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Hey guys 😀 Welcome to the first part of my Rajasthan travelogue 😀

I visited the colourful western Indian state of Rajasthan in November and December of 2015. My trip started in Jaipur, from where I went to Jodhpur in the Marwar region; then to the desert city of Jaisalmer, taking in the beauty of Thar – the Great Indian Desert, travelling right up to the border with Pakistan; before going down south to Udaipur in the Mewar region; and back to Jaipur. Let me start with a brief introduction to Jaipur 😀

Read my post: Rajasthan – The Incredible State of India 

Rajasthan’s splendorous capital, ‘Pink city’ Jaipur is one of the ten most beautiful cities of India. It is among the country’s top destinations and attracts numerous visitors from all over the world due to its huge, historic heritage and rich culture. Besides magnificent forts, palaces and havelis (mansions), the city is also known for its amazing arts and crafts including jewellery, enamel work, tie & dye textiles, hand block print and embroidery, blue pottery, etc. and… of course,  its colourful festivals and fairs.

From art, history and architecture to shopping, from glamour of polo and film shoots to the traditional art forms, from wildlife to urban lifestyle…Jaipur is truly a magical destination 😀

Located 260 KM from the Indian capital New Delhi, Jaipur forms a part of the west Golden Triangle tourist circuit (New Delhi – Agra (240 KM) – Jaipur) and serves as a gateway to other tourist destinations in Rajasthan: Jodhpur (340 KM), Jaisalmer (620 KM), Udaipur (410 KM) and Mount Abu (510 KM).

 

History of Jaipur …

The history of Jaipur royalty dates back to the 12th century, when the Kachchwaha clan of Rajputs made Amber (11 KM away) their home after ousting its original inhabitants, the Susawat Meenas (who chose to serve the Kachchwaha rulers and became the hereditary loyal guards of the Jaipur royal treasury, one of the largest and most valuable among all princely states in pre-Independent India). The Kachchwahas built a magnificent fort palace on the remnants of the old fortress. With their brilliant soldiering, and a knack for lucrative alliances (both, matrimonial and military) with the Mughals (which meant swallowing Rajput pride!), they amassed immense power, influence and wealth over several generations. The famous rulers were Maharaja Man Singh I (ruled from 1590-1614), the founder of Amber Fort and trusted chief of Mughal forces of Akbar and later, not-so trusted of Jehangir; Maharaja Jai Singh I (ruled from 1621-1667), who ascended the throne at the age of 10 during the reign of Jehangir, fought for Shah Jahan, and then, became the most prized Rajput commander of Aurangzeb (who later poisoned him); and another child prodigy, Maharaja Jai Singh II (ruled from 1699 -1743), who became king at 11, fought for Aurangzeb and his successors, and further enriched the royal coffers.

Apart from his outstanding military abilities, Jai Singh II had a great passion for arts and sciences. He studied the architecture of several European cities and drew up plans for constructing a larger and well-planned city for the increasing population of Amber. He consulted his best mathematicians, astronomers and two ancient Hindu treatises on art & architecture before making the blueprint for the new city. The foundation stone for the new city – Jaipur (named after him) was laid in 1727. A brilliant architect from Bengal, Vidhyadhar Bhattacharya, was commissioned to plan the city. He designed it in accordance with the principles of two ancient Hindu treatises, Vastu Shastra and Shilp Shastra. The city was laid with great precision with wide roads that intersected at right angles, the entire city being divided into rectangular blocks and surrounded by a peripheral wall with seven gateways that served as entry points. It took four years to construct this first sizable planned city of India from scratch. Today, the city has grown far beyond its original walls.

Maharaja Jai Singh II was not only a great ruler, but also a renowned mathematician and astronomer. He devised amazing stone instruments for his open-air observatories at Jaipur, Delhi, Ujjain and Varanasi. Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar is the world’s biggest stone observatory in the world, and houses the biggest sun dial in the world.

After Maharaja Jai Singh’s death in 1773, there were battles with other kingdoms in which Jaipur lost a large amount of territory. In 1818, several rulers of the north-west princely states and Maharaja Jagat Singh of Jaipur, signed a treaty with the British under which they could continue to have control of their states, but would be collectively supervised by the British under a new name, Rajputana. In the 19th century, the city grew rapidly. Wide boulevards were paved. The chief industries were of metal and marble, encouraged by a school of art founded in 1868. The city had three colleges, including a Sanskrit college (1865) and a girls’ school (1867) opened during the reign of the Maharaja Ram Singh II.

In 1876, the city was painted pink to welcome Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (the son of Queen Victoria, who became King Edward VII on her death) Many of the avenues remained painted in pink, giving Jaipur a distinctive appearance and the epithet Pink city.

After Independence, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and other Rajput princely states merged to form the state of Rajasthan with Jaipur as the capital.

 

Heritage accommodation…

Jaipur is exceptionally well-endowed with high-end as well as budget heritage accommodations exemplifying Rajput architecture. Homes of the Maharajas and their nobles were converted to heritage hotels by their owners. The most prominent luxury heritage hotel is the Rambagh Palace, popularly called as the Jewel of Jaipur, located on the Bhawani Singh Road. Built in 1835, it was transformed into a palace in 1925 to be used as the residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Thereafter, in 1957, the Palace was converted into a plush hotel by Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II. The Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces took over the palace in 1972. Today it is one of the major attractions for the guests visiting Jaipur from far flung regions.

 

Arts and crafts…

Jaipur has several colourful bazaars which are a treasure-trove for shoppers. Rajasthani antiques, handlooms and handicrafts are world renowned.

The Maharajas of Jaipur were great patrons of arts and crafts. They invited skilled artisans, artists and craftsmen from India and abroad to settle in the city and make it their home. As a result, Jaipur is a major hub for arts and crafts which include bandhani or bandhej (tie & dye); hand block printed textiles of Sanganer and Bagru; zarigotakinari and zardozi embroidery work; silver jewellery; precious and semi-precious  gemstones; kundan jewellery (with gold foil between the gems); meenakari (enamel metal craft); patwa craft jewellery made with gold and silver thread; shellac work  including lakh ki chudiya (bangles of shellac); blue pottery; tarkashi inlay; batik painting; miniature paintings; stone, ivory and wood carving; marble statues; hand-made paper;  mojhris (embroidered leather footwear), quilts, rugs, etc.

Jaipur enjoys a high reputation for the manufacture of jewellery. It is one of the most important centres in the world for cutting and polishing of precious and semi-precious stones.

Johari Bazaar, Bapu Bazaar, Nehru Bazaar and the trendy MI Road are popular shopping areas.

 

Tourist attractions…

The main tourist attractions include the three famous forts – Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort and Nahargarh Fort, the magnificent City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, Jal Mahal, Gaitor, and Maharani Ki Chhatri. Jantar Mantar observatory and Amber Fort are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Nahargarh Fort offers a panoramic view of the entire city.

Govind Devji Temple, Moti Doongri Ganesh Temple, Shila Devi Temple at Amber Fort, and Birla Temple (also known as Laxmi Narayan Temple) and the pilgrimage centre of Galta dedicated to the Sun God are the main religious places.

Among its many beautiful gardens, the oldest and the main ones are Sisodia Rani ka Bagh, built in 1710 by the founding ruler for his queen, Vidhyadhar ka Bagh – built in the memory of the city’s architect, and the newly restored Kanak Vrindavan on the way to Amber Fort. Central Park is the city’s largest park built in 2006. With a beautiful green garden, polo ground and golf club, it is one of the best city hangout places and also, a bird watchers’ haunt. The park has a five-km long jogging and walking track and its highlight is India’s first day and night monumental National Flag. The 206-feet-high Tricolour is 28 feet wide and 72 feet long and looks magnificent, when high voltage light falls on it at night.

Another major tourist attraction is Chokhi Dhani – an ethnic Rajasthani theme village offering a variety of activities and events like camel riding, maze, palm reading, magic shows, folk music and dance, etc. and a traditional Rajasthani dinner.

 

Tourist places within 100 KM include…

Sambhar Lake (95 KM), the country’s largest saline lake. Sambhar, is the ancient city of Shakambhari, which was the original capital of the Chauhan dynasty. The ancient Shakambari Mata Temple, the holy Devayani Tank, and the Naliasar still stands today.

The ancient site of Viratnagar (85 KM), also known as Bairat

Abhaneri (98 KM), known for the 8th century temple of Harshada Mata and Chand Baoli step-well.

Samode (40 KM), a quaint village nestled amidst the hills. The mid-19th century Samode Palace (now a heritage hotel) has beautiful wall paintings and mirror work.

Sanganer (12 KM), a centre of hand block printed textile and hand-made paper. The town is an important centre for crafts industry and produces some of the finest hand printed textiles, popular all over country and abroad, from units of block and screen printers. It has the largest hand-made paper industry in the country.

Bagru (35 KM), nearly 20 KM west of Sanganer, is another centre known for its hand printed textiles. Bagru prints have bold and colourful geometrical patterns.

Ramgarh Lake (30 KM), a huge artificial lake and a popular picnic spot. It was once the hunting reserve of the Jaipur Royal Family.

Jaisinghpura Khor (12 KM), one of the settlements of the Meena clan. It has an impressive fort, a Jain temple and a step-well.

 

Cuisine…

Local vegetarian dishes: Dal-bati-choorma, missi roti, gatte ki sabzi, ker sangri, makke ki ghat, bajre ki ghat and bajre ki roti.

Non-vegetarian dishes: Laal maas, murg ko khaato, achari murg and kacher maas.

Snacks: Samosas, pyaz ki kachori, mirchi bada, etc.

Sweets: Ghevar, feeni, mawa kachori, gajak, meethi thuli, chauguni ke laddu, jalebi, moong thal, etc.

Drinks: Lassi

 

Fairs and festivals…

Jaipur is a bustling trading centre with lively bazaars, men in colourful turbans, puppet sellers, and festivals and fairs. Summers in Jaipur are extremely hot, so the best time to visit is during September-March, when the weather is lovely and full of fairs and festivals. The major festivals are Elephant Festival (March), Gangaur (March-April), Kite festival (mid-Jan) and Teej (Jul-Aug).

The Elephant Festival, held on the eve of Holi festival is a magnificent spectacle with several interesting attractions including elephant polo. The festival begins with a procession of caparisoned elephants, camels, horses and folk dancers. The elephants are brightly decorated with garlands, jewellery and gulal (coloured powder), and the female elephants with beautiful anklets around their feet.  The elephant owners showcase the talents of their elephants, and there are competitions too, including for the most beautiful and well-decorated elephant. Playing with colours sitting on elephant back is one of the major attractions and extremely popular among tourists.

Amazing experiences are aplenty during the weeklong annual Rajasthan Foundation Day (30th March) celebrations (24th-30th March), and Diwali (Oct-Nov) celebrations.

Known as the original fashion capital of the country, Jaipur hosts a three-day Rajasthan Fashion Week in December to promote khadi, kota doria and other textiles of the state. The four-day Jaipur Jewellery Show (JJS), also held in December, has made Jaipur a brand in its own right in terms of the gems and jewellery exposition. In January, there are two popular events – the Jaipur Vintage Car Rally and the four-day Jaipur Literature Festival, considered Asia’s leading literature event encompassing a range of activities including film, music and theatre.

 

Arts, Sports, and achievements…

Jaipur has a rich tradition of customs and rituals. In performing arts, the North Indian classical dance form of Kathak has its own style famous as Jaipur Gharana, which is one of the three gharanas of Kathak.

Polo is popular in Jaipur’s royal culture. As a matter of fact, Rajasthan has produced most of the country’s best polo players. The venue for polo tournaments is the Rambagh Polo Ground.

One of Jaipur’s great achievements is the Jaipur foot or Jaipur leg, a rubber-based prosthetic leg for people with below-knee amputations, designed and produced by a traditional craftsman, Masterji Ram Chander, under guidance of Dr P. K. Sethi in 1969 for victims of landmine explosions. It has revolutionized the lives of millions worldwide.

Well, it turned out to be a long introduction, didn’t it? 😀 If you want some more, visit Rajasthan Tourism 😉

 

***

 

Monday, 23 November 2015

 

The two-hour IndiGo flight from Mumbai to Jaipur touched ground at around 4:40 PM. As usual, I hadn’t done hotel reservation for my stay in the city. Instead, I had made a list of budget city-centre hotels. Bani Park, a quiet residential locality with haveli-type of hotels appealed to me. The place that I had in mind was a small boutique hotel, Tara Niwas. The airport pre-paid taxi fare to the hotel was 450 rupees.

Jaipur was a beautiful surprise right from the time I set foot in the Sawai Mansingh International Airport. A short distance from the airport, a beautiful, sprawling park drew my attention. I immediately added it to my list of places to visit in the city. Jawahar Circle is the biggest circular park in Asia built in 2009. Musical fountains with 270 different effects and 316 coloured lights, jogging tracks, walkways, kiosks, excellent landscaping… Further ahead, the stylish architecture of World Trade Park, one of the largest shopping malls in the country, captured my eye.

The impressive sandstone buildings in the ‘Pink City’ had me looking around in all directions like an excited kid.

The heart of the city – the old walled city is to northeast of Jaipur and the newly expanding areas are mainly confined to the south and the west. There are three main roads – MI (Mirza Ismail) Road, Sansar Chandra Road and Station Road connecting with old city. These three roads are where most of the hotels, restaurants, shops, and service providers are located. The area in and around Bani Park is another hub of tourist activities.

Hotel Tara Niwas was a charming, homely place, but their rooms were booked. Being winter, dusk had fallen early and it was growing dark at 6:00 PM. Right next door was a modern-looking hotel with a room tariff of 2000 rupees, a bit higher than my budget. I had to catch an early morning bus to Jodhpur and the Sindhi Camp Depot, from where outstation buses departed, was close by.  So I decided to stay there.

Jodhpur is about 340 KM from Jaipur. By road, it takes 6 hours to reach, and by train, 4 hours. But I prefer a road journey as it offers a good glimpse of the passing landscape, towns and villages.

After making a telephone call to the bus station, I learned that there was a 6:30 AM Volvo bus for Jodhpur. This meant skipping the hotel breakfast as it started only after 7:00 AM.

From Jodhpur, I planned to go to Jaisalmer and then to Udaipur before heading back to Jaipur. I had read that Hotel Arya Niwas (a sister concern of Tara Niwas) on Sansar Chandra Road near the trendy MI Road was a great budget place to stay in Jaipur. So I called up the hotel and made my room reservation for two nights.

Dinner was the popular Rajasthani non-vegetarian dish, laal maas (spicy lamb meat curry) with steamed rice.

 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

At 6:00 AM, I found an auto-rickshaw outside the hotel gate. He was asking for 100 rupees, despite the bus station being a short distance away. Not wanting to get delayed for lack of auto-rickshaws, I relented.  I was among the first to reach, so I got a front row seat. The bus ticket cost 500 rupees. There was enough time to buy water, biscuits and candies for the journey to Jodhpur before the bus started at 6:45 AM.

I was going to return to Jaipur seven days later (on 1st December) after travelling through Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur.

Read:

Regal Rajasthan Travelogue (Part II): Jodhpur

Regal Rajasthan Travelogue (Part III): Jaisalmer

Regal Rajasthan Travelogue (Part IV): Udaipur

 

 

Tuesday, 01 December 2015

 

The one-hour SpiceJet flight from Udaipur landed in Jaipur at 10:50 AM. The airport prepaid taxi fare to Hotel Arya Niwas was 450 rupees. After a 30-minute drive, I was at the hotel. I had booked an economy single room with a tariff of 1600 rupees plus tax, but I got a free upgrade to a value small double room (tariff of 2000 rupees). The explanation offered to me was that the one kept aside for me was not suitable and all their economy and standard single rooms were booked. Ah, the perks of being a female solo traveller in India…

By the way, Hotel Arya Niwas is a wonderful budget place to stay in Jaipur. Absolutely value for money! The hotel staff is warm and courteous, and above all, well-organized.  The hotel is a renovated heritage haveli (mansion) with AC rooms and plenty of open spaces, gardens and lawns. Started in 1983 with 20 rooms, this family-owned hotel has grown to 92 rooms, and has three more sister concerns, Tara Niwas, Jai Niwas and Om Niwas (the first all-suite serviced apartment-hotel in Rajasthan). There is a library and a souvenir shop.

Watch my video: Library at Hotel Arya Niwas

Other services include yoga class and massage treatments. A travellers’ haunt. No wonder the place was brimming with travellers, both domestic and international. Well, mostly international at that time.

Their self-service vegetarian restaurant, Chitra Cafeteria had an open kitchen serving fresh, home-like food with the menu changing every day. A novel concept was sample displays of all available dishes for the day, which helped in knowing the portion size and the product as well. For the a-la-carte menu, they had photos of the dishes along with description.  They served North Indian and Continental cuisine. And authentic Italian pasta as well. It was lavish breakfast buffet every day and dinner buffet on weekends… again, great food. Guests had the choice of eating indoors or outside in the beautiful, sprawling lawn and wide verandah. They had limited room service…again in the room or outside in the beautiful floor balcony. They also made their own bread, jams & preserves, cakes and other bakery products without using any chemical additives. Their honey came from litchi fruit orchards of the Himalayan foothills. (After tasting a spoonful of apricot jam and honey, I bought both :-D)

Well, that’s about the hotel. After lunch and rest, I was ready for city sightseeing by hotel tourist car. The cost was 1000 rupees. For economical travel, the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) conducts bus tours for half-day, full-day and night city-sightseeing.

I wanted to visit all the three city forts – Amber, Jaigarh and Nahargarh (also called Tiger Fort). But it was 2:00 PM. I could either do Amber Fort and the City Palace or Amber Fort and Jaigarh Fort. There was lots to see at Amber and City Palace which meant spending at least an hour or so at each place. Nahargarh, built in 1737, was 15 KM on the other side of the city. Panoramic views of the city and lovely white marble royal cenotaphs below the fort. That is what I had read of it in online reviews. Jaigarh was next to Amber, and its main attraction was the world’s largest cannon on wheels, Jaivana. But again, it was either Jaigarh or the City Palace. Of course, I chose the latter.

 

About 11 km away from the city, the splendorous Amber Fort is one of the most popular tourist attractions. On the way to the fort is this small palace Jal Mahal, set in the middle of Man Sagar Lake…

Watch my video: Jal Mahal

The lakeside promenade is a popular evening hangout for locals and tourists alike. Hence plenty of hawkers around selling popcorn, roasted corn on cob, coconut water, lemonade, candy floss and spicy snacks, and shopping items like flutes, toys, footwear, etc.

Just opposite Jal Mahal is the Dastkar Bazaar, held from 11 AM to 9:00 PM every day. It’s a hub for crafts, culture and natural products presents craftsmen at work, arts and crafts from across the country, folk performances and live demonstrations and food. It is well-known for hand-printed textiles and furnishings. The main attraction is a live demo of the Jaipuri print made from pure natural substances. Jaipur blankets, quilts, rugs and carpets can be used both ways.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Amber Fort stands atop a range of craggy hills. A classic, romantic Rajput fort-place, Amber was the old capital of the Kachhwaha kings since its construction in 1592 and till Jaipur became the new capital in 1727.

It is to the right in the below photo, and to the left is Jaigarh Fort…

Jaigarh Fort…

Jaigarh Fort stands on a higher level above the Amber Fort. It offers a panoramic view of Maota Lake and Amber Fort below.

However, unlike Jaigarh, Amber Fort is lavishly ornamented and has the fabulous Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors), Diwan-E-Aam (Hall of Public Audience) and Diwan-E-Khas (Hall of Private Audience) as some of its main attractions. Finely-carved lattice windows, exquisitely-painted gates, halls and finely-sculptured pillars can be seen throughout the fort. For a memorable experience, in the mornings, tourists can enter the fort royally on elephant back. Read more in my post:

Regal Rajasthan: Amber Fort in Jaipur

This tunnel from the olden times connects Amber Fort with Jaigarh Fort…

Worth seeing sites around Amber include Jagat Shiromani Temple, Narsinghji Temple, the stepwell of Panna Meena and some finely-carved royal cenotaphs.

It was close to 4:30 PM when I arrived at City Palace in the heart of the old, walled city. The City Palace visiting hours were from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. With just thirty minutes on hand, I had to make a hurried tour. My entry ticket was 100 rupees, and for the Audio Guide, 100 rupees. (You can buy a composite ticket which provides entry to both, the City Palace and Jaigarh Fort, which is also the property of the former royals.)

Two elephants carved in marble, stood guard at the palace entrance.

The entrance gate…

Sprawled over one-seventh of the area of the walled city, a major part of this most important landmark now consists of the ‘Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum’.

In the centre is the seven-storied Chandra Mahal, official residence of the royal descendants…

Being a royal residence, this most beautiful section is closed to general public. Entry is allowed to tourists on special permission along with a fee of 2500 rupees per person from morning to evening. Being the Maharaja’s personal area, Chandra Mahal has exquisite details including the famous Peacock Gate. I would have loved to see it all the next morning, but I had to complete my sightseeing by noon as I had to catch an early evening flight.

Watch my videos: City Palace – I and City Palace – II 

The third section of the City Palace complex consists of the Govind Devji Temple, which I visited later, after finishing my museum tour.

Diwan-E-Khas (Hall of Private Audience) had a notable exhibit – a 1.5 m tall pure silver jar, Gangajal, the largest silver object in the world…

Except for the above, photography was prohibited in the museum galleries. Diwan-E-Aam (Hall of Public Audience) had exhibits of Rajasthani art like jewellery, enamelware, carpets, miniature paintings, ancient manuscripts, and photographs.

The palace-museum housed a wonderful collection of royal wardrobe, Rajasthani costumes and textiles; many priceless collections of antique weapons; and an art gallery with fine collection of miniature paintings, carpets and rare astronomical works. Among the portraits of the rulers in the Durbar Hall, there was a fascinating three-dimensional portrait. The portrayed person was looking at me, no matter where I stood – left, right or centre! That such brilliant expertise existed 100 years ago truly amazed me…

It would probably take around one and a half to two hours to tour the entire Palace museum, but mine was a quick one which lasted almost an hour. I was out by 5:30 PM.

City Palace gates…

An impressive Light and Sound show is held here in the evenings. Before the show, visitors get a tour of the Museum galleries. After the show, they can stay back for dinner at the Palace Café. (I should have opted for it, but for that, I would have had to leave the tourist car and return to my hotel by rickshaw.)

To the north of the City Palace, surrounded by gardens is the revered Govind Devji Temple dedicated to Lord Krishna, the patron deity of the royal family. It was built by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1730.

Evening aarti in progress at Govind Devji Temple…

After completing my sightseeing tour, I stopped at Chandpol Bazaar, which is where you will find shops selling a wide variety of pickles, mukhwas (mouth fresheners), jams, sauce, ketchups, sherbets, etc. While in Jodhpur, I had wanted to buy Marwari Mango pickle which a shopkeeper had said was very popular. As I had already bought two local specialty pickles and didn’t want to carry any more oily stuff in my bag, he had suggested a shop in Chandpol Bazaar, which is where I proceeded, except that the name of the shop was different from the one I had been given. It was the same shop number though.  They had pickles of the local brand “Pink’s”, but not the Marwari Mango pickle that I had seen in Jodhpur. Disappointed, I picked smallish bottles of a few pickle varieties and left.

It was nearing 7:00 PM and dinnertime. The Bani Park area is famous for traditional Rajasthani vegetarian dishes, while Nehru Bazaar and Johari Bazaar are well-known for street food and small eateries selling non-vegetarian delicacies. I was eager to try the local non-vegetarian fare, though not street food. The tourist car driver suggested Niros on MI Road.

A happening hang-out for tourists, MI Road is the city’s commercial hub and home to shopping areas and restaurants, located in close proximity to the railway station. It is Jaipur’s equivalent of Delhi’s Connaught Place. The broad thoroughfare houses a large number of shops selling wide varieties of goods including jewellery, handicrafts, antiques and artefacts, textiles and home furnishings, etc. and showrooms of popular Indian and international brands.

Panch Batti is an important intersection around which are located some of the city’s popular food haunts (also for wholesome kulhad lassi dashed with a thick layer of malai) and the iconic Raj Mandir cinema, known for its large, pink Art Deco-inspired exterior made up of waves and asymmetrical shapes, as well as opulent interiors.

Niros was a nice place, but it had a multi-cuisine menu. I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t serve local specialties. I settled for butter chicken with steamed rice. But before that, a bottle of Carlsberg beer. Later, despite a chill in the air, I had an ice-cream before taking an auto-rickshaw back to my hotel.

 

 

Wednesday, 02 December 2015

 

After a hearty breakfast, I left for sightseeing at around 9:00 AM.  The places were Jantar Mantar, Hawa Mahal, Albert Hall, Birla Temple and Dolls Museum. I had thought about visiting the World Trade Park shopping mall and Jawahar Circle park on the way to the airport by tourist car. So I decided to check out from the hotel by 1:00 PM. The hotel had 12 noon check-out but they were fine with my staying back for an hour more. By the way, the hotel tourist car fare to the airport was 400 rupees, whereas the prepaid airport taxi service charged 450 rupees for the same distance.

Since all the places were within the city, I chose to tour by auto-rickshaw. A short walk around the corner I saw this street vendor selling the popular breakfast dish, poha, 10 rupees per plate…

Being a bit choosy, I looked around for a nice auto-rickshaw and found this one…

I was the first customer of the day, so the driver agreed upon 400 rupees. After all, it was just a three-hour tour.

The first place was Jantar Mantar – the largest stone astronomical observatory in the world, located just outside the City Palace. It was built in 1728 by Maharaja Jai Singh II and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An impressive Light and Sound show is held in the evenings.

Entry to most of the city’s main attractions is covered by a composite ticket, priced at an economical cost of 100 rupees or so, and available at all those places : Amber, Nahargarh, Jantar Mantar, Hawa Mahal, Albert Hall, Sisodia Rani ka Bagh and Vidyadhar ka Bagh. If only I had purchased a composite ticket! My entry ticket to Jantar Mantar was 50 rupees. And I had still to visit Hawa Mahal and Albert Hall.

A keen astronomer, Maharaja Jai Singh II built five observatories in different parts of the country. The other four observatories are in Delhi, Ujjain, Benares (or Varanasi) and Mathura. Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar is the most elaborate, the largest and the best preserved. Here, the Maharaja invented sixteen masonry instruments and six made of metal to make accurate observations about the movement of the sun, the moon, the stars, and the celestial bodies. Many of the instruments were repaired in 1901.

Watch my videos:

Jantar Mantar (The Observatory) – I  & Jantar Mantar (The Observatory) – II 

                                 

The gigantic instruments are still in use and provide fairly accurate information. The most striking instrument is the great Samrat Yantra – the largest stone Sun Dial in the world, used to measure local and meridian pass time and various observations related to the celestial bodies…

The Samrat Yantra, sometimes called “Supreme Instrument” is an equinoctial sundial of enormous proportion. Although one of the simpler instruments, and not too different from sundials which had been developed hundreds of years earlier, the Samrat Yantra is important because it measures time to a precision that had never before been achieved. The Samrat Yantra at Jaipur, for example, is capable of measuring time to an accuracy of two seconds.

 

Watch my video: Samrat Yantra 

The most impressive instrument is the Ram Yantra, used to calculate the altitude and azimuth of the Sun and the heavenly bodies…

A few other instruments…

Jaya Prakash Yantra, used for finding the positions of heavenly bodies…

Watch my video: Jaya Prakash Yantra 

The observatory includes three instruments that are not duplicated at the other sites: Kappala Yantra, Rasivalaya Yantras, and Unnatamsha Yantra.

Rasivalaya Yantras…

Watch my video: Rasivalaya Yantras 

Rasivalaya are instruments for measuring the celestial latitude and longitude of the celestial bodies. There are twelve instruments which represent the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Yours truly at Libra…

View of Chandra Mahal of the City Palace, and far beyond, the Nahargarh Fort…

Watch my video: View of City Palace from Jantar Mantar

View of the adjacent Hawa Mahal…

Watch my video: View of Hawa Mahal from Jantar Mantar

Hawa Mahal (‘Palace of Winds’) is the most recognizable monument of Jaipur and a prominent city landmark. The ornamental blush-coloured, honey-combed façade of this iconic palace is not only eye-catching, but also unique in the world.

Watch my video: Hawa Mahal

In olden times, a large palace complex with numerous gardens, built by Maharaja Jai Singh II stood here. Hawa Mahal is adjacent to the Badi Chaupad (large square), which is probably the most crowded tourist place in Jaipur because of the numerous shops dotting the place.

Built in 1799 by Maharaja Pratap Singh, Hawa Mahal is a five-storey sandstone structure with elaborate latticed balconies and miniature domes and covered with delicately-sculpted stone jalis (screens), 953 in all. It is a semi-octagonal shaped structure designed like a crown. Its pink little wind vanes moving in every direction with the slightest gust of wind gave the palace its popular name.

The five-storied pink splendour was conceived as a royal grandstand for the women of the royal household to watch and enjoy the religious processions and other activities without being seen. The many small windows and intricately-latticed jharokhas worked as a natural ventilator and cooling system in hot summers.

Captivated by the exteriors, I was excited for an inside look. The way to the entrance was through a side door. Entry ticket was 50 rupees. To my disappointment, the newly set-up museum displaying the city’s past and present was closed.

The palace entrance…

Arrangements for a soon-to-be-held music festival inside the palace…

Watch my video: Inside Hawa Mahal – I

Yours truly…

Watch my video: Inside Hawa Mahal – II 

The five-storied building has two large courts…

The first storey, Sharad Mandir, is where the autumn celebrations took place. The second storey is known as Ratan Mandir because of the dazzling glasswork on its walls. The third storey is called Vichitra Mandir, where the king worshipped his deity, Lord Krishna and the fourth, Prakash Mandir with an open terrace on both sides. The fifth storey is known as Hawa Mandir after which the whole structure came to be known as Hawa Mahal. The last two storeys are not open to public.

One of the inner passages with stone jaali windows …

Coloured glass windows…

View of the main street…

Most of the city is dressed in pink as everything is made of red sandstone – buildings, marketplaces, shops, etc. They all have a similar look except for the spectacular Hawa Mahal.

One of the city markets alongside the main street…

One of the city’s seven gates…

Jaipur is a treasure trove for trinkets, silver jewellery, and brightly-coloured bandhani (tie & dye) fabrics. Some of the shops opposite Hawa Mahal stock the famous Jaipuri quilt, which weighs from a few hundred grams to a kilogram. Near this area, there are numerous shops dealing in antiques and pseudo-antiques.

Jaipur is the biggest processing hub of gem stones, claiming 95% of the total exports of finished gemstones. The city is known the world over for diamond and emerald cutting. It has the honour of being the only city in the world to do the finishing work of Tanzanite, a blue gemstone, said to be 1,000 times rarer than diamond. Jaipur was the main cutting & polishing centre for tanzanite in the world, with thousands of artisans engaged in cutting and polishing of the rough gemstones until the government of Tanzania imposed a restriction in December 2010, putting an end to all of it. Bulk of the 1,000-crore rupee export of gemstones from Jaipur used to consist of tanzanite stones brought from Arusha in Tanzania where the stones are mined currently. The rough stones were brought to Jaipur, cut and polished by local artisans, and the finished products would find its way to the US which remains the largest market for tanzanite, second in popularity only to sapphire.

The list of beautiful things available in the city is endless, but the popular ones are jewellery, textiles and saris and items made of marble, wood, stone, lac, clay, metal and leather. While shopping in the bazaars around Hawa Mahal and other places, you not only have to be very careful, but also skilled at bargaining. Jaipur is renowned for its kundan and meenakari jewellery, silver jewellery and work in precious and semi-precious stones. So there are jewellery shops who sell fakes and there are others who charge almost twice, thrice, sometimes even five times more than the actual price.

The rickshaw driver took me to a place near Govind Devji Temple called All Rajasthan Shilp Gram Udyog (also known as Maharani Market) where he said I would find “genuine stuff at genuine price”. (Later, I found out that almost all rickshaw drivers get city visitors to this place. And collect their commission from the emporium, no doubt. )

They had this vintage car on display…

Inside, it was a sprawling place with saris, bed covers, apparel, jewellery, quilts, brassware, dolls and other handicrafts. I got this Leheriya Georgette Bandhani sari for 2200 rupees…

My next stop was Albert Hall (Central Museum), situated in Ram Niwas Bagh (Garden)…

This building was commissioned by Maharaja Ram Singh II and its foundation stone was laid in 1876 by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales on his visit to the city. It was completed and opened in 1887.

Watch my videos: Albert Hall – I  and  Albert Hall – II  

The entrance ticket was 40 rupees.

The museum has a rare collection of archaeological and handicraft items like metalwork, ivory carvings, jewellery, textiles, pottery and paintings.

And there is an interesting Egyptian collection which includes a female mummy…

 

Watch my video:  Egyptian Collection 

Textiles…

Watch my video:  Rajasthan textiles  

The magnificent white marble Laxmi Narayan Temple (also called Birla Temple) is alongside Nehru Road. It is situated just below Moti Doongri Hill.

The temple’s visiting hours are 6:00 AM – 12:00 PM and 3:00 PM – 9:00 PM. So it was closed when I reached the gate at 12:15 PM. A nearby rickshaw driver said that the Dolls Museum, which was further down the road, was closed too. So I didn’t get to see the collection of beautiful dolls from all over the world.

From outside the Laxmi Narayan Temple complex, I got this photo of the Moti Doongri Fort perched on a hilltop…

A replica of a Scottish castle, the palace was the royal residence of the last ruler of Jaipur, Maharaja Man Singh II. After his death, it became the residence of his third queen, Rajmata Gayatri Devi and her son, both of whom are now deceased. The palace is now owned by their descendants and remains closed to the public.

I was unaware of the city’s famous Moti Doongri Ganesh Temple till the rickshaw driver told me about it. People from diverse religions visit this important hilltop temple to seek the blessings of Lord Ganesha – God of wealth, wisdom, prosperity, knowledge and auspiciousness.

Photo: http://www.motidungri.in

Built in 1761, the temple spans over an area of nearly two kilometres on the Moti Doongri Hill and is visited by locals every day. Besides being famous for its divine power, the temple is also known for its fine architecture and marble carvings. The temple is flocked by the locals, tourists and devotees all through the year, but during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival they come in huge numbers to dedicate their respect and offerings to Lord Ganesha. Among the many offerings, are huge motichoor laddoos, some weighing even a kilo. The temple is open from 5:30 AM to 1:30 PM and 4:30 PM to 9:00 PM.

In Maharashtra, the day of Lord Ganesha is Tuesday, but in the North and in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the deity is worshipped as Lord of Mercury and his day is Wednesday. A fair is held on the temple grounds every Wednesday.

I was very eager to visit the temple, but I had to reach the hotel by 1:00 PM. There were still thirty minutes more, but the afternoon traffic was heavy.  The driver said that it was a 10 or 15-minute climb to the temple and being Wednesday, there would a long queue for the Lord’s darshan.  And he wanted extra money for waiting till my return from the temple and then back to the hotel.

Back in my hotel room, I felt like kicking myself for not taking a chance at seeing the temple. At least I could have tried. So what if the temple were to close and I were to return to hotel a by 2:00 PM! I just couldn’t stop the self-criticism. I was so morose.

The hotel was okay with my checking out at 2:30 PM. So I spent two hours idling in bed, instead of wandering around the shopping mall and park near the airport as I had planned earlier.

At 3:00 PM, I left for the airport in a brand-new tourist car, with its proud owner at the wheel. Saying goodbye to the city without visiting the places that I had in mind was difficult. It was an incomplete trip…

 

***

 

Chokhi Dhani, about 20 Km from the city centre, is a must visit place for tourists who come to Jaipur. It’s a one-stop place to experience the culture and traditions of the entire state of Rajasthan. It gives a feel of a typical Rajasthani village with traditional food, folk music and dances, entertainment programmes including magic shows, palm reading, etc. and activities like camel, elephant and bullock cart rides. It is open from 5:00 PM. I couldn’t visit this place, but towards the end of the same month, I got the opportunity to enjoy the Chokhi Dhani theme-village experience in Kolkata. Read about it here: Discovering Kolkata

The night illumination of the city’s beautiful forts, palaces and monuments and the Light and Sound shows at some of them, is another must-see.

Though I didn’t visit these famous sweet shops, I read that they were great: Rawat sweets and Kanji sweets near the Bus Stand and LMB at Johari Bazaar.

Lastly, shopping is irresistible with a wide range of textiles and handicrafts available in the market, most of them produced in the centres in and around the city. Go through the information from here on to know everything about shopping and moving around in the city 😀

Phool Mandi (Janta Market), the fragrant wholesale flower market is on Hawa Mahal Road, just inside the Chandi ki Taksal gate. On Saturdays, the splendid Hatwara Flea Market pops up adjacent to the open sacks of roses and marigolds. The flea market is a true local market, and it is rare to see any tourists here.

Anyone searching for lac (shellac) jewellery should visit Maniharon Ka Rasta where lac jewellery is made and sold and Johari Bazaar where jewellery is crafted and sold. The variety is tremendous. Among the buys are table tops, mirror frames, betel nut boxes and sindoor holders.

Statuettes, photo frames and pill boxes which are available in abundance on M.I. Road and the silver shops on the Badi Chaupar crossing.

The cutting, polishing and selling of precious and semi-precious stones is centred around the Muslim-dominated area of Pahar Ganj in the Surajpol Bazaar area. Silver jewellery is also made there. There are numerous factories and showrooms along the length of Amber Road between Zorawar Gate and Holiday Inn. Here one will find hand block prints, blue pottery, carpets and antiques.

Jaipur brass work is of immaculate quality. Two kinds of work is done in Jaipur on brass – lacquered brass and carved brass.

Jaipur enamel or Meenakari, mostly done on gold and silver has always been a class of its own. It is renowned, not only for the purity of the colours, but also for its evenness.

Sanganer and Bagru are the two places in Jaipur regarded as the hubs of textile block printing. The vibrant bandhej or bandhani (tie & dye) of Jaipur is world famous, so is the bridal wear created with zari and gota work. The eco-friendly hand-made paper of Sanganer has clientele both in India and abroad. The craftsmen of Jaipur are known for creating symphonies in metal and wood.

Jaipur boasts a long tradition of creating amazing marble statues. Stone and marble carving is an ancient art of Jaipur. The stone used is either procured from within Jaipur or from the marble mines of Makrana, the famous quarry that provided all the marble stone for one of the wonders of the world at Agra, the Taj Mahal The carvings portraits and busts created in Jaipur are held in high esteem everywhere.

Apart from jewellery, handicrafts like papier mache and carved furniture, are also extremely popular, as also is the glazed blue pottery, an art that was imported from Persia. Blue pottery is made from ground quartz stone. On sale are suraghis, pots, earrings, soap dishes, door knobs, mugs and jugs. Brass is another important metal and statures of various sizes are available besides brass animals used by children as toys. Items made of white metal are also great buys as are the carvings in stone especially white marble used for making statues of gods and goddesses, animal and human figures. Carved marble bowls, vases and other decorative items also figure high on the list of the shopper.

 

Source: RTDC

An entire street and several city sectors were earmarked for artisans and traders. The main markets are along Johari Bazar, Bapu Bazar, Nehru Bazar, Chaura Rasta, Tripolia Bazar and M.I. Road.

Johari Bazar : It’s famous, it’s crowded, and it’s also a shopper’s delight. Johari Bazar is your best bet if you plan to look for saris and lehangas in colourful bandhej, or glittering gemstone jewellery. As the name suggests, Johari Bazar is essentially a place for gems and jewellery. Shops specialising in precious and semi-precious stones, ornaments and jewellery are to be found on and along Johari Bazaar. The smaller lanes contain the original jeweller workstations – or gaddis – inhabited by these craftsmen since time immemorial. Johari Bazar has a lot of shops for gold, silver and studded jewellery. For saris, try Rooplaxmi, Rana Saree Emporium and Jaipur Saree Kendra.

Jaipuri quilts (rajai) are a hot-selling item at shops near Hawa Mahal, Bapu Bazaar, Chaura Rasta and Gopalji ka Rasta. Not to be missed is the Dahi Bade of LMB or Laxmi Mishtan Bhandar, perhaps the oldest and most popular sweet shop of the Pink City. Two lanes joining the main road – Gopalji ka Rasta and Haldiyon ka Rasta house numerous establishments selling jewellery. On the main road itself you will find many silversmiths. Traditional tie and dye fabrics and textiles are also available here.

Bapu Bazar: Bapu Bazar is a treasure-trove of typical Jaipuri stuff – salwar suits, bedsheets, Jaipuri footwear, cushions and readymade suits. Salwar suits and bed sheets are perhaps the best selling items here. Sanganeri prints, Bagru prints, batik prints, bandhej suits and bedsheets top the list. You might have to navigate through crowded balconies full of people and cloth to get to what you want. Link Road, an extension, is good for artificial jewellery, home furnishings and bangles. Bapu Bazar also has few shops famous for craft and home decor items. A must-have here are chaat pakoris, especially Gol Gappas or Pani Puris.

Chaura Rasta: Books, books and more books – Chaura Rasta is famous for books and stationery. Also on this street is Golcha – a theatre where you can check out the latest Bollywood release.

Nehru Bazar: Nehru Bazar is near Ajmeri Gate, the so-called centre of Jaipur. Not a very upmarket place, Nehru Bazar has shops for readymade garments, footwear, gifts and household items. You can haggle over the prices of locally-produced goods here, but go for it only if your pocket strings are tight.

Badi Chaupar: Adjacent to the famous Hawa Mahal is Badi Chaupar, a square crossing that is probably the most crowded location in Jaipur. The shops on Badi Chaupar are major attractions for the tourists. Here, you can shop for mojaris, handicraft, antiques, Rajasthani furniture, salwar suits and Jaipuri print dress material. Be prepared to bargain. You can also find a variety of traditional and lac bangles too.

Source: http://www.jaipurtravel.com

 

Name of Bazaar /Lane And Its Specialization  

Badi Chaupar – Turbans

Bhindon ka Rasta – Marble Statue Carving

Chameli Bazaar – Silver

Chandpol – Pickles & Sherbats

Chaura Rasta – Jaipur Bookshop, Maps, Guide Books, Traditional Ladies Tailors, Quilts,  Tent Makers & Jaipur Specialty Namkeens

Chhoti Chaupar – Moodas (Straw Chairs)

Ghatgate Bazaar – Iron Work

Gheevalon ka Rasta & Haldiyon ka Rasta – Jaipur Speciality Sweets, Digestives & Supari

Gopalji ka Rasta – Precious & Semi Precious Stones

Hatwara Flea Market – Flea market on Saturdays

Handipura – Kites

Hawa Mahal – Antique Textiles, Quilts Costume, Fashion Accessories & Leather Crafts

Janta Market – Flowers

Johari Bazaar – Textiles (Lehariya, Bandini, Zari, Gota, Mukesh & Embroideries), Gold, Precious Stones (Loose), Semi- Precious Stones (Loose) Contemporary, Precious Enamel Work & Jaipur Speciality Namkeens, Paneer Ghewar at LMB Sweets

Kalyanji ka Rasta – Marble Statue Carving

Khazanewalon ka Rasta – Idols & Sculptures, Stone Inlay work, Stone Carving  (Screens etc.) & Marble Crafts

Kishan Pol – Cycles and groceries

Kishanpole Bazaar – Tent Makers & Silver

Koli Basti – Carpet

Kumharon ki Nadi – Pottery

Loharon ka Rasta – Iron Work

Maniharon ka Rasta – Lac Work

Nahargarh Road – Local Musical Instruments

Pannigeron ka Mohalla – Silver and Gold Foil

Purani Basti – Wood Blocks

Ramganj Bazaar – Shoes / Mojari

Sanganer – Block Printed Textiles & Traditional Block Prints

Tateron ka Rasta – Copper, Brass, Metal Work & Brass Inlay Work

Teli Para – Leather Shoes

Tripolia Bazaar – Utensils, Tin Trunks & Metal Work


Source: http://www.jaipurtravel.com

 

Guided Wall City Tour…

The Inner City takes one to the historical inner city as also the main shopping centres. The best way is to walk or on a cycle or cycle rickshaw. The old city has a wall around it and at intervals there are gates with the main ones being Chandpol, Ajmeri and Sanganeri. One comes to an important intersection called Panch Batti which is roughly within four kilometres of most hotels in the city. From this intersection, one also gets a view of the statue of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh and adjacent to this is one of the major cinema halls of the city, Raj Mandir. From M.I. Road, there is a lane to the north and one enters the walled city through this lane. Once inside, go towards Khajane Walon Ka Rasta. Where you can see Jaipur’s marble craftsmanship and exquisite marble sculptures, you can purchase one for your collection. The Khajane Walon Ka Rasta meets another road which is Chandpol Bazar with the entrance being Chandpol. At the intersection of Chandpol Bazar and Kishanpol Bazar lies Choti Chaupar where villagers from around Jaipur come to sell and trade their produce. Kishanpol Bazaar is known for its textiles and tie & dye cloth and you can see the artisans engaged in their work here, producing two forms of the tie & dye: bandhani and loharia. After crosssing Choti chaupar, one enters Tripolia Bazaar. Here you see a number of shops selling domestic kitchen utensils, trinkets, textiles and goods made of iron. A by lane to the right will take you to Maniharon ka Rasta. Here you can meet the lac bangle makers and even buy their wares at bargain prices. To the north of the bazaar is the Swargasuli or the Isar Lat (a minaret which pierces the heaven) and it is the highest structure in Jaipur. The minaret was built by Maharaja Jai Singh’s son, Sawai Ishwari Singh as a victory tower. Lacking the Military acumen and courage of his warrior father, Ishwari Singh took his life rather than confront the advancing Maratha army. His ignominious end was overshadowed by the sacrifice of his 21 wives and concubines, who performed Jauhar by immolating themselves upon his funeral pyre.

A small distance towards the west from the minaret is Tripolia Gate, a gate with three arches from which the bazaar got its name. This is the main entrance to the City Palace and Jantar Mantar, but only the Maharaja’s family is permitted entrance via its portals. The public entrance is via Atishpol or Stable Gate, to the left. You can visit the City Palace complex, the Jantar Mantar and to the north of the City Palace is the Govind Devji Temple which has gardens around it. An image of Lord Krishna, the royal family’s patron deity, was installed here by Maharaja Jai Singh. Come out of the complex through the Jalebi Chowk and Sireh Deori Gate, to your right is the Hawa Mahal. The bazaar here is known as the Siredeori Bazaar, also known as the Hawa Mahal Bazaar. Few yards from here is a large square known as Bari Chaupar.
Further south from the Bari Chaupar is Johari Bazar. Johari bazaar and the small lanes which dissect it are where you will find the city jewellers, goldsmiths and silversmiths. Of particular interest are the artisans doing enamel work or meenakari. This highly glazed and intricate work in shades of ruby, bottle green and royal blue is a speciality of Jaipur. In Johari Bazaar, you will also find cotton merchants. Interspersed with the uniform shop fronts are the grand havelis or homes of Jaipur’s wealthy merchants. Look out on your right for the famous Laxmi Misthan Bhandar (LNB) for namkeens, sweets and paneer ghewar. If you turn right before exiting the Sanganeri Gate you will reach Bapu Bazaar and farther west, Nehru Bazaar which extends between Chaura Rasta and Kishanpol Bazaar on the inside of the southern wall. Brightly coloured fabric, shoes of camel skin, trinkets and aromatic perfumes make this bazaar a favourite destination of Jaipur’s women. At the end of Nehru Bazaar to your left is the Ajmeri Gate. Come out of Ajmeri Gate and the road that you see is the M.I. Road. Turn right from here and walk down straight and you are back to Panch Batti crossing – from where you started.

Source: http://www.jaipurtravel.com

 

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Guys, I hope you have enjoyed this highly absorbing tour of Jaipur 😀 Congrats, you are now experts on this amazing city without even visiting it… and to those, who have been there, but were not quite well-versed with it until now 😉 Cheers 😀

Happy Weekend! Do keep visiting me 😀

 

Coming next # Regal Rajasthan Travelogue (Part II): Jodhpur

 

 

 

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