Chotu collected us with our guide at 8.30am and we headed off to the old city. Jaipur is known as the pink city for the colour its walls. That makes it sound really pretty but to be honest I found it all very dirty and nothing like the blue city of Jodphur. We made a brief stop at Hawa Mehal – known as the Palace of the Winds – which was literally on the pavement of a really busy road. It is 5 stories high but only one room deep and was built for ladies of the royal household to observe what was going on below without being seen.
We needed to get money from a cash point which is not always easy in India at the moment. Even though the currency situation has eased somewhat, more often than not cash points still didn’t have any money and we would have to try several before getting any rupees. The guide steered us across the road to one that he was fairly sure was working but we were taking our life in our hands just getting across. No-one slowed even slightly and we just had to put him between the traffic and us and hope he knew what he was doing. At least it had money when we got there.
Our next stop was the Amber Fort a few miles out of Jaipur. The Palace complex is huge and absolutely stunning. We didn’t take an elephant ride up to the fort as none of us felt comfortable that the elephants were well treated. Others clearly disagreed as the elephants were pretty much nose to tail on the steep path up to the fort and the wait was over an hour just to get aboard. Chotu drove us up to near the entrance from where there was a short walk into the complex. From the moment we stepped out of the car we were beseiged with hawkers trying to sell us everything from parasols to spices. Rude as it seemed, the best tactic was just to keep walking, make no eye contact and not say a word. If you even said, “no thank you” then they took that as a “yes please” and didn’t give up. Definitely don’t say, “maybe later” as you can be sure that they will recognise you and be waiting when you come back past.
As we left the Amber Palace we were accosted one again by trinket sellers. One was keen to sell us colourful turban style hats at the completely ridiculous price of 1500 rupees each! We took our own advice and kept ignoring him until finally, on pretty much reaching the car, he gave us 3 for 500. At about £2 each we were happy to buy them for the entertainment value.
We were on a tight schedule as we were due at Elefantastic elephant sanctuary at 12.30pm. We’d have quite like to have seen the Observatory but after a very quick stop at an extremely smelly spot to take a photo of the Water Palace, our guide wanted to whisk us off to yet another “government shop”. This time it was hand printing and rug making. It does bring it home how much time and work goes into producing all these crafts but we really weren’t in the market for any rugs. We were talked into going upstairs to the textiles floor where I ended up getting a pair of trousers made specifically to wear to the Taj Mahal. After that, he did try to take us to a gem cutting shop, telling us that it didn’t matter if we were late to the elephants. Not to him maybe, but it did to me. I put my foot down and off we went to Elefantastic.