We’ve been very busy living like Rajasthani royalty over the last week or so, so we’re a little behind with the blog this time.
From Amritsar, we took a seven hour train down to Haridwar, a Hindu pilgrimage site in Uttarakhand, situated on the River Ganges and the foothills of the Himalayas. Sadly, there’s very little to report from Haridwar, thanks to a nasty cold and flu bug which struck us both pretty much the minute we arrived.
We stayed in a small town near Rishikesh, which is known as the home of yoga, and we’d hoped to spend three full days trekking, trying out the famous yoga classes and enjoying the Ganges. In reality, we spent three days in bed watching Kung Fu Panda 3.
We tried out one small hike up to the waterfalls, which was lovely but finished us off for good, and otherwise managed very little other than a stroll along the ghats.
Our time in Haridwar might not have done much for our Everest training, but at least it’s all strictly vegetarian so we killed our germs with three days of veg platters, soups, stupidly overpriced colourful juices and turmeric tea (urgh).
Leaving our germs behind, we boarded our (rather amusing) overnight bus to Jaipur, ready to meet the parents and very much looking forward to some relaxation and luxury.
This was our bus – a series of double bunk beds closed off with their own private spaceship doors. Possibly not quite as comfortable as the Millennium Falcon, but it did the job.
The Umaid Bhawan hotel in Jaipur was absolutely stunning, full of quiet little corners and Rajasthani style décor. We could not have looked more out of place arriving off the 11.5 hour bus with our bedheads and dusty backpacks in tow.
After a happy reunion breakfast (including actual cheddar on toast, thanks Mom!), we set out for my parents first experience of life in India. As we left the hotel and started our walk through the leafy suburbs, Mom optimistically remarked “You know, it’s really not that hectic here, I don’t know what you’ve been going on about.”
Fifteen minutes, seventy scooter horns, twenty cows and some very noisy rickshaws later, she’d changed her tune somewhat. Dad couldn’t stop filming the traffic (sadly this trend hasn’t gone away and he’s captured approximately five feature length films worth of Indian roadside antics, complete with commentary), while Mom was blown away by the colours (and the noise).
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and was apparently the first planned city in North India. The old city is flanked by a square of bazaars, each serving a different purpose – one sells gold, another is home to the city’s tailors, and there are even sections selling such sought-after goods as kites.
It’s also famously known as the ‘Pink City’. The story goes that the Maharaja of Jaipur painted the entire city pink (symbolic of hospitality) in honour of a visit by King Edward VII. Since then, any new buildings in the old city must follow the colour scheme and so everywhere you look there are pink (or at least pink-ish) palaces and temples.
First stop was the old city palace.
With its combination of Indian and Arabian architecture, the palace is full of beguiling pink archways, ornamental doors and expansive courtyards.
We enjoyed our first Kingfisher of North India in the swanky courtyard, before heading back to the hotel for a well overdue swim in the hotly anticipated hotel pool. We can’t tell you much of a difference it makes having a pool and lounge area, just to be able to take a step back from India when it gets too much.
A few more Kingfishers and the parents’ first curry (butter chicken, mutton kadai, jeera rice, butter naan and a tandoori mixed grill), before an early night ready for a day of exploring the city.
The next day we took on the sights of Jaipur, heading first to the Amber Fort. Built nearly seven centuries ago in 1592, the Fort was originally constructed for defence, but later turned into a palace.
We headed to the nearby Jaigarh fort, which isn’t as pretty but has beautiful views over the city and the Amber Fort. Perfect for some cheesy snaps…
And it meant we had our first experience squeezing the four of us into a tuk tuk…
Back into town for the parents’ first thali, and to explore the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds).
The Hawa Mahal is Jaipur’s most iconic and instagrammed building. It was built as a summer retreat for one of the kings, but also served as a palace where ladies of the royal household could observe everyday life without being seen.
I have to say I quite like the idea of a secluded little spot where you can look out on the chaos of Indian life from the peace and calm of a plush pink building.
Last stop on our whirlwind tour – the Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory. This place was just incredible – luckily Jamie insisted that we get a guide, otherwise it would have looked like a bunch of funny looking stones. It’s made up of sixteen geometric devices, designed to measure time and track the planets, including a massive solar clock which is apparently accurate to within ten seconds. Hard to explain without a degree in astronomy, but let’s just say these guys had it nailed three hundred years ago.
It was in the Jantar Mantar that Mom was asked for the first of her ‘mama’ selfies. Bizarrely, people have taken to handing her small Indian babies and asking her to pose with them. Something new everyday in India…
Exhausted after a full day exploring the city, we headed back to the hotel for yet another delicious curry and some more Kingfishers. Dad has never been a curry fan, and normally turns his nose up at anything spicy, but he’s been completely converted to Indian food. The self-christened ‘Spice King’, he’s coped admirably with the spicy Rajasthani cuisine, which is completely to different to South Indian food (don’t worry, the round-ups coming soon).
Even more admirably, he agreed to come with us to the hotel’s yoga class the next morning. If you’ve met my Dad, you’ll know why this is admirable. Most people struggle to touch their toes, but Dad’s lucky if he makes it past his hips. He’s also not exactly what you’d call in touch with his spiritual side and the idea of him taking part in a group ‘Omm’ chant is nothing short of hilarious (sorry Dad).
After his first session, it’s safe to say we’re not going to be seeing Guru Stephen anytime soon. In fairness though, the class was one of the weirdest experiences of our trip yet. The ‘instructor’, who had us squeezed in to a gift shop on a bunch of towels, proceeded to launch straight into some interesting interpretations of tree poses, before ending with a bizarre attempt at laughing yoga. We were in fits of hysterics – not so much because of his ‘jokes’, but because of Dad’s snide remarks under his breath from the back of the room.
Yoga complete, we set off for our final stop in Jaipur – Gulatji, locally known as the monkey temple. It’s easy to see where this place gets its name – there are several stalls selling monkey nuts and encouraging you to feed the cheeky little macaques. They are so adorable and just gently take the nuts out of your hand for a nibble.
This little guy took either a like or a dislike to Mom, we’re still not sure.
It’s quite a walk to the temple, but, as usual, there was atmospheric music and chanting along the way, and we were also ‘blessed’ by a cute little girl in the Sun Temple mid way.
And it’s worth it for the views across the city and the pavilions situated amongst the low hills, with the monkeys running over the roofs and the pilgrims bathing in the sacred pools.
We were then entreated (forced) into a small room for another ‘blessing’, before promptly being encouraged (forced) to part with 500 rupees for the privilege and urged (forced) to take some awkward photos.
We emerged, however, to find ourselves in the midst of a petal confetti explosion, brightly coloured horses and chariots and people dancing and singing in the street. Turns out they were celebrating Rama Navami, the birthday of Lord Rama.
Back to the hotel via a snack of some Jaipur-style Bombay mix, for another afternoon of relaxing by the pool and playing my new favourite game, Yachtzee. Turns out I have a natural gift for the dice and, while some jealous naysayers may disagree, I have quickly become known far and wide as the Yachtzee Queen.
Next blog post about our moped adventures in Pushkar and searching for tigers in Ranthambhore coming soon!