"A trip to Jaipur in the hot and dry North Indian summer", that is the tag line of all the Jaipur trips that I have been to. The first one was in mid May of 2004, a part of an outing during my MTech, the second one in first week of July of 2006 for a friend's wedding and the third one in the first week of April 2012. All of them were equally interesting, so let me cover all of them here.

Disclaimer: This blog post could be too long.

May 15, 2004

13 people from our MTech batch went on a training to CEERI, Pilani, Rajasthan. My first Jaipur trip was planned on the first weekend of the training. Jaipur was around 5hrs drive from Pilani. It was not really a straightforward trip. Our training coordinator, Mr Runthala, was very concerned about leaving us, with 5 girls, all alone on a trip. So he agreed to spare his Saturday and come along with us. But the next problem was that he dint want to take us to Jaipur. He wanted to take us to a temple, Salasar Balaji temple which was 3hrs drive from Pilani. We agreed to him and in the background planned our trip to Jaipur as an extension.

We started at 6AM from Pilani, had a brief stop for breakfast and reached Salasar at around 10 o'clock. There was a huge crowd at the temple. That is when I realised that it was indeed a very popular temple in Rajasthan. It was like visiting Guruvayoor Sree Krishna Temple in Kerala. Well not really as organised and as well maintained, but crowd wise it was the same. After walking through the winding queues and lots of pushing and shoving, I finally reached in front of the deity. And there was another surprise. Down in the South, Balaji refers to Lord Venkatesha of Tirupathi, an incarnation of Vishnu. But in Salasar it was Hanuman. And that too a deity with beard and mustache. This was the first time in my life where I was seeing an idol with a beard!!

After some hide and seek kind of search, we could finally locate all our folks (especially the girls who had been inside the temple for too long, probably getting some personal puja service from the "Pandaas" and special blessings from the lord). It was nearing noon so we decided to have lunch at the langar (public feeding center) at the temple. We had simple yet authentic Rajasthani food, daal and choorma and some sabji. Two amongst us had difficult time eating it with their hands. We were amazed how one does not know how to eat with his hands, a common practice in India.

Another surprise!! Runthala-ji came up with his own extension of the trip. He wanted to visit another temple some 40km from Salasar. Girls were ready for that. I still cant figure out if they were really so devoted or were god fearing. Since that temple was on the way towards Jaipur (which was another hr from there), all of us agreed.

..... Missing some sequence of events here due to lack of memory. In short, one sumo reaches temple - waits and waits for other - second one comes in late by an hr - seems like there was a minor accident or breakdown - no harm done to the vehicle - but Runthala-ji got pain in his knee.

We broke the news to Runthala-ji that we want to visit Jaipur, now that we are so close to it. We promise him that we will return to Pilani by night. Poor soul, he was not in a position to sit for long. So he bid good bye to us and took a bus back to Pilani.

We headed straight to Amber Fort. Evening sun lit the magnificent fort in beautiful color. The fort is situated on a hilltop. The roads let only half way and the rest we had to climb on foot. As we reach the main entrance, we found ourselves in a huge courtyard. It was the place where elephants were lined up for the annual festival (was it the Navaratri?). We were guided by sign boards to the path that is to be followed, without which I am sure we would be lost in the maze of rooms and corridors, most of which look similar. Overall it was a decently maintained, except for black/green algae on walls in some places.

Sun was setting when we finished our fort tour. Most of the other tourist destinations like Hawa mahal, museum, Jantar Mantar etc. would be closing down. Birla mandir was another option. But already having visited two temples in the day, we struck that down. Someone (I guess Khandu) suggested that we go to Chokhi Dhani (चोखी धानी), a typical Rajasthani village setup, so we can see local handicraft, folk dances, camel ride and taste the typical rajasthani food.

Choki Dhani is around 20kms from Jaipur city on the Kota highway. We reached there around 7PM. The entry fee, which included the dinner, was Rs 180. You can take part in all the rides - elephant ride, camel ride, bullock cart ride, boating. There is plenty of space to walk around and plenty of things to see - a mini desert, folk dance, puppet show, the bazaar, a small museum, etc. If you feel tired walking, you can relax on charpais (चारपाई), small cots made of a wooden frame and knitted with ropes, with hookah by the side.

The dinner was the main highlight of the place for me. We were escorted to the dinner area, which looked like a darbar. We seated on the floor with round cushions on the sides and a small table in front of each one of us. A huge plate and 10 katori (yes 10!!!) came to the table and then began a procession of waiters serving variety of dishes, filling up the cups. There was masala buttermilk (छाछ ) which keeps pouring in every time the glass is half empty. Then we were fed on and on with various types of rotis, of which I liked Bajara ki Roti with shakkar (jaggery) and ghee. It is an awesome combination.

After many rounds of rotis when you start feeling filled up, they bring on the khichdi and plain rice. And you are not allowed to skip any item. And you ought not. Khichdi with lots of ghee and papad is also very nice.

Of course there are deserts too!! I dont remember exactly what all were there but there were 2-3 varieties. After this sumptuous meal, it's so difficult to get up from the floor. Many of us had to be helped out of the dining hall and escorted to the charpais :)

After the wonderful evening, we got into our vehicles and set forth on our return journey. All the sleepy guys/girls at the back and bold ones on the front seat! I was the navigator seat on the Tata Sumo with a sleepy driver. We managed to escape few close shaves and after a couple of stops for tea, we luckily reached back at Pilani at the break of dawn.

July 6, 2006
Jaipur 2

April 6, 2012
Jaipur 3


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