The rainbow of Rajasthan

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After the pearly white of the Taj Mahal, we’ve headed to the north-western state of Rajasthan to seek out colour. We came hoping for a palette worthy of Laura’s most vibrant psychedelic paintings and so far haven’t been left wanting – and that’s just looking at the first place we visited, with bright red turbans set against the salmon pink of the palace and a vibrant turquoise sky.

Jaipur is the state capital, also known as the Pink City. A large part of the city is painted in salmon pink – not just city walls, but most of the buildings, as well as the aforementioned palace which has offsetting brilliant white detailing to complement it perfectly. We’re slightly unclear why it’s all painted in pink – our guidebooks point to two things: a visit by Prince Charles (yes, that one) in anticipation of which the town was painted in his honour, and a desire to hide the poor quality building materials used in construction. For the sake of artistic integrity, I’m just glad Charles didn’t visit the Taj Mahal in the same trip!

We quite liked Jaipur. It’s noisy and bustling and polluted, but it has a centre, and a sense of purpose that we didn’t find on the throughways of Agra. Here we also found a place that does killer (in the positive sense!) samosas, and a bright, clean and homely guest house. In fact, we liked it so much that we’ve decided to come back here for Diwali in a couple of weeks – it’s meant to be one of the best places to see the festival in India.

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On the sightseeing itinerary, we checked off (it’s becoming a little repetitive!) the two palaces, which were magnificent. The City Palace, still home to some members of the Rajput royal family, has a courtyard with four stunning painted doorways – see the picture above. Also there are the largest crafted silver objects in the world – two urns, 1m high, capable of holding 8182 litres of water. These were used by ruler Madeo Singh II when he went to London in 1901 to attend the coronation of King Edward VII – in an irony that wasn’t lost on us as we sipped from our bottles of mineral water, he was so concerned about the quality of water in the west that he had these filled from the Ganges and brought with him!

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Palace number two – the Hawa Mahal – is really one large facade, on five stories, built as a set of intricate one-way screens to allow the women of the court to watch street processions while remaining out of view. Fabulous views on the modern day traffic jams below!

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Our second day in the city was a chance to visit the ‘Monkey Palace’ in the hills to the east of the city. This is a set of temples around two pools of water in a gorge, filled by a natural spring, and home to thousands of monkeys, who just like humans love swimming and generally splashing around in the water. It was much like a day down at your local leisure centre (albeit with slightly greener water) – young ones running around screeching and dive bombing into the water, splashing everyone around; older folks having a sedate dip; and mothers with infants perched on the edge carefully checking for nits! I think the only thing missing was the lifeguard, but as we’ve said before, standards of health and safety are a little different here!20111011-110350.jpg

We also took the time to take in two of the city’s more modern sights – the OM Tower, our first revolving restaurant, which had great views of the city if little of edible delight, and then the art deco spectacle of the Raj Mandir cinema. A 1500 seater air-conditioned marvel, it has a lobby appropriately like something out of the movies, a dizzying pinky-blue combination, with neon blue chandeliers and curved staircases among the more standard popcorn counters and fizzy drinks. We saw a terrible Bollywood film (Rascals), but the entertainment came more from the audience than the screen, with cheers, whoops and shouted words of encouragement from the crowd accompanying every event on screen. We were a little surprised when, thinking three hours of film was sufficient, the plot seemed to come to conclusion and it was only the interval – but then we discovered a mere 58 minutes of real time had elapsed, and settled in for the second round! Highly recommended!

Next stop: Jodhpur, the blue city, and home to the famous horseriding trousers.

Simon

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