Jaipur: Rajasthani culture and lassi-stealing monkeys

Pio Calderon · April 8, 2020

Previously in this series:

Jaipur was the second stop of my North Indian adventure.

Before researching for my trip, I honestly had no idea what Jaipur was and why it’s even part of the Golden Triangle. New Delhi is the capital, Agra has the Taj Mahal, but what’s in Jaipur? All I knew was that it’s often referred to as India’s Pink City, which doesn’t say much apart from it probably having a lot of pink buildings. I was hesitant to stay for a long time in Jaipur as I was very time-constrained for the trip, so I decided to just stay for 3 days.

Three days for Jaipur is perfect: you get enough time to see most of the touristy stuff and also chill out a bit.

In a nutshell, I’d say that Jaipur is a city proud of its rich history.. The city is brimming full of culture, and it’s impressive to see how well Jaipur was able to preserve it. Most of the attractions here are UNESCO world heritage sites, and the city itself is a UNESCO world heritage city. Walking through the streets, you’d see dilapidated buildings undergoing beautiful decay, local shops and buskers selling traditional Rajasthani garb and jewellery, and monolithic forts circling the mountains in the distance. Since the city is the gateway to the Rajasthani desert, you’re gonna do all of these while basking in the dry, hot sun and dusty air.

Be wary, prospective travellers: Jaipur is hot and dry 🌞.

Getting There

I took a very early train ride from New Delhi to Jaipur. My hotel was just 10 minutes away by foot from the New Delhi railway station, and so I was a bit lax with the time. However, I was not very familiar with the layout of the railway station so I almost missed my train. That’s a recurring theme for my India trip: almost. For the New Delhi-Varanasi and Varanasi-New Delhi legs, I almost missed my rides as well.

A tip: Always be early for train or plane rides in India. Best to remove missed trains as a reason for unnecessary stress.

The train ride took 4 hours in total. I was pleasantly surprised how comfortable the ride was! It reminded me a bit of Taiwan trains, but this was a teeny bit better in my opinion because of free snacks. They gave me a packet of Marie and a cup of chai when I got on the train. Then midway through the trip, a serving of veg burger and another round of chai.

From the train station, I was picked up by a taxi provided by my hotel. I wasted about an hour just walking circles around the station because I had some communication issues with the front desk regarding the pickup point.

Where I Stayed

Hotel Kalyan is where I stayed at during my time in Jaipur. It’s an affordable hotel just 10 minutes away by taxi from the Jaipur railway station. The room is decent but what I particularly loved about this hotel is the rooftop terrace, which has a very chill vibe, a very nice view, and really really good dum aloo.

They also have live traditional Indian music at the rooftop restaurant on evenings. One night I had dinner there and there was a guy singing while playing a sitar. Really cool.

Things to Do

There are lots of things to see in Jaipur, not really a lot of things to do per se. Jaipur’s a pretty old city, and most of the tourist attractions here are palaces and forts. As a first-timer in Jaipur, I was obligated to visit those palaces and forts. Other major things you can do in the city are to shop traditional garments and ornaments (though I’m not much of a shopper myself) and eat Rajasthani cuisine.

Visit the Pink City Attractions

A large number of temples and markets in Jaipur are walking distance from one another. Always remember to bring water as it’s very hot in Jaipur.

If the Jaipur sun is too much for you, you can always book an Ola or an Uber, though most of the time I found myself just walking to places. Probably the reason why that’s the case was a nasty experience with an Ola bike driver on my first day in Jaipur. What happened was the Ola driver wouldn’t give back my full change after the ride, and I had to demand it back repeatedly. He would give back my change in increments of 10 rupees. For each 10 rupee handed back to me, I’d have to basically demand he give back the rest. When only 20 rupees was left, I just walked out. It’s annoying and the stress wasn’t worth the 20 rupees. That turned me off to Ola, and I basically deleted the app after that experience.

Anyway, back to Jaipur’s temples. In total, I visited four attractions in the Pink City (excluding Amber Fort): an ancient observatory, two palaces, and a museum. Do note that visiting all these attractions involves paying an entrance fee. I recommend getting the composite ticket at the ticket booth, which is basically a single ticket for the majority of Jaipur’s attractions.

Jantar Mantar

The Jantar Mantar is unique. It’s an ancient observatory that houses a collection of astronomical instruments.

I saw quite a number of groups of young people at Jantar Mantar, most likely students on an educational field trip. Jantar Mantar reminded me a bit of the field trips I had to museums when I was young, just leveled up.

Each instrument had an accompanying plaque with text, which explained what the instrument was for and how to actually read the measurements.

The most interesting instrument is the largest stone sundial in the world… so massive I couldn’t even fit it fully in the frame.

City Palace

The City Palace is a collection of museums and galleries displaying different elements of Rajasthani culture. One gallery hosted Rajasthani paintings, another hosted luxurious Rajasthani clothing, another showed the history of rulers through a series of portraits and furniture.

I must say that the palace is visually appealing, but to be perfectly honest, I might not be the target audience because I got bored a bit.

While I was there, tables and chairs were being set up at the courtyard. It seemed like there was going to be a dinner party happening that night.

Hawa Mahal

The Hawa Mahal is probably the most photographed attraction in Jaipur. The pink facade of the palace has been photographed so many times.

The Hawa Mahal served as the official residence of royal ladies in the time of the Maharaja. As is customary during that time, ladies were asked to observe pardah or seclusion. The building was designed so that those outside can’t see what’s happening inside, but the opposite doesn’t hold. So the royal ladies can see the parades happening out in the open but the common folk won’t be able to see the royal ladies.

The best viewpoint of the Hawa Mahal is just right across the street at the Wind View Cafe.

It was very hot that day so I bought a lassi to rehydrate myself. Unfortunately, a monkey 🐒 came out of nowhere and snatched it from me 😞.

… If you’re interested, you can ascend the temple from the backdoor entrance for a fee. You get a nice view of the city and some insight on how those royal women live.

Albert Hall Museum

I visited the Albert Hall Museum on my last day in Jaipur. I was a bit hesitant to visit more historical structures since I was already feeling temple fatigue by then, but I’m glad that I pushed through because the museum is just stunning. It looks like something out of Final Fantasy. The birds seemed to have caught on, and it’s apparently their favorite spot to chill on weekends. Can you count how many birds there are in the picture?

The museum hosts mostly Rajasthani art and weapons. Some rugs, some painting, some bows and arrow. The highlight is definitely the real-life mummy that they host at the basement.

Walk Around the City, the Shops

Walking around Jaipur is an experience in itself. What better way to soak in local culture other than strolling and people-watching?

Bazaars and shops fill the streets of the Pink City. I’m not a big shopper so I probably did not get the full experience. I only bought a single souvenir: a Rajasthani pagari.

One other thing: apart from being the Pink City, Jaipur should also be known as the City of Birds.

Visit the Amber Fort

I visited the Amber Fort on my second day in Jaipur. As it’s quite far from the city center, it’s best to commission a driver to take you there. Don’t forget to haggle!

An interesting place to see on the journey up to Amber Fort is the Jal Mahal, the Water Temple. It’s named as such because part of it submerged in the lake. Nothing much to do than to sightsee since the temple is in the middle of the lake, but it’s definitely an interesting stopover for a pic or two.

The road to Amber Fort is quite dangerous and rocky for the novice driver. It’s also very scenic, as the landscape is dominated by the fort snaking around the mountainside, some local houses, and passing elephants.

The Amber Fort is definitely the architectural highlight of my Jaipur trip. Technically, the fort isn’t in Jaipur city but another city called Amer adjacent to Jaipur.

Amer used to be the capital of Rajasthan and the Amber Fort used to be the official palace of the Raja. Similar to the other attractions in the Pink City, one can feel the opulence and history when strolling through the palace. Best to hire a guide when walking around since it’s very easy to get lost in the winding tunnels and courtyards. (I did get lost because I didn’t hire a guide.)

Catch a Movie at Raj Mandir

Eventually I got tired of visiting historical attractions and wanted to do something else. A quick Google search on Things to do in Jaipur led me to Raj Mandir, a very popular cinema and CNN-approved world’s third coolest movie theater. I was in the mood for air conditioning and some song and dance courtesy of Bollywood… so to the cinema I went.

From the Pink City, it took me about 30 minutes by foot to Raj Mandir, which is situated in a more modern part of town.

Midway to the theater, I stumbled upon a very crowded street which was quite difficult to pass through. Leading the crowd and booming music were a few men and women on horses in traditional Rajasthani garb. Later on I found out that it was a procession to a mass wedding celebration.

Arriving at the theater, I saw that there was just one movie showing that day (and I believe any other day) — Love Aaj Kal. Being the cheapskate that I am, I wanted to purchase one of the cheaper seats, but only the most premium seats were available. It was 400 rupees, a bit expensive for me, but it’s not like I had a choice so I bought it.

The cinema did not disappoint. It looked like an actual theater, not your run-of-the-mill movie cinema. Winding staircases, chandeliers, two sets of popcorn booths. You name it, Raj Mandir has it.

The cinema even has a miniature Raj Mandir displayed.

The most premium seat apparently means the highest seat at the balcony, so I had to ascend up a few sets of stairs. And amazingly, there’s another popcorn booth and lounge for premium seat holders, which was super nice.

Watching a Bollywood movie in India is a different experience. Indian people holler at the screen when romantic scenes come up or when the hero appears on the screen. The crowd was very animated and excited, especially when the Bollywood dance number came near the end.

About the movie. I didn’t understand most of it since it was in Hindi and there were no subtitles. I’m not really sure what I feel about it. It seems to be a typical romcom. I asked some Indian friends what they thought of the movie and they said that it was crap.

Meet new friends

While at Jaipur, I also had the chance to Couchsurf a bit and meet a local. It was an interesting experience as I was able to gain some insight on day-to-day life in Jaipur. It’s interesting to talk about contemporary Indian life as fixed marriages are still the norm. We hanged around the clothing factory he worked at, ate a nice and cheap thali at a local eatery, and took a ride on his motorbike and chill at his place. I met these two cute doggies there.

Final Thoughts

For history buffs, I can imagine that Jaipur is a dream destination. But I’m no history buff so I can’t say that it’s my favorite place. But I’m not saying to skip Jaipur – three days is a good amount of time to spend in the city, just to see the sights and get a feel of the Rajasthani culture.

Jaipur, I admit, is a bit rough around the edges. But once you get past the heat and initial culture shock, Jaipur reveals itself to be a gorgeous place with a lot to offer.

I still remember my last night in Jaipur when I was on an Uber back to my hotel. It was the only time I saw the Pink City at night, and it was absolutely gorgeous. The way the pink buildings were illuminated made the scene look like something straight out of The Arabian Nights, a mental picture that I definitely would never forget.

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