After traveling India just six months ago, something about the chaotic beautiful land was calling us back. There are a dozen SE Asia countries on our bucket list, but we felt this unexplainable need in our hearts to come back to India. Last time we only traveled north India over the span of seven weeks. We've heard incredible things about south India, so despite the arrival of monsoon season in mid May, we found ourselves on a flight from Cambodia. Our plan was to spend a few weeks in Rajasthan to revisit some of our favorite locations before flying south. However, for multiple reasons, days before we planned to fly to Kerala, we decided to skip south India. But that's a story for another day.
Daniel swore he'd never visit Delhi again, so we opted to bypass the smog and fly directly to the pink city of Jaipur. We will admit that India feels like a different place this time around. Not only is it quieter in terms of traffic and travelers, but the locals have mellowed out as well. We aren't getting spoken to every five seconds or asked where we are going or asked to be in 10 million selfies a day. We immediately felt so confused! What has happened? After speaking to some locals, they said that India calms down during the hot months. People hide inside more and become a bit more reserved. One local even reported that Indians stay inside, eat mangos, and chill. While it's still a busy place, this different vibe sure does make the day-to-day a bit simpler for us.
Below is our short guide to visiting Jaipur. There really is so much to see in the pink city and we've only scratched the surface after spending over two weeks here!
Where To Stay
Dera Mandawa - Located a quick 15 minute walk from City Palace and the Hawa Mahal is a heritage property that feels like it's meant for royalty. Although on a busy street, after walking through the front gate, the property feels like a quiet oasis. The buildings were built in the 1885 by Mr. Singh's (the current owner) great-grandfather.
After entering the gate past the old car parked out front, being the plant lover I am, the first thing I noticed was a giant bougainvillea tunnel of pink and white. This tunnel led to a secluded courtyard filled with lounge chairs, beautiful dinner tables, and strung twinkle lights. We were told a bit about the history of the property and then escorted to our room. Our room was WOW! It was a classic Indian room with a mezzanine above the bed. This was so different than any places we'd previously stayed in India. We could feel the years of love that the Singh's have put into this property. That night, the second I ended my last online English lesson, loud drumming and chanting began. As we stepped out our door, we saw that there was a traditional Rajasthani puppet show beginning! Afterwards, we were treated to a cooking demonstration and a candlelit dinner of thali under the stars. What a warm welcome to India!
Besides the attentive staff and old world charm, perhaps our favorite thing about Dera Mandawa is their eco-friendly mindset. They collect rainwater, use solar power, and utilize biogas for cooking fuel. It was obvious to us that they're working hard to propel India forward on their environmental efforts. One night while talking to the owner, he expressed his concern for India being so far behind in this regard. The hotel is excelling at combining traditional history with modern technology.
Within the next year, Mr. and Mrs. Singh's daughter Smriti will be opening up a camel experience at their family farm two hours outside of Jaipur. We were given some insider scoop and this camp sounds amazing! The guests will have the opportunity to give the camels haircuts, laugh at them awkwardly rolling in the dirt, and sleep in a beautiful colorful tent under the desert stars. Oh, and there is talk of a stairwell swimming pool! We may have to return to Jaipur for a third time just to spend a few nights at the camp.
Moustache Jaipur - We stayed at Moustache back in September 2017 and loved it! Moustache offers comfortable private rooms perfect for couples or dorm beds. The community atmosphere and rooftop restaurant make this a great option. Also, the interior walls are stuccoed with moon-shaped mirrors and I'm completely obsessed with them!
What To Do
Amer Fort - Also called Amber Fort, this gigantic architectural masterpiece sits on a mountaintop just outside of Jaipur. We had to visit once again because we loved wandering around the first time. We woke up early and arrived at the fort entrance right at 8:00 AM just as they were opening (highly recommended). For a half hour, we were the only ones inside of the fort other than a hoard of security guards. The pesky guards wouldn't let us take a picture with our tripod even though we were the only ones there. We were done with the fort and leaving just as the sun started beaming down and tour groups were piling in. Perfect timing!
A word of caution: the guards will offer to take your picture and show you "secret" parts of the fort. This seems great until they end when they demand more than a few rupees.
Hawa Mahal - This is a must-see pink palace in the heart of the old city. Known as the Palace of the Winds, this structure has 953 small windows that create a natural cross breeze that provides some relief during the scorching temperatures. The original intent of the windows was to allow royal women to spy on everyday life in the streets below without being seen. There used to be a strict rule forbidding women from appearing in public without their faces covered.
Patrika Gate - On the way to our hotel from the airport, we drove past this masterpiece with our jaws dropped. We returned a couple of days later to get a closer look. The gate is hand-painted with colorful murals of famous palaces all over Rajasthan. Absolutely amazing! Once again, we fought a security guard who wasn't happy with our tripod (or he wanted money), but we talked him into letting us get a shot after all.
Royal Gaitor - This is a quiet, well-kept park filled with mausoleums of Jaipur's ruling family. There was no one there when we went and it only cost us 30 rupees (about 45 cents) to enter. A great find if you need a moment of peace in the city!
Sunset Spot - Directly to the right of Royal Gaitor is a steep staircase heading up the mountainside. The whole staircase is lined with the iconic arched walls Jaipur is famous for. We had originally planned to return to Nahargarh Fort for sunset -- until we spotted this wall! This sunset location was free, we were virtually alone, and we could climb on the walls without getting yelled at by security. Have you noticed that Jaipur has a lot of security guards? Also, we saved a lot of money not having to take a tuk tuk or Uber up to or down from the fort. However, we recommend having a ride waiting for you after the sunset. Once we climbed down, there weren't any tuk tuk's to be found. We started walking back into town through small side streets. A man pulled up besides us in his car and told us to "get in!" We found out he was a police inspector on his way home from work and told us we were walking through the unsafe slums of Jaipur.
Where To Eat
The Peacock Rooftop Restaurant - Daniel and I haven't had the best luck with food in Jaipur. There are so many restaurants but they are either expensive or have mediocre food. The Peacock is by far the best restaurant in town! They have traditional Rajasthani live music each night, twinkle lights, incredible pasta, great prices, and quirky decor. We would've eaten here every night if our hotel would've been closer. You can't miss this gem!
Thanks for following along! Our next stop is the blue city of Jodhpur.
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