Bharatpur to Jaipur

So after one night in our country residence in Bhararpur we checked out and the bus headed towards Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan.

On the way we stopped at Abhaneri. This former city was established in the 9th century and was known as the city of brightness. Now it is an ancient village that I found absolutely fascinating. On arrival we entered the Chand Baoli step well which was built in the 11th century. It is an incredible structure, a real feat of architecture, particularly given how long ago it was built. The step wells were used for people in the city to draw water. Given it’s design it must have been able to accommodate lots of people drawing water simultaneously.

The Chand Baoli step well

The Chand Baoli step well

image

After visiting the step well we went for a walk around the village. It was a fantastic experience. A couple of the girls in our tour party helped one of the locals make pots and attracted quite a crowd. We were followed by some enchanting young children who were after chocolate! I felt like we were stepping into a totally different world. Undoubtedly the people living in the village were desperately poor but I got a feeling it was quite a vibrant community. We saw a local high school with lots of bikes parked in front. Apparently there is a government funded scheme which provides girls (not boys!) with free bikes. This is a way of trying to improve the attendance of girls at school. To end the visit to the village we visited the Harshat Mata Temple which dates from 8th to 9th AD.

Pot making

Pot making

image

I was slightly bemused on arrival in India to see swastikas. They are a Hindu symbol, used well before Hitler came along, as an affirmation of good luck, health and prosperity

I was slightly bemused on arrival in India to see swastikas. They are a Hindu symbol, used well before Hitler came along, as an affirmation of good luck, health and prosperity

image

No shortage of fruit and veg in the village

No shortage of fruit and veg in the village

The Harshat Mata temple

The Harshat Mata temple

After visiting the village we stopped for lunch at a lovely country hotel, the Umaid Lake Palace. I had a mixed vegetable curry which by this stage had become my regular lunchtime meal.

The hotel where we stopped for lunch

The hotel where we stopped for lunch

We arrived in Jaipur in mid afternoon. I was immediately struck with how much space there seemed here compared with Delhi. Jaipur (city of victory) was founded in 1729 and unlike other pre-modern Indian cities is planned according to the principles of Hindu architectural theory. Jaipur is surrounded by a wall pierced by seven gates. It’s grid of nine rectangular sectors is based in a geometric plan with a system of main streets intersected by spacious market squares.

One of the city gates

One of the city gates

After checking into the hotel we headed out into old Jaipur. Our initial mode of transport was tuk-tuks. This was an absolutely fantastic way to experience the city. It was a short but breathtaking experience. India is somewhere I don’t think I could ever drive in. There are motorbikes weaving in and out and pedestrians, dogs and cows involved in the mix. Lots of horns being sounded. Vehicles often seem to be on a collision course. Surprisingly given the apparent chaos I have seen very few accidents here. So perhaps the horn based system is the answer to reducing traffic accidents?

The tuk tuk I rode in

The tuk tuk I rode in

Our tuk-tuk went through one of the gates in the city walls and then we were on a street with a busy market at the side selling fruits, vegetables, spices and all manner of other goods. We walked up the street and then at the top by a roundabout crossed over the busy road. To do this safely required the help of our leader, Yash, and a policeman. When safely on the other side of the road we got up on a rooftop which gave an excellent view of a roundabout and the apparent traffic chaos. Our next mode of transport was bicycle rickshaws which was another, slightly lower speed, experience of the city. Our rickshaw driver, who I don’t think spoke much English, asked where I was from. I said “England”. He replied “lovely jubbly”! We got off the rickshaws at a shop which Yash promised served the best lassi’s in Jaipur. A lassi is a yoghurt based drink, lightly spiced, which sometimes contains fruit. I ordered a large banana lassi. It was served in a terrocotta pot and was absolutely delicious. On leaving the cafe we smashed the pots for them to be recycled. So as well as an amazing drink you also got a unique pot.

A dog finds an interesting place to lie down!

image

A dog finds an interesting place to lie down

image

A cow sets off to navigate its way through Jaipur at rush hour

A cow sets off to navigate its way through Jaipur at rush hour

On a Jaipur rooftop in front of a busy roundabout

On a Jaipur rooftop in front of a busy roundabout

Yash, in the baseball cap, takes the lead in crossing the road

Yash, in the baseball cap, takes the lead in crossing the road

The view from the rickshaw sat behind mr "lovely jubbly"

The view from the rickshaw sat behind mr “lovely jubbly”

The day had been absolutely amazing but there was more to come. An Indian cookery lesson. We arrived at the home of a middle aged couple close to the centre of Jaipur. In the garden there were set up a couple of stoves and the lady demonstrated a number of dishes. This included Indian tea (chai), vegetable pakoras, arhar dal, vegetable rice and peas paneer. Her husband acted as a very welcoming host and at one point during proceedings showing family wedding photos. They were obviously very well off compared to most in India. They had a sizeable house and big garden and had a maid living in the house together with a boy from a local village. There was the opportunity for us to participate in some of the cooking. Not being much of a cook, to put it mildly!, it was with slight nervousness I stepped forward to make a puri. This is a type of puffy Indian bread. My attempts with a rolling pin and pan of vegetable oil caused much amusement to all! After the cooking we sat down for the most amazing meal – all vegetarian – in front of a fire in the garden.

Our hosts

Our hosts

Attempting to make a puri

Attempting to make a puri

The group I travelled through India with. Taken at the cooking night, Tor-Bjorn and Paulette didn't attend and Yash missing as he left early to procure booze. Our hotel was alcohol free in Jaipur

The group I travelled through India with. Taken at the cooking night. Tor-Bjorn and Paulette didn’t attend – it was optional. Yash missing as he left early to procure booze. Our hotel in Jaipur was alcohol free.

After saying our farewells we had another tuk-tuk ride through the streets of Jaipur. Doing this in the dark was again another fantastic experience. We drove through narrow streets. On one street a wedding was taking place.

It had been the most incredible day. The highlight of an amazing week. I couldn’t wait to see what the next day brought.

Fatephur Sikri and Keoladeo National Park

After two nights in Agra we checked out of the hotel and headed by bus towards Bharatpur. It was another very wet day and when we arrived at our first stop at Fatephur Sikri it was chucking it down! Built in 1571 by Mughal emperor Akbar the Great, Fatephur Sikri was the Mughal capital for 14 years. An example of a Mughal walled city with defined private and public areas and imposing gateways, its architecture, a blend of Hindu and Islamic styles, reflects Akbars secular vision as well as his style of governance. The site was abandoned in 1585 probably due to a lack of water and many of its treasures were plundered. However other than missing treasures it’s very well preserved and is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The building material is mainly red sandstone quarried from the rocky outcrop on which it’s situated. In it’s day, Fatephur Sikri shared it’s imperial duties as a capital city with Agra. During a crisis, the court, harem and treasury could be removed to Agra, only 26 miles away, less than a day’s march. It’s certainly an impressive place and very well preserved.

The 5 story pavilion on the right is called the Panch Mahal and overlooks the Pachisi Court where the ladies of the harem played a ludo-like game

The 5 story pavilion on the right is called the Panch Mahal and overlooks the Pachisi Court where the ladies of the harem played a ludo-like game

image image

The gate to the mosque known as the Buland Darwaza. It's 54m high

The gate to the mosque known as the Buland Darwaza. It’s 54m high

After leaving Fatephur Sikri we drove to our hotel near Bharatpur reaching it at lunchtime. It was a grand new hotel in the country. We were welcomed by drums. My room was large but cold and I was glad to be offered a portable heater.

The entrance of our hotel

The entrance of our hotel

Hotel courtyard

Hotel courtyard

After lunching at the hotel we drove the short distance to Keoladeo National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Keoladeo is regarded as one of the world’s most important bird sanctuaries. This once arid scrubland was first developed by the Bharatpur rulers in the mid 18th century by diverting the waters of a nearby irrigation reserve to create a private duck reserve. Extravagant shooting parties for viceroys and other royal guests were held here and horrifying numbers of birds were shot in a single day. Today the park covers 29 sq km of wetlands and attracts a wide variety of migrant and water birds who fly in each winter from places as distant as Siberia.

On arrival, Yash procured for us bicycle rickshaws with a driver and an expert guide. Thankfully it had stopped raining and we spent a fantastic couple of hours being driven around this bird paradise. I noted around 40 different bird species including the common and white throated kingfisher, the snake bird and loads of juvenile painted storks. As well as birds we saw deer, monkeys (macaque), golden jackal, wild boar and baby pythons. I did regret at this point not having a better camera as my 10x zoom did not really do justice to most of the wildlife.

White throated kingfisher

White throated kingfisher

This painted stork is around 3 months old

This painted stork is around 3 months old

A baby python

A baby python

The snake bird - so named because of the shape of its neck

The snake bird – so named because of the shape of its neck

Tor-Bjorn and I in our rickshaw

Tor-Bjorn and I in our rickshaw

After dinner in the hotel we were treated to Indian music and a puppet show by a man with an incredibly long moustache.

image

Check out the size of this 'tache! He was a real character and made the puppets on display and managed to sell some to members of the group.

Check out the size of this ‘tache! He was a real character and made the puppets on display and managed to sell some to members of the group.

It had been a great day and I was loving the tour. We had done so much already but were only half way through.