I love Indian festivals, especially when they work in my favor as a traveler, like during my trip to Jaipur last month which fell during the Makar Sankranti festival (a.k.a. the kite festival). According to friends who have been there, the city is usually a congested nightmare, but I found it to be ideal. The locals were home celebrating, but all the major businesses and tourist sites were operating business as usual…so there was zero traffic, short queues, un-crowded streets, and a limited amount of haranguing from beggars and street vendors.
Thanks to the winter, the mornings/evenings were cool and dry, and the midday sun was warm, but not enough to warrant copious water consumption. I tried to pack minimally so only threw in two pairs of jeans, flat shoes, a scarf, a few modest tees, a light sweater, sleeveless tops and, of course underwear, ha ha ha. It worked out perfectly, and I’m glad I didn’t bother with a swimsuit because it was too cold to enjoy the beautiful hotel pools anyway.
Budgeting three full days because I thought there wouldn’t be much to see was a big mistake on my part, though. I could have taken at least seven to fit in some things that were a little further away or too time consuming, like Jodphur, Udaipur, Ajmer, Pushkar, and the Chand Baori stepwell. I also would like to have taken a hot air balloon ride after hearing rave reviews from our friends, but it would have been too time consuming. So, if you are thinking of making a trip to this region, do it right and take some extra time for that stuff.
If, however, you are like me and only have a few days, here’s what I was able to cover. I grouped it into three days, basing it off of how I would do it if I go again:
Day 1 – get a ride to the Anokhi Museum. From there you can walk to the stepwell and then on to the Amber Palace from there. I hired a tour guide that drove me everywhere but I think this was pretty unnecessary. Also, a note: the Jal Mahal, while pretty, can only be seen from a distance right now as it is undergoing renovations. The promenade on the lake where it is is a nice place to stop and get a refreshing coconut water while grabbing a picture or two.
Day 2 – this is a city day. I recommend hiring a tour guide for this because there is so much information that you will miss if you don’t have one. Especially at Jantar Mantar (it just looks like a bunch of stone slabs if you don't have someone to tell the story behind it) and the City Palace complex. Isarlat, City Palace, and Jantar Mantar are all within walking distance. You may prefer to take a car for the rest. The entrance to Isarlat is in an alleyway and is actually very poorly marked (like, not marked at all), but it’s worth the effort to find it because it’s a fun walk up and it offers an awesome view of the Pink City and the surrounding areas. If you’re claustrophobic or if you have to pee, this is not the spot for you. It’s super tight quarters going up and down, and there’s no bathroom.
Day 3 – the forts. Wear sneakers, take water, and a sun hat. You're going to walk a lot. This is not a day to worry about looking cute. Jaigarh and Nahargarh are very close by one another but they’re really spread out so it’s a good idea to get a car for this. You can easily spend the whole day just walking around and checking out the surroundings. Jaigarh has decent restrooms, a little museum, and a snack stand but if you have the ability to pack a lunch picnic, either fort provides pleasant breezes and plenty of places with awesome views to enjoy that. At Nahargarh there is a summer resort with dozens of rooms; it has a dizzying amount of beautiful and intricate painting, so don't miss it! Birla Mandir and the Hanuman Temple are both things you can check out either on the way there or on the way back since both are situated on the same highway that leads to the forts. The Hanuman Temple is a bit of a walk.
Must Visit Restaurants and o.k. Grub Stops
I try not to eat at the big hotels I stay in if I can help it when I know there are plenty of great local places out there. Unfortunately, this is where I think Jaipur fell short. It was tricky finding restaurants that served meat, and while I did end up finding a few gems, I was mostly underwhelmed. Here are the ones I do recommend:
Handi Restaurant – for dinner or lunch, this place had awesome regional food with minimal wait time and nice staff. Get the regional specialty, laal maas. Be ready, it’s a spicy stew of lamb and chili peppers. Honestly, I would have been good eating every meal here.
Peacock Rooftop Restaurant – Yummy yummy! Serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner! This place offers an uncomplicated menu with Indian and western food, and makes good espresso. Downstairs there are inexpensive hotel rooms with a kitschy vibe.
Shreenath Lassiwala – Tangy and sweet, lassis are the perfect thing to beat the midday heat. Here, just be prepared for the beggars. I was swarmed as soon as I pulled up. You can order from the car and they’ll bring it out to you.
LMB Sweet Shop and Restaurant – go here for the sweet shop and try the ghewar, mawa kachori, and doodh kesar feeni (links above). This is the perfect place to buy some sweet souvenirs. TIP: there's a kiosk in the Jaipur Airport if you forget!
Café Coffee Day – if you’re near the Amber Fort, this is a good place to pop in for a bathroom stop and to get a coffee or a quick snack.