The first thing you'll likely notice when you get to Jaipur is that it isn't even pink. Despite being billed as the romantic "Pink City," the congested streets, though organized, aren't covered in the signature color. Orange, maybe. Or coral. But not pink.
Even then, we felt a bit lied to when we climbed up to the top of Iswari Minar Swarga Sal (20INR), a minaret just west of the City Palace, and looked down to see a city that looked more yellow and brown than pink and orange. In fact, it's only the outside of the buildings on the main streets that have to wear the coat of signature paint. Everywhere else, Jaipur is nothing more than a city, one of over 4 million people.
Fun fact: You get fined for painting your house/building another color if it's on one of the main avenues. According to our rickshaw driver, most people don't even try.
See and Do
Within the city itself, the most interesting attraction is the City Palace (300INR), which still houses the royal family. Inside the complex you'll find several curiosities, including the largest silver vessels in the world, made from over 14,000 melted silver coins, which the then-King filled with 9000 liters of Ganges water and took with him on his trip to England; the outfits of a very very fat king, who stood over 7 feet tall and weighed over 250 kilograms; and several interesting weapons, including a dagger that scissors out upon entering the body in order to cause ultimate harm.
The architecture in the Palace, just like the city itself, is a blend of Mughal and Rajasthani. Even though the royal family was Hindu, they recognized the importance of partnering with and marrying into the increasingly strong Mughal clans.
Men in decorative red turbans still walk the grounds acting as pseudo-guides and the crystal chandeliers and elaborate lace-like architecture that decorates many of the buildings speaks to the former strength and power of Jaipur's ruling city and royal family.
But about 10km away from Jaipur is where the former height of the empire is most evident. Amber Fort, an ancient capital of Jaipur State, is a magnificent structure that rises out of the mountain and overlooks a lake and several nearby forts with accompanying staircases and outlooks.
It's only a 1km walk from the road, but my mom treated us to an elephant ride, at a steep 900INR for two. The elephants are painted in traditional face paint, though it seems that years of this practice have ruined their skin and left them looking more pink than Jaipur itself.
Entry is 200INR (100INR for students) and well worth it. The Jai Mandir, or Glass Palace, is the most impressive singular sight as its walls and ceiling are inlaid with thousands of mirrors, but the other halls are also interesting and the views out of the complex are just stunning.
All in all, you'll need about two hours to explore Amber Fort, which will give you enough time to get lost in the corridors of the palace and pose for photos on one of the many balconies. This would have been an ideal place to play hide and seek as a kid!
We ended our time in Jaipur back in the city proper, strolling through the centuries old bazaars, checking out the Hawa Mahal (designed to let the ladies of the court see the goings on of the city without being seen).
Then taking in a Bollywood film at a proper Bollywood theater.
No, really! It was awesome. Raj Mandir Cinema is supposedly the most famous place in India to take in a movie, so how could we resist? We bought our 130INR "Emerald" tickets a few hours prior to the 6:30pm show, read the plot line of Shuddh Desi Romance, and got ready to get our dance on.
Unfortunately, there weren't enough group dance scenes for me, but hearing the cheers and clapping of the crowd every time there was a kiss on-screen was enough to make going to the movie worth it. The excitement of the audience reminded me a bit of what it felt like to sneak Dawson's Creek when I was 13. The slightest raise of the eyebrows could set your heart beating.
Interestingly enough, the movie was full of men, despite being what we would call a romantic comedy. There's even a separate line for women to buy tickets, which says something about gender relations in India.
We stayed at the Sunder Palace, right off of MI Road. In addition to beautiful common spaces and a cheap/good rooftop cafe, Sunder Palace's rooms offered a floor pillow sitting area, nice decor, and comfortable beds. We paid 1450INR for the three of us, and felt that it was a good deal.
Check-in was a little confusing, but the staff was kind enough to make us sandwiches at midnight and deliver them to our room to ease our post-Agra hunger.
One thing to note about Sunder Palace, and all hotels in Jaipur, is that they charge for WiFi.
Eat and Drink
Perhaps the best thing about the cafe at Sunder Palace is the speed with which it delivers food. It was great to have our breakfast 15 minutes after we ordered it, and not one hour like at other restaurants. The menu was also super affordable, and you could enjoy the food in your room, which is an added (an AC'd) plus.
We also enjoyed our meal at Peacock Rooftop Restaurant at the nearby Pearl Palace Hotel. With whimsical decor, beer, and a huge thali platter, Peacock gets most things right.
Lunch at Anokhi, above Little Italy, was a highlight. I almost felt like I was back in California, enjoying my organic salad and hummus sandwich. It may not have been authentic Indian, but it was exactly what my stomach needed. Plus, who turns down roasted pumpkin and feta?!?
LMB, a longstanding vegetarian restaurant in Old City, was overpriced, with over 20% added for tax and service despite having dirty bathrooms with no toilet paper.
Rickshaw is the best way to get around, and the price really depends on your bargaining power. From Sunder Palace and the surrounding area to the City Palace should cost 40-50INR. If you get lucky, maybe a horse will follow you around.
Lonely Planet quotes the Amber Fort trip at 150INR return, but we couldn't get it lower than 300INR.
Interested in seeing the Amber Fort and Jaipur City Palace without paying for a plane ticket? Check out our Jaipur photo tour.
You can also share your tips for budget travel in Jaipur by leaving a comment!