The holiday I look forward to is the annual getaway with my dear friends. If in a career of 30+ years after interacting with thousands you find 3 genuine friends – consider yourself lucky. This was our 4th edition – after Chickamagalur, Binsar and Kodaikanal we decided to spend a few days at Jaipur.
Planning started 3 monthly early and even the threat of the Corona Virus could not hold us back. With the divine positive energy of my dear friends everything as usual turned out to be perfect. Flights were on time, Jaipur was a pleasant 12 – 23 Degrees, the hotels were great, and the City of Jaipur welcomed us and treated us like royalty.
This was my 3rd trip to Jaipur (2003, 2012 and now 2020) – the earlier ones were rushed 1 day trips. This time we wanted to explore the bye lanes of Jaipur, taste the local food, shop in the local markets and soak in the charm of Jaipur. And that’s exactly what we did. My friend who has visited Jaipur a million times was the best guide we could have had.
A quick history of Jaipur
Jaipur was built in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai man Singh – II (That makes it only as old as Bangalore/ Kolkata/Hyderabad). The kings of Amber (Jaipur State) aligned with the Mughals and Akbar even married one of the princes to who Jahangir was born. Jaipur was the 1st planned city of India. In 1876 Maharaja Ram Singh adorned the city in pink (Supposed to be the colour of hospitality) to welcome Prince Wales – Thus it acquired the name Pink City
The Energy of Jaipur
A few days in Delhi and you get the sense of an aggressive, greedy, wicked smart city that is difficult to trust. Jaipur on the contrary exudes a sense of efficiency and calm, a city that is grounded and contended. Today it is probably the most organised city in India. Broad well lit roads, fast moving traffic, no potholes, no garbage, nice footpaths, efficient traffic police, very clean and affordable. No wonder that Rajasthan attracts ~ 50M tourists every year. Credit should go to the JDA chairman (who happens to be my classmate) and the citizens of Jaipur for maintaining their city so well.
Alsisar Haveli – The property where we stayed
When it comes to hotels you are spoilt for choice. From a wide range of 5 Star properties, Palaces converted to hotels, havelis, small but efficient properties – there is no dearth of options. Just visit booking.com to choose what suits you best. We hunted down a traditional Haveli property in the heart of the city. Alisisar Villa is the ancestral home of the Landlord of Alsisar Village (225km North of Jaipur). This property was built in 1892 and converted to a hotel in 1993. It has 44 rooms. The Alisisar group also has fabulous heritage properties in Shkhawati & Ranathambore. A 4th property will be opening in Khetri Village at Ahaygardh in 2022.
The property is picture perfect, the rooms are divine, the food is average and the service could have been better .
A 200m walk from Alsisar Haveli is a second option – an efficient budget option called Hotel Arya Niwas. We had stayed here in 2003 and loved the place. We did drop by for breakfast and lunch. The place now is larger with a new annexe and still provides the same level of efficient service.
How we spent the 2 1/2 days at Jaipur
When you plan a trip to Jaipur you have to try and cover a lot – Forts, Palaces, Cenotaphs, Food, Bangles, Quilts, Joothis…. the list is long. But yes you can do justice to almost everything in 2 1/2 days if you follow this plan.
Day 1 we land at 11.45 AM
Our Indigo flight from Bangalore landed on time. Jaipur has a small and efficient airport and we are out in less than 10 minutes. The waiting Innova takes us to our Haveli. Its a 15 min drive and we check in before 1230. The rooms are yet to be ready so rather than waste time we head to Laxmi Mishtana Bhandar (LMB).
In 1727, when by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber, founded the new capital city of Jaipur, he invited traders and artists from nearby towns to the newly built city, amongst them were a group of halwais, who set up a small sweet shop in Johri Bazaar. Years later in around, 1949/1950, one of the descendants of these halwais, Maliram Ghodawat, branded this sweet shop, as the Lakshmi Mishthan Bhandar (LMB)
LMB is famous for its restaurant and sweetshop on the street-level. The restaurant serves pure vegetarian food and is known for its Rajasthani thali, Dal bati churma, and kulfi. While I experimented with Kair Sangri (a traditional spicy Rajasthani dish) my friend explored the Rajathani Thali. Food was delicious and rich. We treated ourselves to Kulfi’s and Rasmalais to end a satisfying meal.
A short drive from here passing the iconic Hawa Mahal is the City Palace. Having been here in the past we spent 45 min and covered ground fast before heading to Rajasthan Shilp Gram Udyog that is located close to on the Exit gates. A huge shop (Private) you can find an excellent variety of traditional items – all good Quality (My friend who has bought many times from here assured us of their quality). Excellent variety and very affordable prices. we ended up buying a few quilts and bedsheets.
It was almost 4 PM by now and we headed out to a place called Gatore Ki Chatriyan – Cenotaph of the Kings. The Taxi driver, a local did not know about this place and we were happy to find at sunset a beautiful and empty place that housed the remains of the royal Kings. Its a photographers delight, do take a guide – you can easily spend 1 hr here.
Next to the Cenotaph is a set of 400 steep steps that takes you to the Garh Ganesha temple – which was the temple set up by the 1st king when he started laying the foundation of the city of Jaipur. The climb is a nice exercise and can substitute for your daily gym workout. The view of the city from the top is breathtaking – but thats when you realise that Jaipur is no longer a Pink city.
From here we headed to Saraogi Mansion (The underground market has a nice store that sells unique children toys) and then walked the bye-lanes of Bapu Bazar. This is the best place to get all things Rajasthani – from dresses, bangles, joothis, bags, mouth fresheners… and you can bargain.
Jaipur has many markets and most of them are adjacent to each other. Markets are clean, it was empty but can be very crowded in peak season so be careful of pick pockets.
• Johari Bazaar – For Jewelry
• Tripolia Bazaar – For Bangles
• Chandpole Bazaar – For Handicrafts
• Kishanpole Bazaar – For Textiles
• Nehru Bazaar – For Traditional Jootis
• Sireh Deori Bazaar – For Street Shopping
• Bapu Bazaar – For All Jaipuri Items
• Mirza Ismail Road (MI Road) – For Pottery
• Tibbati Market – For Local Souvenirs
• Anokhi – For Colorful Garments
• Gaurav Tower – For Local Products
• The Gem Palace – For Antique Charms
• Kripal Kumbh – For Blue Pottery
• Aravali Bazaar – For Home Decor Items
• Purohit Ji Ka Katla – For Wedding Items
We had covered a lot for 1/2 a day and now it was time for dinner. The heavy lunch was still making us feel guilty and hence we went to a place called Masala Chowk. A few minutes drive from Bapu Bazar next to the Albert Hall – Masala Chowk is a new Food Market that houses all the famous local eateries in one place.
Masala Chowk is a one-stop place to end all of the street food cravings. This new destination for Street Food in Jaipur is an open food court in Ram Niwas Garden. The place acts as a home for all prominent local cuisines. The common open sitting gives the families and friends freedom to choose from the vast varieties of street foods. This place was intended for the tourists and has gradually turned into a favourite hangout spot for the residents of Jaipur. Masala Chowk has all the traditional Rajasthani dishes from leading stores like Rawat, LMB etc. It also has street food like Samosa, Jalebi, Gol Gappa, Chole Bhature, Tea, Mishri Mawa and also South Indian Dishes like Masala Dosa and Uttapa but in a different style. This world of mouthwatering food has an entry ticket of INR 10 only. Masala Chowk is one of the best places to eat in Jaipur.
We did try a lot of tasty dishes but the freshly made Jalebis was the icing on the cake.We drove past the well lit Albert Museum and headed back to our Haveli. We were home by 10PM. Teetotallers that we were – we ended up chatting and listening to old Kishore Kumar music before calling it a day.
Day – 2 : A few Forts and more
We start day 2 at 9 AM and head to the Nahargarh Fort. Its a 20 min drive up the hill with sparse rugged vegetation. The Nahargarh Fort stands on the edge of the Aravalli Hills, overlooking the city of Jaipur. Along with Amer Fort and Jaigarh Fort, Nahargarh once formed a strong defense ring for the city. The fort was originally named Sudarshangarh, but it became known as Nahargarh, which means ‘abode of tigers’. You can get an excellent view of the city from here. Its a large fort, mostly empty and has rustic beauty. Most tourists give this fort a miss. Budget 30 – 45 minutes for seeing this place.
The next in line was the Jaigarh Fort. A 10 min drive from Nahargarh it overlooks the Amer Fort. The fort was built in 1726 to protect the Amer Fort and its palace complex. Rugged and similar in structural design to the Amer Fort it is also known as the Victory Fort. The fort features a cannon named “Jaivana“, which was manufactured in the fort precincts and was then the world’s largest cannon on wheels. Jaigarh Fort and Amer Fort are connected by subterranean passages and considered as one complex
You can get an excellent view of Amer Fort from Jaigarh. After the two Forts we had plans to head to the village of Abhaneri which was home to one of the grandest, deepest step-wells in the country. Abhaneri is ~ 100 Km from Jaipur and a 90 minute drive on the highway. The walk in the Forts had made us thirsty and it was almost 11 AM. Before heading to Abhaneri we stopped by at Lassiwala – the famous lassi joint of Jaipur. Lassiwala is located at 312 MI Road, Jayanti Market, New Colony. Dont miss this – the Lassis is delicious and filling and served in large Kulhads.
The highway drive to Abhaneri got us out of the city to rural Rajasthan. Summer was on the anvil so the fields were still green – we were in Dausa the territory of Sachin Pilot. Roads were good (too many toll gates) and we passed by a small town that specialises in stone carvings before reaching the small village of Abhaneri.
Chand Baori is a step well that is over 1000 years old. It is one of the largest and oldest step wells in the world extending almost 100 feet deep. The baori has precise geometrical patterns and the steps form a maze and the play of light gives it a captivating look. This place has been used as a filming location for a number of films including Paheli, Bhool Bhulaiya & The Fall. Next to the well is an ancient temple in ruins.
On the way back we stopped at Umaid Lake Palace for lunch – a very nice resort on the highway about 30 min from the step well on the way back to Jaipur. We were the only folks at lunch. Food was fresh and tasty – it was almost 2.30 PM and we were hungry. The trip was fun and a nice getaway from the city – but the step well was a bit disappointing. One of those things which looks and reads better on the Internet.
We reached Jaipur at 5 PM , just in time for me to freshen up and meet my college buddy – an IAS Officer who has now become the Commissioner of Jaipur Development Authority. I congratulated him on the wonderful upkeep of the city and we caught up on old times and old friends dating back to 1988 – 92. My friends picked me up from the JDA office which is just opposite the beautiful Birla Mandir. It was already 6.45 and the entry hours were over so we could just see the temple from outside. As we headed to the markets we stopped by at LMB for some Pyaj Kachodi and Chai and then walked by Hawa Mahal. Most tourists would do that but we had plans to come back and visit Hawa Mahal from the inside the next day. At the Markets my friend bought bangles (Remember to carry sample bangles for size). After shopping for colourful knick knacks we headed out for dinner.
We had had enough of local cuisine and decided to try out a place called Cafe & Bar Palladio – a highly rated Italian restaurant that is frequented mostly by foreigners. Its located at Narain Niwas palace and is part of a 3 restaurant complex. The ambience is nice, the interiors are done up in my favourite color Blue, food and drinks are reasonably priced but the taste of food was OK. We ended the day by 11 PM and reached our Haveli tired for a good nights sleep.
The last day – Day 3
We had covered a lot in the last 1 1/2 days. But we still had the most prominent landscapes of Jaipur – Hawa Mahal & Amer Fort to be covered.
Hawa Mahal is a palace made with red and pink sandstone. The palace sits on the edge of the City Palace, Jaipur, and extends to the Zenana, or women’s chambers. The structure is relatively new – built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the grandson of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, who was the founder of Jaipur. Its unique five floors exterior is akin to the honeycomb of a beehive with its 953 small windows called Jharokhas decorated with intricate latticework. The original intent of the lattice design was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life and festivals celebrated in the street below without being seen, since they had to obey the strict rules of “purdah”, which forbade them from appearing in public without face coverings. This architectural feature also allowed cool air from the Venturi effect to pass through, thus making the whole area more pleasant during the high temperatures in summer. Many people see the Hawa Mahal from the street view and think it is the front of the palace, but in reality it is the back of that structure. Most people just walk by – but do buy a ticket and venture inside. Its a fascinating piece of architecture.
Our next stop was Amer Fort. It is the principal tourist attraction in Jaipur. Amer Fort is known for its artistic style elements. With its large ramparts and series of gates and cobbled paths, the fort overlooks Maota Lake, which is the main source of water for the Amer Palace. We had visited Amer Fort in 2012 as part of the Palace on Wheels Tour and I recollect we had seen areas which are not accessed to normal tourists. The fort is large and could take 2 – 3 hrs to cover, but we were faster.
On our way to the hotel to check out by 12 Noon we picked up Ghewar from LMB (A traditional Rajasthani sweet) and then had lunch at Arya Niwas. This is a nice hotel that provides clean rooms and homely tasty food. We had a simple meal of Phulka, Dal, Dry Sabji (No Gravy), Curd Rice and Kheer.
Post lunch we drove past the Vidhan Soudha, Cricket Stadium, Rambag Palace Hotel (Managed by Taj) and stopped by at WTP or World Trade Park. A large complex that is beautifully designed across multiple towers. I would rate this as one of the nicest malls in India. From here I rushed out to meet another classmate – who heads the Bharat Broadband Org for Rajasthan and then we headed to the airport at 630 PM in time for the 745 PM flight. Jaipur airport is nice – they even have TT tables and Chess Boards to keep you entertained.
We did cover a lot – we wanted to visit Tapri, a popular tea joint but did not have the time. We had plans to visit the Galtaji Temple – but I believe the surroundings are not very clean. Sisodia Garden is a nice place to hang out in the evening and if we had an extra night maybe we would have headed to Saltwater Sambhar Lake (70 Km from Jaipur). Another place worth visiting would have been the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing (AMHP). Located in a magnificently restored haveli, the museum displays a varied selection of block printed textiles alongside images, tools and related objects – all chosen to provide an in-depth look into the complexity of this ancient tradition. And of course we stayed away from Surana Jewellers famous for its uncut diamonds and semi precious Gem stones. Most first time visitors would also plan an evening at Chokhi Dhani, a well-known tourist attraction in Jaipur. The aim of the resort is to give tourists a full experience of Rajasthani culture. The entire resort’s theme is inspired by a village setting, with many cultural activities held here.
Jaipur is a fascinating city – most metros have direct flights so that makes it easier. Plan a 2 – 3 day trip and you can cover the city in detail. it really helps if you have a local from Delhi / N India who can help you navigate the city. Oct – to early March is the best time to travel.
In conclusion a trip that was threatened by the Corona outburst did end up perfect. Even that last day storm at Delhi did not disrupt our flights. Thanks to Corona – the city / flights / eateries were empty. The weather was nice – and I would give credit to all of this to my two good friends whose +ve energy makes these holidays a grand success.
All photographs shot on our iPhones (Only Masala Chowk Photo sourced from Google Images)