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Delhi sunset

Posted in Delhi, India by folkestonejack on February 14, 2020

In mid afternoon I set out for a spot of sightseeing using public transport, taking the Delhi Airport Express from aerocity to New Delhi railway station (a bargain at just 50 rupees for a single journey token) then switching to the yellow line to Jorbagh. A walk of about 10 minutes from the metro station brought me to the gates of the Lodhi Gardens, a favourite place for many families in the city, particularly in the run up to sunset.

Spring blooms in the Lodhi Gardens

The utter charm and liveliness of the Lodhi Gardens was something to behold. The transformation of the royal burial ground for the Lodi dynasty (who ruled Delhi from 1451 to 1526) into a landscaped park took place in 1936, followed by a redesign in 1968. The monuments in the grounds are quite splendid in their own right, but when you come across a group of kids using this as the backdrop to practice a Bollywood routine the ruins take on a different character altogether. I probably spent far too long wandering the gardens, enjoying the sights and the accompanying spring blooms.

A poster at the entrance helpfully presents some of the birds that you might see in the gardens, but didn’t mention the red-naped ibis, which I saw wandering round the borders (identification thanks to the Merlin Bird ID app). There are superb information boards at each of the monuments that provide you with a quick run down of what you are seeing and the World Monuments Fund have produced a terrific A Walk Around Lodi Garden leaflet to help you navigate around them.

The sun was getting lower and lower as I made my way down Rajpath to the India Gate, originally commissioned by the Imperial War Graves Commission to remember the soldiers of the British Indian Army who died between 1914–1921. The design by Sir Edwin Lutyens evokes memories of the other memorials he designed and iconic sights like the Arc de Triomphe. I made it with around 15 minutes of light left in the day.

The India Gate draws the crowds at sunset

The monument is still a potent symbol in India today, drawing huge crowds, so security is tight with a one way system in place with screening at the entrance. I threaded my way through the crowd, dodging a political demonstration circling the monument, to get a closer look and take a photograph or two. Once I had the shots I headed towards the exit, where a pool of auto-rickshaw drivers were waiting to pounce.

I didn’t have much left over from my day, but it was enough to buy me the most terrifying ride of my life. To start with the driver pulled out in front of five lanes of fast-moving traffic and then proceeded to demonstrate some of the most aggressive and borderline insane driving that I have ever seen. I frequently closed my eyes, fearing a side-impact that wouldn’t be pretty. Somehow we ended up at New Delhi Railway station in one piece. Stepping inside from the chaos of the street felt like moving between two different Indias. Time to go home!


24 hours in Delhi

Posted in Delhi, India by folkestonejack on February 14, 2020

A one day stay in Delhi was always going to be a challenge. At the outset I knew that it would be impossible to adjust to the pace of life in this busy metropolis and see even a fraction of what Delhi has to offer, but it’s surprising how much you can pack in with a little planning.

Isa Khan’s tomb

I decided that throwing myself into the crush of the Delhi rush hour might not be the best introduction to the wonders of the city. Instead, I booked a car and driver through my hotel in New Delhi Aerocity for a morning of sightseeing. Our drive took in four sights – Qutub Minar, Safdarjung’s Tomb, Humayun’s Tomb and the fortress of Purana Qila – with a view of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and Lutyen’s Delhi.

In the afternoon, following a spot of lunch, I headed back out on the airport express and metro. A wander around Lodhi Gardens and along Rajpath to India Gate took me up to sunset.

Qutub Minar

The Qutb Minar complex presents a remarkable accumulation of history in one place, amply illustrated by the Quwwat-ul-Islam (‘Might of Islam’) Mosque which was constructed in the 12th century from the remains of Hindu and Jain temples from much earlier times. The iron pillar at the centre of the complex is the oldest element, dating back to the 4th century, while the more recent additions include thankfully shortlived British ‘improvements’ from the 1820s.

Qutub Minar

The minaret at the heart of the complex, the Qutub Minar, was built in the early thirteenth century, by the sultans Qutbuddin Aibak and Iltutmish as a monument of conquest (it is too tall to be used in the conventional sense for the call to prayer). Nothing I had read prepared me for how absolutely extraordinary this structure was. The photos you see in the guide books give you no sense of the immense scale of the minaret (as much the circumference of the base as its 239 foot height).

It is quite something to think that Sultan Alauddin Khalji intended to better this by building a minaret twice as tall. The base of the unfinished second minaret (Alai Minar) clearly demonstrates the seriousness of the plan, which only stopped with the death of the sultan in 1316. So many extraordinary buildings in such a compact area. My personal favourite among the many buildings was the tomb of Iltutmish (1235) with its beautifully decorated interior.

I would have to say that the Qutub Minar was the absolute highlight of my day in Delhi and I only regret that I didn’t have any time in my schedule to explore the Mehrauli archaeologcal park that surrounds the site. The site was really well maintained and a pleasure to wander round, armed with a copy of the wonderful leaflet A Walk Around the Qutb Complex from the World Monuments Fund.

Safdarjung’s Tomb

Next up was a very short stop-off at the picturesque tomb of the Mughal nobleman Safdarjung, built in 1753-4 with questionably re-purposed marble and red sandstone. It marks an end to the major garden-tombs of Mughal Delhi and has been described as ‘the last dying flicker of Mughal architecture’.

Safdarjung’s Tomb

For me it was all about the view through the entrance arch really, with all its photographic potential, but I still had time to take a wander through the tranquil gardens and get a quick look inside.

Humayun’s Tomb

In contrast, the vast Humayun’s Tomb complex demanded a good bit of exploration to make the most of a visit. Aside from the star attraction of Humayun’s Tomb the 30 acres of gardens that surround it are home to a number of other monuments, such as the marvelously restored octagonal tomb of the nobleman Isa Khan (1547-8). There are some side attractions too, such as the excellent view of the railway line into Delhi from the northern boundary for the railway geeks among us!

Humayun’s Tomb

Humayun’s Tomb (1564-73) is an impressive sight from the moment you pass through the arches of the Bu Halima Gateway and find yourself square onto the massive 12,000 square metre platform. It doesn’t get any less impressive as you get closer, though the interior is quite plain by comparison. Many members of the Mughal royal family have been laid to rest here (leading to its nickname of the ‘Dormitory of the Mughals’) and there are apparently over a hundred graves in the crypt.

Once again a couple of wonderful leaflets from the World Monuments Fund, A Walk Around Humayun’s Tomb and Humayun’s Tomb and its surroundings, provided a good way to navigate the site and understand what I was looking at. For example, looking at the perfectly maintained lawns of Isa Khan’s Tomb Complex I would have never have guessed that an entire village had made its home inside the enclosure up to the early 1900s.

Purana Qila

The final stop on my morning’s sightseeing brought me to Purana Qila, an old fortress built in the 1530s that seems to be undergoing quite a bit of work right now. I didn’t have much time to play with but managed to wander the inner perimeter from my entry point at the Bada Darwaza (the ‘large gate’) to the Talaaqi Darwaza (‘the forbidden gate’), then take the central pathway to the Sher Mandal.

Purana Qila

The Sher Mandal, the two storey octagonal tower at the centre of the site, was built in 1541 but converted into a library by Humayun in 1555. Unfortunately, Humayun didn’t have much time to enjoy his new library, falling to his death down the stairs here in 1556 while carrying an armful of books.

A short walk on from here is the Khairul Manazil mosque, a later addition dating to 1561–1562 which proved an unexpected delight with its beautiful decoration. Needless to say, the World Monuments Fund came up trumps again with their A Walk Around Purana Qila and Purana Qila and its surroundings leaflets.

Once my visit was complete I returned to my car for the drive back to the hotel. Traffic was pretty terrible at times, seemingly exacerbated by some extensive construction works taking place in the area, but I was pleased to have fitted in all that I wanted to see. It was a help to have purchased and printed e-tickets before I set off, though I didn’t see much in the way of queues at any of the sights I visited.


Day trip to Amer Fort

Posted in India, Jaipur by folkestonejack on February 13, 2020

The astonishing Amer Fort (also known as Amber Fort) is one of the most imposing of Rajasthan’s many hilltop forts and palaces, built on the ruins of an earlier fortress. Although construction began in 1592 the complex continued to evolve right up until the transfer of the royal court to Jaipur in 1727. It’s a fascinating complex of faded glories – once palatial interiors, gardens and pavilions that were designed to impress. No wonder that it is one of the top tourist attractions in the country, drawing in 10,000 visitors a day in peak season.

A view of Amer Fort from the opposite hill

In the build up to my travels I tried to understand how much time you would need to spend and how easy it was to get transport, but the answers were a little elusive. There were plenty of tour company reps suggesting that you need only half a day to visit and that transport is hard to find if you make your own way. I was not entirely surprised to discover that neither of these statements was true.

I ordered an Uber (120 rupees including tip, around £1.20 in sterling) from my hotel on the outskirts of Jaipur to the parking lot opposite the fort. All very easily arranged and very quick (just a 4 minute drive from the Trident Jaipur) with a drop off just after sunrise at 7 o’clock. I was really struck by just how quiet the place was at this time, though I was sure that it wouldn’t stay that way for too long.

Turning away from the fort, I crossed the road and found a staircase leading up to the fortified wall on the hillside opposite Amer Fort and began to climb. It was an exhausting climb with awkwardly steep steps but the reward was an absolutely wonderful view looking down on the palace. Once you are at the top there are a couple of towers that you can clamber up to – perfect spots to sit, soak up the view and wait for the sun to come up.

The sun only really began to peep over the hilltop at 7.30am and it took until 8.45am for the sun to fully illuminate the whole complex down to the gardens on the Maota Lake (apparently home to a crocodile or two). In that time only three other tourists came up for the view and left long before the fort was fully illuminated. I was glad not be in a rush and be able to enjoy the unfolding spectacle with a little music. From my vantage point I could see that the first tourist coach arrived at 7.45am, fifteen minutes before opening time.

The striking geometric patterns of the Panna Meena Ka Kund

After heading back down I walked into Amer town to see the Panna Meena Ka Kund (17th century) and the Sri Jagat Siromaniji Temple (early 17th century) that I spotted on the way. These are easily missed with the big ticket sights on offer and another good reason not to lock yourself into too short a visit. There are at least another three temples that I didn’t get to, including one that was part of the royal palace that predates Amer Fort, should you wish to explore the town further.

I finally headed up to Amer Fort around 10.30, buying a composite ticket for 1000 rupees (approximately £10) that can be used in the attractions in Jaipur city. The complex was reasonably busy, which was no surprise – this is peak tourist season here. Even so, I was able to wander round and enjoy the sights, with the beautifully painted three storey Ganesh Pol gateway (1640) and the pleasing geometry of the Aram Bagh gardens my personal favourites.

Although I enjoyed my visit to Amer Fort I think it is the exterior view that impresses the most. The interior has its moments but doesn’t really live up to that. It doesn’t seem to be as well-loved as it might be and it feels like there is a missed opportunity in the presentation of the palace and its history. I didn’t feel like the place came to life for me in the one and a half hours I spent inside.

To anyone who finds this dispiriting I should warn that the insta-selfie is very much a thing here. You only had to turn the corner in the palace to find a queue of visitors lining up at the most decorative features in pursuit of the perfect selfie. It was kind of cute and frustrating at the same time. I am sure that is less of an issue if you go in to the fort closer to opening.

Jaigarh Fort

Once I had completed a circuit around the palace I took a combination of tunnel, fortified passage and road up to Jaigarh Fort. Positioned on the the Aravalli ridge, the fort was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1726 to protect Amer Fort. It has an interesting mix of attractions – a palace complex, cannon foundry, arms museum and what would have been the world’s largest cannon on wheels in its day. I wouldn’t say that anything here was a must see, but it made for a pleasant couple of hours wandering.

It took a little while to make sense of the layout of the fort and what there was to see – not helped by the faded map at my entry point (at the Awami Gate). It turned out that the guards were only too eager to explain, unprompted, what was around the fort for a little reward. At first I found this a little frustrating, but then decided it was too much hassle to fight against it. One of the guards showed me how the shutters for the foundry furnace worked, so it had its moments.

At the end of my visit I retraced my steps back down through Amer Fort and negotiated a fare of 200 rupees (about £2) for an auto-rickshaw back to my hotel (there is a large pool of auto-rickshaws opposite the pedestrian exit from the fort and there is usually someone looking out for potential customers). I’ve no idea if that was a reasonable fare, but it was certainly a lot less than they first asked for. I reached my hotel a little before 4 o’clock, so the whole day trip had taken just short of nine hours.


Three days in Jaipur

Posted in India, Jaipur by folkestonejack on February 13, 2020

A three day stay in Jaipur gave me ample time to tackle the sights of the city in a relaxed fashion and take a leisurely trip to see Amber Fort. It seemed like the right amount of time to spend in the city and still allowed for a bit of random wandering through the streets of Jaipur to see local craftsmen at work.

On my first day I booked a driver and car through my hotel to take me to Nahargarh Fort and the royal tombs at Gaitor Ki Chhatriyan, as I thought it might be difficult to get transport back from those locations. For the rest of the trip I used a Uber from the hotel to drop me off wherever I needed and then negotiated a reasonable fare for a tuk-tuk on the way back.

Gaitor Ki Chhatriyan

One of the highlights of my visit to Jaipur was a short visit to the Royal tombs at Gaitor Ki Chhatriyan, in the shadow of Nahargarh Fort. It’s a little off the well trod tourist circuit so you can easily end up with the place to yourself. I counted four other visitors on a mid-afternoon visit.

Gaitor Ki Chhatriyan

Admission cost just 30 rupees (about 30 pence). It doesn’t take too long to wander round, but its well worth it to see the beautiful marble and sandstone pavilions with their exquisite carvings of lions, elephants and the like.

Nahargarh Fort

Nahargarh Fort is a part of the impressive chain of defensive fortifications built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in the 18th century. It’s hard to miss, perched on the edge of the Aravalli Hills, looking down on Jaipur city. That doesn’t mean it is the easiest place to reach – your choice is a steep uphill hike or a winding road with a few too many hairpin bends. I opted for the latter.

Madhavendra Palace

The fort is home to a rather quirky set of attractions, including a waxwork museum, a modern palace of mirrors and a sculpture park. I focused on the last of these, taking a wander through the Madhavendra Palace complex to enjoy some striking sculptures in a historic setting.

The sculptures are a surprisingly good fit and adds some interest to what would otherwise be a sequence of empty rooms. Having said that, there are officials around the site who will happily talk you through the historical dimension to the palace. My favourite would have to be ‘Transformation’ a stainless steel half-animal half-human creation (Mahbubur Rahman, 2018) and an untitled sculpture by Asim Waqif that had been appropriated by a pigeon!

Whatever you do, you should not miss the rather unusual step wells situated in the grounds. These were created to collect and conserve rainwater which was channeled from the hillside and filtered through a purification system. The geometric patterns of the stepwells are quite fascinating.

Jantar Mantar

The Jantar Mahal is an open-air site with gigantic structures to measure time, the position of the planets and even predict when the monsoon will arrive. It is incredibly impressive to wander round the site, utterly dwarfed by the instruments. The complex dates to 1728-1734 with restoration work in the early 1900s.

Jantar Mantar

I didn’t feel like I needed an in-depth explanation of how this all worked, but there are no shortage of guides at the entrance who can provide that.

The City Palace

The City Palace was established by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who was responsible for moving the royal court from Amer to Jaipur in 1727. Today, it is a state museum and home to the 21 year old Maharaja of Jaipur and the royal family of Jaipur. In fact, the complex is home to alot more than just the royal family, as the people who work in the palace live in housing within the complex.

Admission to the Palace costs £7 for a museum ticket (a composite ticket which also covers Jaigarh Fort and the Royal Cenotaphs) or £35 for a museum and guided tour of the private rooms in the Chandra Mahal (only accessible with a guide). I opted for the latter, figuring that having come all this way it would be daft not to see everything on offer here.

Inside the City Palace

The Chandra Mahal (Moon Palace) lives up to its reputation for luxurious decoration in each of the rooms visited during the tour. There is one particularly fine room decorated with Belgian glass that was designed so that the reflections of candlelight would be multiplied, giving the ceiling the appearance of a sky full of stars. I certainly appreciated a demonstration of this from my guide.

After completing my guided tour I was left to wander the rest of the palace complex on my own, armed with an audio guide. The highlight of this was the court of the beloved with its four beautifully decorated doorways, each representing a different season. I easily spent a couple of hours working my way round the museum, enjoying the many collections (especially the exhibition of work by Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II, whose passion for photography has gifted us a remarkable picture of nineteenth century Jaipur, its inhabitants and visitors).

Hawa Mahal

The strikingly pink Hawa Mahal was constructed in 1799 as part of the City Palace complex, designed to allow the ladies of the court to observe street life without being seen themselves. Today, it is one of the biggest draws to Jaipur and its most iconic sight.

It’s a strange structure in many respects. You might expect a substantial building to sit behind this ornate facade, but it is actually a very thin building which is just one room deep. The design was not just intricate, but ingenious, as the latticework design had a cooling effect, leading to its naming as the “Palace of Wind”.

The Hawa Mahal illuminated by the early morning sun

The Hawa Mahal is at its most glorious in the morning, when the sunlight makes the pink facade glow even more vibrantly. It’s a sight that you can take in from street level (there is a deliberately fenced spectator area, protected from the traffic) or from the relative comfort of a table at the rooftop Wind View cafe on the opposite side of the street (easily accessed by taking a narrow stair case up from the street).

I opted to take in the view after sunrise, take a look around shortly after it opened at 9 o’clock and then return in late afternoon when the sun illuminated the rear of the building. There’s not alot to see inside, but you can wander around the interior courtyards and take a combination of ramps and stairs to see the other side of the structure.


The Isarlat or Sargasuli is a seven storied octagonal tower, built to commemorate the victory of Swai Ishwari Singh in the battle of succession for the royal throne in 1749. Standing at 140 feet in height, the tower offers superb views over the historic heart of Jaipur.


It’s fairly straightforward to find the tower, which is situated behind the shops that front Tripolia Bazaar, within an easy walk of the Hawa Mahal. There are a couple of gateways that lead through to the quiet road that runs past the back of the shops and up to the entrance.


Colombo to Jaipur

Posted in Delhi, India, Jaipur by folkestonejack on February 11, 2020

My travels have taken me from Colombo to Delhi with SriLankan airlines, where I continued my journey on a domestic flight to Jaipur with the low cost carrier IndiGo.

Security is still tight in Colombo. There were no fewer than four security screens between my arrival at the airport and walking down the airbridge to the plane (an A320). In the light of the Corona Virus all the cabin crew were wearing masks. I’d like to be able to say that my first experience of SriLankan airlines was a good one, but instead it was rather chaotic at every stage.

The apron at Colombo airport

In contrast the IndiGo flight from Delhi to Jaipur was a model of efficiency. It’s really striking to see how smoothly their operation works at Delhi Terminal 1. Buses take all passengers to their planes – there are no air bridges at all. The best way I can think to describe it is that they operate what looks like a bus station at the terminal with buses lined up at 20+ gates.

Tickets are checked before taking the escalator down to the bus gates, before boarding the bus and again at the foot of the ramp leading to the plane. It’s a slightly strange experience stepping on board an IndiGo plane as it’s all rather dark – they keep all the window blinds down whilst at a stand to help keep the interior cool. At the end of a flight they ask all passengers to lower the blinds.

It’s only a short hop from Delhi to Jaipur and in no time at all I was on my way to the Trident hotel, just across the road from a remarkable 300 year old water palace. The water palace is five storeys tall, with all but one of these hidden underwater. It is at its most spectacular in the run up to sunset with its sandstone walls glowing in the last light of the day.

The Jal Mahal on Man Sagar Lake

There are some very flash and luxurious hotels in Jaipur that can easily set you back £600 a night, whereas a half-board stay at the Trident was very reasonably priced at £125 per night with a dash of luxury. It is no exaggeration to say that I would rate the Trident among the very best places I have stayed in the world, which is in no small part down to the incredible staff.

Odds and ends

In my pre-holiday research I had read that the processing of e-Visas at Indian immigration could take anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours. I can only think that the longer times reflect early morning long-haul arrivals as I got through immigration in 5 minutes (including the mandatory recording of fingerprints).

As I purchased my IndiGo ticket with a non-Indian credit card I could not check in online and the credit card I used for the booking had to be shown on check-in. The modest add-on charge for express check-in was worth every penny as the queues in Delhi T1 for check in/bag drop were absolutely massive.