The drive from Agra to Jaipur took 7 hours and led us deep into Rajasthan. We stopped on the way for another excellent cheese curry, before then heading to Fatehpur Sikri. This was another Mughal Dynasty site and one that came highly recommended.
Ashwani drove well again and kept us well stocked with mango sweets. He had also fallen into a more important role. As well as being our driver he was doing a great job in warning us of the perils that lay in wait in India. Mainly he warned us about guides. He clearly didn’t like guides.
He was however completely correct and clearly a man of great wisdom. He warned us that our guides would take us to a shop where we would be pressured to buy. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that this is a worldwide problem. But the advice and genuine concern was very welcome.
Fatehpur Sikri is located midway between Agra and Jaipur. Unlike the other sites we visited, this one had a fantastically convoluted entry system. Ashwani dropped us off in a car park where our latest guide met us. We then walked for 5 minutes to another car park where we waited to board a bus which could quite easily have collected us from the original car park. This was the day of the Holi festival and we had seen people covered in powdered paint during the journey. Our guide set about us very gingerly with green paint (see photo below).
This was our first Indian bus and it was everything I had hoped for. I perched on a box next to the driver and another passenger, who I was uncomfortably close to, asked me if I was from Jordan. He seemed disappointed when I said no. The bus doubled back and passed the original car park, our car and Ashwani on the way to the site.
Very shortly we arrived at the city complex. Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the dynasty for 10 years but was abandoned due to lack of water. Describing it with words is pointless so here are some photos instead.
Fatehpur Sikri was extremely impressive and incredibly quiet. Possibly its location means that fewer tourists visit but it is essential as a part of the journey between Agra and Jaipur.
Once back at the car we pressed on. The terrain changed as we neared Jaipur. Uttar Pradesh, the area of India which contains Delhi and Agra, is flat and fairly green. Rajasthan on the other hand is a dessert state with mountains. I could feel my excitement grow as the terrain became more mountainous. Flat terrain can be rather dull to look at.
We arrived into Jaipur late in the day and checked into the hotel. By this point we had started to find our feet so we found a nice restaurant online, booked the hotel driver and set off. Paying a driver to sit around outside a restaurant waiting for me is not something I would normally do. Mainly because it would cost a fortune. Not so in India.
The restaurant squeezed us onto its roof terrace and we had a great meal overlooking the city.
The next morning we set off early for the Amer Fort. I had done well to know nothing about this before setting off. This really is the best way to prepare for a trip. Ignorance really does enhance the bliss.
On the way we stopped at a step well. Both Tom and I were keen to visit one of these but it had completely slipped our minds. Thankfully Ashwani assumed we would want to see it.
Step Wells are wells with steps leading down to the water below. They come in all shapes and sizes but it is not clear whether they were primarily a functional construction or religious symbology. I suspect it is the former, as this design clearly allows a large number of people do descend and ascend at the same time. It even has passing points.
My first sight of the Amer Fort was not one I will forget in a hurry. The fort at Agra was impressive in its size, but the Amer Fort is in a different league. We stopped on the roadside for a photo before making our way to the entrance.
The drive through the town that sits below the fort was chaos. The narrow roads designed for a different time struggle to cope with the relentless flow of cars that both climb up to the fort and descend from it.
The fort itself is huge. Our guide gave us a detailed tour with regular breaks so that we could explore on our own. Almost without fail we got lost. The fort is labyrinthine, with endless passages leading from one courtyard to the next, via staircases, dead ends, narrow passageways and balconies. Either the fort was build in contradictory stages resulting in this confusing, maze-like layout, or the confusion was intentional. Either way the act of getting lost was the highlight of the visit.
The Fort is really a palace, set out across four levels. It is hard to compare, but for me I found it the most interesting and enjoyable visit of our time in India.
After leaving the fort we drove back to Jaipur to visit Jantar Mantar. Once again I failed to read our daily itinerary so this was a really pleasant surprise. Jantar Mantar is a collection of 19 astronomical instruments. Which sounds quite dull, until you realise they are huge. This for instance is the largest stone sun dial in the world.
Sadly climbing wasn’t allowed, but I think this photo gives some idea of the scale. The rest of the instruments were impressive too. Construction is thought to have started in the early 18th century with the job of keeping time, predicting eclipses and tracking stars.
After that we set off an a walking tour in the city. Jaipur as a city is quite striking. It is know as the Pink City, because of the striking colour of the sandstone used to build the city. The sandstone is really more of an orange. I couldn’t be bothered to question this with our guide though.
Unsurprisingly the city was chaos, but in a far more relaxing way than Delhi. The streets and alleyways were busy, but exploring was far more laid back than it should have been. Our guide took us up narrow stairways to get a great view of the street.
A new metro system is being built and the main junction in the centre of the city is being dug up as part of the works. The delays led to an increased level of horn usage. Just by looking at this picture your mind should be able to replicate the noise.
That evening, inspired by the success of the previous evening, we again set out in the hotel car to eat. This was another rooftop restaurant, but this time it seems to be part of a hostel of sorts. I felt right at home. I took no photos of the food but this was the rooftop.
Jaipur was fantastic. The major sites we visited were outstanding and the city has a smaller feel to it than Delhi. I think that given the choice between the two I would say Jaipur is a better option.
Really this was the end of the trip, aside from a slow drive back to Delhi and a night in an airport hotel. Which sounds dull….