We go looking for the Galtaji Temple in Jaipur, and find instead a Vedic school and elaborate pavilions tucked in the hills

Tourist handbooks described Galtaji in Jaipur as ‘an ancient pilgrimage centre, lying beyond the gardens amidst low hills’. Having covered the primary sight-seeing points (read palaces and forts) and left with one day to spare, I was looking for other places to visit, close to the city.

Located within 10 km from the city centre, Galtaji sounded just perfect. A mini bus from Hawa Mahal Circle dropped me on the Ring Road opposite an imposing gateway from where I was told to walk up the hill to find Galtaji. Walking past the huge gate, a cluster of buildings came into view, followed by a few temples and shrines of recent origin at the base of the hill.

As I climbed my way up, views of Jaipur materialised and I could a distant temple.

Soon, a couple of boys rode down on a donkey. Shortly after, the neighing of a lone chestnut horse tied to a pillar was heard close by, and the din of the town. Close to the temple was an ancient-looking mandapam, which provided enough shade for resting cows and sleeping men. The hillside was also home to plenty of goats and monkeys.

But this was not the Galtaji Temple I had come looking for.

By now I had reached the top of the hill, and the villagers said that Galtaji was down in the valley. I could see a spectacular view with two rocky hills and a narrow deep valley in between. Women in bright coloured saris and groups of boys were taking the stone-paved path going down the narrow gap between the hills. Strangely, there was no sign of tourists.

I followed a group of villagers without knowing what lay ahead.

The rocky slopes rose steeply, and the gap became narrower until a whole complex of palace-like buildings, temples and bathing tanks came into view. Water from a natural spring fed two bathing tanks. On one level, boisterous boys were making merry, and on another, a small group of women was taking a a dip in the water.

Hidden treat

In the valley, I found a Vaishnavite shrine. Climbing a flight of steps, I entered a courtyard. I found that it was a boarding school for Vaishnavite boys learning the Vedas. The courtyard had momentarily turned into a cricket ground for the boys, as their teacher watched them play. So engrossed were the boys in the game, they hardly noticed me clicking away.

I left the complex to take a look at the stunning hills. Blown away by the buildings, temples, pavilions, kunds and water tanks, I forgot all about the Galtaji Temple. Much later, it turned out to be a small shrine nestled in the hills. My day was made, my camera card nearly full. I climbed back up to catch my bus to Jaipur.