored mosaics. Go ahead, take a perfect sheesh mahal mirror selfie!
When the Jaipuri's told me to go to Choki Dhani to understand Rajasthani culture, I CLEARLY underestimated the place. Choki Dhani is a town of its own consisting of a big restaurant, magicians, fortune tellers (palm, parrot, tarot), puppet shows, Ghoomar dancers & singers , camel & elephant rides, to say the least. You can easily spend 3 to 4 hours in here. As soon as you enter, you are mesmerised by the size of the place beautifully lit up with tons of activities to do. You may have to wait in a long queue of ravenous people, willing to stab you to get in for the food , but i don't blame them. The thali served had ATLEAST 15-18 items and was luscious, dripping ghee and foodgasmic! Definitely a must visit for someone who's visiting Jaipur.
The next day, we were bit by the adventure bug and decided to visit one of Asia's most haunted places - Bhangarh Fort. On our way, we took a pitstop at Lassiwala for a glass of cold lassi or chaas in a cute but huge clay mug (Trust me, you're not going to want a meal for the next 8 hours after that) We weren't really that frightened like those hilarious teenagers in the Youtube videos with their night cam on. But then, we got lost in between. And then we saw the Government board that mentioned " Do not enter after 5 pm" and well, it was 5.35 pm. Nevertheless, we paid the guard a few paper Gandhi's to let us in who, in turn warned us to get out before sun set. Once you enter the gate, you will have to walk a couple of miles through the ruins of the king's palace with a Hanuman Temple and ruins of the market place. And as you go up, you finally reach the creepy looking fort! There were alot of other drunk tourists making ghost noises just to keep the atmosphere light but the further you go up the fort, the stranger the air gets. There was a point where we wanted to go up the stairs onto the roof but it was too dark and extemely eerie with an extremely weird smell. That's when we decided that we must probably head back , though there was a guide who kept guaranteeing that the stories weren't real. I know, we were very dramatic !
Nevertheless, we drove back with our stomachs growling. To be honest, Jaipur has a plethora of vegetarian choices and you find most of the restaurants or cafes to be vegetarian. But a true meat-lover cannot leave Rajasthan without trying their EPIC Laal Maas (Red Meat). I had my share of Laal Maas at a small place called Talk of the Town. No tables or chairs - grab your food, sit in or on your car and feast ! It's hot, spicy and really really GOOD!
3 Days and 2 Forts later, it was time for some shopping. There are zillions of bazaars to visit - the one I visited was Bapu Bazaar. If you are a culturist and have a love for shopping , Bapu Bazar is a great place to visit within the walls of the Pink City. My buy recommendations would be joothi's, camel leather products, very jaipuri outfits, beautiful mirror work, tye & dye and block printing. You can also buy light weight quilts called 'Jaipuri Quilts' for your travel. The textiles are eye catchy in an excellent range of colors. Bargain all you can ! The shopkeepers surprisingly know alot of languages ( Punjabi..English...FRENCH!)
We visited the Hawa Mahal and the City Palace, again a MUST VISIT since it is now a museum with an impressive collection of weapons & armors, outfits, jewellery used by the Royal Family back then. The Diwans are BEAUTIFUL!
We rushed for quick lunch to a place called Tapri, a charming rooftop cafe with a nice view of the Central Park serving yummy food and different types of chai. The interiors are real nice and they have emphasized on the "Chai" part quite alot with a variety of tea leaves and bags, put on sale for visitors. They also have a nice corner for offbeat indian items/accessories (more or less like Chumbak - tourists can google what that is ;) ) Do try their pot of masala chai and bun maska and head on out to explore the rest of Jaipur.
Finally, we wanted to end the trip, like a good cigar after a huge meal. So, we went to Nahargarh Fort. The fort is located on the edge of a hill and is famous for the "Rang De Basanti" shot. The best part about this fort , apart from the fact that you get alcohol there in their open air restaurant, is how it overlooks the entire city of Jaipur lit up like a bride before her wedding ! Take a sip, kick back and relax and enjoy the star studded nights of Jaipur !