Jaipur was the first city on the trip that was sufficiently urban to be a city. Since its beginning Jaipur was a planned city, and one of the few of its time. It was founded in 1727 by Sawai Jai Singh of Amber, whose old capital was getting too cramped. Jai Singh was a visionary and an expert in the field of astronomy. He hired architect Vidyadhar Chakravarti to plan not only the buildings, but the city itself, and Jaipur is laid out in a grid. Jai Singh also built himself an observatory, the Jantar Mantar, right next to the palace.
In later times the city overspilled its walls, and today, much of modern Jaipur lies outside the original one. The city is bisected by the MI Road, named after another urban reformer, Sir Mirza Ismail. The new city is not quite as charming nor as organized as the old one, but then again, it's not as cramped, either. The new city even has a building called Albert Hall, plus other bits of Victorian architecture. It's a city.
In Jaipur we stayed at a hotel with a novel idea. The staff were sufficiently well-paid that there was no tipping allowed. No tipping meant no hassling for tips, and no hassling was a welcome departure from the outside world. They also had a cafeteria, whose idea of "non-vegetarian" meant eggs. Even though this hotel was set back only a few feet from a noisy, boisterous (and cow-paddied) road, it was a welcome haven.
We took the now-customary tour of the City Palace. Unlike most palaces in Rajasthan, which were on the high ground, this one was level, a sign of increasing comfort. The palace itself was magnificent and well-maintained. They had a huge assortment of guns and knives to look at, as well as the pajamas of Madho Singh I, who weighed 225 kg, or 500 pounds. We also saw the largest silver water vessels in the world, in which Madho Singh II filled with water from the Ganges to bring on his trip to England. We were also shown the royal kitchen, which was comparatively small and modestly equipped. The royal matriarch did the cooking herself.
But I was most impressed with the observatory next door, the Jantar Mantar. Jai Singh was an avid astronomer, and he built a set of instruments to keep track of the zodiac, some of which he himself invented. The overall look was that of a playground (which, to Jai Singh, it was). We also paid a visit to Amber Fort, which was previously the capital. It was also in Jaipur that we went to see a Bollywood movie, at one of the best movie houses in India. It was a great evening out.
It was also in Jaipur that the unthinkable happened my insides took a turn for the worse. Just like carrying my own bags, this is a matter of pride. I've eaten my way through huge swathes of Asia, and nothing had ever happened, not even indigestion. I have a belief that you should get this type of traveling in before you're 60, so that if you get sick it's not a big deal. And if you do get sick, you should think of it as the cost of doing business.
On the other hand, I don't believe in sickness at all. "They" say that everyone who travels in India gets sick at one time or another, but I was also 100% sure that I would beat the rap. I was pale, feverish and lost weight, but I'm thankful for two things: one, that it didn't interfere with my mobility, and two, that it didn't affect my appetite. I did miss a visit to the quirky Museum of Indology (which has a map of India on a rice grain), but though I felt ropey for a good few days, that's about the worst of it.
Our last evening in Jaipur, we celebrated the birthday of one of the group members. We went to, of all places, an Italian restaurant. I was a bit skeptical at first after all, why look for Italian food when you can eat all the Indian food you want. Then again, I think nothing of doing this at home. It turned out to be quite good. They make homemade pasta, and turn out a very respectable pizza in a wood-burning oven. This must be a big effort in a country where the flour is heavier and less refined. (The birthday cake, which was bought at a bakery and made from local flour, supplied the contrast.) The sauce was right and the cheese was right, no mean feat. They also had ham, but in a country where no one at all eats ham, I was willing to go only so far. In any case, I was very impressed.