Perhaps the best decision we made while traveling was to hire a driver for the day in Jaipur. I had thought Jaipur would be a beautiful, colorful city to get lost in, but Rajasthan’s capital is not the kind of place you walk around. It’s dusty, congested and the city itself is not all that pretty. Hiring a driver for the day is cheap — we paid 550 rupees for a rickshaw — and an excellent way to see the highlights. And though we’re not the “highlights” kind of travelers, we loved this method because it meant seeing a lot of one place without India’s characteristic hassling and touts.
With our driver Yusuf. Yes, he took us to his friends’ shops, but we made it clear that we also wanted to see stores we chose ourselves. As it turns out, his stores were better anyway. We loved him because when we’d be in one of his selected shops and ask him if he got a commission, he said, “Ya, of course!” Loved the honesty.
Here’s what else we loved and why.
5. The Monkey Temple. Our travels through Asia have given me a particular fondness for elephants, camels and monkeys, and atop this Surya temple in the city lay a gang of macaques who hold court over the city. The temple is so-so, but watching the monkeys is worth the hike up the mountain, and the views at sunset are particularly good. But keep in mind that the monkeys can get vicious, as the temple lady told me.
4. A movie at Raj Mandir. Lonely Planet describes this theater as the place to see Bollywood in India, and though I’m generally wary of such singular statements by a guidebook everyone and their mother uses, they’re right. The old theater is an institution, a big frosty pink palace where seeing a bad Bollywood flick is a major theatrical event — for 80 rupees a ticket. What a perfect place for Eaman’s first one! We saw an afternoon showing of the uber-crappy Kareena Kapoor movie Heroine and though the script was painful, the atmosphere in the audience was awesome. People were shouting at the screen, snickering, cat-calling, you name it. (p.s. No subtitles!)
Where are the women? It’s a question I ask myself quite often in India.
Samosa break during intermission.
3. The shopping. I think Eaman said it best: “Let’s just go shopping.” It was right after we passed a few eye-catching shops from our rickshaw. We liked what we saw, and so we immediately asked our driver to take us shopping. I had my clothing fix in Bangalore, but I happily shopped around for jewelry and both of us for handicrafts. Everything we saw was so impressive — the colors electric and the sequins more sparkly than I had ever seen. I had fantasies about Jaipur clothes and jewelry, and they all came true. Shout out to Marwar Handicrafts for their cheap but quality jewelry selection.
2. Our hotel. Why would a hotel be on this list you ask? Well maybe because Hotel Anuraag Villas was the best, most professional, most comfortable stay we had in all of India. The staff went above and beyond to help us, whether it meant booking bus tickets or hiring reliable rickshaws. For 790 rupees/night, we got HUGE rooms, a lovely garden frequented by peacocks, affordable meals at their restaurant (not a ton of food options by any of the good hotels). And when we came back from Nawalgarh, a small town outside Jaipur, and had a few hours to kill before our train to Agra, we headed to Anuraag Villas. “Don’t feel the need to ask,” the receptionist said when I asked him if we could hang out for a bit. “This is like your home.”
1. Amber Fort. Unbelievably beautiful, eerily quiet and so, so photogenic come to mind when reminiscing about Amber Fort, a sand-colored, mammoth-sized fort outside of Jaipur in the town of Amber. As we pulled into the driveway of the Fort, our eyes bugged out. It’s hard to be impressed after a year of traveling, but this, my friends, was definitely impressive. We spent 3 hours there but could’ve easily spent a whole day. Also worth noting is that the handicraft shops and stalls by the exit are great. It was our first stop in Jaipur, so we didn’t want to make hasty purchases, but as it turns out, the prices were decent and selection was the best. Wish we could’ve gone back!
Didn’t feel right that tourists can ride elephants to the top of the fort. Sure, it’s not allowed after 11 a.m. once it’s too hot, but they looked exhausted even before then. And I sincerely hope that paint was natural.
Sheesh Mahal, Hall of Mirrors.
*We didn’t have time for Hawa Mahal, and as for the City Palace, once you’ve seen Amber Fort, it pales in comparison. It may not make our top 5, but it is still very pretty.