Day four of our Rajasthan tour was going to be a slow day, and all we had on the agenda was a visit to the City Palace and the Albert Museum (or Albert Hall as it is known in some guides). We planned to spend the rest of the day doing some chores. Here is our pick of things to do in Jaipur, and a few to avoid.
Entry to the Jaipur City Palace
A visit to the City Palace is not included in the combined 300 rupee ticket that we used on our first day. This combined ticket gets you into the Amber Palace, Nahargarh Fort, Albert Hall, the Observatory and Hawa Mahal. Here you will pay a separate 300Rp. fee which is probably just about worth it when compared to the entrance fees across the rest of India. The City Palace is approached from the main bazaar area through two very ornately decorated arches. From the pink (or terracotta to be more accurate) buildings you enter a sea of yellow as you get into the city palace proper. The original palace was built by Jai Singh but has been added to by more recent Maharajah over the centuries in slightly different, but well balanced styles.
The palace complex is a series of green gardens, courtyards and buildings in the Rajasthan and Mughal architectural styles. The seven story Chandra Mahal sits at the centre, but as the working palace of the current Maharajah it is off limits to visitors. There is an interesting throne room where portraits of the previous rulers are hung. The palace also hosts the two largest silver objects in the world, two 1.6m silver vessels, as accredited by the Guinness book of records. These vessels were used to transport holy Ganges water to England during a royal visit there by Maharajah Madho Singh II.
The Janter Maharf, or observatory is located right next to the palace and was started in 1728. It is again in the yellow colour of the palace and you could be forgiven on entering that you have stumbled upon a collection of modern architectural sculptures. Each of the sculptures is in fact an ancient astronomic instrument.
The other sight in this area is the Hawa Mahal, or the Palace of the winds. It has nearly 1,000 latticed windows in its facade which allowed the royal women to observe Jaipur life without being seen while in purdah. It is a fascinating visit and you have free access to the tunnels, corridors and windows. It was probably our favourite place that we visited in Jaipur.
The Lesser Known Albert Hall
The Albert Hall museum (you can guess who it was named after or follow the link!) has some great collections with a focus on Indian history but also some interesting exhibits from the rest of the world. Our favourites included the miniature sculptures showing the many different yogic positions in miniature form and another set of small sculptures depicting rural Indian life in the 19th century. They also have some great ceramics from around India too showing the different styles from all states across the country. The dusty open air displays would have European museum curators reaching for their humidity controls and dimmed lighting, but the displays seem to be holding up pretty well and I would say this place is well worth a visit.
Things to do in Jaipur or not!
We agreed to endure one final shopping emporium for our driver to earn a little commission and this was located outside the city in an industrial estate with promised big discounts on the bazaar and city store prices. What this actually translated to was a ‘cabaret sales show’ of ‘antique’ bedspreads that were clearly made yesterday and still had with their beautiful clean edges and vibrant cotton colours (they wanted 60,000 rupees for this historical gem). It was so insulting to our limited intelligence that John informed them he was a professor of textiles, when asked his profession.
The rugs they showed us were new but were said to be hand woven by villagers in the mountains (a photograph of the person who made the rug was given with every sale) and indestructible, yet John found a flaw that they tried to convince us was not there.
We have suffered the stories of Asian salesmen for many months now on our travels but we have never met a more accomplished bunch of liars, con artists and fools as this one. They told us they were very big in the export market supplying Habitat in the UK (we informed them that they better get the invoices paid as they went out of business years ago). We wasted half an hour of their time with our own ridiculous questions and listened to their even more ridiculous answers before leaving with them chasing the car with last minute special manager discounts for those unique antiques they had showed us. Ridiculous.
Restaurants in Jaipur
As we were stuck in this hotel with its over priced food we took a walk around the neighbourhood to see if we could find some Indian food more acceptable to our budget and we did. Having first enquired as to the prices in a couple that had tuk tuks and taxis parked outside. We laughed at the menu prices with quite genuine shock on our faces (150Rp. for a bowl of plain rice!!!). One grabbed us as we had turned on our heels and whispered that he could give us 20 per cent discount if we ate there (this would still leave it at around 100% higher than we have been paying for great food in other places).
Our sensibly priced restaurant was found tucked in a back street not two minutes walk from the hotel, we were welcomed in and asked the waiter’s recommendations for more local food. He steered us towards a reasonably priced Rajasthan thali and a Rajasthan Navaram vegetable curry. They were both delicious and the bill came in at 500 Rp. including a couple of bottles of fanta each. We felt full of food and self righteousness as walked away happy, peering into the overpriced hotel restaurant as we passed on the way to our room.
Jaipur has been great, but as you can see the constant price/commission/tourist pricing is beginning to wear us down a little and decided that we were going to be a little bit tougher from here on in and start our own little mini crusade against it.
It may be the death of us, but we are going to have fun trying.
Jaipur is on the golden triangle so is full of tourists both home grown and international and many hotels and restaurants will cater solely for the international market.
What this means is that you will pay over the odds for your accommodation and meals in these places, who will tell you they have superior standards (we are talking two to four times more, not just a little bit) so be careful with the recommendations from taxi and auto rickshaw drivers. Given the offer of our discount we reckon they get anything from 25% to 40% of your restaurant bill. As we proved you can get the same (or better food) across the street if you turn off the main road and explore a little.
There are plenty of things to do in Jaipur, but also as we have pointed out a few to avoid.