On the last, freezing night of 2009 in Delhi I was wandering aimlessly after returning from work, wondering about what to do on the last night of the year. It was 8. I found myself at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus having fruit beer and pakoras, alone and watching students some of whom were gossiping away while others were discussing politics, sex et al. The girls giggled and the boys made fun of each other while making plans for New Year's Day. I had another fruit beer and started to leave. I knew my roommate would be out for the night. I was going to be home alone. I headed back not knowing what I would do on the long weekend.
I rang my friend ‘Yellow pages’ and asked him about the Delhi Cantonment Railway Station. He suggested I call the Indian Railways Helpline (139). I did and inquired about the last train for Jaipur. The 'Rajasthan S Kranti' train started from the station at 10 PM. I was delighted to have found something to do on the weekend. The train was running late by an hour. The station was deserted. I waited, planning the trip in my mind.
The train was scheduled to reach Jaipur at 3.45 in the morning. I prayed for it to reach late so I wouldn't need to stay back at the station at that hour. The Indian Railways true to their spirit, did get late and the train pulled into Jaipur station at five, but then, I also have the North Indian fog to thank for the delay.
I alighted and lodged myself in the waiting room where I could plan my solo journey in and around Jaipur. It was the first day of the new year. As I sipped the steamy chai at the train station, I made up my mind to visit the Nahagarh Fort and the Amber Fort.
After fifteen minutes of haggling an auto-rickshaw driver agreed to take me to the Nahargarh fort for 150 rupees. En route, I stopped at the Jal Mahal, literally meaning 'Water Palace', located in the middle of the Man Sagar Lake. Built in the 18th century, Jal Mahal has the Nahargarh hills forming its backdrop. Tourists are not allowed to visit the Mahal anymore. It is said that the Jal Mahal is a 5-storey palace, with the first four floors submerged under water. Though I couldn't spot any birds, the Jal Mahal made for a really magnificent view in the early morning. As I was staring at the water, the auto-rickshaw driver intruded into my deep and silent thoughts. “Madam, aap kab tak yahan rahengi?” (Madam, how long will you stay here?)
Deciding to visit the lake again on my way back, I headed towards Nahargarh fort. I started chatting with auto-driver asking him about other forts, including Amber Fort and the marketplaces.
Finally, I reached Nahargarh fort at 9. The gates were to open at 10. Hundreds of ducks dotted the vicinity of the fort. It is located on the sheer ridge of the Aravali Hills and it gives an impressive backdrop of Jaipur city. Nahargarh was the first of three forts built by Maharaja Jai Sawai Singh of Jaipur, Rajasthan. Built in 1734 it was extended in 1868. Beyond the hills of Jaigarh, the Fort stood like a watchful sentinel guarding Sawai Jai Singh’s beautiful city. Though much of the original structures are now in ruins, but Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II and Sawai Madho Singh II added some of lovely buildings in the 19th century. These buildings are preserved in a good condition. Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh also transformed Nahargarh into a monsoon retreat in the 1880s.
A 9 kilometre long road runs up through the hills from Jaipur. The fort can be reached via a zigzag 2 kilometre long path which starts from the northwest of the old city. On my way to the top of the fort, I had a conversation with shy, local girls who charged five rupees a picture for posing for photographs. I happily gave them ten rupees for two photos.
The weather did not seem like it was January. The sun glared down on everyone making the 2 kilometre long stretch seem longer than it was. But once I reached the top, the glorious sight of the fort made it worth the efforts. Watching the magnificent fort, I felt like a queen.
After spending a few moments in solitude I decided to move on and explore the local marketplace.On my way down, I chatted with the locals. I had some delicious street food like Panipuri and chaat. I took an auto-rickshaw ride to Babu Bazar, one of the main markets in the city. The market seems like a miniature Chandni Chowk – full of traffic, people, color, and the aroma of delicious food. The place gives you scope to find out the best Rajasthani fabrics like bandhni (tie-and-dye), shoes and local perfumes. I started exploring the road-side shops and in true Indian style, bargaining with the shopkeepers. Finally, after two hours and using all my bargaining skills I bought two bandhni sarees and a pair of chappals.
Even though the bazaar looked like Chandni Chowk in Delhi, the colours of the place did not disappoint me. I wanted to stay there longer but my first unplanned trip to Jaipur was over. I headed towards the bus stand thinking about what I had done the whole day – the shy, quiet little girl had grown up. So much that she could do what she wanted; she could explore the world by herself. It was just the beginning of an unplanned journey; soon I will be back and share another one. This is just the beginning…
|At Maotha lake|
|Dress up like a King|
|The Jal Mahal in the background|
|Locals who pose for 5 rupees a picture|
|Nahargarh fort, Jaipur|
|This is a site where human sacrifice to a Goddess used to take place. Now animals are sacrificed here. Tourists are not allowed beyond the gate.|
|Pigeons in the vicinity of the Nahargarh fort|
|View from the top|
|On the way to the top of the fort|
|The 2 km long stretch|
|Pay Re 1 for a drink|