Fine / cloudy / hazy / fine, 32º
50R = NZ$1
Another early start as today we had arranged to use the Hotel's driver to take us around a few 'out of town' places, starting with sunrise at Man Sagar lake on the northern edge of the city. We had booked him for about 8 hours for 2500R ( NZ$50 ).
So we were up at 5am and downstairs to meet the driver at 5:30am for the 15 minute drive to the lake. When we arrived it was very peaceful with just the usual cows and dogs wandering around on the promenade area beside the lake. We found a spot to watch the sunrise ( which sadly didn't come to much ) and also watch the place come to life over the 3/4 hour that we were there.
As I have probably alluded to before Indian's are a very religious people, being mainly Hindi, but it shows in a more 'day to day' way than a 'go to church' kind of way. So just on the railing in front of where we were standing there were some flower petals and sticks of incense burning, and while we were there a man came over and placed some more petals and incense on the rail and said some quiet prayers to himself. There were also people arriving with small bags of flour of some sort which they would spread on the ground for the cows to eat, seed for the pigeons, and quite a few people throwing bread into the lake for the fish. All of these things were being done in a way that I could only be described as part of a religious process. It was a nice break from the business of life during the day, and standing on the side of the lake it was almost quiet.
We left the lake and headed back to Hawa Mahal to get some shots before the street it was on got really busy, and then back to the hotel at 6:45am.
We went upstairs for breakfast ( the usual offering of pancakes, cornflakes ( I think today it was spelt "cornflax" ), toast, eggs, coffee and chai).
After breakfast we went down and found our driver again and headed off at 8:30am. We headed back past Man Sagar lake and headed up into the hills to Amber Fort ( pronounced Ameer ). This Fort was the home of the ruling family of Jaipur until they built the city itself and the City Palace, and I believe they still retreat up here in summer.
The Amber Fort sits on a ridge over looking the town of Amer ( this spelling thing gets a bit confusing as this is also pronounced Ameer ) and, whilst being a fort in the normal defensive sense, with a surrounding wall and gates, it is more of a palace in looks, and there is another defensive fort ( Jaigarh Fort ) overlooking Amber Fort, which was used to retreat to when Amber Fort was under attack. When you look around the hills of this area almost every ridge has a fort located on it ( and if not a fort then a temple ). And to add to the look there are massive walls which surround the valley of Amer and link into the Forts as well.
Our drive took us through a series of narrow streets of Amer and then up to the carpark at Amber Fort, and we walked the short distance through the Moon Gate into the entry courtyard of the Fort itself.
As well as the road that we had come up there was another more direct road up the hill which was pedestrian only, and was also used by the elephants that were ferrying people up from the village. It looked like people who were arriving at Amer by coach were dropped off at the bottom of the hill and had the choice to come up to the Fort by 4wd or on the back of an elephant ( through the Sun Gate ). Whilst I am not a big fan of elephants being used as pack animals ( and we actively avoided contributing to this type of thing when we went to see elephants in Thailand ) it is a pretty impressive sight to see a continuous stream of elephants walking up the hill and into the Fort. It also provides a bit of a traffic hazard when you are walking around the courtyard, as elephants are incredibly quiet for their size, and they can sneak up on you if you aren't watching. And there is also the big piles of elephant poo to avoid as well.
We bought our tickets for the Fort ( 500R ea ) and walked up the steps and into the Fort proper through the Lion Gate, and into another massive elaborate courtyard containing the open sided audience building where the Raj would meet with people who had come for an audience. Even though it was only 9:15am most of the people in this courtyard were already seeking the shade from the sun. We walked around this courtyard, and looked out over the valley below from a gallery in the outer wall of the Fort, took some photos of the 'sweeping women' who then demanded payment ( most likely they weren't really sweepers), and took some photos of the next gate to go through, the Ganesh Gate ( Ganesh being the elephant headed god ). And into another courtyard, this one containing a hall of mirrors ( with thousands of small mirrors forming part of a mosaic), and a lush sunken garden ( complete with a 'gardener' who would pose for photos in exchange for money ).
We headed up on to the roof of the Fort for more stunning views in all directions and then back down and through to the last courtyard, which looked to be a more private area surrounded by the Palace part of the Fort. Again everyone was trying to sit in the shade and they were being well served by a Chai Walla.
We walked through the last areas and corridors of the fort and then headed back down ( each courtyard we had been in was higher than the last ) and past the gift shops and back down to the entry courtyard. We grabbed couple of cold drinks ( avoiding a man who was very keen to sell me a hat even though I already had one on, and he kept trying to put it on my head. I worked on the theory that if he got it on my head he would expect me to pay for it so i kept ducking his advances ).
We found our driver and car ( thankfully he seemed to own the only red car in a carpark full of white ones ( most cars in India are white, which helps hide the dents that they all seem to have )) and drove back down from the Fort into the village below. I showed our driver where we wanted to go next, to a stepwell in the village, which we had passed on the way up to the Fort, but he struggled to understand where we were going ( even though I showed him on a map and the name of it was written in sanskrit ), and he wound up taking us back up to the Fort carpark. There was a brief bit of comedy when he had to explain to the guard who was selling carparking tickets that he had already been here once before and didn't want to pay another fee, which was met with the universal eye roll from the guard, but he let us go through. So we drove past the Fort again and back down into the village. After asking a couple of locals, and heading the wrong way down a one way street, we found the Panna Mena ka kund stepwell we were after.
We got out and had a look around. Thankfully this stepwell, unlike the one in Jodhpur, was quite empty and looked like it had been recently renovated. It was an impressive site to see row after row of steps leading down to the water. It was very much reminiscent of an Escher drawing, and we spent a bit of time there taking photos. There were a couple of guards stationed around the edge of the well and they were there to stop anyone going down the steps at all. We learned later that someone had fallen down into the well a week or so earlier so they had decided to close off access except around the edge. Again given the colour of the water the person who fell in probably suffered more from illness than injury.
We left again at 10:50am and headed back down out of the hills to Jaipur itself, and then through town to the Birla Mandir Hindu temple, made of white marble. We took our shoes off and walked around the outside of the temple ( we could have gone inside but couldn't take our cameras with us so we chose not to ) and then walked back to the car. We had a couple of groups wanting photos with us, and another long conversation about cricket with one young guy ( sadly India were being beaten by England at the time so he was happier talking about Martin Guptill )
With our touring done we headed back to the hotel at 12pm, paid for our driver and had a rest in our room for a bit, having done 7 hours of sightseeing already before lunch.
We caught an auto rickshaw ( AR ) to a rooftop cafe ( Hawks View ) near the City Palace at 2pm for some lunch and then back to the hotel.
Time for more rest.
We had been told about the Teej Festival that was happening in Jaipur, and about a parade that was happening tonight and tomorrow night up near the City Palace as part of the festival. There was a special balcony reserved for foreigners to watch the parade so we decided we would go and check it out. The Teej Festival in Rajastan is a celebration of the coming of the monsoon and a celebration of the godess Parvati.
We left the hotel about 5pm and walked up to Tripolia Gate ( which is the gate into the City Palace which only the royal family can use ) and climbed some stairs to get to the balcony where we could look down on the parade.
The parade itself started just after 5:30pm and was made up a few bands ( these were predominantly brass bands playing a blend of music that almost had a calypso feel to it ), groups of men balancing a tall decorated pole, some floats, camels, oxen, dancers in traditional costume, elephants and finally the goddess Parvati herself carried in a palaquin / litter.
With that the parade was over and we joined the scrum to get back down the single narrow stair that lead off the balcony.
Once we got down to the street we walked the short distance to the Tattoo Cafe which is across the street from the Hawa Mahal, and had some snacks for tea at 7pm while sitting on the rooftop deck. They 'do not serve beer' so we had 2 'special drinks' served in tea cups. It tasted like beer, even if they couldn't sell it.
We caught an AR back to the hotel at 9pm.