Rajput palaces, a monkey temple, and the Pink City

Jaipur Travel Blog

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Ascending to Amber with the elephants

Ate breakfast today in the garden of the guesthouse where I’m staying (Madhuban, which is really nice).  It was overcast and balmy, with a welcome coolness in the air.  A few other guests quietly ate their toast, eggs, and cereal at wrought iron tables on the grass, and birds screeched and chirped in the trees.  (Note on the birds:  it’s a very curious thing to hear and see the parakeets and parrots flying wild in India.  Having grown up in the States I’ve only ever seen them in pet shops or in people’s homes, and I still haven’t overcome the surprise I constantly feel seeing them just flying around.

Amber: painted gate
)  After breakfast Anand came and picked me up to take me to Amber, a beautiful Rajput fort-palace set on the rocky hillside above Jaipur.


Anand dropped me off at the carpark beneath Amber, and from there I entered the gate, walked along the narrow path through an ornamental garden, and set off up the winding path up, up, up to the fort.  It was still overcast, and drizzling lightly, so I pulled my dupatta (a long shawl worn with an Indian suit, the salwar kameez) over my head and wrapped it very loosely around my throat.  This not only made me stand out less (I hoped) and feel like Jackie O., but also kept my head and shoulders dry in the softly pattering rain. 


Approaching Amber that way, twisting up the sand-colored walled paths, making way for the elephants (elephants!) lumbering past me (carrying other tourists covered in rain mackintoshes who swayed dramatically backwards and forwards with the motions of the elephants’ wide strides) was like falling through a rabbit hole into some enchanted fairy tale.

Amber: layers of walkways and courtyards folding into themselves
  At the top of the path I entered the large gate into a giant public square, above which the entrance to the fort palace lies.  The elephants, with their majestic carriage and their small, deep, gentle black eyes glided past, and bursts of celebratory music (drums, clanging horns) rang out through the cool air.  Almost bewildered by how timeless it felt, I bought my ticket and proceeded into the fort-palace.


Although empty now of any maharaja or maharani, Amber was well preserved and for me conjured up very strong pictures of what life might have been like for its old occupants.  What I especially liked about it was that you could wander freely throughout the palace:  up and down twisty, shadowy stone stairwells that deposited you into courtyards, hidden from view.  Courtyards inside courtyards, echoing narrow hallways, unfamiliar walkways up and down, nooks and crannies, the latticed rooms of the zenana, the sumptuous rooms of the maharaja, the simple rooms of the less important palace occupants, the odd remnant (a wall painting, a door with beautiful inlaid designs) here and there of decoration…  The closest thing I can approximate it to is like being inside one of those Escher drawings of endless stairs and arches.

Galta: temple exterior
  You could lose yourself inside the palace for hours, which is what I did.


By the time I had finished looking at the palace it was coming up to 11:00 am, and instead of walking back down to the car park immediately I decided to wait a few more minutes to have a look at the tiny temple to the goddess Kali, which is located up a small stone path beside the main entrance to the palace.  The temple was closed, but would open again on the dot of 11, and there was already a small crowd of worshippers waiting to get in.  Many of them had offerings for Kali, including garlands of bright orange marigolds and boxes of sweets.  I hung slightly back, feeling rather obviously out of place, then removed my shoes and stepped in after the initial rush of entrants had subsided.


The temple was very small – just one colonnaded central courtyard the size of a large living room, with a small stone Kali idol at the back, protected by a sort of gate that kept worshippers about an arm’s length from her.

What, me bite???
  In the colonnades on either side of the idol (one on each side) were two modern glass-covered paintings of Kali.  I was interested to watch how worshippers approached the paintings, pinching off tiny mouthfuls of their sweets and pressing them onto the glass over the images’ mouths, symbolically feeding her.  They then gave the rest of the offerings to the priests standing at the gates, who passed them onto the Kali idol.  The Kali idol itself looked ancient, and seemed to be carved out of black stone, with large white eyes, but it was hard to tell exactly because it was covered in layers and layers of rich fabrics and draped with hundreds of marigolds.  In the archway before her there hung a bell, which worshippers reached up and clanged once each before (or after?) paying their respects.


When I finally left the fort-palace and began walking back down the stone path to the car park my mind was so full of the images and sensations of my visit that, at least at first, I hardly paid any attention to the growing number of touts that swarmed around me, pressing wares to me and shouting prices in English, Hindi, and Spanish.

Galta: sacred dipping pool
  I simply wound my dupatta closer around myself, leaving only my eyes visible and tried to look neither left nor right.  There was one tout in particular, however, who simply wouldn’t be put off.  He was selling puppets dressed in the Rajput style, in brilliant fabrics covered in sparkly sequins and mirrors, with painted wooden heads.  I couldn’t have paused for more than a fraction of a second to glance at the puppets with the tiniest corner of my eye, but he clearly took this as a sign of interest, because he dogged me persistently all the way down, shouting his price, which dropped with every few minutes.  By the time we had reached the bottom of the path, he had gone from 600 rupees to 200, a growing note of desperation creeping into his voice.  I have to admit that I caved in, and – surrounded by a literal crowd of touts and other interested parties – pulled out 200 rupees to become the owner of these kitschy (but rather pretty) things.
Galta: view from the top of the gorge looking back


After Amber Anand and I picked up a couple of travel buddies whom I had met the previous day (2 girls from Singapore who had also traveled from Agra to Jaipur) and together we drove to one of the strangest places I visited on my trip to India – the Temple of the Sun God at Galta.  This temple is also known as The Monkey Temple because of the hordes of Macaque monkeys that live there.  This temple complex felt nearly deserted of human beings, perhaps because it was early afternoon on a Wednesday, but it was inhabited by what felt like hundreds and hundreds of the Macaques, who lolled in the fields, perched on the gateways, clambered up the faces of the temples, skittered across the paths, and occasionally burst out into argumentative screams with one another, literally dropping out of the trees around us!


Leaving the car park, we walked up the main path through some fields and then pushed through a rickety gate into the temple complex, where a few temple buildings stood on either side, all covered with brightly painted carvings and Macaques.

Galta: monkeys, monkeys everywhere!
  Continuing along the path towards the gorge, you reach a short stairway which brings you up to a large sacred dipping pool, sheltered from sight by shoulder high walls on all sides.  Its water was a brilliant, unnatural emerald green, and was perfectly still.  We might have lingered longer there, but a couple of monkeys swaggered towards us with the air of alpha males, and none of us wanted to have a run in with one of them, so we scurried up the stairway further into the gorge. 


Above the first dipping pool we could hear the sounds of people plunging into water, splashing and shouting and laughing, and continuing up we found a second pool of water where a crowd of men and boys were bathing.  As the three of us approached their heads swiveled around to stare at us in surprise.  It felt like one of those classic Western film scenes where the new cowboy in town walks into the saloon and the music stops mid-note and everyone freezes at his unexpected entrance.  What with this and even more large alpha male monkeys lumbering purposefully towards us, I can’t say that I felt particularly at ease.  It was with some relief that we scuttled back down the gorge, observed lazily by the monkey population, which revealed itself to be larger and larger as more and more of them crept out of the shadows of the buildings and the trees to sun themselves along the paths and fences.


The rest of the day was spent eating and shopping.  We had a huge lunch at a restaurant called LMB (highly recommend it) – a vegetarian thali:  a feast of a dozen different dishes served on a large silver platter, finished up with kulfi (similar to Italian semifreddo) and spicy Indian tea.  After that I joined my new companions in the crowded and colorful, swirling bazaars of Delhi, where they expertly negotiated with vendors in the narrow, densely packed shops under the covered walkways for camel skin sandals, sparkly bangles, silk saris, and pretty salwar kameez suits.


Talk about sensory overload.  By the end of the day my mind was overflowing with the myriad colors, smells, sounds, and pleasant chaos of Jaipur and its attractions – a place I would highly recommend to any other travelers to India.

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Ascending to Amber with the elepha…
Ascending to Amber with the eleph…
Elephants in the main courtyard at…
Elephants in the main courtyard a…
Amber: painted gate
Amber: painted gate
Amber: layers of walkways and cour…
Amber: layers of walkways and cou…
Galta: temple exterior
Galta: temple exterior
What, me bite???
What, me bite???
Galta: sacred dipping pool
Galta: sacred dipping pool
Galta: view from the top of the go…
Galta: view from the top of the g…
Galta: monkeys, monkeys everywhere!
Galta: monkeys, monkeys everywhere!
photo by: oxangu2