By the time we arrived in Jaipur, we’d learned how to do India. Make sure you’ve got a nice hotel as a sanctuary from the rougher edges of Indian life. And arrange the easiest, most comfortable transport to get to where you want to go. Attempt to block out everything in between. Alas, our ‘hotel’ in Jaipur was the worst of our trip. But it was bearable, and there was a nice roof top restaurant just round the corner that we made good use of for breakfast and dinner.
Our transportation arrangements were more successful. We booked a taxi for a two day tour of the city and its surroundings. The city has a fascinating history and some fabulous architecture, the Royal Albert Museum and the Hawa Mahal being the stand out attractions. But, like Delhi and elsewhere on our travels, it is rather scarred by neglect, pollution and litter/debris.
We watched the two Exotic Marigold Hotel movies when we returned. There were lots of scenes with places we instantly recognised, but with something missing. Someone had clearly been round with a street sweeper and gotten everything smartened up before the clapperboard came down. I can picture the director shouting, “Lights, camera, refuse collection…action!” Now, if they could put in the right sort of effort for Nighy and Dench, then they could have done a little something for us.
India has a rich scientific history. I’m not sure why this is surprising to so many people, given that India (along with China) led the world economically for so many centuries until the rise of Europe and its insatiable quest for global dominance. Jaipur posseses one of the finest architectural monuments to science in the grand Jantar Mantar observatory. Nowadays, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site rather than a leading astronomical centre. But it still ‘works’, and features the world’s largest stone sundial.
If you can’t get to India, by the by, but could get yourself along to the Science Museum in London, then there’s a very good exhibition – Illumination India. We happened across it by pure chance a week after we returned from India. It has two sections – 5000 years of science and Innovation and Photography 1857-2017. It’s well worth your time.
Our tour really blossomed once we’d left the smoggy confines of the city. First stop, the famous Monkey Temple. Properly known as the Galta Ji temple, it is a series of abandoned temples leading down from a natural spring, which feeds into several tanks. Pilgrims still bathe in them, which is a mighty daring activity. Forget the colour of the water – it’s the dead pidgeons, face down and slowly rotting, that would put me off a little bit. Instead, I prayed to the tribe of monkeys which call Galta Ji their home. Or at least, I got down on my hands and knees to get a better shot of the them.
We headed to Jaipur’s star attraction, the Amber Fort. Our guide took us the scenic route, stopping off at some absolutely glorious temples and gardens along the way. The sort of stuff where you want to sit for an age and just gaze at your surroundings, marvelling at how it must have looked during its heyday. And marvelling at how glorious it is today, despite the passage of several centuries and the wear and tear that is the inevitable side effect of time.
The Amber Fort was a fitting finale to a wonderful day. I say finale, which suggests that it’s almost no more than a bolt-on to the tour. It’s an enormous complex that took up half of our day. And it’s been decently preserved. You don’t have to stretch your imagination to envisage the place at its peak.
We rejected the option to ride an elephant up the long road to the fort. Mrs P and I are not fans of wildlife being removed from their natural habitat to serve lazy humans. They are all too often poorly treated. Alas, there are plenty of tourists who are not so thoughtful, and the demand is sufficient to keep the trade going.
Our time in India’s famous Pink City was suddenly at an end. Although I must say, Indians must see colours differently to the rest of us. The buildings were not pink, but a very light, faded terracotta. If I were being kind, I could perhaps call it terracotta with a pinkish tinge. But, frankly, that’s just being kind, not accurate. But onwards we went to the last stop of our Indian tour, the Venice of India. The City of Lakes. Otherwise known as Udaipur.