When you hear India the most common things that come to mind are curry, Gandhi, and the Taj Mahal. And yes, as these are very much synonymous with India, theres so much more color and history to this enormous growing country. It is the second most populated country in the world, and you definitely feel the density while traveling the larger cities here. Literally every single time we were on the road, my mind could not comprehend how none of the cars, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, people, cows, and food carts collided! I guess there was a method to the mania that I was not privy to LOL.
Some things to know about traveling India.
December is actually cold in India. For some reason I had thought India was always warm. Mornings and Nights will require a heavy jacket/coat. Pants are recommended. Day time is moderate and can feel hot when in direct sunlight. Always check the weather of where you a traveling to and pack accordingly!
Air Pollution is bad. Worse than I ever imagined. Might want to invest in a good anti air pollution mask. Otherwise tough it out like I did. Remember to breathe through your nose as it is the first way to filter that air to your lungs. & clean your snot and cough up all the flem as often as you can.
Christmas is celebrated throughout India, mostly for tourists and locals to have time off. Surprisingly the number of tourists we saw versus locals at major tourist attractions were heavily out weighed by the locals. You will quickly learn that being a foreigner is like being a celebrity, everyone wants a picture. Be respectful and indulge them with a few, and kindly decline when it starts to get overwhelming.
JAIPUR is most famously known as the pink city. The whole entire city was built upon red and pink sandstone to create terracotta-like structures. In 1876, Maharaja Ram Singh had the whole city painted pink to show his hospitality and welcome their guests, the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria on their visit to India.
We flew business class on China Eastern (a member of SkyTeam) from Okinawa to Shanghai and had a long overnight layover which gave us time to explore the city! BUT thats for a later post! From Shanghai we flew into New Delhi and from there we flew into Jaipur. Plan to lose about a day or two on the front end of your trip if you are traveling from Okinawa to Delhi.
*Side note: Having never ridden anything above comfort plus as an adult, it sure was a treat to be pampered and doted on during our flights! AND A BIG PLUS to be able to lay down fully during the longer flights. Check out China Eastern on your next holiday as their business/first class is very affordable!*
Hotel We chose to stay at the Jaipur Marriott Hotel as we are part of the members program. If you are not already, looks into joining a hotel group program to gain points and perks and even free nights of stay! The hotel was very neat, hospitable, roomy, inviting, and had great food offerings plus all the amenities.
DAY 1 - Amer Fort / Amber Palace / Panna Meena Ka Kund
We headed out from the hotel around 11am but traffic was so terrible heading up to Amer. It took us nearly 3 hrs to get to the floating palace. Which by that point I was a little defeated. We quickly snapped a few photos of the floating palace, which in my opinion was more of a tourist trap than attraction. We grabbed a cab and went on to Amer Fort. For those of you who are confused, there are lots of names out there referring to the fort & palace (ie. Amer Fort, Amer Palace, Amber Fort, Amber Palace) These are all the same place. Amer Fort describes the entirety of the property, and within the fort lies Amber Palace.
The fort is massive and quite the architectural feat for its time. Once you cross over the mote and walk upwards to the entrance you will see beautiful gardens, archway pavillions, and incredibly detailed and intricate designs. If you are trying to capture photos with less people, I definitely recommend going as soon as they open. Midday to late afternoon was extremely crowded.
From the fort we entered “Panna Meena Ka Kund” into our google maps and followed the walking directions. It definitely led us down some sketchy alleyways but all the locals are indifferent or friendly. It was about a 20 minute walk from the fort to the water reservoir. When you get there you will see it is guarded by government sanctioned guards, and no one is allowed to go down the steps. BUT I was able to take a photo inside the reservoir. A little sweet talk and some incentive never hurt anyone. *hint hint cough cough*
The sun was starting to set and we headed back to the main Amer Fort area to snap some photos of the pigeons flying over and around the mote. Beware there are a lot of them! But they are beautiful!
We headed back into the city center of Jaipur, where we decided to stop at the Wind View Cafe across from Hawa Mahal for some awesome blue hour scenes. Another cafe just a floor above is called the Tattoo cafe, both which provide a great vantage point of Hawa Mahal and refreshments!
DAY 2 Patrika Gate / Monkey Palace / Elephant Park / Albert Hall Museum
To our surprise, Jawahar Circle was an easy 5 minute walk from the Jaipur Marriott Hotel. We went out for sunrise, and many locals were out getting in their morning runs. But other than that there weren’t really many tourist around. Enclosed within Jawahar Circle is Jawahar Gardens and park. The Patrika gate is the auspicious ninth gate of Jaipur. In many other parts of the city you will see this reoccurring pattern of the number 9 incorporated into just about every part of the city plan! For instance the Patrika Gate has 9 archways that are 9 ft tall, 27 ft wide, and the whole structure measures to be 81 ft wide x 108 ft tall all multiples of 9. The mathematician inside of me took pleasure in the perfectly mathematical reasoning of the structures haha!
Galta Ji also known as the monkey temple is a scared area in the mountains where natural spring waters flow, and thus have attracted the monkeys to settle in this location. People flock to bathe in these pious waters and there are also religious ceremonies that take place daily. The monkeys are friendly and will take food from your hand. They are not vicious, although the mama monkeys are protective of their young ones so don’t get too close if they start showing their teeth and hiss.
At the top you can enter the temple where the priest will bless you. This experience was actually very spiritually meaningful for me. Just the fact that even beyond our own personal religious standings, we can reach out and speak our truths to move others. This in itself was powerful and left a lasting impression on me.
We added in a visit to the Elephant Safari because who doesn’t want to see elephants! This was quite a different experience than the one I had while in Chiang Mai. The safari allows you to ride, bathe, and paint these gentle giants. We opted to ride the elephants bare back which is the most natural way to ride them. It was uncomfortable to say the least. They seamed very ethical in the treatment of the elephants, but you can never be 100% sure behind closed doors. In comparison to the elephant sanctuary in Thailand, I would choose the sanctuary over the safari. Unfortunately I would not recommend the safari to any visitors. If you would like to see elephants I would recommend seeing the ones at Amber Palace.
Albert Hall Museum is famous for its Indo-Saracenic style of architecture and being the oldest museum in the state of Rajasthan. It is beautiful for sunset and at night the building lights up with fun colors.
DAY 3 Jaipur City Palace / Caffe Pallido
The city palace is boasting with color and culture and is located in the heart of Jaipur. This tourist attraction was definitely on the top of our list to see as it produces such beautiful photos, and is a feast for your eyes! The guided tour is a must for this palace as it includes secret chambers and pavilions where general admission is not allowed (for instance the blue room). It also offers you many vantage points of the city and palace.
Caffe Pallido is a unique spot in Jaipur that you would never had known exists! Just off a busy highway the entrance is obscure. Now made popular by bloggers and instagrammers alike, it was a great spot to check out. Serving up Indian influenced Sicilian fare, it was a nice retreat from the bustling streets of Jaipur. And might I add, just beautiful interior design you can rest your soul with.
DAY 4 Leopard Safari / Shopping Bapu Bazaar / Virasat Restaurant
Jhalana Leopard Safari looked like a lot of fun. If you can’t tell by now, we love animals! We booked via WhatsApp for the morning safari in hopes to spot some leopards as they wake. They offered pick up service from the hotel and it was about a 15 minute ride to the reserve. Do be warned, it was freezing the whole time we were there from 6am-10am and we were not dressed appropriately. My whole body just about went numb. Just know that it is a valley and stays in the shadows until the sun reaches its peak probably by noon. We drove around for hours and disappointingly we did not see any leopards, however we did catch some of their fresh tracks. Instead we got to see a whole lot of antelope, deer, wild birds, and monkeys pounce from trees so it was well worth it still.
After the safari we headed back to the hotel to thaw out for a bit. We decided to go to Bapu Bazaar which is right next to Hawa Mahal. It is overflowing with textiles, trinkets, and wonderful knick knacks. We had a blast getting lost in alleyways and window shopping. The options were endless!
Next we went to the most extravagant royal restaurant in all of Jaipur, Visirat Restaurant. They specialize in royal Thali cuisine. Thali is a style of Indian cuisine that serves an array of dishes served on a platter. Once you enter they do a special ceremony where you get to be crowned and treated like real Indian Royalty! They have live entertainment from sitar players to Indian belly dancers and head balancing acts. It was a night to remember! Oh and the food was delicious of course! They offer unlimited refills of any of the choices brought to you which is always a plus for hungry travelers.
DAY 5 Travel Day to Agra
We had arranged for a driver to take us to Agra. It is about a 4-5 hr drive from Jaipur, and you have to factor in stops (bathroom breaks, state line road tax, tolls etc).
Hotel The hotel we chose to stay in Agra is the ITC Mughal which is also part of the Marriott rewards program. It was in a prime location on a main road, and it is a reclaimed palace made into hotel. This hotel has lush gardens, a pool area, and stunning mughal architectural design.
DAY 6 Taj Mahal / Itmad-ud-Daula / Agra Fort / Sunset Riverboat
We set our alarms and woke up around 5am to get ready and go to the Taj Mahal. The ticket office opens 1 hour before sunrise and closes 30 minutes before sunset. I definitely recommend going as early as possible, because there is even a line to get in through the gate. We did our research and all other sources say the eastern gate is the least busiest so we went through that gate. Once they open the gate you go through security and walk down to the main entrance of the Taj Mahal. We also opted for a guide to help us find the most uncrowded spots first, well worth the money!
The Taj Mahal was truly a life changing experience. It is incredible to be in the presence of greatness. The Taj was built by Shah Jahan to eternalize his love for his late wife Mumtaz. Now his love stands here for the whole world to marvel and honor. How painfully romantic!
The tomb of Itmad-ud-Daula has various nicknames such as “Baby Taj” and “Jewel Box” . It is said to have been the draft of the Taj Mahal. Its bold and intricate designs sure draw your attention and make for a great photo op.
Agra Fort is another massive and impressive fort in India. It is built from red sandstone and marble. There are countless number of courtyards and passageways that it almost felt like a maze. We went late afternoon and of course it was crowded. This fort by far had the pushiest guides asking multiple times even after politely saying no thank you!
River boat ride behind the Taj Mahal for sunset was probably the best decision of our trip. We came through the west gate of the Taj Mahal this time and walked down the neighborhood road towards the river not knowing what we would find. We reached the river and there were afternoon prayers going on that filled the air with chants and bells. Off in the distance we saw a single row boat already out on the river. We asked some policemen if they knew how to catch a ride on the boat, they just pointed towards an old shanty run down house down the way. We walked over and was approached by a man who told us the rides go in increments of 15 minutes. So we waited until he came back to shore and hopped on.
It was quite incredible to see that masses had formed for sunset in the Taj Mahal and directly across the river bank at a place called Mehtab Bagh. It blew my mind that we were the only ones on the river at this time. No amount of money can replace this kind of experience. It was so beautiful and serene.
DAY 7 Travel day to New Delhi
Like all good things, this trip too had come to an end. We used the same driver from Jaipur to get us back to Delhi. We had planned to visit a few spots in Delhi before our flight but after going to the Lotus temple and missing the closing time we decided it be best to head to the airport early. Sometimes trips don’t always go the way you plan so just have an open mind and be flexible. Life will work itself out! And for us, we got to experience so much of India already, I wasn’t going to let not seeing one more place bring me down from all the highs of this trip.
India packed a punch of flavor, culture, and life. We met so many sweet people along the way. This trip will be unforgettable!