Friday, March 1, 2024

Jaipur, India


We were on our way to a wedding in Pushkar, a few hours away from India. The nearest airport was Jaipur, so we took the opportunity to spend two days in Jaipur before heading out to the wedding.

What we planned?

Here is the itinerary we had planned for our two days in Jaipur with a kids. Keep in mind, we were short on time and wanted to keep it easy. Details below in 'What to See?'
Day1: Arrive in the afternoon. Jantar Mantar, City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Bapu Bazaar for shopping
Day2: Amber Fort, Jal Mahal, Birla Temple, Meet Friends

What we skipped?

As we were short on time, we skipped the following from our planning, but would have added if we had more time:
Ranthambore/Sariska Tiger Reserve - This requires a full day or two and needs to be reserved in advance. 
Elephant Sanctuary - Feedback from friends was that it is unnecessarily expensive and not as much fun for kids. 
Jaigarh Fort, Nalagarh Fort - We had planned to see only one fort, so we skipped the other two. However, we were told that Nalagrah Fort was solely for the queens and is quite pretty and well maintained. 
Patrika Gate - Supposed to be a very picturesque place, close to the airports. It is supposed to the most 'Instagrammable' spot. 
Panna Meena ka Kund - Just something I wanted to visit looking at the pictures. I hear there are many more 'step wells' in Rajasthan. Geometric staircases make for very good pictures!

When to go?

Umaid Bhawan

Weather will be critical. Jaipur is extremely hot in summers. Winters are cool and pleasant. We were there in February end, which is beginning of summer season and it was just bearable. In fact we preferred spending our afternoons in the hotel to beat the heat! Start early morning for good weather and to avoid crowds. 

Where to Stay?

We stayed at Umaid Bhawan. And that was the highlight of our trip. I cannot recommend it more! It is a beautiful boutique hotel with beautiful rooms. The roof is also hand painted. It is exquisite! The staff couldn't be nicer. This is by far the best hotel I have stayed in. They have a terrace where they serve lunch and dinner. Breakfast is served in another lounge and it is so pretty. There is a swimming pool too. Room service, of course. So, I totally enjoyed drinking my tea in the balcony of my beautiful room. 

They even had folk dance every evening for entertainment while you had dinner. Great service, great facilities. Neat and clean. Centrally located. 

How to Get Around?

Well, Uber can be tricky. It is a hit or a miss. Sometimes, the traffic is so much that they just cancel your request. So if you are on a schedule, it may make sense to just hire a taxi for the day. There are good, air conditioned taxis available with knowledgeable and courteous guides. Your hotels can help you get one. Just plan your itinerary looking at the map and being mindful of the rush hour traffic, which is most likely all-hour traffic.  We also Uber'd autorickshaw a couple of times as our daughter was super excited to sit in one. 

Amber Palace
What to see?

Amber Palace - You got to see a palace!duh! We chose the Amber Fort as it was the most popular one. Once we reached the Fort, we simply asked our driver to park in the parking area. It was too crowded and finding parking looked like a nightmare. To go up the hill from the parking lot to the Palace, you can either hike, or get an elephant ride, or take the EV vehicle. We decided to take the EV, it was a very nominal fare for the ride. Once we were at the entrance, we just hired a guide. He bought the tickets for us and we skipped the queue. The ones who are approved, usually wear a badge. We told him our time constraints and our interests. He took us around the palace in about an hour. Took our pictures too.

While going uphill in the EV, my phone fell from my lap on to the road. And there was an elephant going uphill as well, the driver managed to get down and grab the phone before the elephant stomped on my phone and precious pictures!

Sheesh Mahal is absolutely beautiful. The best part of the tour. There are roadside vendors sitting at the exit where you buy souvenirs. There is a government approved showroom behind the palace for Jaipur style textiles, jewelry and souvenirs, which we chose to skip.  

Jal Mahal
Jal Mahal - Half submerged palace. It makes for beautiful pictures and is indeed very pretty. I found it very serene to look at. There isn't much to do. No tours or anything. So it is just a stop over on your way to or from Amber Palace.

Jantar Mantar- We found this absolutely fascinating. I had no idea that it was an astronomical structure(s). I was very pleasantly surprised to learn more about it. The angles  are based on various constellations and shadows of the sun. There is a 15 minute documentary that talks in detail about these structures with visuals and full explanation that runs continuously in a room at the far end of the complex. It is worthwhile watching that and understanding the structures you are looking at. 

I got in the queue of International Tourists for tickets in all my honesty, and not because the queue was short. But the clerk insisted that I buy Indian National tickets and despite me asking him to give me International Tourist tickets, gave me local national tickets! 🙈

Hawa Mahal - It is beautiful and I just kept taking pictures and editing them to remove the vehicles, wires, people, etc. There are a few spots/ cafeteria, which are right across Hawa Mahal and make for good pictures. Just stepping into those cafeterias is paid as they are now very popular spots for pictures. Shopping here by roadside would be cheap and need a lot of haggling if you are up for it. 

Jantar Mantar

City Palace - It is right next to Hawa Mahal and Jantar Mantar. It is currently in use and only a part of it is open for public. We skipped it as we were done for the day, the heat got to us and just wanted to get to our lovely hotel.

Shopping - Roadside, by Hawa Mahal is the best place to shop as it is right there. But if you are looking for something particular, like clothes, or Jewelry, then it makes sense to google, or ask your concierge for the best places to shop for them. Otherwise, Bapu Bazaar and Johri Bazaar are your best bets for shopping. We didn't intend to shop this time so we skipped these, but I have been to these area on our previous trips with family. The pink shops with uniform headers painted across them are what give Jaipur the name of  'Pink City'

Birla Temple - Its a beautiful marble temple created by the Birla family. They have very strict hours, so make sure you check them before you go. This temple is on the outskirts of the city, or well, not in city center. So if you are planning to go here, make sure you make note of the times. For us, when we had planned to go, we realized it was closed and hence had to divert to go back to our hotel. 

Other tips and tricks:
Amber Palace

  • Hire a cab. Autos in the heat are a no-no
  • Go early, beat the crowds. Split your day into two. Tour early morning. And take rest in the afternoon. And get our early evening again.
  • Hire a guide!
  • Be vary of monkeys. They are trained well to snatch everything and anything
  • Pay for parking if you have to.
  • Buy tickets from the International Tourists line. They are short.
  • You will spend a lot of time in traffic. So plan well.
  • Restaurants take time to get your food.