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It was such a relief to finally pull into the Jaipur train station after the long day we had spent in Agra, and then to find out that the hotel we had booked was the most amazing one we have stayed in on this trip was just icing on the cake. The Hotel Pearl Palace is cheap and has wonderfully decorated comfortable rooms with stained glass and a delicious roof top restaurant with a view over the city. That in itself is almost a reason to come to Jaipur!
The hotel aside, Jaipur is known as the Pink City and we were excited to walk around and look at the pink painted buildings that give Jaipur its nickname. It took us an hour of wandering around streets within the walled portion of the city before we found a pink building, but when we finally did the streets were lined with them. The Jaipur City Palace and the Hawa Mahal are naturally pink due to the sandstone they are built with and the surrounding concrete buildings were painted pink to create the illusion of being sandstone. And perhaps to give the city a little more flair, who knows?
The Hawa Mahal is a really neat structure built in 1799 for the important ladies of the day to relax and people watch the streets below while remaining unseen behind the honeycomb like lattice work covering the 953 small windows. The lattice work also allows for the desert winds to blow freely through the windows and that is where the name Hawa Mahal came from, it means Palace of the Winds. The building being so tall and thin slightly reminded me of a building from an old west American town with facades on the front, until I took a closer look and realized that the building was made of sandstone and so much more intricate and beautiful than anything built in the heyday of the wild west.
We decided to head over to the Galwar Bagh, known by everyone as The
Monkey Temple, to watch the sunset over Jaipur from the hilltop. Walking the long pathway up the hill was a little intimidating with the hundreds of monkeys surrounding us. Some were fighting with one another and we saw one monkey grab a goat’s tail and chase it off when it tried to eat the monkey’s bundle of weeds, and we learned that a scary sight is a monkey baring its teeth at you. But other monkeys looked calm and cute and the babies that were latched onto their mother’s backs looked almost like little human babies. Halfway up the path a man approached Andy and I and started handing me chickpeas to feed the monkeys. As a large group of monkeys started closing in on me I asked him if feeding them was safe and he kept repeating, “No danger, no danger, no fear.” and scooping chickpeas into my hands.
Although I knew it probably wasn’t the wisest thing to be feeding the monkeys, it was such an amazing experience! The little ones would come up and hold onto my hand while delicately picking up the chickpeas with their other, the larger males made me a little nervous though. Once while the man was scooping food into my hands a large one walked up and hit the man’s hand out of the way and made a grab for all the food in my hand. A few times a fight would break out and I would drop the food stand up and back away. The man would be there instantly saying, “No danger, no fear.” and giving me food for the monkeys.
My mom and Mark were up ahead of us and when they saw what we were doing my mom came down to join in the fun and we both fed the monkeys. After about a minute my mom jumped up with a shriek saying she had been bitten by a monkey. Apparently when she ran out of food she reached out to touch a monkey and simultaneously another one jumped on her back, bit her, and jumped off. Luckily the monkey bit her through the extra layer of her bra and there was only one area where it punctured the skin, it looked very similar to a human bite. Mark flushed it with water and put some antibiotic ointment on it hoping for the best.
There is a show on the National Geographic channel called ‘Monkey Thieves’ that features the the Monkey Temple and follows the drama of the competing monkey tribes and their quest for food and shelter throughout the year, it’s kind of neat to see a little slice of Jaipur.
The next day we arranged for a rickshaw driver to take us to the Jaipur City
Palace. On the way he asked if we wanted to go to a really good lassi (curd blended with water, ice, and spices) place and we jumped at the opportunity. We opted for a sweet lassi and we watched the lassi wallah blend the curd and pour it into a large ceramic cup, the Indian equivalent of a disposable, and then scoop out a chunk of curd skin to lay on top. When we got back to the rickshaw our driver said that we had gone to the wrong place, but that didn’t matter to us since it was the best sweet lassi we’ve ever had. We finished up our drink at the Palace and headed on in.
The Palace is a beautiful set of buildings and, as our audio guide kindly informed us, houses the world’s largest silver vessel. More interesting to me, however, were the weapons on display. There are ‘tiger claws’ which are like brass knuckles with curved talons, knives that when thrust into a person have two blades that open outwards from the main blade slicing the insides of that person, and some mean looking swords.
Next we walked the short distance to the largest stone observatory in the
world, the Jantar Mantar. The huge instruments in the observatory are used for tracking stars, predicting eclipses, and among other things telling the time. The worlds largest sundial is also here and it can tell the time to withing two seconds of the local time, its shadow moving at about 1mm per second. To us non-astronomers the instruments just looked like someone’s strange art project left scattered across the grounds, and a couple times I had no idea what an instrument was used for even with the help of our guide.
Our last stop of the day was Amber Fort on the outskirts of Jaipur. The fort is built out of white and red sandstone and is so large that one can easily get lost inside. Andy and I walked through small passage ways and into dead ends, even finding squat toilets that were built over 400 years ago. As we wandered through the rooms, some smelling of urine, a new surprising smell wafted by us. We both could swear that we smelled coffee, it actually smelled exactly like a Starbucks. We looked around the room wondering what kind of secrets and smells the sandstone walls held over their hundreds of years of history until we found a very narrow and steep passageway leading downwards into the darkness. As we followed the steps we could hear the sounds of a bass beat getting louder and the smell of coffee becoming tantalizingly stronger and eventually we emerged into a well lit coffee shop. A few people gave us funny looks wondering where we had just appeared from and there was nothing else for us to do but walk up to the counter of the Coffee Day and order two lattes.
That night we made our way to the train station hoping that our long day of sightseeing would help us be tired enough to get a little sleep on the way to Jaiselmer.