The first thing I noticed upon arrival in Jaipur is just how friendly the locals are. They are all desperate to say hello and find out where you are from. A pleasant surprise after being in Agra. The roads and driving were potentially the worst I had seen in India so far. It seems to be the norm to dodge chickens, dogs, goats, cows, camels and even elephants whilst driving.
The train from Agra to Jaipur took 7 hours and cost us 240 rupees (approx £2.70). We were on the third bunk up with our knees just about touching the ceiling fans. Being on the highest bunk means you get the whole bench to yourself as everybody else sits on the lower bunks. There were some older ladies and gents in our booth below us who we soon adopted as our Indian grandparents. They insisted we ate every unidentifiable snack they handed up to us, and of course we obliged.
Our hotel, Umaid Bhawan, is an old heritage building with traditional Indian decor. It’s really striking and stands out on the street (which helps when it’s 9pm, dark, and your tuk tuk driver doesn’t really know where he is going). Although it is a bit out of town, it is definitely worth staying here. The area is a bit quieter (going by Indian standards) and it’s really cheap to get in and out of the centre.
There are many sights to see in Jaipur, also known as the Pink City. It took on this name when the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria visited in 1876 and the Maharaja had the buildings in the centre painted pink, as the colour pink symbolises hospitality.
As we had such a short time in Jaipur we researched doing a walking tour. We came across freetours.com which, as the name suggests, are a free tour company (although they do expect to be tipped). Check their website out as they run tours all over the world.
Our guide, Hussey, was a local from Jaipur who had followed his dream of becoming a tour guide. His parents had pushed him in to studying law and working in his uncle’s firm, but after his uncle passed away he changed his career and has been doing tours for two years.
He’s really knowledgeable and very friendly. He knows the city inside out and took us to many big and small attractions in the two hours we had with him.
The meeting point was just outside Hawa Mahal, also knows as Wind Palace, or the Honeycomb Palace. Back in the day, ladies would sit up high looking out of the windows and watching the market, whilst remaining out of the public eye.
We timed our visit to the City Palace well as on arrival we were greeted by the sound of locals singing. Locals in their hundreds had flocked to the City Palace and were giving their offering to the gods. The energy coming out of the room was incredible, everyone was so into it without a care in the world. Singing, dancing and clapping are the norm.
Walking through the streets you will stumble across markets, whether you plan to or not. To us, these markets seem like absolute chaos. Men and women sat on the street selling whatever has come from their land that morning.
Jantar Mantar, which roughly translates to ‘formulating instruments’, is a sectioned off area in Jaipur where there are many different instruments used to tell the time and horoscopes, all from the position of the sun. This is something completely different so if you are needing a break from temples and palaces, head here. I would recommend going with somebody who knows what all the different structures do, otherwise you will walk around aimlessly, but still in awe.
Amber Fort is a huge fort which sits on a hilltop high above Amer, just outside of Jaipur. This used to be the capital of Rajasthan, until the King moved it to Jaipur. The fort is a real maze with many different levels and rooms. The entrance fee is 500 rupees (approx £5.60). The only downside about being in Amber Fort was the amount of locals asking for a photo. If I had a rupee for every time I was asked for ‘just one photo mam’ I would have nearly made my entrance fee back!
The Jal Mahal, also known as the Water Palace, is, as the name suggests, surrounded by water. It’s not the most interesting palace as you can’t get a good look at it.
Earlier in the day when we were on our tour with Hussey, he had dropped into conversation that his family have elephants. We gave him a call and asked if we could see them. He was more than happy for us to visit and actually sent a driver to pick us up. There was no entrance fee or scam, all we had to do was buy bananas to feed the two elephants.
Hussey’s great grandparents used to ride elephants in the procession for the King, but when India gained independence and there was no more King, he gifted them the elephants. Ever since they have had elephants, either through breeding, or from rescuing them from the circus.
There were no chains or sticks, just a nice paddock. The elephants were so calm and obeyed voice commands from Hussey and his cousins. They were delighted with the bananas and made short work of them.
For sunset we headed to Nahargarh Fort, also knows as Tiger Fort. You pay a 200 rupee (approx £2.25) entrance fee. If you go to Padao Restaurant you are offered a complimentary drink. The view from the roof of Padao restaurant is breathtaking. You don’t quite realise how big a city is until you are above it. Jaipur stretched below us in all directions as far as the eye could see.
To finish off our day we headed to Surabhi Restaurant (& Turban Museum). The food was the best we have had so far on our trip. The service and cultural performance were a bit intense after such a tiring day, but if you are in to that kind of thing and have the energy then I’m sure it’s great.
Jaipur has a lot to offer and I’m certain we haven’t even scraped the surface.