I’m going to kick off India part 2 with travel advice: there are so many options for tour companies in India, and sometimes you don’t get lucky. Payment was a headache that interfered with way too much of my vacation, and was a pain for Aasheesh who tried helping me with it all. And the tour itself was just “ok”- definitely not up to par for the price I paid. It particularly affected my experience of Jaipur, which many Indian friends have assured me is amazing and has enough to see/do to keep you busy for 3 days (I got a 1/2 day tour.) Lesson: if going to India, do NOT book a tour through Travelite (India).
The tour that was arranged for me was two days in Jaipur and two days in Udaipur. If you’re a fan of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (BEMH),” you’ve seen both cities. So now for some specifics, highlighting what I did like (and especially, FOOD!!). And for those of you who want the bottom line: Udaipur is a MUST VISIT city! Absolutely loved it!!
A driver, Vikram, picked me up from my hotel in Delhi and we drove the 3-4 hours to Jaipur. The drive was all on a highway and wasn’t bad at all. We arrived to Jaipur by 12pm, which left me pretty much the entire day to explore. Jaipur is known as the “Pink City” because all buildings within the historical district (city gates) are required to be painted pink. Except, it’s not pink. It’s terra cotta. And there are a couple of buildings exempt from the “pink” rule, shown below. So not quite what as I was expecting. But still lovely. I particularly liked all of the gates in the city; managed to snap photos of a few.
Despite having so much time my first day, my crappy tour company didn’t book me a guide for my first day (yes, the description of the tour I bought certainly led me to believe I’d have guides with me both days in both cities, not the 1/2 day I got in each city), and I quickly learned that Jaipur is not a place where a female solo traveler can comfortably explore alone. So after an awesome lunch at LMB (it’s a hotel and restaurant, and I highly recommend a visit if in Jaipur!), I had Vikram take me to a couple places so as to not waste the entire day. Aasheesh recommended I visit a fort that is home to the world’s largest cannon, such a boy thing to be into, ha! I would not say it’s a “must do” when in Jaipur, but it did provide a nice view of Jaipur and there were tons of monkeys! Unfortunately, without a guide (or travel partner) I ended up spending most of that day in my hotel. Frustrating, especially in a city known for shopping, but that part is probably for the best because I barely have any space in my backpack for anything else.
And sometimes you wake up to rainfall inside the hotel. Hey, it is Monsoon season. It was kind of charming (only because the rain drenched the center courtyard and not my room).
During my second full day in Jaipur, the guide met us early in the morning (I highly recommend getting an early start to avoid crowds and for much better photos) and we went to visit Amber Fort. I skipped the elephant ride up (because: animal cruelty- when traveling, please please do not pay to support the awful treatment these creatures endure. They are living beings, not carnival rides.). My driver got us more than halfway up by car and walking the rest was no problem. The Fort, which was formerly THE city of Jaipur and the King’s Palace, was really incredible.
We then visited a textile factory where they do traditional, block printing and make rugs and clothing. Yes, it’s a stop geared to get tourists to buy something, but low pressure salesmen and you really learn a lot about how these rugs are made. The craftsmanship is remarkable! I took a couple videos of a few steps, which are only two of about ten steps. Also explains how this one rug will take ONE YEAR to complete.
We also visited the Jantar Mantar, an 18th century observatory and home to the world’s largest sundial. It was a cloudy day when I visited so didn’t get to see it working, but the structure and park are still impressive. And we saw the City Palace, still home to the Royal Family, which is WOW. Can’t imagine growing up there. My tour ended at lunchtime (do NOT let anyone take you to the “Green Pigeon” restaurant! It is by far the worst food I’ve had in India! Definitely a tourist trap), which left me with another half day and no guide.
Thanks to BEMH I found information for the stepwells featured in the film and had my driver take me there. They are beautiful and free to access, and almost nobody- tourist or local, was around. Very peaceful. I highly recommend.
The City of Lakes was definitely my favorite city in India. Apart from being beautiful, it’s a much smaller city so far less crowded, and much safer. Safe enough that I felt completely comfortable walking around alone, day and evening, which was very liberating and quite a change from Delhi and Jaipur! (Amritsar is almost a tie for first, but I have a feeling I could not have possibly loved that city as much if I had been traveling solo. You can read all about that amazing city in my next post!) Not surprisingly, I think Udaipur is a fave destination for many foreigners visiting India. Which also explains why there are so many stunning 5-Star resorts. My budget did not permit a stay at one of those properties, but if you’re with a significant other or have the money to pamper yourself, I highly recommend the Oberoi or Taj Lake Palace.
Do NOT stay in the property I stayed in, the Justa Rajputana; it was fine and like all hotels I’ve stayed in in India, service was great, but WiFi so bad it was basically non-existent and more importantly, the location was so far away from everything you will see or do you waste a lot of time in a car. Stay close to the lake. I had dinner at a couple of fabulous restaurants, both of which were incredibly affordable and I would highly recommend. The Jaiwana Haveli offers amazing rooftop, lake views for dinner. Food is very yummy too! I also enjoyed dinner at Ambrai, which is a fancier restaurant (but still very affordable, especially as compared to Nice Western restaurants) located right on the water. Despite hot summer temperatures, there was such an incredible breeze off the lake I was actually chilly both nights. What a refreshing change! While I’m offering recommendations, I enjoyed a lovely latte with a great view (right on the water) at Hotel Jheel (but prices reflect that target audience are tourists, so while still cheap for Western standards, you’ll pay 2-3 times more than you’ll pay for coffee drinks at a less touristy spot- but sometimes relaxing with the view is worth a bit extra) and the best priced Masala Chai I had so far in India from Cafe Edleweiss (same location/owner as Savage Garden restaurant). Cafe Edleweiss was also super bright and colorful, which I appreciated very much. Final food/drink tip: Indians do many things very well, wine is NOT one of them. Positively awful. And expensive! Skip it!!
During the relatively brief period of time I had a guide, we did a tour of the City Palace (film location for the Bond movie Octopussy), Jagdish Temple, City garden, the site where the former kings were cremated, and a boat tour of the lake out to Jagmandir Island Palace. The City Palace was stunning (these Indian Kings sure knew how to build a palace!!) and my favorite tour of the day, by far.
One thing I haven’t focused on, but that is very real, is the poverty in India. The tent cities and poorest of the poor in Delhi live a bit outside of the city center (apart from the beggars and homeless, which, like any major city in the world, are far too numerous) so it’s hard to document. And I believe developing countries are so much more than their poverty. But Udaipur is small enough that “developments” made from scrap metal, tents, and old doors. It is heartbreaking, and I would be remiss not to show a bit of this.
<GARDENS, AHAR CENOTAPHS, BOAT RIDE, & OTHER CITY SHOTS>
While my experience in Jaipur left much to be desired, I have no doubt that if I was with friends or had a better tour company, my experience would have been radically different. And Udaipur I absolutely loved and hope to revisit!