Rajasthan and Jaipur, 8 years that we hadn’t been there. Back then, we were discovering the “backpackers” style of travelling. But since we live in South India, we’re more looking at the North of India as a different country: more than 1500 kms away, a different culture, architecture and history.
So this time we jumped on the opportunity of relatives travelling in this region to get back there over a week-end (also thanks to the new Air Asia India direct flights from Bangalore).
Jaipur, the getaway to Rajasthan, the most emblematic and touristic region of India is also a real Indian developing city: that, we hadn’t forgotten and it’s with no suprises that we found the usual mess in this kind of city. What we forgot though, was how touristic could be this part of India and how it’s affecting the relations between locals and us. Most of them are just ready to exploit you as much as they can.
Apart from that, Jaipur and the nearby Amber Fort deserved their lots of local and international tourists.
Amber fort, a monument we missed 8 years ago was on top of our to-visit-list this time. The fort, perched on top of an hill and just above a lake is stunning. Also, the elephants climbing continuously to the fort in the morning are adding a magical touch. Inside, the fort is hiding one and even several palaces well maintained and displaying the whole range of local archiectural marvels: carved and painted gates to the maximum, mirrors palace, manicured gardens…
In Jaipur, it’s at the well nick-named “pink-city” that everything happens. In this part of the city, most the buildings are painted in a pale pink and most are following a moghol style. The famous “hawa mahal” or “wind palace”, which was hosting maharajas’ harem is the most stricking example with its frenzy of multiple carved windows. A very photogenic building despite the traffic going on below its windows. This time, we even visited the Jantar Mantar, an other archiectural curiosity hosting a maharaja’s hobby: astrology this time. For once, having guide in this kind of monument is mandatory as it’s pretty interesting to understand how all those different instruments are working to follow the stars. The maharaja went as far as building one of the biggest solar clock, as precise as 2 seconds.
In a nutshell, a pleasant week-end to change of atmosphere and to remind that India can also be a bit over-touristic sometimes…
With Bijapur, Bidar is on of the ex-capitals of the glorious Deccan Sultanates era are linked. As we really enjoyed the first, we visisted the second one with the same formula: a small team loving to discover heritage sites, visiting without a hurry (they remain cities one can visit in a single day) and a open-mind on the limited local hotels and restaurants scene in this kind of mid-sized cities of deep India.
In Bidar, concerning heritage sites, the real star is the fort. And it deserves this status. On the edge of the city, its double or even triple walls have protected it from the ennemies and even from the Indian modern hectic development. So after having passed the zig-zag way (anti elephants charge!) leading to the majestic main gate, you’ll find yourself in a kind of sanctuary where calme and green are taking over. Then, the visit is quite original. As just a few tourists (even Indians) are coming in this remote city of Karnataka, monuments aren’t really opened to visit… but not completely closed neither. No tickets, no guides but some “security guards” and firm grids instead (to protect the monuments). But finally, if you show some interest, local guards are opening up the gates and even guiding you through the monuments and the backchich isn’t even mandatory (even if well appreciated obviously).
Beyond the fort, we also found next to the city or in its “memoral park” delicate mausoleums, tombs and even some nice remains of a big madrasa, still partially covered by blue mosaic. We’ll notice too the nice Ali Bareed tomb, opened on 4 sides with elegant archs and with the particularity of being surrounded by the tombs of… its 61 wives!
As in Bijapur, we spent a suprising night in one of the only restaurants serving alcohol with all the usual ingredients of this kind of places: low light, sticky tables, empty bottles, men patrons only and even some private tables closed by curtains. Not your usual pub…
Let’s be honest, we’re no big fans of traditional and other folks shows that one can find almost in every tourist place… We always feel like kids at Disneyland where people are trying to make you think that the Mickey mascot is the REAL Mickey.
Now, when it’s one of our friends, Uttara, who is performing, we knew it was a not to be missed show, even if it was in Chennai.
So at the end of last July, we reached the capital of Tamil Nadu for an easy-going week-end and to enjoy our first Bharata natyam show.
And then, the shock! Uttara, morphed into a kind of super-Hindu goddess performed relentlessly during an hour and a half with precise gestures and moves between the mime and the dance, the sacred and the secular to the rhythm of drums, chants or the solo jolting voice of her “guru”.
In the theatre, we were the only “tourists”, proof that this art is still well alive in this magical India always combining tradition and modernity.
If you ever want to organize shows with Uttara and her guru, don’t hesitate to contact us, we’ll put you in touch.