If you have followed my adventures through Instagram during the last year, you know I visited India in December and January. At that time I did not have a blog but, on the contrary, I had with me my faithful travel notebook where I noted all the details of my trip. I always travel with a notebook where I keep track of my itinerary and save all the nice things I found along the way. Because the best season to visit India is coming, I thought it would be nice to gather all my notes in one blog piece useful for those of you planning a trip to land of maharajas.
A brief history of Jaipur
After having travelled for a while in northern and western India, I admit that Jaipur (and the, unfortunately small, part of Rajasthan I visited) correspond perfectly to the idea of India I had in my mind during my years dreaming of visiting this country: exotic, colourful and fairy-tale looking. Jaipur is the capital city of the Indian state of Rajasthan and also the largest of its cities. It was founded by Maharaj Jai Singh II in 1727 to accommodate the needs of a constant growing population that was at the time located in the former capital Amber. The construction of the city of Jaipur took just four years and the urban plan of construction followed the principles of Vastu Shastra, a traditional hindu architectural system that integrates religious beliefs into architectural patterns. The city’s division into nine main blocks was an incredible advanced system during the time of its construction. This made Jaipur one of the most modern Indian city during the eighteenth century. For reason of public security, the city has always been walled and accessible throughout one of its 8 gates (9 if one consider also the latest built gate, Patrika). In 1876, to welcome the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria, the city has completely painted in pink. In fact, it looks like the colour was understood as a sign of hospitality and used to give a warm welcome to the royal hosts. From this moment onward, Jaipur became famous with the ephitet of “Pink City” and currently keeps its street painted with this lovely vibrant colour.
How to reach Jaipur and move around
Jaipur is far 268 km from New Delhi and 241 km from Agra (traveling by car). It can be reached by plane, train or car. The closest airport is the Jaipur International Airport located at about 25 mins from the city centre. Because we were travelling from Agra and already had a driver who took us for a day trip to Vrindavan the day before, we travelled to Jaipur by car (same driver and combined price). The road trip from Agra takes about 4 hours and a medium A/C cab in good conditions generally costs around ₹ 4,500 (£ 50 circa). If you are not making any stop, traveling light and don’t care about air conditioning in the car you can try to negotiate a lower price. I’ve heard of some companies taking people from Agra to Jaipur as cheap as ₹ 2,500 but not sure about their reliability. Plus, consider to go on a A/C not just for the warm weather but also for the pollution. In certain areas of India the air quality is very poor and without A/C and with a very warm temperature you might be forced to travel with open windows, breathing the most polluted air. Traveling by bus (recommended only to experienced and adventurous travellers) or train is so far the cheapest option. The fastest train going from Agra to Jaipur is the 22988 AF AII SUPERFAST, which takes 4 hours and costs ₹155-555 (1-7£). If you want to know how to book a train ticket in India if you are a tourist check my guide here! If you are reaching Jaipur from New Delhi, the most convenient way might be flying. Companies like Jet Airways (recommended), Spice Jet, Air India and IndiGo offers daily flight between the two cities as cheap as £18 for 55 mins flight.
Tip: whether you are reaching Jaipur by car or train, BE AWARE OF SCAMMERS! Especially if you are a first timer in India, don’t go venture alone and always check with the police or your hotel if you have any doubt. If you would like to book a cab to go to Jaipur and not sure who to trust, refer to your hotel, they will always have a trusted driver.
- How to move in Jaipur
TAXIS: As opposed to Agra, where you can move around only by pre-paid taxis, Jaipur is served by Uber. Someone might disagree with this, but I used Uber for most of my movements in different Indian cities (except Agra) and I found it cheap, honest, safe and reliable. I travelled with Uber in Jaipur also by night and I had no problem at all. If you have bought an Indian sim at the airport you can choose to move also with the cab company OLA (which is very similar to Uber but needs an Indian number to be booked). Otherwise, you can use your usual Uber app (and your roaming charges) to book cab. To be sure you have not been scammed always check the details of your Uber booking correspond to the cab you are taking and the driver knows your name and destination.
TUK TUK: Going around with a tuk tuk is one of the most funny experience you can do in India. Jaipur doesn’t make an exception. Tuk Tuk are cheap and perfect for brief distances and (according to my experience) lifesavers in case your phone is dead and don’t know how to book a Uber. They are also quite reliable but you might have to “fight” a bit for obtaining fare price, especially if you look too much touristy. Always ask the price of the ride BEFORE jumping on a Tuk Tuk and clarify if the price is for one person or a whole group.
WALKING: Walking around Jaipur is pretty safe, especially around touristic areas like the City Palace or Hawa Mahal. I admit we walked a lot in Jaipur (a lot more than other Indian cities) because we had an hotel just a 20 mins walk from the City Palace so it was pointless to take a taxi. Walking can be a little stressing around the frontal facade of the Hawa Mahal because it’s
ridiculously full of cars and crossing the road can be quite challenging. The trick is following the locals. They know perfectly how to sneak into the traffic and cross the street safely. The great boulevards and bazaars are mostly safe to walk but people may approach you, sometimes just to have a chat because they are curious about you, sometimes because they want to bring you to their cousin bazaar and sometimes because they are try to scam you. Therefore, if you decide to walk be always heedful and trust your instinct.
Day 1-Arriving in Jaipur via Abhaneri
If you are arriving in Jaipur from Agra by car the trip will take around 4h and it’s likely you’ll lose part of your sighting if don’t plan something to see in advance while on the road. The most popular choice (and the one repeatedly suggested by our driver until our ears were almost bleeding) is the abandoned village of Fatehpur Sikri, which is right on the main road to Jaipur. Honestly, we would love to visit it if we had more time but, instead, we opted for the less popular Abhaneri’s stepwell known as Chand Baori.
The village of Abhaneri is far from Jaipur around 95km (2h drive circa). It is definitely less touristic than Fatehpur Sikri and apart the beautiful Chand Baori and the nearby temple nothing is left of the legendary three hundred-years-old village founded by the King Raja Chand in the 9th century A.D. The Chand Baori, is one of the largest and oldest stepwells in India (the word baoli in hindi means “step”). This stepwell is descending to the bottom for about 20m and throughout more than 3,500 steps based on 13 levels. It was built in 9th century A.D. by King Chand to provide water to the village of Abhaneri (water is still visible at the bottom). Descending the stepwell is currently forbidden because the steps are very slippery and narrow and people fell down in the past. Interestingly, any tentative to corrupt the guardian to let us go to the lower level was unsuccessful.
Tip: visiting the Chand Baori is completely free! If anyone is asking you money for any reason to access the stepwell, he/she is cheating on you! If you want, you can leave an offer to the temple nearby or to the guardian, if he is so kind to take you around and tell you a bit of history of the place.
When exit the Chand Baori, don’t miss to pay a visit to the nearby temple of Harshat Mata that was built together with the stepwell by King Chand. During ancient times, before visiting the temple, people washed their hands and feet into the water of the near stepwell as a ritual. In fact, for Hindu religion, water is considered a sacred purifier from evil.
The visit to the Chand Baori and Harshat Mata temple takes around 1h / 1h and a half. If you departed at a decent time in the morning, you will likely arrive in Jaipur at early afternoon and still have some time to visit a couple of side attractions (allow also some extra time because of road traffic). Before setting in our hotel, we had the time to visit the Jal Mahal and the Patrika Gate
Visiting the Jal Mahal
In the middle of the Man Sangar Lake in Jaipur there is a beautiful palace called Jal Mahal, which literally means “Water Palace”. This palace was built in the 17th century with the purpose of being the hunting lodge of the local Raja. During that period, the water level was very low and the palace have been used as normal. Nevertheless, the construction of a dam by the King of Amer changed the sort of the palace. In fact the amount of water storage flooding into the valley caused the submersion of the palace and its condemn. What you can see today from the shores of the lake is just the last floor of this beautiful palace. There are, in fact, three others submerged floors underwater. Visiting the palace is, unfortunately, strictly off limits. Until 2015, little gondola-style boats were navigating around the palace but due to the fragility of the environment and the presence of a bird sanctuary in the terrace of the palace, any type of boat tour has been suspended. The only way to see the palace now is from the banks of the Man Sagar Lake. Without crowd, the visit will not take more than 30 mins.
The fairytale ninth gate of Jaipur
A bit far from the main Jaipur chaos, you will find the “ninth gate” to the Pink city, best known as Patrika Gate. Built just in 2009, the Patrika Gate introduces people to the largest circular garden of Asia (something you cannot certainly miss while in Jaipur!). I think this is one of my favourite place because this piece of architecture it isn’t just a gate, but it unlashes feelings belonging to a mysterious exotic past, when India was not only that beautiful chaotic country we know today, but it was forest, wilderness and timeless fairy tales. The Patrika Gate represents exactly this. A remembrance of the Rajasthan’s glorious past painted in hundreds of beautiful details in this architectural jewel. Architects defined the number 9 as the soul of the gate: nine pavilions, nine feet large etc. because the gate is known to be the ninth surrounding the city.
Tips and Scam alert: It was difficult to convince our driver to leave us at the Patrika Gate. He was insisting that there was anything to see in that side of the city (which develops the most modern part of Jaipur out of the Pink City). He defined the circular garden “just a roundabout” and I needed to be very firm on the fact I wanted to go there (yes, Indian most drivers tend to be very insisting if they think is better to go somewhere else). Visiting the gate and the adjacent garden is FREE but stay alert for scammers nearby. Thanks to instagram this place is becoming quite touristic and Indian scammers are well aware of that. I wanted just to have a picture of myself with the beautiful archways but a man was standing ALL THE TIME behind me, in every picture. This made me quite nervous. I tried to wait, I asked him kindly to move away. Nothing. I immediately found out he wanted money to stay away from my pictures. Because every nice girl with a flowing skirt wanted a picture alone there. Therefore, I let him stay and photoshopped him later (same result – no stress).
Day 2 – Exploring the Pink City
Our second day in Jaipur was packed with activities and included a full walk around the Pink City’s main attractions. My suggestion is to start early, stay hydrated and take a good lunch break to have energy for the afternoon activities.
First stop: exploring the City Palace
The City Palace is one of the main attraction of Jaipur. Ergo is crowded, very crowded. If you are spending part of your day in the Pink City, I suggest you to visit the palace before other places in order to avoid the crowd of mid-morning. The City Palace is actually a complex of buildings, pavilions and gardens belonging to the royal family of Jaipur (that still lives there). As the city of Jaipur itself, theruler of Amer, Jai Singh II who built the outer walls, initiated the palace in1729.
You can easily spend a half-day wandering around the timeless courtyards inside the palace’s eighteenth-century walls without never get tired. General entry to the City Palace costs ₹500 (£5). However, if you want to visit also the private rooms of the royal residence you have to purchase a different ticket sold at the entrance gate and costing ₹2,500 (£25). This will include a private and small tour of the Chandra Mahal done at specific times. Unfortunately, I learnt too late of this tour as I booked my tickets before but I hope to go back soon to Jaipur and visit this the royal residence. I think the City Palace is one of the most photogenic places in Jaipur, with its pink walls and incredibly beautiful decorations. One of my favourite parts was the Pritam Niwas Chowk, the inner courtyard leading to the Chandra Mahal. Here you can find four small and fully decorated gates representing four Indian divinities and their seasons. The courtyard is also known as “Courtyard of the Beloved” and it was used for dance performance seen by the royal family from the balconies of the Chandra Mahal.
Second stop: Hawa Mahal
I dreamed of visiting the Hawa Mahal for a long time and, despite is situated right on one of the most crowded streets of Jaipur, it did not disappoint at all. Many people tent to not visit its inside because believe the main facade is its best part. However, if you have the occasion go and visit, its unexpected beauty will surprise you!!
Rajput Sawai Pratap Singh built the Hawa Mahal in 1799. The shape of the facade is very peculiar because it seems was inspired by the crown of Lord Krishna. The palace is known also with the name “palace of winds” because of its 953 small windows used by the royal women to watch the life out of the palace without being noticed. The Hawa Mahal is also one of the few places to not have a front gate!
In fact, to access the palace you have to walk around for about 5 mins until finding the rear of the palace that has a much sober and less photographed gate leading to its inside. The entrance fee to the palace is just of ₹50 and you can go up untill the last floor where you can enjoy a beautiful view of Jaipur from the smallest of the terraces. If you go at mid-morning you can enjoy the sunlight entering through the colourful stain glasses of the windows and creating a magical effect.
Where to eat: lunch at Caffé Palladio
Jaipur is full of lovely places where to have lunch (including the nice café in front of the Hawa Mahal). However, since I was planning my trip to India I had in mind only one place to visit for my lunch in Jaipur, and this was Caffé Palladio (to not confuse with Bar Palladio, the “night” version of this restaurant we visited on our last day to Jaipur – see forward). As good Sicilian as I am, I could not miss the opportunity to visit this little gem situated slightly out of the Pink City. Indeed, you need just a single step inside the property to think that you are no longer in the chaotic Jaipur but in a sunny terrace somewhere in Sicily.
Indeed, Sicilian cuisine has inspired most of the dishes served at Caffé Palladio and among all the places I could imagine to eat a great home-made pasta alla norma, India was probably the last coming into my mind! Prices are also quite cheap ranging from ₹200-850 per dish. Anyway, a part from the delicious food, Caffé Palladio has an incredible interior (and exterior) design conceived by the genius of Marie-Anne Oudejeans who designed also Bar Palladio. Both places are owned by the Italian Barbara Miolini who, after having visited India for a couple of months, loved so much and decided to bring a piece of Italy in the heart of Rajasthan.
Visit at the Galta-ji Monkey Temple
After a crazy morning at the Pink City walking through the picturesque bazaars, street markets and admiring the beauty of the Rajput architecture we had a very good lunch pause away from the continuous horning in central Jaipur. Recharged by pasta and bruschette we were ready to go on the road again, this time to see the temple hidden through Jaipur’s mountains and inhabited by a colony of 5,000 monkeys: Galta-ji.
I always believed there are places that keeps a sort of timeless beauty, despite disrepair, despite human being, despite the inclemency of time. Galta-ji is one of those places. Situated at 10km far from Jaipur within a narrow crevice, Galta-ji is still site of pilgrimage for Hindu religious. Don’t be surprised to see locals bathing in one of the seven, not much clean, pools around the sixteenth-century complex. Indeed, the Hanuman temple, best known as Galta-ji or “the monkey temple” is not a single structure, but a complex of buildings stretched within a narrow mountain pass.
This mountain pass is considered a sacred location since the sixteenth century due to the natural source of water flowing into the valley and gathering into the seven pools. The biggest pool is called Galta Kund, it’s very deep and a local legend says that it never dries. Galta-ji temples are famous also for their colony of mischief monkeys. Indeed, they are famous to be naughty, especially against visitors (be warned they love so much to steal and bite!)
I found them quite unfriendly and most of the time nervous when people walked around them. I warmly suggest you to avoid touching or feeding them even if they look cute and even if some local people offers you some food to approach them in a friendly way. Indeed, there is a high risk these animals carry rabies and might scratch or bite you. Moreover, the site is still used for pilgrimage and locals go there to pray. They might approach you to give you a benediction a blessing or a forehead mark with kumkuma (the latter happen to us). Don’t be rude, you are a foreign on their sacred temple and this is a gesture of welcome and blessing for you.
How to reach Galta-ji
There are essentially two main ways to reach Galta-ji: by car or walking. If you go by car, this is a twenty minutes ride from central Jaipur. We booked a Uber straight in front Caffé Palladio and a one-way ride generally costs around ₹230-260. If you decide to go walking, be prepared for a 1h/1h and a half hike from the Pink city. Local called this the “secret passage” because it is a small scenic route through the mountains (quite steep in the last 30 mins), The route pass via the Sun Temple and then arrives to Galta-ji. I don’t know anyone who did this route and we were not equipped for a hike (plus my phone died at one point). So I can’t guarantee if it is safe or nice to do. I’m sure you can find some more info online but if you are not sure, take a taxi. There is no official entrance fee to Galta but a guardian at the entrance will ask you a ₹50 donation for the use of your camera equipment.
Ending our day at the Sisodia rani ka bagh
99% of the people I know who went to Jaipur never heard about this place and were quite shocked in seeing it was just less than 4km from Galta-ji. After our visit to the Monkey Temple, we jumped into a tuk tuk who left us at the Sisodia rani ka bag best known as “Sisodia Garden”. This is an eighteenth-century palace and garden built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in honour of his second wife, Queen Sisodia Rani. The garden represented for the Maharaja the symbol of his eternal love for the queen and it was designed entirely with the purpose of showing her this love. How romantic is this??? Sisodia was a princess from Udaipur and this luscious palace served as a peaceful retreat remembering her the beauty of her former home.
The palace is entirely painted with scenes of the Radha-Krishna love symbolising in this case the love of the Maharaja for Sisodia.
Tip: we arrived shortly after 4.30 pm and the place was immersed in a beautiful golden light. I had the impression this place was not much on the tourists radar as we were alone for more than 20 mins before another couple of tourists arrived. There is an entry fee of ₹200 that you should pay at the small door on the left of the main gate BEFORE crossing the gate itself. I tell you this because the entrance gives you the impression the place where you have to pay might be situated after the gate and the door on the left isn’t immediately visible. The garden closes at 5.00 pm in theory but the guardian is quite flexible if he see there are people around, we stayed until around 5.30. If you are going at morning, bring your own lunch because there’s nothing around for miles.
Day 3 – Wandering around the forts of Jaipur
During our last day in Jaipur we wanted to see all the beautiful forts surroundings the hills of the Rajasthan capital. I thought a lot if it was better to go with Uber or discuss a plan of the day with the hotel’s trusted driver and agree with him a price. Being our first time in that city (and in India) we were not much practical of the streets and geography of the place and after having seen the isolation around Galta-ji and considered also our short time we wouldn’t want to risk to get lost or miss a visit. If we had more time I think it would been better to split the visit at the forts in two days, leaving the visit to Amer on a single day. However, we had to plan according our short time and we departed very early with our hotel’s driver. I don’t remember exactly how much we agreed to paid for a full day driver but it wasn’t much more than £50. Our first stops were in sequence Nahargarth Fort, Jaigarh Fort and Amer Fort.
The Nahargarh Fort was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Sing II (who founded also the city of Jaipur) in 1734 as an additional residence for the royal family. The fort is connected to the other city’s fortifications (Jaigarh and Amer) throughout an incredibly scenic series of walls surrounding Jaipur’s hills.
Nahargarh is also one of the fewest Indian fortification than never been under military attack since its construction. Ergo all the walls, buildings and surroundings are practically intact since the eighteenth century suffering only the damages of time.
Among the curious facts of this place, locals believe Nahargarh is one of the seven most haunted places of Rajasthan. Apparently, the ghost of prince Singh Bhomia likes to roam in the palaces’ rooms. Unfortunately, we did not see any ghost but surely thestill fascinating beauty of the painted rooms impressed us.
If you want to have a great view on the city of Jaipur, go up to the roof. A very narrow staircase will lead you to a labyrinthine rooftop where you can witness a marvellous panorama. Be aware that walking, or even taking pictures near the roof walls is strictly forbidden. A guard yelled at me very loudly while I was taking my pictures sitting on the edge (too late anyway! Alessio already shot the photos!). However, not all the guards are so strict (I saw other people taking pictures), so you may try your luck. Moreover, unless you literally walk on the edge, there’s no danger to fall down.
The best time to visit the Nahargarh Fort is at early morning because despite the palace itself is closed (the opening time is 10:00 AM – 05:30 PM) you can wander around its beautiful walls and explore the area without rushing. Furthermore, if you have enough time there is a small water stepwell you can visit nearby the external wall belt. The access fee to the fort is of ₹50 per person to pay in cash.
Jaigarh Fort is probably the less visually appealing of the three main forts surrounding Jaipur. This because it was built in 1726 with the only scope of being a defensive structure aiming to protect the royal family living in the Amber Palace (immediately visible from the hill down Jaigarh). For this reason, the aesthetic of the structure is very simple, with a series of observation towers, a complex labyrinthine structure and just one small garden.
A legend says the fort was actually built to keep the treasures of the main palace in a safe place. The huge water tank of the fort, containing several underground levels and rooms was designed to be one of the safest places of Jaigarh. For many years this legend was believed true and the treasure considered buried somewhere in the structure. In this regard, in 1977 Indira Gandhi launched a “treasure hunt” to find it, but unfortunately no mysterious treasure was found. During our visit, I was quite disappointed to discover the nicest part of the fort, the Aaram Bagh and its garden, were not open to public. Not sure if this is a permanent closure or we were just unlucky!
Tip: the access fee to Jaigarh Fort is ₹85. However, if you have already purchased a ticket for the City Palace and used within 48h this is valid also for a free entrance to the Jaigarh Fort! Moreover, if you want to have a real adventure there are several secret passageways connecting Jaigarh to the Amber Palace. A main one is an open-air tunnel long 325 metres going straight down the hill. To access, first, you have to find it and second, if there is a guardian you might have to pay him 100 rupees to let you in! Good Luck!
The third, and probably most impressive, fort we visited was Amber (or Amer). The current fort is a massive sandstone construction that was built in the sixteenth century on the site of a former medieval fortification. It took nearly 100 years to be completed and reach the current aspect. The name “Amber” comes from the Ambikeshwar Temple situated at the top of the hill. Since the early Middle Ages the city of Amber was the capital of Rajasthan until Jaipur took his place in 1727.
The palace has six huge sections that will take a great part of your day to be explored. I had the impression that our driver suggested us the wrong thing in making us visit this place for last because when we arrived it was incredibly crowded! So crowded that we had to queue on the ramps going to the main palace in order to access. I believe also that late December is a high peak period for visitors and maybe on another time of the year the place is more enjoyable. Because of the extreme crowd, we didn’t have the chance to take good pictures but we did our best! Once you climb the main ramp to the palace, you will be welcomed by a large courtyard called Jaleb Chowk in which you will see elephants, bazaars and street vendors like you have suddenly time travelled in another era. Here is where you will find the place where you can get the tickets (we needed to ask direction because it was impossible to find with the crowd!).
The entrance fee for foreign tourists is quite expensive compared to the other forts, amounting to ₹500. Once you will there, the majestic elephants carrying tourist up and down the steep slope might immediately fascinate you. For Indian people, this is one of the most traditional experience a tourist can do but in my opinion, this is another way to get money at the damage of elephants working for hours in very poor conditions. This is a phenomenon spread all over India, not only in Rajasthan and I would like to invite you to NOT RIDE ELEPHANTS for any reason, anywhere in India or in the world where they are used as tourist attraction and kept in captivity. If you are not convinced, please give a reading to the articles of World Animal Protection and BBC and try to be a better human! If you want to have a genuine with these amazing animals while in India, go to an elephant sanctuary or a rescue centre where you can give help. I suggest you to give a look at the Wildlife SOS in Agra with a specialised elephant conservation and care centre in Mathura.
Where to eat: Bar Palladio
During our last night in Jaipur, we wanted to visit Bar Palladio, which is situated within the Narain Niwas Palace Hotel (so if your driver don’t know the location of the restaurant just give him the name of the hotel). As opposite to Caffé Palladio, which is open at lunchtime and you can just pop in and find a seat, to dine in Bar Palladio you will need a reservation. Indeed, this place is very popular (especially among tourists) and is often fully booked. There is a nice courtyard, with various private gazebos, where you can dine or you can book a table inside.
The bar is fully painted in blue peacock a distinctive sign of its identity. The menu is quite different from the day lunch and you can taste a various range of first and second courses together with amazing cocktails. For our dinner, we chose a mushroom risotto but the menu can have some other variations now.
It was a pleasant dinner and I wished to have visited this place a little earlier to have some afternoon light. Remember that Bar Palladio open at 6 pm.
We had a very great time in Jaipur. I admit that three days are quite a short time to see all the amazing things this city has to offer, but if you are a first timer in India and want to enjoy the main highlights of the golden triangle within a short period (full time workers understand!) you have to play around three/four days maximum for each place! I am definitely convinced I want to visit more of Rajasthan and hope to organise another trip soon! If you want any other info, give me a shout!
Thanks for reading!