Love Jaipur, India

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

{The General's Retreat}

Under the watchful eyes of General Singh I devoured by first meal in Jaipur, savoury semolina. Intrigued I was drawn to his distinguished portrait on the opposing wall. Sporting an enviable moustache and flanked by the females in his life, his sister and wife, he exuded an air of authority. Did he also enjoy semolina in this very room I wondered? This was his house, The General's Retreat here in central Jaipur, my home for four days. Judging by the signed letter from the President of India adorning the wall he must of led an impressive career. There he was sitting amongst some very solemn moustached members of the Rajput Rifles, the most senior rifle group in the Indian Army. I wondered what sort of military manoeuvres he undertook over the years. Imagine the stories and resulting conversations held over many meals. My brief meeting with General Singh's grand-daughter, the proprietress of the guesthouse, was a missed opportunity, instead we talked about what I was going to eat before she disappeared for the remainder of my stay. My attempts at conversations with the team of houseboys brought me no further details.

{The General's Retreat}

{The General's Retreat}

Aside from General Singh I was struck by Maharani Gayatri Devi, the last Queen of Jaipur. The third wife of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II. She was listed in Vogue as one of the most beautiful women in the world. She is the very western looking Indian lady on the left of the above photo, her husband, the Maharaja of Jaipur, is seen below. Fascinated I made my way to the Rambagh Palace Hotel where Gayatri Devi reigned supreme before the Palace was converted to a hotel in 1957. The hotel now operated by Taj Hotels is very grand and worth having a peek. Breakfast over the gracious lawns watching the peacocks or a pre-dinner drink might be a better way to enjoy the hotel rather than a self conscious wander. However I did discover the well stocked Palace bookshop with Gayatri Devi picture books, design, interiors and history coffee table books about India. You are unlikely to find a better selection elsewhere, they also have the added bonus of worldwide shipping.

{The General's Retreat}

Drawn to Jaipur by the block printing, my first day was naturally spent in Bagru with a group of Artisans learning about the 350 year old tradition that has changed little over the years. It is meticulous work for the dedicated members as they toil over the dye vats, carving blocks, printing and washing before the final steps of drying out the material for a inordinate period of time under the hot Rajasthani sun. The finished design is indeed a work of art whether it be simple geometric shapes, floral or traditional patterns. And the colours are simply stunning, the natural dyes having originated from a seed, root, leaves, flower petals or minerals before it's transformation onto cotton, silks, canvas or linen. Some of that material made it's way into my suitcase and is now currently undergoing it's own transformation into something wearable.

I also made the short drive out to Amber to see the Anokhi Textile Museum housed in a marvellous haveli. Block printing history is celebrated here plus there is an opportunity to create your own print. When you're done oohing and aahing over the prints the Anokhi Cafe outpost at the Museum serves up a very good organic French press coffee.

{Anokhi Museum, Amber}

{Anokhi Museum, Amber}

{Bagru}

"Street" Photographer Mr Tikram Chand has probably explained the photo magic a million times but it seems like you are hearing it for the first time as his exuberance and passion spills over in the detailed monologue. The museum piece, his grandfather's Zeiss camera is over 150 years old. It takes pride of place on the hot pavement, a literal "one stop photo shop" for passing traffic and curious tourists. Right before your eyes he gets to work processing your black and white photo with a natural efficiency whilst keeping up with the running dialogue. Then voila in 10-15 minutes you are blessed, Krishna blessed (there is a Krishna photo above the lens), with your portrait in vintage black and white. A keepsake to add to my memories of Jaipur.

{Photographer Tikram Chand}




{Street food, Old City}

{Bar Palladio}

There is an amazing selection of forts to visit amongst other historical monuments but it was unfortunate that my short time in Jaipur was pursuing individuals and businesses. And so I can only recommend a handful of places/people I thought worthy of seeking out...

Recommended:
Anokhi Cafe - organic French press coffee, eggless cakes and a pretty good bean burger (I actually went 3 times as it was very close to the guesthouse!)
Anokhi Textile Museum in Amber - housed in a beautifully restored haveli
A photo by Mr Tikam Chand - located outside shop 120, Hawa Mahal Rd in the Old City
Bar Palladio - for drinks and small plates in a blue-white ambience
Rambagh Palace Bookshop - for interior design/decor, history and coffee table books
Khadi Gar - fixed price government shop for striped and checked textiles at bargain prices

{Old City}

{Old City}

On my last day I was invited by the charismatic Bipin of Samajhna to Tulsi Hills, Manota for lunch. It was an excellent idea to take a break from the city, driving through the mix of wild countryside and tendered fields had a calming effect on me. It wasn't until we started down the beaten track into desolate rocky mountains and scrub with no other living being around that I started to get a little worried about the untamed wilderness. We (Driver plus me) got ourselves lost for a good 30 minutes until we chanced upon some women taking a break in the shade. Thankfully I was unaware at the time that this was officially panther, cobra and scorpion country. We finally made it to Bipin's fenced up homestead where a refreshing salty lime drink awaited my appearance. Over a multi-course lunch the unorthodox Bipin regaled me with tales of his life and Indian bureaucracy.

It was a relatively quiet and uneventful road trip spent in the back of a white ambassador at 3.30am in the morning on route to Jaipur airport. After unceremoniously honking my way around Jaipur, even on two wheels (a scary experience) it was a perfect end. Jai Ram Ji Ki (a Rajasthani farewell).

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