Known as the “Pink City,” Jaipur is located west of Delhi, in the state of Rajasthan. Rajasthan means “land of kings” and is one of the princely Hindu states of India, the home of maharajas. The pink nickname comes from the prominent use of reddish terra-cotta that is used on many of the buildings and walls throughout the city. We arrived in Jaipur yesterday afternoon after more than five-hour drive from Agra, through the fascinating (to me, anyway) Indian countryside. Thankfully we didn’t face much traffic along the way although the road was again somewhat bumpy.
Along the way we had a rest stop for tea and coffee, but Luke wanted to make one other stop at the famous Chand Baori stepwell. He had briefly shown us a picture of the stepwell, but none of us could figure out what it or even what a stepwell was – from the picture it looked like some sort of modern Indian engineering marvel. Luke had yet to disappoint us though so we agreed to make the stop.
The stepwell turned out to be an engineering marvel alright, but it was built in the 8th century and consists of eight stories of narrow steps around three sides that lead down to a large deep, permanent pool of water. Anyone wanting or needing water would go up and down the steps along the sides (usually women, with a jug on their head). The well was also considered a sacred spot – there is a small temple at the well, and a larger ancient Hindu temple across the street. The location also served as a social gathering place for locals in the area during the intense summer heat as the temperature near the bottom was several degrees cooler than at the top. The elaborate buildings on the one side were constructed as a place for Rajasthani royalty to rest and stay cool. There were also rooms at the top along the sides where visitors or merchants passing through could stop and spend the night. The Chand Baori stepwell has appeared in several films, both Bollywood and otherwise, including The Number One Best Marigold Hotel.
Upon our arrival in the city we stopped off for lunch at a restaurant famous for curried mutton, a local speciality. Along with the mutton we enjoyed tasty dishes from yet another wonderful buffet (my buffet favorites have become rice with dal, and eggplant masala) and a couple of buckets of our group’s favorite meal accompaniment: fresh, hot garlic naan bread. We left the restaurant with full stomachs and headed over to the luxurious Taj Jai Mahal Hotel, our “home” for the next two nights. Each hotel we’ve stayed at on our tour has been better than the last, and the Jai Mahal, our final hotel, is the most amazing – there aren’t enough superlatives to describe it. Easy Tours offers a higher level of service above ours, but for the life of me I can’t imagine what that level would or could get that we don’t.
Throughout our time in India, we had heard over and over, “save your shopping for Jaipur. Rajasthan has the best things.” Jaipur and the surrounding area is known for both jewelry (gold, silver and precious stones) and textiles, so after checking in to the hotel and getting our luggage settled, we climbed back into the van once more and headed over to our first Rajasthani shopping adventure: a jewelry center. At the center we were given a short demonstration of how stones are cut and polished, and then we were taken into an immense show room, with silver jewelry on the right, gold on the left. Brett and I headed for the silver side of the room, and Amy and Phil for the gold side. About forty minutes later Amy and Phil walked out without buying anything, but I left the room with a silver bangle, a pair of silver earrings, a one-of-a-kind necklace . . . and a beautiful silver gemstone ring, a surprise gift from Brett! The fun part of the shopping turned out to be that we never had to bargain to get to the prices we wanted – a first price would be offered, and then we would just stand there while the jeweler started bringing down the price on his own, eventually getting to where we were willing to buy. In the end we got everything for less than we had thought we’d pay.
We skipped dinner in the evening and went to bed early in order to rest up for the next day’s activities: a visit to a fort, an elephant ride, lunch at a royal palace, and some textile shopping.