Jaipur, capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan, and the third major city that we visited in India, is known as the “Pink City,” as much of the city center is painted a distinctive pink color (I thought it looked more peach, but no matter).

The reasons for it having been painted pink are murky.  The most commonly espoused theory is that the painting was done to mark the visit of the Prince of Wales (who went on to become King Edward VII), as pink was the traditional color of welcome.  Another (less colorful) theory is that pink was chosen because no other paint was available in sufficient quantities.

Our guide, Sanjay, was recently exposed to another theory from an English tourist he had shown around the Old City.  “The Prince of Wales was gay,” the tourist told Sanjay, “and the ruler of Jaipur wanted him to feel comfortable.” Sanjay was dubious (as were we), but readily conceded that this is an area subject to a good deal of lively historical debate.  (Despite being a British citizen, I have no special interest in or knowledge of British monarchs.  I always understood, though, that Edward VII was married, had children, and actually had some renown as an international playboy, taking on lovers such as the great-grandmother of Camilla Parker Bowles.)

In any event, the Old City has a great old-world vibe to it.  Much of the pink paint is peeling off the sandstone walls, and is now caked with urban dirt and grime.  The place needs some serious refurbishing, but if and when that happens, some of the charm is going to be swept away along with the dust and cobwebs.

Hawa Mahal

Apart from the decaying-empire feel present in much of the city, some buildings and sights remain eminently impressive.  One such sight is the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds).  The Hawa Mahal presents a killer façade and a multitude of windows, from which royal women once watched Jaipur’s goings on without being seen.

We also enjoyed visiting the incredible Jantar Mantar, an observatory built by Maharaja Jai Singh in the 18th century. Jantar Mantar houses the world’s largest sundial, which can tell Jaipur local time accurately within two seconds.  (India still runs on Jantar Mantar time.  According to our guide, this explains why India has a time zone that differs from other time zones not by “hours” but by “hours-and-a-half.”  For instance, at the time of writing this blog post, it is 4:11 p.m. in Laos and 2:41 p.m. in Jaipur.)

Jantar Mantar also contains a number of other impressive instruments, also designed by the Maharajah, which can tell you, among other things, the current month and day, as well as the sign of the zodiac applicable to any children being born.

Amber Fort

Our favorite sight near Jaipur was the Amber Fort (pronounced Amer).  In fact, of the sights we visited in India, this was our second favorite, after only the Taj Mahal.  Perched on top of a hill, the fort provides stunning views of the surrounding landscape and down onto the Town of Amber.  Many visitors ascend the hill on elephants, once abused but apparently now working under improved conditions; we opted to drive as far as we could and then to walk.

The fort itself is a massive palace complex complete with a dizzying array of courtyards and crumbling buildings.  Although the main courtyards were overrun with tourists, stumbling into some empty and dimly-lit rooms in lesser-visited sections of the fort, we felt like Indiana Jones, or how Indiana Jones would have felt had he been traveling with a two-year-old (if memory serves, Shorty, from Temple of Doom, was at least ten or so).

On the way back to the hotel from the fort, our driver suggested that we try a camel ride. Still feeling a bit like Indiana Jones, I was emphatically game; Bliss was not; and Jude claimed interest initially, only to take one look at the camel, see how big it was, and decide, “No camel!”  I am glad to have had the experience, but there was something decidedly unromantic about taking the ride in the middle of a busy, multi-lane road.

Jude with chefs at Sheesha

After Agra, we were ready to eat some real food again.  We headed to the Sheesha rooftop restaurant on our first night in Jaipur, the third night of Diwali.  Again, with a backdrop of fireworks, Jude gulped down a lassi while we enjoyed some fantastic curry.  Our favorite was the methi mater malai, a pea and cream-based curry with some serious kick.  We will definitely try repeating this one back home.

We had another memorable meal at Chokhi Dhani.  Chokhi Dhani is like nothing we had seen before, or will likely see again.  It’s a sort of thematic carnival (that operates year-round), supposedly evocative of traditional Indian life, and which is hugely popular with Indian tourists from Delhi.  (We saw only a couple of Westerners during our visit.)

Bliss and Jude at Chokhi Dhani

You pay your admission and are given a bindi at the main gate.  The place is chock full of rides (elephants, camels, you name it) and dancing by visitors, including Bliss and Jude who were pulled onto a stage and showed off some moves.

Our dinner, accompanied by live music, was a number of small plates of curries (all vegetarian), yogurts, and breads, constantly being refilled by a team of fast-moving waiters.  The food was good, like all food we were served in India, but a little bland in comparison to our better meals.  Interestingly, the whole place is alcohol free.

One thing about India that we found to be truly unique and which set it apart from any other country that we have visited was its service industry, and in particular the culture of tipping.  First, service in India was amazing.  Hotel staff and waiters were fantastic with Jude, friendly, interested, but not too aggressive or touchy-feely (Indian tourists were another story).  Everyone we met in the tourist industry seemed genuinely eager to help us, and willing to do whatever they could to help us enjoy ourselves.

At times it can be a little suffocating; more than once the thought crossed my mind, “You know what?  I’d just like to carry my own bag.”  But someone will invariably show up, wrest it out of your hand, and carry it from point A to Point B, even if B is just a couple of feet from A.

Most of this is down to, I think, the fact that whoever has just carried your bag will expect a tip.  The expected tip amount for something like that is always small.  I was never irritated by people asking for a token amount of money either (though I know it does annoy some tourists).

Tipping does, though, present a logistical hurdle.  How are you supposed to get all of those small bills?  The standard tipping amount for carrying a bag, or handing over a towel for hand-drying, or opening a door, is 10 rupees (just under 20 cents).

A friend advised us to get our hands on as many 10-rupee notes as we could as soon as we got to India.  Actually getting them was very difficult.  Currency exchange at the airport never gives out anything smaller than 100-rupee notes (neither do ATMs, nor did the one bank I tried), and almost everything we bought was in denominations of 100, so we never got the correct change we needed either.  Also, whenever we did manage to get our hands on some tens, the supply would quickly dwindle from all the people asking for tips.

The two times I was able to get tens, I did so by asking Indians we met if they could give me change for 100-rupee notes in tens (our guide Sanjay and a guy working at the hotel in Jaipur—both times, of course, I had to give the person who gave me the tens a tip themselves).  In a pinch, we also got by (at some expense) by giving out one-dollar bills we had brought from home.

Finally, we at aroundtheworldwithatwoyearold.com would like to extend a special note of congratulations to Sebastian Vettel, winner of the first ever F1 race to be held in India, which coincided with our visit. (We were lucky enough to see race teams at the airport at the time of our arrival, and also as we were leaving.)


India Part 1: Fireworks, Eunuchs, and Dippers
India Part 2: Malaria Pills, Mud Baths, and the Taj Mahal



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