An easy guide to Rajasthan’s pinkest city.
Today I wandered the 100 year old bazaars of Jaipur’s pink city. I stopped to chat with many people, as each day passes I come to understand more of this incredible culture.
I was surrounded by the intoxicating perfume of thousands of roses and marigolds being prepared into garlands. I stopped to check out a selection of flower oils in beautiful glass perfume decanters.
The shop owner invited me to sit and drink chai with him as an old Indian man did the rounds with an old copper tea pot. We talked of religion and India and his perfume shop, which although just a small floor space with a modest steel cabinet, has been passed down through his family for generations. The older man sitting beside was carefully lacing roses onto threads, but stopped to drink tea with us and gave me a small fragrant rose as a parting gift.
Travels through Rajasthan
Traveling India alone has been a wonderful opportunity to explore the culture and meet the local people. The Pink City of Jaipur was my first stop in Rajasthan, and provided a beautiful insight into Indian life outside of hectic Delhi. Jaipur first caught my attention in the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and has been sparkling away in the back of my imagination ever since. So with a month to enjoy Rajasthan and Northern India, it felt right that the first thing I would do is set sail toward Jaipur.
Rajasthan remains one of the most popular areas for Tourism in India, and is a key stopover on the infamous golden triangle. My travels brought me here in September – still considered the low season and the usual abundance of tourists were few and far between. In true Indian style the touts and stall owners can be relentless, but if you slip away down the side streets you will easily melt into the everyday life of the local Indians. Chai wallahs clang about their pots while others sit on the ground threading garlands of marigolds or peddling crispy hot samosas and pakoras to passers-by.
Travel Jaipur like a local
Jaipur is only 6 hours by train from Delhi, which makes it a perfectly suitable opportunity to test out the non-ac ‘sleeper’ class. Trust me, it’s not as scary as you think… you might even be delighted by it. You’ll get to meet local people and sip fragrant masala chai as the chai wallahs come down through the cabins, and watch the slums of Delhi roll away into the distance through the open windows, an experience you don’t get in the more expensive AC classes.
As an added bonus, the sleeper class ticket from Delhi to Jaipur only costs around ₹200, a total bargain for budget travelers.
Despite what the tuk-tuk drivers may say, you can get around Jaipur on the local bus. It only costs between ₹10-₹15, and even if you get completely lost or miss your stop, it is a fascinating and fun cultural experience in itself!
Try taking the number 5 bus to get directly to the Amber fort, or jump aboard the 10 to discover the marvelous city palace. Considerably cheaper (and more fun!) than a rickshaw ride, you also don’t have to worry about being taken on an expensive tiki tour of souvenier shops. You can find absolutely everything you wanted to know (and then some) about Jaipur city transport, including maps, at the City of Jaipur official website
Bazaar life in the Pink City
Wandering the bazaars is one of the true delights of visiting India. Aromatic spices mingle with the stench of sewers and sizzling street food as you narrowly dodge roaming cows and eye up glittering saris, all through the choking heat of exhaust fumes. Nothing in the world will give you such an assault on all of your senses at once, but it’s a worthy pursuit and an incredible adventure.
“Ma’am, ma’am – come quickly, visit my shop. Very good price for a very good friend. Where are you from? I have very nice trousers, just for you…” The endless promises and attention-seeking tactics are prolific in Jaipur. Perhaps not as bad as Delhi or Agra, but not too far off.
Before hitting the bazaar brush up on your bartering skills. If you’re not used to spending time in Asian bazaars, then the art of negotiation can feel a little overwhelming. As a general rule, whatever the shopkeeper is initially asking is at least twice the price you should pay. Check out Verge Magazine’s article on bartering in India for some more tips.
Most of the bazaar action happens in the pink city area of Jaipur. Head out in the evenings to see this city come alive with all of the extravagant sounds and smells you would expect from India. Jaipur is a famous place to shop for gems and textiles, but stay vigilant and don’t fall prey to any scams!
Don’t fall for it..
The tuk-tuk drivers are the main cause of traveler grief here, so it pays to be firm and clear.
A common plan is to pick up a tourist or two, then stop by en-route to a few different souviner, gemstone or textile shops where a hefty comission is recieved at the expense of the tourist.
It is also popular to tell people that their hotel of choice has had a horrible accident and been burned down, but not to fear! The helpful tuk tuk driver will actually take you some where better (That ‘somewhere’ is, of course, probably not better and most certainly a lot more expensive. The driver will of course get a comission).
During my trip through Jaipur I was never scammed by drivers. I believe the key in avoiding such troubles is to make sure:
- You have a clear understanding of where you are going, and the price it should cost
- You’ve clearly agreed on this price before getting into the tuk tuk/autorickshaw/taxi
- Do not believe anybody who tells you your destination is no longer there, burnt down or damaged
- Refuse to visit any stops along the way, and simply get out and leave if they are too pushy
- Try to flag down a driver, rather than accept one who is being pushy and trying to sell their services to you.
Accomodation in the Pink City for a Prince or a Pauper
Like many people I travel in true economy mode, opting for dorm-room hostels when I’m feeling social, and budget guesthouses when I need to bunker down and get some work done. If you’re prepared to sacrifice air conditioning, accommodation in Jaipur (like most of Rajistan) can be incredibly cheap. I stayed in both a hostel/dorm room as well as a single, private room in a guesthouse. Both were exceedingly cheap and afforded me different benefits and setbacks.
Vinayak Guesthouse: Out of the pink city but conveniently close to the train station, I spent my final days in Jaipur at this gem of a guesthouse. I was looked after like a long lost friend, the owner and staff doing everything they could to ensure I was happy and comfortable. My room was very basic and a little hot at night, but I would still consider it exceptionally good quality for such a cheaply priced room. The rooftop restaurant and chillout area was absolutely magical, the food was delicious and the staff a delight. My single room with fan and shared bathroom cost just ₹350 per night, but you can pick up private double rooms (with ensuite) for between ₹600-₹1000 per night. Check it out on Agoda here
Unlike the nearby Delhi, Agra and Ajmer, the locals of Jaipur are friendly and fascinated by western culture. You will have many people wanting to stop and speak to you and learn about your country and culture. Dinner invitations to their family home are not uncommon, and often it comes from a genuine place of hospitality and curiosity.
If you write off every conversation as a potential scam, you will miss the real gem of this fascinating city – the people. But use common sense!
Do not allow yourself to be lured away or sold things for exhorbharant prices, leave if you feel unsafe..
But, still engage in conversation and get to know the people around you. These experiences are some of the richest in the country, and you will learn so much about the local culture.
What do you think? Know a super-secret awesome spot in Jaipur? Or do you prefer another part of India? Let me know in the comments!