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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.