Encompassing India: Day one
Making our way to Jaipur – The city of pink
India is a country with such a diversity of cultures and vast pantheons of history – it almost seems impossible to embrace what it has to offer as a traveler. The vast spaces, the vivid colors, the plethora of beliefs and faiths make India a intrinsic destination with so much to offer.
India was our third foray into our globetrotting saga – so learning from the other two journeys, we made plans and remade them, and finally settled into visiting a specific area, so as to fully experience the local history and culture.
Rajasthan was an obvious choice for us. The mix of culture and history, plus the arid landscape filled with stoic and imposing forts seemed far too much of an allure. The name Rajasthan means land of the Kings, and so we began our adventure into the heart of this rugged country.
We planned to cover Jaipur, jodhpur and Udaipur in one week. The cumulative distances were in excess of a thousand kilometers. Also we timed our visit to the winter months of Rajasthan, usually spanning from October to the middle of January. The winter months offer a cooler temperatures as opposed to the sweltering heat of summertime.
The average temperature will always be around 20 degrees Celsius and makes hiking and walking around much more bearable. The nights however can be brutally cold, and you better have warm cloths to get out of the chills. Jaipur was by far the coldest when we visited in late December, and the temperature gradually warmed as we ventured onto jodhpur and Udaipur.
Our first stop was Delhi, but we opted to transfer from our flight directly to our first destination ~ Jaipur. The major concern was time. We had just a week to spend incountry and since the distances were IMMENSE we opted to fly to our jump off site.
We planned to wing it to our start point and also wing it back to Delhi after rounding up our trip. One thing we learned on our forays was how much you read and see on the net, it's a whole new ballgame once you set foot on another land. We were worried particularly of the prospect of orienting ourselves with local transport and concluded that it was better to play it safe. We would use a domestic flight to our first destination and once there (and hopefully acclimated to the local flow of things) we would be better able to utilize local transport.
We arrived in Delhi in the wee hours of the morning, and the first thing that hit us was the air - even with the air conditioning in the terminals, the dry air with an underlying coating of dust particulates was difficult at first. And the temperature outside was a chilly 4 degrees, and to us it was a surprise (it never dips so much lower in Sri Lanka, even in the coldest regions) The winter months are chilly and equally saps moisture out of you, proper clothing plus a good skin and lip moisturizer is a must.
The flight upto Jaipur from Delhi is short, taking about 45 minutes. The fight served us an inflight meal but the flight seemed to finish before we even had to unwrap it ; the meal was strictly vegetarian (something you need to get used to while visiting India in general) From munching on to taking time-lapses and the odd photo or two, we were both engrossed with the landscape undulating beneath the plane.
Rajasthan in winter is arid :the countryside seems a patchwork of bright sandy tones with a scattering of greenery in patches. Here and there are huge eddies and squat looking mountains spanning the better part of the window, and where cities were - heaps and heaps of houses proclaimed human habitation.
Jaipur is the largest city in the state of Rajasthan home to almost 3 million people who call it home. The city is named after its founder, Jai Singh ll, the ruler of Amer. From the onset Jaipur was made constructed systematically and is hailed as India's first planned city. Ringed with imposing ramparts of times long past and modern huge traffic weaving through its distinct pink streets, Jaipur seemingly has it all ; a mix of the old and the new.
We took a taxi from the airport departure gate (they have a taxi stand there) and it usually costs less - our hotel was about 12km's away from the airport and it cost us around 400 rupees to reach it. Getting a taxi from the airport itself saves you from being heckled by touts and offers of guided tours that can be both annoying and unnerving at the same time.
It was our first glimpse of India face to face. The temperature was modest with the air being dry and dusty.
Indeed, the winter air makes the earth so dry that it gets powdered into fine dust and coats about everything (we had experienced this before, because it was very same as Nepal in the winter months) lip balm is a must or your lips can end up like two dry prunes in the coming days - I learned that the hard way.
Almost immediately what you notice is the seemingly chaos in the streets. Everyone seems to cram their vehicles into every millimeter trying to almost claw their way out of traffic. The multitudes of tuk tuks and auto rickshaws are a sight to behold.
Add to this the odd camel cart or horse cart, meandering cows in the streets plus banged up comical looking commuter vans and trucks - it seems Almost impossible to navigate the streets. But therein lies its beauty: a multitude of humanity in all its colors and hues.
While on the way to the hotel, we passed by a few of the places we planned to visit later that day, namely the City Palace and Hawa Mahal. The hotel we booked was situated in the heart of the city so to speak, with close access to both these places (a few minutes walking distance) the price was really reasonable and we booked beforehand on booking.Com , but prior to coming we rang up the hotel to CONFIRM our booking - Now that is a must.
The place we chose to stay was the Rawla Migrayani Palace. It was a beautiful Haveli or traditional mansion unique to that corner of the world. Jaipur is a city teeming with hotels so finding the one that best suits you can be a challenge - especially if you are budget conscious.
We avoided the more least expensive hotels and the most expensive, with our choice falling right in the middle. The Rawla Migrayani Palace was both a fine deal and it came with character and charm. The hotel had been converted from a family owned Haveli that had a history of over 300 years. It was one of the best stays we had.
Decorated with a subtle bohemian and distinctive Jaipuri accent, the hotel was a gorgeous location with a serious photogenic appeal. Indeed we spent as much as we could taking photos especially on the marvelous roof terrace - now this was the best thing about the hotel - You get a glorious view of the surrounding forts and city in a 360 degree arc.
At the hotel we got a surprise when the hostess showered us with rose petals when we arrived. We were quite taken aback at this, but nevertheless were grinning ear to ear. The hostess was the owner of the Haveli and she and her daughter became quite well known to us. We often had amicable conversations while having dinner and had many a laugh (particularly on my bad Hindi).
So arriving at the hotel the start of our city exploring experience - we quickly unpacked and got ready to head it out there.
That's a wrap for part one of our Indian adventure, but before we conclude this part we'd like to share some quick tips on what we saw and we recommend while arriving for a holiday in India (especially Rajasthan)
Pick the time you want to travel before anything else. The winter months are the best to go exploring in Rajasthan as it offers cooler temperatures.
That being said, the winter months in Rajasthan are also the height of the tourist season. Expect large crowds and queues. We travelled just after Christmas and found that in between Christmas and the new year (December 31st) there is a lull in the tourist crowd. But you'll find plenty of local tourists.
Regarding flight check-ins, arrive early as possible, even 2 or 3 hours is not a bad idea. If you are travelling in the holiday season, that is especially true.
The locals travelling in domestic flights, (international aswell) are most of the time part of a large group. We waited in a queue for almost an hour behind 2 people only to find out they were holding the passports for their entire family group, which was about 13 or 14 persons in total. Mind this (honestly there's no way to tell, you need a fair bit of luck here) when you queue up for checking -in.
There's always going to be a fair bit of lugging the luggage around so make sure that it is portable and can fit into decent spaces - car trunks and tuk tuks.
An Indian sim card for tourists can take almost a day to activate so be sure to take maps or better yet, get an offline map downloaded and ready beforehand. The WiFi even at the hotels can be spotty so, until you get connected this is the best option for navigation without being confused (most of the time)
Security at the airport is meticulous and time consuming. The bigger your gear the more time you'll be scrounging to get it into trays to be scanned and then re packing.
Jaipur does not have a dedicated “old city section” but most other cities do (jodhpur and Udaipur in particular) make sure that your hotel is in or not in these city sections. The old city streets are narrow and twisty, with only tuk tuks being able to access them ( cars are a no go) Make sure you get this sorted out with the hotel before you arrive.
Jaipur does not have such a hassle (thank god) Always take a taxi from the approved taxi stand at the airport. They are cheaper and far more reasonable than the touts and people who try to scam you.
Beware of scams and touts. Especially guided tours and sightseeing.
When in India the correct way to behave in public is to be direct. Be polite, but always be sure to convey what you mean in a direct and a confident note. The locals are friendly but respond to a direct manner of speech better. If you are being harassed or annoyed tell it directly. Be vocal.
A basic understanding of Hindi is a must! Apart from the most common phrases learn the hindi words for numbers - I.e. make sure you know how much they are asking you to pay them. Words for 100,150,200 etc. are essential.
Always carry small notes with you. This is helpful in many ways - and you'll get the correct amount of change most of the time.
Moisturizer and lip balm is a must in the winter months. Also a dust mask if you find the billowing dust a bother.
Make sure to have warm cloths, a scarf and a cap to cover yourself as the nights can be really chilly. And always make sure that your hotel has WORKING hot water.
Always be patient: India is not all what you see on Instagram and such platforms. The pictures can be a stark difference to the reality. Take you time and immerse yourself in the vibes and flow, and you'll feel right at home enjoying the marvels.