Daniel dreamed of being inside a National Geographic-type photo scene and so, we found ourselves in Jaipur – entryway to Rajasthan, India. All the things you think of when you imagine being in India are here and some things you wouldn’t imagine – cows walking in the middle of traffic, camels walking down the street, monkeys climbing electric wires, painted elephants walking in wedding parades, lively markets of dramatic patterns and colorful fabrics, ancient and elaborate temples and palaces – basically – Jaipur delivers.
We arrived in the evening and wanted to go out not too far from our Homestay at Pratap Bhawan. Our gracious host recommended we go to see the Ganesh-ji temple as he was a big fan of Ganesh. It was right next to the Birla Mandir Lakshmi temple. Both temples were very different from each other. The Lakshmi temple was just like you may imagine Lakshmi might be – clean, bright and beautiful. Women in colorful saris looked beautiful against the marble walls.
People would ring a loud group of bells hanging from the ceiling before going in to bring prasad (gifts of food and pastries) as offerings to Ganesh and for guests to eat. They bring garlands of yellow and orange flowers too. These offerings are blessed momentarily on the Ganesh statue and then returned to you to keep or to share.
Our host brought his new car to be blessed by Ganesh and told us that any new undertaking is a good time to receive a blessing from Ganesh – the Hindu elephant God who removes all obstacles. We went into the Ganesh temple and then quickly returned with a garland and a box of prasad to experience it fully.
When we returned there was an Arati ceremony happening where two large bells were rung on either side of the temple as the priest performed a ceremony over the Ganesh statue with oil lamps lit aglow. The sound of the bells created a mesmerizing left brain / right brain trance-like state that felt quite relaxing and moving. It was one of the favorite highlights of Jaipur for us.
Over the course of a few days, we took our time visiting the sights within the Pink City and on the outskirts too. The Amer Fort (sometimes called the Amber Fort) is an exciting palace to visit outside of Jaipur.
You can take a painted elephant ride up to the top but we opted to walk which was more fun as we were able to take our time getting up close and personal with the elephants huffing up and down the hillside. We were just in awe of them. I tend to be against riding any wild animals these days, but that does not stop me from wanting to watch – with mouth agape, as shown below.
The Amer palace is quite beautiful. We hired a guide who walked us through the ins and outs of the rooms but honestly, the elephants were our favorite part! We couldn’t stop thinking about them.
So Daniel found a place called Elefun online. It was a center that bathes, feeds and takes care of the elephants. It was built by the government to take in rescued circus elephants who work 2 hours a day at the Amer fort. We waited for our elephant Kulfi (which means ice cream) to arrive so we could hang with her while she rested. Our guide told us he came from a family of over 6 generations who worked with elephants. All the elephants are female except for one male. We pet her, fed her greens, sugar cane and bananas which she gobbled up like candy. They let me paint a lotus on her side and soon another elephant came and wanted some affection. It was a love-in with the elephants who were very gentle giants.
I am now in-love with elephants after this experience but I admit to being terrified about the idea of initially going to hang with one. After all, they are enormous and I am small. Daniel was brave enough to take a brief ride on top of Kulfi once she rested long enough. I feel no need to ride wild animals so I opted out to simply pet and feed her which was enough of a bonding experience for me. Kulfi has a place in my heart now as do all elephants and animals.
Other highlights weee the Royal Palace inside the Pink City which has a self-guided audio tour, beautiful architecture and Royal crafts in their showcase. The mosaic and painted doorways are stunning. One of many shown above. There is also a small craft market inside.
The Albert Hall Museum is an architecturally beautiful building. It is small and makes a nice afternoon stroll. They have a lovely collection of Indian miniature paintings and crafts. Beautiful works of art and a nice cafe close by to relax.
But a big highlight of Jaipur was the incredible boutique shopping scattered throughout the city. I am not much of a shopper, but Jaipur makes it fun. The crafts are just spectacular. Some interesting finds are wood block printed fabrics, sari fabrics, clothing and accessories, textiles, carved and painted figures, sandals, pottery and more. For traditional crafts with a modern touch check out the boutiques on Jacob road for clothing and blue pottery and then venture further in to visit the Anokhi clothing shop. These areas are outside the Pink City and would require a short tuk tuk. I reccommend hiring a tuk tuk driver for the day just to take you around.
Inside – the Pink City offers exciting shopping for crafts and colorful sari materials in their Bapu Bazaar market on the outskirts of the city by the entry gates. Learn how to bargain and then go with an empty suitcase. Seriously. So many beautiful crafts. This shopping experience is more hectic than shops outside and they are used to many tourists so bargaining is an art form here. I am not very comfortable with bargaining, but shopping the Pink City helped me to understand how it is done respectfully. It was nice to meet and chat with the shop owners too. Some whose shops had been in their family for many generations.
Our host Himanshu and family at Pratap Bhawan Homestay were so kind and they even showed us how to make their family recipe Masala! A highlight of being in Jaipur. Their home cooked meals were wonderful and we met many interesting travelers here too. A nice place to stay. It is a short tuk tuk ride away from the pink city, but walking distance to some fine boutique shops. We reccommend hiring a driver for your stay as it’s hard to find. http://www.pratapbhawan.com
Outside of Jaipur is a very touristy theme park and restaurant called Chokhi Dhani village. A couple traveling said it was fun and it was. We enjoyed a spicy evening dinner and stroll through the grounds. There are performances that happen throughout the park, amusement games and a nice craft village inside too. http://www.chokhidhani.com/village/concept