Ah, Rajasthan, welcome to the “Land of the Kings”.
From desert to holy lakes to magnificent forts, one thing that’s hard for first time visitors to grasp is the sheer size of this Indian state.
Jaipur is famed for being the ‘pink city’ of India.
In 1876, the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria visited India. Since pink is the colour of hospitality, Jaipur’s Maharaja painted the whole city pink to welcome them.
With how much Jaipur pops up in the feeds of travel influencers on the gram, I’d developed a somewhat romantic vision of the city.
The reality is a dusty, noisy and crowded (even by Indian standards) place that’s used to tourists with plenty of money.
Don’t get me wrong- the sights are jaw dropping. So many times, I was actually speechless with architectural and colour details.
But, only one day in, I found myself resetting expectations.
Sights are spread out in Jaipur, which means things aren’t walkable, and traffic in the city can be intense.
Jaipur was my first city in India, so I admittedly experienced a bit of culture shock. Couple that newness with me just starting to get over Dengue Fever, and it’s not hard to see why I have mixed feelings about Jaipur.
After only a few days in the city, I was questioning if I’d made the right decision to spend 2.5 weeks in India, and found myself searching exit flights.
In the end, I decided to stick it out, and ended up loving the smaller cities of Jodphur, Jaisalmer and Amritsar.
That’s not to say Jaipur isn’t worth visiting, or that you won’t have a great time- but, the vision of Jaipur you often see on the likes of Instagram just isn’t the reality.
Part of the disconnect comes with difference in travel style- often, foreigners visiting Jaipur for holiday hire a private driver to take them around to the sights, which makes everything exponentially more enjoyable.
If you’re like me though, and traveling on a budget, navigating Jaipur can be a bit frustrating at times, but the magnificence of the sights more than makes up small mishaps along the way.
HOW TO GET THERE
I flew into Jaipur on a direct flight from Bangkok. My flight arrived late, and because my hostel didn’t offer a driver pick-up service, I had to take a taxi from the airport.
Getting a taxi is easy enough to figure out- just look for the taxi window. They prefer cash, but the ATM is located outside of the airport, which is a chaotic scene of people trying to offer rides and services.
Prices are, of course, significantly marked up. I chose to pay by card, even though there was a small fee and opted to take out cash once I’d reached the city.
The taxi ride itself was fine- we avoided traffic with my late night arrival. The only issue was that my driver stopped to eat in the middle of the ride without saying anything to me. I’ve since learned this is a pretty common behaviour, especially if there isn’t a male passenger present.
I would have preferred to use Uber or Ola from the airport, but there isn’t WiFi at the Jaipur airport, and I didn’t have an Indian SIM yet.
Alternatively, to get to Jaipur, you can take a train or bus to Jaipur from Delhi. Uber and Ola are available in the city, so you can call one of them from the train station if you have service.
And, of course, if you have the means, you can also hire a private driver to take you to Jaipur. Search online forums for recommendations or ask your origin hotel to help arrange. Be specific in that you do not want to stop at ‘tourist attractions’ (read: tourist traps). The driver should make no stops that you haven’t requested.
WHERE TO STAY
There are some seriously cool hotels, with beautiful details and Indian architecture in Jaipur.
On a budget, and with a desire to be ‘central’ to the city, I stayed at Moustache Jaipur, a hostel brand with locations across India.
Here, I had a private room with en-suite, which was fine but felt a bit dated and overpriced for what it cost.
The staff was great in helping me acquire an Indian SIM ASAP, but if I returned to Jaipur, I’d stay elsewhere.
More so than their other properties, this one has more of a party vibe, and if that’s not your thing (as it’s not mine), it can feel a bit isolating for a hostel.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
There’s no shortage of stunning attractions in Jaipur. In fact, my biggest challenge was fitting them into only 2-3 days, especially since some of them have odd operating hours, or can be closed for private events without warning.
The City Palace was established in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II.
The popular attraction is actually a complex made up of several buildings, including Chandra Mahal and Mubarak Mahal.
The palace’s history is linked with that of the city and its rulers, as the city sprang up around the complex, whose seven-story Chandra Mahal served as the home of the royal family.
Jaipur’s City Palace is beautiful. But, that beauty comes at a cost- a ticket to enter the palace runs upwards of $50.
Fear not budget backpacking friends, you can roam the palace’s courtyards for ~$9, which still feels extortionate for India, but is well worth it if you’re in the mood to see some stunning design.
Be at the palace before it opens- that way, you’ll get the best views with far fewer people than when the tour buses start showing up a half hour after opening.
If you’re only seeing the courtyard space, don’t miss the four gates- Lotus Gate (named Pritam Niwas Chowk), the Peacock Gate, Rose Gate, and Leheriya (wave) Gate.
Entry fee: Prices online vary and aren’t accurate. I recall paying ~$9 USD for access to the courtyards, and being shocked palace entry was ~+$50 USD
How to get there/back: Uber/Ola
Ah, the palace of the winds.
Would you guess this facade is composed of 950+ windows?
Built so the royal ladies, who had to observe Purdah, could see street festivities without revealing themselves. Purdah is the common practice in Hindu and Muslim religions, where women conceal themselves.
Women at Hawa lived lives of luxury, but weren’t allowed to mix with the rest of the world. Windows were specially designed so those inside could look out, but people couldn’t see in.
For the best views from the front, head to the Tattoo Cafe. There are two cafes across the street, but Tattoo has the best views (in my opinion), with a vantage point straight on.
Entrance fee: 200 rupees for foreigners to go inside
How to get there/back: Uber/Ola
Patrika Gate is the 9th city gate, and the most important, as 9 is an auspicious number.
There isn’t really anything ‘to do’ here, but the gate in and of itself is jaw dropping. Worth the trek to see the details and colours for yourself.
Entry fee: Free
How to get there: Uber/Ola
The Royal Gaitor, a former crematorium for the royals during the Kachhwara Era in the 18th Century, was one of my favourite places in Jaipur.
Nestled below the rolling hills of the Nahargarh Fort, the Royal Gaitor is a three-part complex with gorgeous, ornate buildings.
The best part?
It’s somehow quiet, even in the heart of chaotic Jaipur.
Entrance fee: 30 rupees
How to get there/back: Uber/Ola
The perfect place to watch sunset in Jaipur.
The fort was once a formidable defense ring for the city along with Jiagarh Fort and Amer Fort.
The views of the city below are spectacular, and there’s a restaurant at one end of the fort, where you can enjoy a sunset drink before heading back into the city.
On your way to the fort, don’t miss stopping at the Jal Mahal (Water Palace).
Jal Mahal was built in 1750 to serve as a duck hunting lodge for Maharaja Madho Singh I. What makes this palace so unique though is that four of its five floors are submerged beneath the surface of the lake.
You can’t go to the palace itself because it’s in the midst of a lake, but it’s a beautiful photo opportunity.
Entry fee: 200 rupees for foreigners
How to get there/back: Hire a driver – it’s far enough outside the city, you won’t be able to rely on securing Uber/Ola for a return journey
One of the most detailed and beautiful palaces you’ll see in India.
The complex is massive, it’s the kind of place where having a guide comes in handy. To give you a sense of size, the entire palace is protected by the third largest wall in the world.
There was a structure on the site from the year 967, but the palace wasn’t built until the 16th century. It was then continually improved upon during the upcoming decades.
Don’t miss: The palace of mirrors, and the rooms upstairs, coloured with vegetable dye.
And, if you’re visiting Amber Fort, don’t miss the stepwell behind the palace- Panna Meena ka Kund. Stepwells like this one were built during medieval times when collecting and storing rainwater was tricky. Locals would use them to bathe, drink and wash their clothes.
After your visit to the Amber Fort, take the back exit and follow the road down to the stepwell. You can use Google Maps but there’s a short cut down a flight of stairs near the parking lot.
Entry fee: 500 rupees for foreigners
How to get there/back: Hire a driver – it’s far enough outside the city, you won’t be able to rely on hailing Uber/Ola for a return journey
Raj Mandir Cinema: Great for seeing a Hindi Film
Samode Palace: It’d be a dream to stay at this gorgeous, intricately detailed palace turned hotel. But, seeing it was so far outside the city, it just didn’t make sense for my short trip to Jaipur. I had intended to hire a driver and visit, but when I called the palace to check they’d be open the day I’d planned on visiting, they informed me they would be closed for a private event (which happens routinely, and is never announced).
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Because I wasn’t feeling great (understatement of the year) in Jaipur, I relied on Zomato to help deliver food to my hostel while I rested after sightseeing.
A few recommendations-
- Tattoo Cafe: Good vegetarian options, great rose lassi
- Palladio Cafe: Mostly Lebanese / healthy western food. Instagram famous for its beautiful building
- Taruveda: Great panini and crepes
- OTH (On The House): European style cafe
- Niros: Delicious northern Indian eats
- Crazy Coffee: Good for a grilled toastie and fun milkshake
- Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters: Best flat white in Jaipur
- The Forresta Kitchen & Bar: Good for traditional Indian, loved their cheese naan
HOW LONG TO SPEND IN JAIPUR
I had three days in Jaipur, which I took at a very slow pace since I was getting over Dengue. So really, it felt like I only had 1.5 days based on how long it took me to get around places.
If you’re short on time, and only have a day in Jaipur, you can see a lot, but need to be prepared since things are spread out. Sightseeing in a short amount of time will be easiest if you hire a driver.
In one day, if you start early and stay out late, you could see-
- Patrika Gate
- City Palace
- Hawa Mahal (walk there from City Palace)
- Royal Gaitor
- Nahargarh Fort (for sunset)
With more time, you could see and do way more, but my point is- the sights in Jaipur are phenomenal and absolutely worth seeing, even if you’re short on time.
If you have 3-4 days, you could easily see everything I’ve detailed above, but be sure to check for potential closings at places like Samode Palace.
And, it should go without saying, but things like City Palace and Amber Fort are best experienced when crowds are lowest- when they first open, early morning.
EXTRA JAIPUR TRAVEL TIPS
Cash: Always carry rupees with you, street stalls and small businesses won’t accept card payment
Getting Around: Use rideshare apps, Uber or Ola for ease, or hail a tuk tuk but be prepared to haggle hard. Drivers are used to tourists with cash to splash in this part of India, and as such, you’ll find insane mark-up everywhere, including tuk tuk rides
Conscious Travel: Avoid single use plastic while in Jaipur, and all of India. It’s not hard to see that India has a huge plastic problem, avoid adding to it. Take your own refillable bottle, and either refill at water stations, or bring your own water purification method (such as, a LifeStraw)
When to Visit: The warm, dry winter months, from early November to February are the best time to visit. Spring/summer are unbearably hot, and early fall brings a brief, but intense monsoon season. Keep in mind winter months will be peak tourism season, and thus, prices for things will be higher than usual across fronts
Solo Female Travel Advice: Rajasthan is a relatively conservative state. It’s uncommon to see many women on the streets after dark, especially outside of the cities. I chose to mostly go out during the daytime and eat dinner at my hostel. If you want to go out, always let someone you trust know where you are going. Stick to well lit, busy areas, preferably with women or families present.
Have you ever visited Jaipur? Is it in your list of places you’d like to visit or see in India?
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