Jaipur gave me a very good first impression: the morning was sunny, warm without being uncomfortably hot (25-27°C), and the pollution levels are much better than in Delhi and especially Agra. It’s still high on the meters, but there’s no sickly haze hanging in the air and breathing is noticeably easier.
In addition, as I would find out through the day, Jaipur is way more developed than Agra, with paved roads and streets and larger buildings. It’s still India, so there’s still lots of crazy traffic in all directions and people trying to sell you stuff, but walking from one site to another was easier than in Agra, where it was so inhospitable so as to be impractical.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I started off with breakfast at the hotel -I was a bit spooked to find myself being the only guest in the big, garish dining hall; I wondered what was going on but people started filing in afterwards, I guess I must be an early riser here- and then I took an Uber to the old town of Jaipur, also called the Pink City for the distinctive reddish stone of its buildings. I cannot recommend Uber enough for India: it’s super cheap (today’s 15 min trip from the hotel to the city cost 90 rupees or €1.13), you don’t have to haggle or give directions, and you can pay without cash.
My first stop was the royal City Palace of Jaipur, a sprawling palace complex that was built in the 18th century to house the royal family of Rajasthan (which it still does!). I bought the standard 700R (€8.85), which does not cover the inside of the actual royal residence; to see the famous blue room you may have seen on Instagram, you have to buy a special ticket for 2500R (€31.50) that entitles you to a guided tour of the exclusive areas.
Once inside, it was pretty crowded, especially by groups of Indian tourists. It was fine outside, but on any interior exhibition it was annoying to have to squeeze past the groups or have to wait for them to clear a stairway to leave.
Right off the gate I encountered the Welcome Pavilion, a small but beautiful building that houses an exhibition on fabrics and costumes; there are historical suits, dresses and ceremonial costumes of all kinds, most popular of which is an enormous pyjama that belonged to a spectacularly large nobleman.
I was a bit confused as to where to go next, because the compound has many different spaces and there is no one single route to follow, but eventually I found myself in the Armory, which as far as buildings go is ugly and old but holds an astonishing collection of weapons and armor. They have hundreds of Indian swords, knives, kukris, katars, rifles, flintlocks, matchlocks… so interesting to see! (Tragically, photography is prohibited in all indoors spaces.)
I walked from the first, cream-colored courtyard to the second, pink like the city and with a large open audience hall right in the middle. Here I saw a photography exhibition, worth the visit to see actual photographs of the kings and courtiers who lived in these halls two hundred years ago.
There’s also a sumptuous, if out of fashion, audience hall/throne room where the kind would receive dignitaries, and a “courtyard of the seasons” with four exquisitely built mosaic gates that each signify a season. The most famous of them is the peacock door, where sculpted peacocks come out of the walls.
Now that I’m writing it down it doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a pretty big place even without visiting the residence, as all of these rooms are in different courtyards and wings of the building. And of course there are no maps anywhere, so I had to look one up online to make sure I didn’t leave without having seen all the important sights.
Eventually I walked out to the hot noon sun and walked five minutes to a side to find Hawa Mahal, another famous Jaipur sight that you might have seen online: a house with hundreds of small windows, known as the Wind Palace for its air currents, which was made for women to be able to see the streets below unobserved. It’s a gorgeous building, but somewhat difficult to appreciate because of the heavy traffic on the road it’s on. A young Indian man asked me for a selfie while I was gawking at the building; I went to take off my hat and sunglasses, but he went “No no, with”. I guess he wanted max touristiness!
You can visit the inside of the Hawa Mahal, but I think that’s part of the tour I’m taking tomorrow so I turned around and walked south. All the streets in the old city have arcades full of shops; it’s still difficult to cross and there are touts, but it’s in the shade and there are no vehicles inside so after the last few days it was comparatively a pleasure to walk.
After around a quarter of an hour and crossing a couple of very busy, very wide avenues, I made my way to the Albert Hall Museum, which I will never not call the Royal Albert Hall because of London. It’s an enormous 19th century colonial building in the middle of a roundabout that, according to its own display, the British built first and then later decided it would be a museum.
The ticket for this one is 300R (€3.78) and I very much recommend it. Both the building itself and the collection it holds are worth the walk or the cab ride from the old town.
The building seems largely untouched from the 1880s, and the interiors are a peculiar mix of British and Indian aesthetics: there are checkered black-and-white marble floors and wooden shelves, but also murals and pastel colors and arched hallways. Unlike the city palace, this museum takes you on a predefined route across all of its collection. I was already tired, so I appreciated not having to check where I was every five minutes!
As for the collection, it’s centered on Indian history, but I’d be pressed to narrow it down beyond that because there are exhibits on lots of different crafts and themes: there’s a hall filled with religious sculptures, another with jewels, a gallery with paintings, an exhibition of textiles, Persian glassware, even Greek and Roman busts and bas-reliefs. I thought the rooms were pretty much the perfect size: each one was large enough that there was a lot to look at, but not so much that it become boring before it was time to move on to the next one.
When I finished my visit it was lunchtime, so off I went again to walk -absolutely nobody walks here! But it was 10 minutes! Seems like such a waste to take a cab!- to a restaurant called Niros. It’s rather upscale, relatively expensive (mains hover around the 500 rupees or €6, which is high here but of course a bargain if we were back home). I had braised chicken with garlic naan, and it was good but honestly not proportional to the fanciness of the place, all dim lighting and uniformed waiters.
All in all the restaurant wasn’t all that spectacular to me but it did have one strategic advantage over the others I had shortlisted: it is literally next door to Jal Mahal Ice Cream Parlour, a fantastic ice cream shop famous for its fruit sorbets and crazy exotic flavors. Now, loyal readers will remember that I left Delhi without having ice cream, and I was not about to let that happen again!
As advertised, the place had dozens upon dozens of flavors, of which I recognized like… 40%? Some had Indian names, but others had fantasy English names that didn’t get me any closer to knowing what they were. They also had lots of prearranged sundae options. Still, I won’t lie to you: I knew I wanted the mango sorbet even before I set foot inside, so I had a cup of mango and Belgian chocolate.
I am not exaggerating when I say this is the best mango sorbet that I’ve ever tasted. Remember when I had the best mango shake ever in Ayutthaya? This was that, but for ice cream. It was super refreshing, slightly more watery than other sorbets (oddly enough, they take the frozen-solid ice cream from the boxes and grind it through an ice cream dispenser to soften it up), and the mango flavor was delicious and pure. For 120 rupees (€1.5) I had twice as much ice cream, and much better to boot, than the tiny, miserly 2 scoops that I get for €4.70 in Versailles!
That was the end of my day’s plan. I was exhausted when I left the museum, but to be honest after lunch and dessert I felt much better! Still, I didn’t really have anything left to do, so I ordered another Uber (this one arrived on the opposite end of the avenue and calmly watched me cross six lanes of heavy oncoming car traffic) and came back to the hotel to write this and conserve my energy for tomorrow. I’m signed up for a tour that should take me to the sights that are outside of the city proper, namely the Amber Fort and the Jal Mahal. I’ll be ready!