Rajasthan is how I always imagined India to be – cows and camels roaming the streets, a dry and almost unbearable climate and people dressed in the brightest and most beautiful clothes imaginable. Yep, I’m aware that it’s a very close-minded, stereotypical and probably a little bit racist image to have, but you can blame Western media and its shameless cultural appropriation for that.
Still, it’s for that reason that Rajasthan has been top of my “I must go here and see all the things and eat all the food and take all the photos” list for a bloody long time now, and finally I can cross it off. Although to be honest I haven’t even scratched the surface of Rajasthan seeing as I was only able to make a whistle stop tour of Jaipur, Ajmer (don’t go there!) and Udaipur, so I’ll definitely be back for a much longer, much more in-depth venture of discovery. Sit tight Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Pushkar… I’m coming for you.
I only actually had 2 days in Jaipur, which is honestly nowhere near enough to do the city justice, especially when you end up spending the better part of half a day running around like a headless chicken trying to find a rabies vaccination but I still managed to somehow squeeze in a decent number of sights and smells and sounds.
I’m actually really confused about what the actual name of this complex is – in guidebooks and on most websites it’s Amer Fort, but on the official website of the actual place it’s Amber Fort, and that’s also what the locals call it. So which is it?! Or are they two completely different places?! For the sake of this post, I’m going with Amber, only because a red squiggly line doesn’t appear underneath it.
India has this habit of charging tourists 10x the price of a local ticket for main attractions, which is too bloody annoying to even try to put intowords. And Amber Fort is no exception to the rule, with entry costing a mere ₹25 for Indians compared to ₹200 for foreigners. I completely understand and to some extent agree with charging extra for visitors (like, you deserve at least some brownie points for being born in the same country!), but almost 10 times the amount is a bit harsh if you ask me. So out of principle (and because funds were running dangerously low) I didn’t actually go into the complex, choosing instead to stand outside and ooh and aah at its grandieur from afar. There was also a cow swimming in the lake outside which was more than enough entertainment!
The Pink City
The name speaks for itself really: it’s a section of the city that is completely and utterly pink! Except it’s not pink anymore because time makes paint fade, and apparently they don’t fancy sprucing the place up a bit these days, so now it’s more peachy, or maybe salmon at a stretch.
A lot of tourists choose to spend a half or full day just wandering around the Pink City, and although it is really pretty, our local tuktuk driver/friend got it one when he said “it’s the same wherever you walk“. Quite a few of the main attractions are situated here, but other than that it does just all look the same. But it’s a nice same, so if wandering around aimlessly is your thing (it’s definitely mine) then knock yourself out!
One of the main ‘places to see’ inside the Pink City itself, the ‘Palace of the Winds’ is the pink honeycombed palace of everyone’s Fairytale princess dreams. I want to live there. I want to plait my hair like Rapunzel and dangle out of one of the many many windows, but that’s probably impossible so I’d happily settle for a colouring book full of pictures (uncoloured of course) of Hawa Mahal instead, maybe accompanied by some fruit stalls or something, I don’t know.
This was another case of not going inside because I’m a poor traveller with holes in my shoes, but photography is actually forbidden inside so I could have just gotten away with saying I went in, it was great but no photos because illegal soz, but I like honesty so yeah, I stood outside and looked up, took a photo and then left. That was a long sentence. Like Amber Fort, entry for foreigners is ₹200 and ₹50 for locals. You lucky locals, you!
The ‘Water Palace’ is situated, as the name kind of suggests, smack bang in the centre of a lake! Man Sagar Lake to be precise. When the lake is full to capacity four of the palace’s five storeys are submerged underwater, leaving just the top floor peeking out over the top of the water.
I’ve been told – and I haven’t been able to verify the credibility of this information – that it was built the way it is because back in the day before AC or even ceiling fans came into existence, the Maharajah would get way toohot in the heat of the summer, and so a building submerged under cool-ish water was the perfect, natural solution to his overheating problem.
The palace isn’t open to visitors, probably because sending hundreds of people across a lake every day to potentially drown in an old building submerged by water is way too much of a liability for even India to handle. Just standing on the side and pointing and looking is nice enough, though. There are also camels across the road, which I guess you can take for a ride if that’s your kind of thing.
One of the lesser known ‘attractions’ of Jaipur, I was drawn there like a needle to a magnet when I found out that the entry price was only ₹30 regardless of your nationality. Absolute bargain! Granted, I didn’t realise at the time that it was essentially a complex of cenotaphs, and I always feel a bit err about visiting somebody’s final resting and/or place of memorial as a tourist, but our guide slash driver slash bloke who persuaded us to go there in the first place said it was all perfectly okay. And who am I to argue with a native Rajasthani about his own home town?!
Royal Gaitor was stunning. The location was abnormally quiet, which made it kind of eery but at the same time peaceful and just nice. Not the best describing word, I know, but nice seems the most apt. The domes and platforms and structures are made of stone and marble, and some of them are so intricately carved that you’d have a bloody hard job believing it was all done by hand!
It’s also one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever visited in my life, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Who doesn’t love elephants?! I’m not one for the whole using elephants for tourism malarkey, but Jaipur’s Elephant Village really is something else! I’ve seen elephants in the wild and in captivity in a good few countries now, but I’ve never seen elephants as happy as these noes. Reading this article paints a bleak picture about what to expect, but I promise you it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen when it comes to elephants! The elephants in the village each belong to a family, and as the sale of elephants is now considered an illegal practice, more often than not have belonged to the same family for their entire lives.
They aren’t considered as pets, but members of the family. They aren’t tied up to trees, nor do they have shackles around their feet to protect the visitors because at the end of the day it’s their home and so their comfort should be paramount. And it is.
You can pay ₹2500 to bathe, feed, ride and paint the elephants, and the price goes down every time you knock off an activity. Despite the mahout’s reassurances that riding the elephants was perfectly ethical and them carrying a human on their back is the same as a human carrying a backpack, I really didn’t want to do this. Nor did I want to paint them, just because it seemed a bit weird. The mahout said this is just like a massage for the elephants – they like the feeling of human hands on them, but even so I’m no artist. In the end I paid ₹500 for the privilege of feeding and simply being with the elephants, and it was amazing even if one did stamp on my foot.
Galtaji Monkey Temple
They say the best things in life come for free, and sometimes if you’re lucky the free things involve monkey attacks. I was lured (probably using the wrong word there) to Galtaji Monkey Temple with the promise that it was free and beautiful and that there’d be an incredible view over the whole of Jaipur, and all of the above proved true, but there was also 3000+ monkeys which is not fantastic in my book.
To be honest contracting rabies and becoming half human, half monkey (or dead!) would probably be worth it because Galtaji is incredible.
Nestled in amongst stone walls and hills, it’s a Hindu temple complex sort of thing that’s still very much used in its traditional way now, and not as a tourist attraction. Entry is free from both sides although there is a ₹50 camera charge if like me you fancy yourself the next big thing on Nat Geo. Seriously, it’s wow.
Tailors & Markets
Jaipur is well-known throughout India for it’s affordable (read as: cheap as chips) but gorgeous tailor-made clothing, and if you’re in the area you really should try and get to grips with the industry. I’d highly recommend visiting a workshop or demonstration unit to see exactly how fabrics are hand printed, and then waltz on up to a textiles store and have something specially made for you.
You can take your pick throughout the city really, there are so many different places to choose from which all pretty much make the same stuff at similar prices, and the fabrics are just mmmmm.
Despite my terrifyingly enormous overdraft (JUST KIDDING PEOPLE AT HOME, RELAX!) and the fact htat I didn’t actually have any money, I did spend a bit too much buying a few things BUT they’re going to be Christmas presents for people, so irresponsible spending is allowed right?!