I spent the summer of 2019 largely in India for work, and my friend Tammy and I overlapped in our rotations there for about 4 weeks. We were both working from the Delhi office at the same time, so we decided to take a side trip to Jaipur for the weekend when we got there – one of the best decisions we made!
After a 3 AM wake-up call and a super early morning flight from Hyderabad, we arrived in Delhi around 9 AM on Saturday morning and were picked up by a driver provided by our hotel. Our immediate reaction was that this city was very different from Hyderabad; I remember being able to see the air pollution visibly when we walked outside, which was not what we were used to that summer.
Our drivers took us to the Trident Hotel in Gurgaon, which was just outside of Delhi and close to our office for work. It ended up being a resort style hotel, so we felt very fancy.
Our turnaround time to leave for Jaipur was super quick; we arrived at the hotel, got checked in, went to our rooms to drop off our luggage and to re-pack for our weekend getaway, and then our driver was there to take us on the 5 hour drive to Jaipur at noon.
Despite the long day of travel we still had ahead of us, the drive was pretty nice as it gave us a chance to just relax after such an early start. We stopped once on the way for the driver to take his required rest break and for all of us to use the bathrooms. This little shop was very fun, as there were a lot of different souvenir items – wood carvings, elephant figurines, and many other trinkets, including some interesting Kama Sutra items – that we perused until it was time to get back on the road.
As we got close to the city, it started to pour raining to the point where the streets were starting to flood pretty badly – and by the streets were flooding, I mean children were in swim trunks and bringing out boogie board types of toys – level of flooding… haha.
Tammy and I had both left our work computers in the safe of our hotel rooms back in Delhi since this was such a short trip, and we started getting pretty nervous that we would get stuck in Jaipur and have to try to explain why we couldn’t work on Monday. It was especially nerve-wracking as we got close to the hotel we were staying at for the night because the roads were so flooded we thought the car might get stuck.
Fortunately, we made it safely to our hotel, the ITC Rajputana Sheraton, where we were greeted with fresh juice while we got checked in. This hotel used to be the site of the estate for the Prime Minister of Jaipur and gives its guests a royal experience with its design being inspired by various forts and palaces around the region.
Photo sourced from: Sheesh Mahal, ITC Rajputana, Jaipur. https://www.itchotels.in/hotels/jaipur/itcrajputana/gallery/venues.html. Accessed July 29, 2020.
We’d been excited to leave the hotel to have dinner and to see a little more of the city that first night, but those plans changed due to the weather. Honestly, this ended up being a pretty great thing; we had a few drinks at the gorgeous hotel bar, Sheesh Mahal, and then switched to the outdoor bar by the pool, Jharokha – that was covered, thankfully – when we learned that there was a dancer and live music there for entertainment that night.
The dancer was so wonderful and the entire atmosphere was so much fun – she eventually even grabbed us to get up and dance with her. Tammy was brave and got up first, but the performer had several of us in the audience up dancing shortly after.
After that, we had dinner at one of the hotel restaurants, Peshawri. My experience was that most of the fancier restaurant options in the larger cities can be found in hotels; this was true in both Jaipur and Hyderabad. Peshawri was one of those – when we looked it up, it was one of the higher-rated restaurants in the city, and it ended up being so delicious. We did the pre-set menu – vegetarian for me – and just picked which type of breads we wanted with the various courses of the meal.
Photo sourced from: Peshawari, ITC Rajputana, Jaipur. https://www.itchotels.in/hotels/jaipur/itcrajputana/gallery/dining.html. Accessed July 29, 2020.
We went back to our room shortly after dinner, as we had another early start the next day. We got up and ate breakfast at the hotel and then our driver and guide arrived to pick us up and start the day around 8:00 AM.
A Broad Recommendation: Pack lots of water for sightseeing in Jaipur, especially in the heat of the summer months. Our tour package included one bottle of water each, but we definitely needed more than that during the day. The palaces are not at all similar to European palaces, if you have been to any of those, as these are almost completely outdoors, so you won’t have many opportunities to cool off.
Our first stop of the day was the Old City, also known as the “Pink City” for the color of the buildings. To this day, all of the buildings in this part of the city are required to be the terracotta pink color, with few exceptions.
The reason for this color dates back to 1876 when Prince Albert, Queen Victoria of England’s husband, visited India to conduct royal duties. The Maharaja of Jaipur, Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II, wanted to strengthen ties with the British Royal family and painted the buildings this color, as it represents welcoming and hospitality. The reason it remains this color more than 130 years later is that the Maharaja’s favorite wife adored the color scheme and had him pass a law in 1877 making it illegal to paint the buildings any other color, and this law is still in effect today.
When we arrived in the Old City, we stopped in front of the Hawa Mahal for pictures. Our guide let us know going inside wasn’t really worth it because the most interesting parts were outside, and the inside wasn’t as impressive as some of the other places we were going that day. The outside was built in the form of Krishna’s crown because the ruler Sarai Pratap Singh was devoted to the Hindu god Krishna.
The building is an extension to the Royal City Palace and was built in part to allow the royal ladies to observe and enjoy royal processions on the street without being seen. This is because at the time, in 1799, the Purdah system was strictly followed, which states that royal ladies should not be seen by strangers or appear in public. If you look at the picture above you’ll see that there are many lattice-worked windows; despite there being 953 of these windows, they are so small that the public cannot see those who are looking out of the windows.
When we arrived at the Hawa Mahal, we also saw an elephant walking down the street toward us – this was the first time in 5 weeks in India that we saw an elephant on the street like that and it was so great; I deeply love elephants! We got out of the car for a picture and the owner of the elephant allowed us to pet it as well.
A Broad Recommendation: Any time you take a picture with an elephant, or anything similar, the owner will expect you to tip them. This is because, in the case of the elephants at least, owning the elephant is essentially their job, so be sure to have some smaller bills on hand.
After we saw the elephant, we crossed the street to take pictures of the Hawa Mahal, and there was a snake charmer on the sidewalk right in front of us. I somehow didn’t even see it as we walked up and only noticed when our guide was showing me the picture he’d taken for us to make sure we liked it. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Unfortunately, I’d left my purse in the car and couldn’t tip him, so I didn’t take a picture (and I didn’t ask Tammy to, since she was clearly not as excited by the snake as I was… haha). She did tell me that while I was looking the other way, the snake had stopped doing what it was supposed to, and the snake charmer back handed it to get it to cooperate, which is wild!
From there, we headed out to Amer Fort, which has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013. This ancient building is on a hill that is near the Maota Lake about 7 miles from Jaipur; it was the capital from 1036 to 1727, when the capital was moved to Jaipur.
We had the option to ride an elephant up to the palace entrance, which our contact who had set up the trip encouraged us to do, but we opted out given we weren’t sure how elephants were treated here.
We later learned that the elephants are only used until 1 PM because it gets too hot after that, and they only allow 2 people on them at a time. It’s also a business for most people who own them, which means the treatment probably varies. I’ve since seen notes of elephant abuse, and that organizations like PETA have gotten involved, so it’s important to note that there are other options!
Because we opted out of the elephant ride, we took a jeep around to the other side of the fort to enter which ended up being really cool!
Had we not gone this route, we wouldn’t have passed the Panna Meena ka Kund, which is a 16th century stepwell. We were able to get out and take some pictures, though there was a guard who was preventing us from going down the steps at all.
The well was used for collecting water – you just walk down the steps to whatever height the water is at based on rain; and it was also used as a resting point for travelers, as the temperature in the well would be significantly cooler than outside of it.
When we got to our entrance, and as you exit the Amer Fort, there are many vendors trying to sell you any number of trinkets. Our guide warned us not to engage and we had some of them follow us all the way to the entrance, and to our car after, despite us declining to buy anything.
Once inside, we entered a large courtyard, the first of four main courtyards in the palace. This first courtyard was where armies would hold victory parades, which were witnessed by the royal women through latticed windows, similar to the Hawa Mahal. It’s also where the elephants would enter and let off their riders.
From here, we entered the private palaces of the Maharajas through the Ganesh Pol, named after the Hindu god Lord Ganesh, who removes all obstacles in life.
The courtyard that we entered from here had a building on each side separated by a garden in the fashion of the Mughal Gardens. The building we spent the most time at is the Jai Mandir, also known as Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace). Our guide told us that this is the most mirrored hall in the world apart from Versailles in France, but the brilliance of these mirrors is very unique. Rather than large mirrors, as seen at Versailles, this hall is embellished with many small mirrors covering the ceilings and walls.
The guide showed us, with our flashlight on our phones, how lighting a candle at night here would reflect like thousands of stars in the mirrors. He also showed us one spot on the wall where if you stand at the right angle you can take a picture of yourself that looks like you’re in a framed picture, but it’s actually one of the many mirrors.
The building on the opposite side of this courtyard is Suhk Niwas, which is designed to create a cooler climate artificially based on how the wind blows over the water and enters this part of the palace. Given how hot it was, we could fully understand why this room would be necessary!
The part of this palace I personally found most interesting was the rooms for the 12 queens. In 1604, Raja Man Singh had 12 queens and therefore built 12 rooms, one for each. There is a small courtyard in the middle for the queens to spend time in together, and each of the 12 rooms connects to the King’s room by a private staircase that the King would descend when he wanted to have time with a particular queen.
There was essentially a hall that went around the square of their rooms that was covered so that the queens wouldn’t see where the King went, which our guide told us was so that they wouldn’t get jealous. I asked our guide about the 12 queens because it’s culturally very different from the US, and he said taking additional queens was largely a military strategy, as marrying a royal woman from another part of the country provided the Maharaja with more power.
As we drove to our next official stop, we passed by Jal Mahal, which is now known as the Water Palace, though it wasn’t intended as such. It was originally built to be a hunting lodge for the Raja. In the 16th century, there was a severe drought in the area and a dam was built, which created Man Sagar Lake and ultimately put the lower portions of the palace underwater.
Next, we went to the Jantar Mantar, or observatory, which houses 19 astronomical instruments built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Signh I, the founder of Jaipur. This site is another UNESCO World Heritage site and has the world’s largest stone sundial, which our guide taught us how to read!
All of the instruments were designed to allow for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye. Some of the uses for the tools include measuring time, predicting eclipses, and tracking major stars.
This site was super cool to learn about, but I will admit we were here midday and had only escaped the heat while driving from one place to the next, so I was beginning to lose steam and was just extremely hot. We did everything in one day because we had work on Monday – but, if we had time to stay another day, I would have preferred to break up Amer Fort and Jantar Mantar. Up to this point, this was the hottest I have ever felt, so it got harder as the day went on (Vietnam was hotter a couple of weeks later if that is even possible… haha).
At the end of our day, we were supposed to stop for lunch and then drive back to Delhi; however, our guide asked if we wanted to stop to see how gems are made in the city, so we opted in. Seeing how they were made was awesome, but then they took us inside to a huge room of jewelry, and I have never had to exert so much willpower – everything was gorgeous, and compared to what you would pay for similar items in the U.S., so cheap. Unfortunately, I’d already overspent on souvenirs in Hyderabad, so I had to leave this store empty handed.
After that impromptu stop, we grabbed lunch and then headed back to the Trident for some sleep before my last week of work – Sara would be joining me just three days later!
XOXO Travel A-Broads