Eating, Shopping & Staying Smart in Jaipur


This is the concluding post of the Jaipur-series. You can read about my trip to Jaigarh and Amber also.

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 jootisbatuas (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.

Beyond Jaipur – Jaigarh & Amer


After an eventful first day in Jaipur, I was all set to explore the outskirts. Day-2 was going to be a big one, and I packed a lot of munchies in my handbag to keep me fuelled for the long walks that the enormous palaces would demand. I remembered to wear my new dangler-earrings that I’d bought the previous day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The now familiar sights passed me by as we drove past Hawa Mahal and Jal Mahal. Then the scene began to change and I reached Kanak Vrindavan, a beautiful garden at the valley of the Nahargarh Hills. This garden has an elevated stage to the immediate right of the entrance, where tourists have the opportunity to dress up in the full Rajasthani attire of lehenga-choli (ankle-length skirt & blouse) and a veil that rests on a cone on the head. I strongly recommend every visitor to get their pictures taken in the traditional Rajasthani get-up right after entering the garden. That way, you can bide your time by strolling through the garden while your photo develops. Here, you will also find trinket-sellers you can buy mementos from. I couldn’t resist the urge to buy some key-chains, bangles, earrings and necklaces.

The ride ahead was uphill as we rose over the Aravali mountain range. After an hour-long drive, I reached Jaigarh Fort that was built to protect the Amber Fort. By then, it was lunchtime and I was beginning to feel hungry (despite the incessant munching on chocolate-filled cookies all through the ride). But Jaigarh knew how to trick my mind – the parking area was right next to the National Handloom Expo shamiana! My hunger for food vanished into thin air as my hunger for shopping surfaced. Jaipur is famous for its many precious and semiprecious stone-jewellery. Mirror-studded wall-hangings and pen-stands carved in wood make for good gift-items. I spent 45 minutes roaming through the expo area and brought back a pair of bright coloured Rajasthani jootis, a set of coasters with traditional Rajasthani glass-paintings, some ornaments and a silk-blend saree for my mum, which had been softened by placing it flat under a layer of Multani mud (commonly used for facials).

After my mini shopping spree, I walked into the restaurant next door and ordered a biriyani with vegetable koftas. Eating solo can be boring, but not if you are a good observer and silent listener, which I am. I watched as a couple of foreign tourists pored over the menu and summoned the waiter. I expected a difficult conversation full of broken English & Hindi, but was pleasantly amused when the male diner ordered for a plate of butter chicken and a few naans in fluent Hindi and also added his dietary preference for good measure.

I began touring the Jaigarh Palace complex by walking up to the enclosure that guarded Jaivan, the colossal cannon on wheels. The guide informed me about its claim-to-fame and helped take some pictures of me. Once inside the Jaigarh Palace, I took another guide to hear the stories of the olden times as I sauntered through all the courtyards and gardens and also saw a puppet-show. There is an underground passage that connects the Jaigarh Fort to the Amer Fort, but it takes an hour on foot to reach the entry-point to that subterranean tunnel. The only other way to get there was to take an electric car on hire, which I did. The buggy-driver, who also was my next guide, drove slowly and carefully down the cobblestoned slopes as he told me about the centuries old history of the tunnel which incidentally had been opened to tourists only a month before. My real task began once I reached the passage. It was well-lit at first as I was walking through a roofless stretch, but the tunnel got dark an narrow when I went further inside. Many explorers who were returning said that it gets very scary with hardly any lights and none that I met had actually finished the stretch. My guide had told me I had 40 minutes to navigate through the tunnel and get back before the buggy-service stopped. I stepped up my speed and the tunnel got lonelier as the screeching of bats echoed off the walls. I felt unsure about my decision to continue despite my boldness when I saw a group of strong young men return without going any further than I had. If I carried on, I’d be all alone in a deserted tunnel. I thought hard and let safety score over spunk. I jogged back to my buggy and a smiling driver-cum-guide.

I took my cousin’s car to the Amer Fort and Palace area as the tunnel-route yielded me no joy. I looked in wonder at the reflection of the Amber Fort on the Maota Lake. I only had 30 minutes before the complex would close for sight seeing, I read from my ticket and looked sad. This is when one of the guides said he would work his contacts and get me to stay for an hour. I was skeptic due to the high price that he quoted and decided to walk it alone. But he followed me and warned that it would take me atleast 2 hours to fully see the palace and I would not learn of the significance of any room I saw. I resigned and let him lead the way. I was glad I did that! The entire premise is expansive and extremely beautiful, and only a seasoned tour-guide can show you around all the places and tell you all the stories. He took me through the courtyards, the offices, the cooking-area, the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors) that has mirrors from Italy and coloured glass from Belgium, the underground living quarters of all the queens and the kitchen garden. It took us an entire hour even with my speed! The guide said it was a good idea for me to wear sneakers as we were able to run around, unlike other people who turned up in fancy shoes. He was a fantastic guide who did a fast-forward version of the storytelling (on my insistence) he’d normally reserve for regular tourists. He went on to advise me against travelling alone (I always take these pieces of advice with a pinch of salt 😉 ).

Coming up Next >>

  • Chokhi Dhani
  • Shopping in Jaipur – What, Where & Why
  • Travel-Tips that Nobody Gives You

Jaipur – In the Pink of its Health


Jaipur was snap decision I made in the month of November last year that cost me twice the regular airfare (and now that I think of it, could have afforded me a foreign trip to a nearby island). But the ‘Pink City’, as it’s commonly known, was worth every Rupee spent (referring to a time when the Indian currency was not so undervalued). This was essentially a solo-trip (if you discount the fact that I stayed the nights at my cousin’s house), thanks to relatives who’re too busy to take leave from work to be with you, but generous enough to give you the spare car with a driver to show you around. And this setup worked wonderfully as I could pace my entire trip my way and cover almost everything in 4 days.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Jaipur welcomed me at night with winds that were just starting to freeze… winds that would require me to layer-up but not shrivel up (that they do when winter completely sets in). I looked out of the window on my way to my cousin’s place and gazed in wonder at the empty streets (9 PM is when people in my city step out to eat/shop/party) that were narrow but clean. And then I saw that rare vision of a man in a white cotton dhoti-kurta and a multicoloured pagdi (visible from under his helmet) riding a pillion with only a brown khadi gilet to shield him from the cold. I felt overdressed and pretentious in my full-formal office-wear (the downside of leaving for a trip straight from work) and a dark sweater, and my cheeks turned pink (The Pink City was starting to paint me in its own colour) as I remembered packing two leather jackets and assorted scarves (against my father’s advice).

Next morning, I hit the road with a fully loaded camera (and an equally loaded stomach) and clicked away at every other thing that caught my eye. Jaipur is so beautiful, it makes you want to capture everything you see! The roads are adorned with gateways (that appear every 100 meters) that have princely architecture. Every second building is made of red and pink sandstone and it’s easy to see why this city called the “Pink City of India”. My first pink-monument-stop was the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) that rose proudly above the ground like an oversized beehive. We next drove to Jal Mahal (Water Palace) that appears to float on the Man Sagar Lake but what the human eye sees is only the top floor of a 5-storeyed mansion.

It was almost noon when I reached the City Palace complex which used to be the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur. The palatial quarters display the most intricate amalgamation of Rajput, European and Mughal architecture. The palace also functions as a museum and exhibits many ancestral possessions. It takes one good hour to walk through all the facades, courtyards and gardens.

I stopped for a quick lunch at a roadside eatery and glanced through my checklist (I am yet to graduate to the travel-without-a-plan clan) – I had many more interesting places to go. The Albert Hall Museum beckoned me with its Indo-Gothic architecture. This is the oldest museum in all of Rajasthan, and rests at the centre of Ram Niwas Garden. Albert Hall has a fine collection of sculptures, paintings and other artefacts and it’s common to find school-children on excursions walking down the corridors. The area is full of pigeons and their feathers that even the pigeon-netting can’t keep off.

The weather in the afternoon was pleasant as the sun cancelled the effects of the cold. I decided it was a good time to check out the street-bazaars as it was still too early for the shoppers to crowd up the alleys. I headed to Bapu Bazaar and was bedazzled by all the jewellery on display. After about half an hour of making my way through the maze that had scores of shops strung together, and striking what I assumed was a good bargain, I walked out with a German Silver ornament-set in my bag and a broad smile on my lips. “Jantar Mantar chaliye“, I said to my driver.

Jantar Mantar literally means “calculation instrument” in Hindi, and is a paradise for astronomy enthusiasts. Modelled on the Delhi structure with the same name, this observatory figures on the World Heritage List. There are a multitude of instruments that tell you the time, date and even details of your zodiac constellation. The site is very well maintained, but this unfortunately means you cannot climb over the instruments to pose for pictures (this was previously allowed). My last stop for the evening was Birla Temple – a tranquil end to a hectic day. I had travelled largely within Jaipur on my first day, so I would venture out of the city for my second.

Coming up Next >>

  • Kanak Vrindavan Garden
  • Jaigarh Fort
  • Amber Fort and Palace