Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pink City

We have been doing smaller ‘discover India’ vacations during winters to give our daughter a first-hand experience of the history, art and culture of the country she was born into.  My childhood memories of vacations were of long train journeys (those days it took three days to get to Kolkata from Mysore!), meeting lots of relatives and elaborate dinners. We rarely spent vacation time at beaches or hilltop resorts then.

I have vivid memories of the unique sights and sounds of different Indian cities I visited as a child: the soot-laden industrial township of Kanpur, the narrow cobble-stoned lanes of Kolkata, early morning idlis at the Udupi restaurants of Bangalore, amazing chole-bhature at a roadside stall in Allahabad, and the flower markets of Chennai. I guess, I am trying to give my 11-year old daughter a chance to get some of that too!

Having covered Agra and Chennai in the preceding years, I decided to head west this year and spend a few days together at Jaipur and Ranthambore.  One of the few princely capitals in India that was never invaded, Jaipur is a treasure trove of historical monuments, palaces and forts.  We stayed at Taj Rambaugh Palace, which was home to the royal family until a few years back and has since been converted into a luxury hotel. There is no better place to experience first-hand what it was to live like a king!

Acres of neatly manicured lawns and flower gardens surround the buildings of the palace. From the al fresco dining area, you can see a fort at the top of a distant hill as you sip your tea.  As for the rooms, they have been tastefully restored and are filled with artefacts that recall its princely past.

Rambaugh Palace is located reasonably close to historic and key sites in the city of Jaipur.  The hotel provided us a car to tour the city.  Our driver, a Nepali, had stayed long enough in this city to give us us useful tips that helped us navigate our way during the three days we spent here.

Driving in the old city with its ‘pink’ fortress walls lined with shops was fun - a very Indian sight that is slowing disappearing behind the newer glass and concrete monstrosities.  Colourfully decked camels and elephants were everywhere waiting for tourists.

While we did pass through the iconic sights in Jaipur such as the Hawa Mahal and Jal Mahal, it was the Jantar Mantar, the City Palace and Amergarh Fort where we spend quality time.

It was fascinating to study the astronomical instruments from those old time at Jantar Mantar.  The City Palace has an excellent collection of weapons, from spears, daggers to a variety of old guns among other things.  Amargarh Fort is probably one of the best maintained princely forts of India I have visited.  One can easily imagine how resplendent the royal halls and courtyard must have looked when those floors and walls were decked up.

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