how to get the most out of Jaipur
Our time in Jaipur was limited. Travelling there over a long weekend, we only had 3 full days in the city itself before we had to fly out home. I'd been hesitant before about visiting India on such a short time and always put it off but this year I knew it was time. I'd plenty of places to visit left on my to-do and I wasn't going to pass off the chance of a great deal. During a public holiday everyone flew to very popular Asia destinations such as Thailand, ticket prices soared whereas flight prices to India remained low.
Being our first time to Jaipur and my first time to India, we knew that it wasn’t going to be possible to enjoy a lot of things if we hadn’t done any basic planning. India is one place where if you don't have a local guide, you’re missing out a lot because nothing makes sense and everything is wholly unfamiliar. Even though we didn't set our plans in stone many of them fell into place when we arrived. Here's a few things I'd definitely recommend for a short trip that makes it worthwhile.
GET YOURSELF A CAR
Getting a car from the hotel to drive us around was easily the best decision we made on this trip, simply because it saved us a lot of headache trying to find a ride between places. Jaipur isn’t a walkable city. There are auto-rickshaws and Ubers to take, but the locals are pretty aggressive. You’d have to hustle and negotiate a lot and even then, you’d have to live with being scammed a little on almost every ride.
Although we didn’t pre-book, we ended up using the hotel car every day we were there. Our first day we had the car for 8 hours which took us around the sights in Jaipur. On the second day we took a day trip out to Pushcar (3 hours each way) sand then to dinner at Chokhi Dhani (30 mins from city center). On the last day we drove out to view the Chand Baori step well in the village of Abhaneri (2 hours each way) and then to lunch around Jaipur.
I compared the rates to other car businesses offering car rides in Jaipur and the price was similar enough for us to go with the hotel’s, for ease. It costs roughly INR1,900 (USD30) for a day, 8 hours. It was a little more expensive driving outside of Jaipur but not by much.
GET YOURSELF A GUIDE
I wouldn’t have enjoyed Jaipur as much if we hadn’t had a guide with us. It was an opportunity to point at random things and go “what is that!” And we did that often. Our guide explained to us the history of Amer Fort and some other sights in detail, took us to impromptu stops (Shawn watched patiently while I got henna on my arm and a palm reading from a PhD in astronomy), explained local customs, and showed us where to get really good kachoris by the street. We were really lucky to get a fantastic guide who really took the time to discuss things with us and who didn’t bat an eyelid while crossing the road in front of on-coming traffic on both sides (it’s the norm).
Occasionally the guides will have to take you to random stops to view and perhaps buy goods from local businesses. We indulged a little but also politely said no when we really didn’t think it was necessary for us to stop.
BE PREPARED TO TIP OR TO SAY NO
What I wasn’t prepared for was how prevalent the expectation of tipping was. We tipped our guides and drivers which was common, but by the end of the 3 days everything was a tip. In the Chokhi Dhani village the establishment put up signs that tell guests not to encourage tipping. Yet performers still expect tips. Our Chokhi Dhani waiter at dinner even audaciously waved a Rupee note in our face to ask for a tip when we were done with our meal.
So when is it OK not to tip? When you’re at a temple and they call it a donation. We visited the temple in Pushcar with a local guide. Foreigners can get a rose from the temple to offer in the holy lake as an offering. A priest at the temple took the rose, gave us a plate of offerings, proceeded to bless us and then asked for us to donate “dinners” to the temple. This turned out to be INR5,000 (USD78). They even showed us a menu of accepted and expected donation rates that went up to INR20,000 (USD430). At this point we politely refused since we hadn’t asked for the blessings (and our guide had failed to inform us) and left the temple.
RESEARCH A LITTLE ABOUT THE FOOD
Indian cuisine is one of the most confusing. That stems from the fact that every dish has a name that you can’t pronounce or figure out ingredients from.
Mughlai cuisine is the food of medieval India which also created the renowned biryani, a common dish in Jaipur. Being the land of the Maharajas, Jaipur is also the place to try Rajasthani cuisine in its most common form, the thali, a platter of various dishes that include both spicy and sweet. When we had a traditional meal at Chokhi Dhani, it was a little perturbing that our waiter was also spooning heaps of sugar and melted ghee onto our dal (boiled lenthils) next to our steamed rice and chapati. There is no concept of dessert in Rajasthani cuisine since all sweet items are served before, during and after. Our first dish was churma, which I took for something similar to cous cous and was left pleasantly surprised with the sweet grainy mixture.
Before we visited we knew of kachoris (a road side snack not unlike a samosa) which I wanted to try but not of laal maas, a mutton curry which our guide recommended when we asked. We discovered Rajasthani mirchi vada, which are deep fried potato stuffed chillies that we got together with our kachoris and served with the most amazing mint and tamarind chutney dip.
My absolute favourite was of course Manchurian food, which is Indian Chinese food. It's been an obsession since I first discovered it in Singapore about three years back and when I found it in Jaipur of course I had to try it. One of my favouritest dishes ever is the gobi manchurian, which is fried cauliflower in a spicy oyster sauce. Stir fried Hakka noodles seems to be the thing in Jaipur's Indian Chinese food too, which was decent enough. Copper Chimney is the restaurant we tried in Jaipur. If you're curious and hungry at night but don't quite bother to get out, they do deliveries. Our waiter at a hotel in Pushcar also recommended we eat at Handi Restaurant for North Indian cuisine, where we got tried really awesome chapatis and tandoori. It's right next door to the Copper Chimney.
There are a lot more dishes to try which you wouldn’t necessarily know of when you see it. Have a few dishes on hand to ask about when you’re there and then ask the locals if there’s anything else you shouldn’t miss.
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