About a four hour train ride from Agra, Jaipur (or the ‘Pink City’) is the capital of Rajasthan. It is famed for local artisans; ranging from jewellers, textiles (including block prints and carpets) and general thrift markets. It also plays host to the annual Jaipur Literature Festival (the largest free literature festival in the world). It is certainly an easier city to clock up time in than Delhi; while there is still loads happening it is far more manageable.
We stayed at the Hotel Bissau Palace for two nights, a place I grew to be very fond of. Three words to describe it are rustic, eccentric and colourful. There was a big courtyard surrounded by what felt like a rabbit’s warren of rooms which actually just comprised a lobby. If you could find your way through from one side to the other, you would come to a pool with a lawn just beyond the restaurant. The wifi was notably terrible. Our room was covered from top to bottom with hideously charming patterns and pictures – it was quite a lot to absorb.
Two days in Jaipur is more than enough time, we also squeezed in a day trip to Pushkar (more below) while we were there. The top sights in Jaipur are:
1. Amber Fort: Receiving over 5000 visitors a day, Amber Fort (also known as Amer Fotr) is the main tourist attraction in Jaipur. It is a 20 minute drive from Jaipur, the fort sits upon a massive hill. We parked at the bottom and caught a jeep up to the top (everyone seems to, I think because the roads are so narrow and in rough condition). The fort is surrounded by a wall that is second in length only to the Great Wall of China. The fort is packed with Hindu and Muslim architecture. My favourite part was the mirror section – you can get some seriously cool photos with the angles! The fort overlooks Maota Lake, which used to serve as the main water source for the palace.
2. Hawa Mahal: known colloquially as the Palace of the Winds. It got this name because it is essentially a high screen wall built so that the women of the royal family could observe the street festivals back in the day, whilst remaining unseen from the public eye. It is basically a building in the middle of town that you observe in passing – you can’t go in.
3. Jantar Mantar: an observatory and astronomical site, which I actually didn’t visit. Specifically, the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is one of five in India (but Jaipur is the largest) and it is a massive sun dial, with the ability to measure the time of day, correct to half a second, as well as the declination of the sun and other heavenly bodies.
4. City palace/old city/nearby markets: it was very easy to wander this area for quite a few hours. I love wandering through the markets, and these markets were pretty fun because they were quite touristy. We noticed that the owners seem to work cooperatively; that is, if you show interest in something at the first stall, all of the owners down the strip would point out that same thing at a cheaper price! So it pays not to buy at the first shop you go into, but definitely register your interest. The shops are all very long and skinny, and the owners tend to sit there in the dark until they see you coming, whereby they jump up and switch on the lights and the fan.
5. Local artisans – most give you demonstrations on each thing (and there is usually A/C!). First we visited a gem shop where they showed us how they cut the stones and then embed them into jewellery, and then we visited a block printing workshop where some of our group actually got to have a go with the block stamp to make their own prints. Carpets and other textiles are also very popular there; it is quite the shopping hub!
6. Bollywood film: the Raj Mandir is supposedly a spectacular Art Deco film house, where you can go and watch Bollywood films for an authentic Indian experience. Unfortunately we ran out of time to do this, but would be perfect if you wanted to fill up an evening!
We finished a busy day of sightseeing with a rooftop dinner at Handi. It was funny eating out with the group; we were always really hungry and exhausted at about 6pm, and would note the lack of locals eating at the same place as us. We were informed that it wasn’t so much the places we were eating at, rather the time – Indians tend to eat closer to 9pm – I was often not far off sleep by then!
An activity that my whole group opted to do was a visit to Pushkar for a camel safari. We did it in a day and it was seriously exhausting, so I think a better option would have been to actually stay the night and explore Pushkar a little bit more. It was a 4-5 hour bus ride each way from Jaipur.
Pushkar is one of the oldest existing cities to remain in India and it is extremely popular with tourists. It is nestled over a lake (I would have chosen to stay somewhere near here as it was very cute and peaceful), and has a main street absolutely crammed with Western-targeted markets containing cheap souvenirs and trinkets of all kinds (including clothes, jewellery and leather bound books). There is also a lot of temples in Pushkar, and one of the most famous, Brahma Temple, lies just off the main drag.
A Blue Star is a Mediterranean restaurant in Pushkar that I seriously couldn’t recommend more. It had a lovely courtyard, fabulous wifi and most importantly, delicious food. There was even a pet tortoise! We were fortunate that our group was so big we just had a bunch of different plates brought out to us, so I got to try a wide variety of dishes from the menu. I would highly recommend the deep-fried pizza base topped with olives and mushrooms, as well as the hummus and pita bread, the fried eggplant and the falafel.
There is a famous camel festival which happens every November in Pushkar, but we were there in September and just there for the safari. We all got given a camel and people who walked alongside us to guide our camels. Our wee procession of 12 camels made its way into the desert, the landscape lit up by the sinking sun. We trekked for about an hour to where we disembarked from our camels and went up to this cosey little spot that had been set up for us. We watched a magic show, dressed up in saris (punjabs for the lads), watched fire eaters, traditional dancers (we even got involved) and were treated to a delicious Indian meal as we watched the sun go down over the desert. It was spectacular – one of my favourite memories of the trip.
Afterwards we caught a (car) ride back to our bus and headed back to Jaipur. I know it’s possible to do camel safaris that go for longer than just an hour worth of riding, but to be honest, an hour was definitely long enough! It starts to get quite uncomfortable after a bit – our camel riding was the perfect length to reach that point of having had enough, but still feeling like you’ve been on there for a decent time. I would highly recommend doing a safari!