Jaipur actually wasn’t on our original list (screw the itinerary am I right?). Originally I think our plan was to head from Udaipur to Rishikesh, then down to Agra. But Rishikesh is fairly far away (it’s northeast of Delhi, while Udaipur is southwest) and while doing research I could NOT find any way of getting from Udaipur to that far north in a reasonable amount of time, so we decided to scrap that plan and instead head to Jaipur. The new plan would reduce our travel time, meaning more room for activities! We were sad to abandon Rishikesh, but you can’t do everything and as it turns out we actually loved Jaipur, so things worked out.
One thing we’re learning as we make our way through India is that even though we’re moving slowly, our lives kinda revolve around getting places. Jaipur is a good example of that - we wound up staying for five nights due to how the train schedules worked out. We generally prefer overnight trains here in India because a) you save a night in lodging expenses, and b) when you arrive you have the whole day to explore.
Unfortunately, this is peak season and trains are a wildly popular method of transport here. Bookings open up months in advance and are filled quickly. We actually managed to score an overnight train from Udaipur to Jaipur, but it was dicey because we were waitlisted and didn’t know whether we’d have a spot until four hours before our 10pm departure. And for the ride from Jaipur to Agra, we couldn’t get an overnight train so we had to leave at 5am, which was less than ideal, forcing us to tack on an extra night in our guesthouse to accommodate for it.
Fortunately, Jaipur is a good combination of big yet manageable, meaning five days felt like the perfect amount of time. We found that visiting one or two places per day was a good pace that allowed us to see quite a lot of Jaipur without feeling rushed or stressed. In India, more than anywhere else we’ve been, you really need to SLOW DOWN and pace yourself, which is not a comfortable state of existence for me in general. Here, though, I’m okay with it - I can’t imagine we’d enjoy ourselves if we tried to rush through things because being in India is about a lot more than checking sites off a list.
Our favorite experiences have been 5-rupee chais and autorickshaw rides and and watching life happen all around us. India is a feast for the senses that’s mesmerizing and wonderful, but it’s also intense. The noise, the dust, the smells - it can wear on you, but if you allow time to soak everything in and retreat when it gets too loud/hot/stressful, I think it can make a huge difference in how you much you enjoy this country.
Some of the most famous sights here - the Amber and Jaigarh forts, for example - aren’t actually in Jaipur but in Amer, a town a few kilometers away. That might not sound very difficult, but honestly just getting anywhere in India seems to take forever. Whether it’s a rickshaw in traffic or a train between towns everything moves slower than expected for any number of reasons (rush hour, cows lying in the road, unannounced 12 hour train delays, you know - the usual). Some call it “Indian time” but I just call it a lesson in patience.
We hired an autorickshaw (tuktuk) driver we trusted (shoutout to Raju) to take us to Amer one day, and he waited for us while we did some sightseeing. I think we paid Rs 300 for the trip. We would have gotten a better deal if we’d taken an Uber, but we wanted to give him the business because he’d been really helpful to us the previous day. On the way we did pass a couple tourist bros in an Uber who kinda chuckled at us from the comfort of their air-conditioned car, but whatever. It’s all part of the experience. So is being accosted by touts literally as soon as you exit the vehicle, which we learned when two 'snake charmers' came sprinting over literally as soon as they saw us emerge.
Amber and Jaigarh forts are stacked on top of each other - literally, Jaigarh is located just uphill of Amber, and you can walk between them although it’s a long walk and it’s HOT. Because of that, we only visited the Amber Fort, although we did make it approximately halfway to Jaigarh and snapped a few pics before admitting defeat.
The Amber Fort is really interesting. It’s incredibly well-preserved (I kept telling Alex it looks like it belongs at Disney because it’s so pristine it seems almost fake) and you can wander pretty much wherever you want within the fort complex. It was a good primer for the Taj Mahal because huge sections of it were built out of white marble and the detail is just incredible. We went late morning, around 10 or 11, and it wasn’t that crowded, although it did pick up as the day went on. We got about a million requests for selfies, which as I mentioned in our last post (here) is a pretty common thing here.
Within Jaipur proper, many of the most popular sights are clustered in the part of town known as the Pink City, which is the old town that was painted pink back in 1876 to impress the visiting Prince Albert. Building owners are still legally obligated to keep that color. We think it looks more like a rusty orange or a dark salmon than actual ‘pink’ but that’s just nitpicking.
Our absolute favorite attractions in all of Jaipur were located within the Pink City - the Hawa Mahal and the Jantar Mantar. The Hawa Mahal, or Wind Palace, is this extraordinarily trippy palace built so the ladies of the royal family could look out on the city streets without being seen. (It's the cover photo for this post.) Problematic forced sequestration of women aside, the actual building is SO incredibly unique and fascinating to look at. There are over 900 windows throughout the structure and you can actually walk all the way up and down the building and peer out the windows at different levels.
The Jantar Mantar is the old royal astronomical observatory, and we were fascinated by all the different giant tools designed to tell time and track the position of the cosmos. It’s always interesting to see how much people understood about time and space before the advent of modern science, and this was no different. You can’t get up close and personal with the huge sundial that’s the focal point of the site, but you can look at the smaller (still huge) instruments used to track the night sky.
Jaipur is also home to a huge variety of incredible food options, and you can get pretty much anything your heart desires here (although we stuck to Indian because it’s just so good). You can find North and South Indian specialties as well as lots of local Rajasthani fare. There are a million great restaurants to choose from scattered across the city. Some highlights include the famous Lassiwala, probably the best lassi shop in town, and Kailash Restaurant, a greasy but delicious vegetarian thali restaurant in the heart of the Pink City. On MI road we had our favorite dosas so far at Surya Mahal (and then promptly crossed the street to visit Lassiwala for dessert).
There was also a cluster of popular touristy restaurants near our guesthouse, including Peacock and Kalyan (there are others, these were just our favorites). They’re all above hotels, they all have rooftop views, and the menus are generally the same - lots of Indian dishes, some Chinese, and a few Western meals thrown in. We enjoyed our meals there, but eating at super-touristy places in India can be a bummer because they tend to tone down the spiciness for the foreign palate. Even when we request ‘Indian spicy’ we rarely get it, which is a shame because we’re in a country with some of the best spicy food on the planet and want to enjoy it. We’ve had better luck at less touristy places. We still get some raised eyebrows and have to reassure them that yes really, we do want it spicy, but at least we get what we want.
As far as transportation goes, we mostly Ubered everywhere because it’s cheap and hassle-free. I think we took 8 or 9 Uber rides during our trip and spent a grand total of around $10 for ALL of them. It’s just ridiculous how easy Uber makes it to get around India. It’s not available in every city, but so far we’ve had no issues. We also occasionally took autos but you really need to bargain hard, and sometimes they’re not willing to give you a fair price or they will say they know your destination but actually don’t - we got in one that ended up stopping 2 or 3 times to ask for directions before I finally convinced him to just let me map it on my phone.
I have to be honest, I was a little apprehensive about Jaipur. I’d read a lot of really positive things about the city, but I’d also heard lots of negative comments. Several people I talked to described it as their least favorite city in India, citing the rampant touts & general hassle of getting anywhere as reasons. But I’m happy to report that this was not our experience.
Perhaps it helps that we stayed outside the old city in a quieter part of town (we stayed at Vinayak Guesthouse and recommend it), but we found Jaipur to be chiller and easier to get around than Delhi. While it was busier than Udaipur we found it to be cheaper with more diverse food options. If you’re considering a trip to Rajasthan, you simply can’t miss Jaipur - spend at least a few days here. You won’t regret it.