Food is an essential aspect of any trip that cannot be ignored. To truly taste the Rajasthani culture, one must taste its local cuisine. And to do this, my relatives and I headed to Chokhi Dhani. Chokhi Dhani means “good village” in Marwari, and true to its name, this theme-park exuded an earthy charm. The turbaned receptionist sprinkled rose-water on us, smeared a vermillion tilak on our foreheads and greeted us with “Ram Ram-sa!“
It was a chilly evening but the warmth of the locals nullified the dip in the temperature. The scene was that of a small village-fair, with kathputli (puppet) shows, music & dance performances, mehendi (traditional tattoo) tents, food-stalls that served chai and pakodis, magic-shows and a series of game-stalls where one could try one’s hand at shooting, archery and umpteen other recreational activities. There was a special dandia-floor for people with twinkle-feet who could join the dandia (a dance in which a pair of sticks are used as props) & garba dancers. Further inside, the fair unfolded into an exhibition of local arts and crafts. Tourists could browse through and buy locally sourced garments, furniture, toys, leather-goods and gift items. Chokhi Dhani offers photoshoot opportunities in the local apparel, and also elephant, camel & horse-rides! I had my first camel-ride here, and felt my heart in my mouth as I struggled to balance myself on the wobbly seat several feet above the ground.
The village-home-style dining experience was the main attraction of the night for me. We sat on flat cushions spread on the floor and were served on leaf-plates and bowls and an earthen tumbler. The men who served the dishes egged us to eat more – “Khao, khao! Aur khao! Kitne duble patle ho gaye ho!” (Eat up! Eat up! You’ve worn thin!) The food was a sumptuous Rajasthani fare of bajre-ki-roti (millet flat-bread), makke-di-roti (corn flat-bread), soybean-chat, pudina-chutney, gatte-ki-subzi (gram-flour curry), daal-baati-churma (lentils, wheat-ball roll & sweet), halwa, sarson-da-saag (mustard-leaves veggie), mithi khichdi (sweet mashed rice) and salad (mostly lettuce). And everything was smothered in desi-ghee (clarified butter). I stopped only when my stomach threatened to burst open my jacket 😛
My trip to the Pink City ended with more shopping on my last day there. And you must know that returning empty-handed from a place like Jaipur is nothing but foolishness. So I’ll save you some embarrassment with some shopping tips.
Shopping in Jaipur – What, Where & Why :-
- Colourful jootis & batuas (small handbags) from street-side shops, because of the unique designs & the slimming effect they have on the feet.
- Cotton kurtas with Rajasthani cuts and prints (especially bandhani) from the bazaars or exclusive boutiques, for the comfort they provide in the summers. The bazaar-kurtas start from as low as 80 Rupees and the shopkeepers insist the cheap ones are of excellent quality when you ask to see something more expensive! 😀
- Finished jewellery of German silver, precious and semiprecious stones, because of the workmanship of the jewellers and the intricate designs on the ornaments. Remember to collect the authenticity-certificate if you buy (semi)/precious stones.
- Soft blankets/comforters/quilts from Bapu Bazaar, because these are light, wrinkle-free, washable & the softest blankets in India.
- Wood, lac, mirror and painted-glass artefacts (pen-stands, wall-hangings, key-chains, coasters, show-pieces & even ornaments) for giveaways to your friends & family back home. Remember to pack lac-items well; they are fragile.
- Multani-mitti-pressed saree, for its soft, off-white look.
Travel-tips that others won’t share with you (specific to Jaipur):-
- Plan your heritage-site trips well and start early as most forts/palaces close for visitors by 5 or 6 in the evening.
- Elephant rides can be availed in the early mornings and late evenings only as it gets too hot for the animals to walk about in the afternoons.
- Hire a full-day cab so you can leave your shopping bags inside and travel freely.
- Wear sneakers when you hit the road. Resist the temptation to wear short flowing skirts and stilettos to sites where you’ll have to walk for miles and ascend many steps. (Just to give you an idea, it’s very hard to walk on cobbled streets even with good quality sports-shoes.) Remember: It’s always a choice between glamorous photos and memorable experiences.
- Pack some food and water for the road with you. Energy-bars go a long way in satiating a growling stomach when you can’t find a restaurant in sight – these are compact, weather-proof, & pack a punch! Remember to buy bottled water whenever you can. Once inside a fort, the vastness and the glaring sun can leave you parched in no time.
- Take a leak wherever you find a restroom, irrespective of whether you need to. (In India, you can never tell when or where the next loo will be.)
- Hire guides. They’re worth their weight in gold. They are also good photographers and excellent for you if you’re a solo-traveller, because you can’t always bug strangers (fellow tourists) to retake your pictures til they get the perfect shot.
- Carry scarves. You’ll need these both in the summers & the winters and to add a dash of colour to your outfit. (Rajasthan is so vibrant, it can make any colour look drab!)
- Don’t be shy to loosen your purse-strings a little. Every experience is worth every penny it commands.
Please share your Jaipur-experiences with me and write to me about all the things you’d like me to talk about.