Jaipur: Birla Mandir and Planning Via the Internet

Good morning everyone,

If you make it to Jaipur don’t forget to look up … there are defensive walls, forts and battlements on every mountaintop.  Every single one, including this one behind the Birla Mandir, which is our next stop.  I know, I know, I promised Jantar Mantar in my last post but that’s coming soon…

So Birla Mandir (not to be confused with the Birla Mandir in Delhi), is a beautiful white Hindu temple on a little rise at the bottom of the mountain (Moti Dungari Hill) you see on the left.
There are Birla Mandirs located all across India apparently and this one is very different from the one that I saw in Delhi.  It was apparently built by Birla Industries in 1988 or so and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his consort, Lakshmi.

It made of white marble and is apparently lit up at night.  It has sculptures of Buddha, Confucius and even Socrates on the outside of the temple.   Inside, Ganesh seems to rule though there are depictions of many other Hindu gods and goddesses as well.

It was described to me as huge (it’s not) but it is lovely nonetheless and worth the stop if you have the time.  It’s set among lovely gardens which I took pictures of (same with the sculpture of Buddha and Confucius) but … they didn’t write to the sim card apparently.

There is a little market at the exit which caters to the observers visiting the temple.  Refreshingly, there were NO hawkers at all.

So, on to planning via the Internet.  Sigh.  When I planned this trip from Amritsar to Sangrur to Agra to Jaipur to Muktsar Sahib and back to Amritsar, I did not use a tour company but I used the internet.  Google Maps, TripAdvisor, MakeMyTrip, etc.

For the most part that worked very well.  The hotels were all good and safe and with the exception of the strange experience in Sangrur with an innkeeper who was a little paranoid, there were no issues at the hotels.

I knew what each of the sites was before I got to them, so I could say no thanks to the tour guide hawkers outside of the monuments, forts and temples.  I knew whether my head should be covered (who am I kidding?  It’s always covered), opening and closing times, entry fees.

What I didn’t know is that some of these attractions would be closed when I arrived and more than one of them would be converted to hotels and accessible to guests only.  Rambagh Palace in Jaipur and Lohagarh Fort in Bharatpur for example were both converted to hotels.  The mandir at Sunam was closed as well as was the zoo at Jaipur and the lake in Chandigarh.   More than one place was found online that seemed initially to be a separate sight but was actually part of another monument (Moti Masjid in Agra Fort, for example) and Bara Baoli was not a place that had any street signs or that anyone nearby knew about at all – couldn’t be found.  None of the closures or conversions were information that I found online.

I know that information from the internet can be spotty at times but you sort of expect that government tourism websites will have accurate information – not always.  You also sort of expect that if some place has been converted into a hotel that information would stand right out when you search.  Nope.  You also sort of expect that if you call ahead, you’ll get accurate, up-to-date information.  Calling ahead seems like a good idea too.  Good luck finding the right numbers to call for most of the places that I’ve visited.  Good luck.  The guide books are usually great (because you don’t find much in the way of tourist pamphlets at hotels here) but aren’t always accurate either.  Besides, they only usually focus on the most popular places thereby missing some real jewels.

The only thing I can suggest when planning this way is to spend some time on the internet reading whatever you can about the places you want to see.  Read the recent reviews and like with the hotels, take the really bad ones with a grain of salt and the really good ones with some suspicion.  Call ahead if you can find a number and double-check the entry fees

But be prepared that some of the places you wanted to visit might not exist any longer or might otherwise be inaccessible.  Be prepared to be okay with that and have alternative places to visit.  It would suck to get 40 km up the (rough, pothole filled, traffic heavy) road to see that one thing and … it’s closed.

Be prepared that the entry fees might have gone up.  Also though, some places that advertise entry fees actually have none at all.

Google Maps has no idea about Indian roads… no idea at all.  It does not take 11 hours to get from Jaipur to Amritsar… it takes about 18 all together.  Be prepared to double road estimates from Google Maps.  They seem to think that highways here are the same as expressways in North America.  Not so, Google, not so.  You have failed to take into account what comprises Indian traffic, potholes, death fog, excessive waits at toll bridges, constant construction and reconstruction, and that the speed limits change because these “highways” go through village after village after village.

This time of year, trains can be anywhere from 1 hour to 20 or more hours late.  Be prepared for that too, if you’re going to use the trains.  Air travel is more reliable but only a little more.

Tons of great hotels, shops and restaurants in India do not even have websites to see.  Be flexible and willing to talk to the locals (NOT the hawkers) and you’ll find some real treasures.

For example, I had no idea about City Palace or the women’s quarters attached to Hawa Mahal until I arrived in Jaipur and the auto driver told me to be careful not to miss them (no signs either for them).

I had no idea that Jaipur isn’t actually pink until I arrived either.  My bad for not looking at more pictures of the city itself but then again, and more on this later, I don’t care what colour the buildings here are.  The fact is, they’re amazing no matter what colour they are.

I was expecting, based on my Internet research, to need more time in Agra and less in Jaipur but the opposite was true.  Way more time in Jaipur and one day is good enough to see almost everything in Agra.

I guess the message here is be prepared and be flexible.  The Internet is all sorts of great but if you rely on the information you receive from it, you’re in for frustration and disappointment.

Until next time when we really will visit the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur,

Peace and love all,
Himmatpreet

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