We headed to India with only one solid plan: to see the Taj Mahal. India is such a vast and incredible place, we could have probably spent months exploring it, but the real focus of our trip was Nepal and as such, concrete plans for India fell by the wayside. Either by way of providence or disaster (depending on if you're a glass half full or half empty kind of person), we ended up not being able to get to our hotel in Delhi and so at one o'clock in the morning ended up embarking on a three day tour of the "golden triangle" with a personal driver.
While we were only in Jaipur for one day and night, we managed to cram in a lot starting with Jaigarh Fort, which we visited the evening we arrived. Attached to the Amber Palace (its more famous counterpart) by a series of tunnels, the Jaigarh Fort was lovely in its own right with a commanding view of Jaipur and the lake from its hilltop perch. Being evening, we were almost entirely alone save for locals dining at the restaurant built along a portion of the wall. For me the best part was watching the moon rise over the fort. It was nothing short of enchanting. On our way back to our hotel, we stopped at the lake to take in the splendid Water Palace which is lit up at night. This palace was built by one of the Maharajas and although it is a five story building, four of the stories remain under water with only the top floor exposed.
The next morning we headed to a textile shop that block prints all their fabrics by hand. I've never seen block printing before and it was truly amazing to witness. The speed and precision at which they stamped the fabric was astounding as they were far from simple designs. Many of them included multiple colors and detailed patterns. After watching the process for awhile we headed upstairs to the shop where I purchased an exquisite delft looking table cloth. On our way out one of the craftsmen got some scraps of fabric and blocks and helped us to make some prints, which needless to say were of much poorer quality than their work!
After the textile shop we headed t0 a spice store that sold every kind of fresh spice and tea imaginable, displayed in powder and loose leaf forms in giant jars. We were seated at a low table with the owner who passed around samples, like fresh cinnamon bark which was amazingly delicious compared to how bitter the powder is. The owner also had his brother brew us some tea, which in actuality wasn't made with tea leaves at all but rather by steeping whole fresh spices in the water. We left with some amazingly aromatic curry powder, loose leaf tea, and spices to make chai.
After that we headed to the Amber Palace (also known as the Amer Palace) which is the main tourist attraction of Jaipur, and rightly so, at least in my opinion. Built in the 1500s and now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the place is elaborate, exquisite, and absolutely massive. And what I loved best was that unlike most places, it's almost entirely open to the public with only a handful of areas roped off. This meant hours of wandering down long corridors, vast courtyards, labyrinths of rooms, winding stairways, dark eerie tunnels, and endless balconies. Just when you'd think you'd explored every nook you would spy a narrow doorway half hidden behind some arch and suddenly be descending down a narrow passageway to some place below the foundations of the building. The whole experience was magical and I only wish we'd had more time there. Even after several hours we probably only saw around half of it.
Our last stop of the day was to the City Palace, the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur built in the mid 1700s. I think the City Palace had better preserved (or perhaps more recently rendered?) paintings, wonderfully intricate doorways, and a lovely pavilion in the main courtyard. However, with almost everything blocked off to the public I have to say I enjoyed the Amber Palace more. I will say that the City Palace had a number of old photographs, paintings, furniture, and clothing on display with descriptions, so if you love history you may find that quite enjoyable.
And that wraps up our short but busy stay in Jaipur! Yes, it was touristy but how could it not be with so much history and so many incredible sites?