I’ve always dreamed of going to India. It’s not just the culture or what seems to be mass chaos, but the way of life that intrigues me. It’s something completely different to what I’ve known growing up in Des Moines, Iowa. When the opportunity to go to this giant, unknown territory I jumped at the chance.
Even though I do most of my travels solo-style, I felt it was best to conquer India on a tour. This would not only give my parents the ability to sleep at night, but allow me to see multiple parts of India, without compromising my safety as a single female. I found a company, TAV India and I was able to talk to the owner directly. The fact that really sold me was that this tour allowed me to not only have cultural experiences, but see five different cities through the eyes and direction of a local guide.
I landed in Jaipur, India from Dubai and I was smacked in the face with the stark differences. I stepped off the plane and instantly walked into commotion, smog, vibrant colors, and a whole lot of people shouting at each other and staring at me.
After checking into our adorable, family-owned hotel, I was quickly whisked away to conquer the beautiful Pink City. Jaipur is known as the “Pink City,” because of the beautiful architecture and eye popping structures that are different hues of pink. Back in the day, Jaipur was known to have the best architecture in the entirety of India.
You’ll notice that most tourist sites in India will have an Indian entry fee and a fee for foreigners. The foreigner fee is usually much higher, but when you do the currency conversion, you can easily make peace with it.
The Monkey Temple
There is no entrance fee, but expect to pay about Rs50 for camera fees (that’s less than $1 USD).
I met our local guide, Rajesh, who took us to our first stop – Galtaji Temple. This is an ancient holy place that was built back in the 18th century and is only 10km east of Jaipur. It’s also known as the “Monkey Temple” for the hundreds of monkeys that live here. On the way, we stopped to buy bananas to feed the them. I found out that monkeys are actually picky eaters and prefer to bananas and fruit as opposed to the peanuts you can buy at the temple.
You have to be careful of swinging your bag of bananas around and in plain sight of the monkeys. If you do, don’t expect to see that bag again. They will quickly swarm you, because they know those treats are for them. You want to try to feed the little guys, because they can jump up on you easily. The big guys are a bit more to reckon with.
Rajesh also explained to me how the monkeys are racist. They see an Indian person and don’t give them the time of day. I watched as Rajesh tried to feed one, they smelled it and jumped away, but when I held out a banana I had four or five coming my way at a snap of my fingers. Rajesh explained this was because it’s the Indian people that are pestering them, or shooing them away and they know the white people are the ones coming to feed them.
No entrance fee
After the Monkey Temple, we went to see the beautiful, white marble Birla Mandir Temple. Expect to take your shoes off when entering temples. You’re visiting a holy place and wearing your shoes is not only disrespectful to their customs, but you’re bringing dirt into God’s place.
I’ll be surprised if I make it home without any foot diseases, but when in India, do as the Indians do!
We arrived at Birla Mandir just in time to watch the sunset over the city. The temple has a number of legends, philosophers and achievers engraved throughout the building, from Christ to Socrates.
Entrance fee Rs200
Jantar Mantar is an astronomical observation place that’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The area is filled with monumental instruments that allow you to observe astronomical positions and track the stars. I was amazed by the preciseness of these giant structures and wondered the time and number of calculations it must have taken to build them.
Entrance fee Rs300
Within the core of the beautiful Pink City is the City Palace built in the 1730’s. This was once the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur and is now a museum, but parts of it are still a royal residence. The intricacy and attention to detail inside the palace is astounding. One of my favorite sites within the palace was the 4 gateways: Peacock Gate for Vishnu, Lotus Gate for Shiva, Green Gate for Ganesha, and Rose Gate for Devi.
No entrance fee, because you can’t enter.
Hawa Mahal, or the Palace of the Winds, was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh who was the ruler of Rajasthan. This entire structure is actually not a palace, but essentially a screen. It was built to allow the royal ladies to observe everyday life and festivals on the street below. It’s for “the women who can’t be seen” to see.
I recommend crossing the street and climbing the steps so you can see Hawa Mahal and absorb its architectural magnificence.
Jal Mahal, or the Water Palace, is a five-story building in the middle of Man Sagar Lake. From the naked eye, it looks like it’s only 1 story, but in fact there are actually four levels underwater. The palace lost its romance to me when I found out it was used to house the King’s mistresses. The three platforms were used for guards to make sure none of the women tried to escape. Rough life being the Maharaja’s slave.
Unfortunately, you can’t actually visit the Water Palace because it’s currently being turned into a super exclusive restaurant.
Amber Palace and Fort
Entrance Fee Rs500
Another UNESCO World Heritage site is the beautiful Amber Palace and Fort, which is one of the most visited places in Rajasthan. The architecture is a mixture of beautiful white marble and redstone. One thing I found completely jaw dropping, is that the colors and paintings that decorate the palace have never been retouched. That means that the gemstone colored paintings maintain their vibrancy since the 1550’s.
For any of you that have been to Versailles in Paris, you know that it is the largest mirrored hallway in the world. Well, if you want to visit the second largest, go to the Amber Palace.
The intricacy of the floor plan is also pretty amazing. I tried to find my way to the toilets (or maybe I should say ‘holes,’ I have perfected the art of peeing while standing up thanks to India), and almost got lost because all the tunnels, alcoves, and hidden chambers. This would be the perfect place to play hide and seek.
Note: there is actually a 2km tunnel that connect Amber Fort to Jaigarh Fort and you can still walk through it!
Jagat Shiromani Temple
One of my favorite finds, just down the road from the Amber Palace is the Jagat Shiromani Temple, dedicated to Krishna. This is one of the oldest temples in Amber town and is intricately carved. When you walk up your immediately floored by the giant steps leading you to the entrance gate. The entrance is flanked by two elephants before you go inside and wander around.
I can’t quite describe it, but after I walked through the gates I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.
Panna Meena Ka Kund
Last but not least, is the magnificent stepwell, Panna Meena Ka Kund. I learned quickly by a sharp blow of the whistle that you can only go down one step. This stepwell is eight stories deep and a combination of architecture and religious meaning. Water place a big part in Hinduism and signify the boundary between heaven and earth.
Jaipur was not only a city full of beautiful architecture, but where I was able to celebrate the festival of colors, or Holi. Next stop: Pushkar, India.