I spent the summer of 2019 working in India – mainly in Hyderabad but also in Delhi. As it turned out, my rotation in Delhi overlapped with my friend Tammy’s for about 4 weeks, and we decided to take a trip to Jaipur, India one weekend; this ended up being a great decision!
Jaipur is a popular destination located in north India; it’s part of the Golden Triangle tourist circuit, along with Delhi and Agra and serves as a gateway to many other tourist destinations in Rajasthan. Jaipur is the capital and largest city of the Indian state of Rajasthan and is known as the “Pink City”, due to its trademark terracotta pink buildings, as well as the Paris of India.
Due to its cultural and historical significance, Jaipur was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site during our visit! The city also hosts two other UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Amer [Amber] Fort and Jantar Mantar.
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Our Hotel in Delhi, India
After a 3 AM wake-up call and an early morning flight from Hyderabad, we arrived in Delhi around 9 AM on Saturday morning and were picked up by a hotel-provided driver. Our immediate reaction was that this city was quite different from Hyderabad; I remember being able to visibly see the air pollution when we walked outside, which wasn’t what we’d been used to all summer.
Note that Hyderabad is located in southern India, along with other popular destinations like Bangalore, Chennai, Coimbatore and Pondicherry, whereas Delhi (and Jaipur) is located in northern India, about a 3-hour flight away.
Our driver took us to the Trident Hotel Gurgaon, which was just outside of Delhi and close to our office. We were surprised again to see that we were staying in a resort-style hotel – and felt very fancy.
Travel to Jaipur, India
Our turnaround time to leave for Jaipur was quick; we arrived at the hotel, checked in, went to our rooms to drop off our luggage and to re-pack for our weekend getaway, then our driver was there at noon to take us on the five-hour drive to Jaipur.
Despite the long drive time, we enjoyed relaxing in the car for a bit after such an early start. Along the way, we stopped once for the driver to take his required rest break and for all of us to use the bathrooms. While we were stopped, we perused a fun, little shop that offered various souvenirs like wood carvings, elephant figurines, trinkets, and more, including some interesting Kama Sutra items.
However, as we got close to the city, things went a bit downhill; it started to pour rain so much so that the streets started to flood. And by flooding I mean that children were in swim trunks and bringing out boogie boards – that level of flooding, haha.
Tammy and I had both left our work computers in our hotel room safes in Delhi, and we started to get pretty nervous that we’d be stuck in Jaipur and would have to explain why we couldn’t work on Monday. It was especially nerve-wracking as we got closer to the hotel we were staying at for the night because the roads were so flooded that we thought the car might get stuck!
Our Hotel in Jaipur, India
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. Its design was 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 more of the city that first night, but those plans quickly changed due to the weather. Honestly, this ended up being a great thing. We had a few drinks at the gorgeous hotel bar, Sheesh Mahal, then switched to the outdoor pool bar, Jharokha, which was thankfully covered. Here, we learned that there was live music and a dancer performing that night.
The dancer was wonderful, and the atmosphere was so fun; she eventually even grabbed us to get up and dance with her! Tammy was brave and got up first, and the performer had several of us from the audience up and dancing shortly thereafter.
After that, we had dinner at one of the hotel restaurants, Peshawri. It seems that most of the fancier restaurant options in the larger cities [in India] 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 the food was 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.
Shortly after dinner, we went back to our room, as we had another early start the next day.
How to Visit Jaipur in India
The next morning, we got up and ate breakfast at the hotel before our driver and guide arrived to pick us up around 8:00 AM.
A Broad Recommendation: Pack lots of water for sightseeing in Jaipur, especially during the heat of the summer months. Our tour package included one bottle of water each, but we definitely needed more than that throughout the day. The palaces are not at all similar to European palaces, if you have been to any of those; these are almost completely outdoors, and you won’t have many opportunities to cool off.
Things to Do in Jaipur, India
Visit the Famous “Pink City”
Our first stop of the day was the Old City, which is also famously 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 color choice 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 color remains more than 130 years later because 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 told us that going inside wasn’t really worth it because the most interesting things to see 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. This meant that royal ladies couldn’t be seen by strangers or appear in public. If you look at the picture above, you’ll see many lattice-worked windows; despite there being 953 of them, they’re so small that the public couldn’t see through them.
When we arrived at the Hawa Mahal, we also saw an elephant walking down the street toward us – this was the first time after five weeks in India that we saw an elephant on the street like that, and it was so neat; I love elephants, so much so that I spent A Full Day at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand just a couple weeks later! We got out of the car for a picture, and the owner allowed us to pet it.
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.
Next, we crossed the street to take pictures of the Hawa Mahal. Out of nowhere, there was a snake charmer on the sidewalk right in front of us. I guess 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!
Explore the Amer Fort
From there, we headed to Amer Fort, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013. This ancient building sits on a hill near the Maota Lake about seven miles from Jaipur; it was the capital of Rajasthan from 1036 to 1727, before 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 since 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 two 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!
Instead of an elephant ride, we took a jeep around to the other side of the fort, 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.
The well was historically 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.
A Broad Recommendation: When we arrived, there were lots of vendors. Our guide warned us not to engage with them, and even so, some of them still followed us all the way to the entrance. The same thing happened on our way out, and some even followed us all the way to our car, despite us declining to buy anything.
Once inside, we entered a large courtyard, the first of the 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. Note: this is where the elephants entered to drop off their riders.
From here, we entered the private palaces of the Maharajas through the Ganesh Pol, which was named after the Hindu god Lord Ganesh, who is said to remove all obstacles in life.
This courtyard 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 was the Jai Mandir, also known as “Sheesh Mahal” or “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 phone flashlights, 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; it’s actually just one of the many mirrors!
On the opposite side of this courtyard is Suhk Niwas. This spot was artificially designed to create a cooler climate based on how the wind blows over the water and enters into this part of the palace. Given how hot it was, we could understand why this area was necessary!
What I personally found to be most interesting were the rooms for the twelve queens. In 1604, Raja Man Singh had twelve queens and thus built twelve rooms, one for each. Each of the twelve rooms connected to the King’s room by private staircase, and the King would descend down a particular staircase when he wanted to spend time with that queen.
There was also a hall that went around the square containing their rooms that was covered so the queens couldn’t see where the King went; our guide told us this was so they wouldn’t get jealous! In the middle sits a small courtyard where the queens could spend time together.
I asked our guide about the King having twelve queens specifically because it’s culturally different from the United States. He shared that 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.
Pass By the “Water Palace”
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 and a dam was built, creating Man Sagar Lake and ultimately put the lower portions of the palace underwater.
See the World’s Largest Stone Sundial
Next, we went to Jantar Mantar, another UNESCO World Heritage site that is home to the world’s largest stone sundial – which our guide taught us how to read!
This site also houses several other astronomical instruments built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Signh I, the founder of Jaipur. All of the instruments were designed to allow for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye. Some other uses include measuring time, predicting eclipses, and tracking major stars.
This site was super cool to learn about, but I’ll admit that since we were here midday and had only escaped the heat while driving from one place to the next, I was extremely hot and beginning to lose steam. Up to this point, this was the hottest I’d ever felt; little did I know that I was going to be saying the same thing just a couple of weeks later in Hanoi, Vietnam, if that is even possible, haha.
A Broad Recommendation: In this particular scenario, we had to do everything in one day, since we had work on Monday, but I would suggest breaking up Amer Fort and Jantar Mantar into two separate days if you can.
See How Gems are Made in Jaipur
At the end of our day, we were supposed to stop for lunch before driving back to Delhi, but our guide suggested that we go see how gems are made in the city, so we opted in.
The initial experience was awesome, but after that, they took us inside to a huge room of jewelry, and I’ve truly never had to exert so much willpower – everything was gorgeous, and compared to what you would pay for similar items in the U.S., everything was so cheap. Unfortunately, I’d already overspent on souvenirs in Hyderabad, so I had to leave this store empty-handed.
After our impromptu stop, we grabbed lunch, then headed back to the Trident for some sleep before our last week of work; my friend and fellow Travel A-Broads founder, Sara, was joining me just three days later!
Don’t forget to pin this post, so you can refer back to it later when you start planning your own trip to Jaipur, India! For more about India, check out How to Spend Two Action-Packed Days in Delhi, India and How to See the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. We hope you can visit this incredible country one day (if you haven’t already)!
XOXO Travel A-Broads