November 5, 2023
Generalisations about India are plentiful, particularly from people that haven’t experienced the indescribable world of contradictions that the subcontinent serves up (usually, adorned with marigolds).
For those that haven’t visited, their preconceived ideas about India – and ones that were repeated to us often prior to our trip – can include danger, dirtiness and overwhelm. Upon arrival, it’s apparent that some generalisations do ring true for a reason. Colour. Noise. Chaos. However, the unexpected also came alongside them: the friendliness of strangers, the beauty of so many unexpected details, and the hospitality that underpins everything.
India has been the subject of many of my daydreams for such a long time. I could not wait to explore (camera in hand, of course), and we finally found two weeks to do so. It was kind of crazy considering we’d just been away, but who knows when we’d get another chance? YOLO, as the youth say. Jaipur was the main city on my ‘to visit’ list, as I’d seen snippets of the Pink City as it’s called for the (arguably more salmon or terracotta hued) features of the Old City.
While it was an option to fly up to Singapore and then to Delhi, instead we opted to go direct Melbourne to Delhi with Qantas, and then connect to Jaipur this way. Compared to a flight to Europe, India seemed like it would be easy peasy, however after 13 hours on a plane with a not-tiny fear of flying (I know, it surprises everyone considering how often I voluntarily step foot onto the things), particularly with the strict window-shade-down policy policed by the flight attendants with surprising swiftness, it felt like a very long time in the air.
Emerging from the airport, we were immediately greeted by the smiling face of one of the greatest people I’ve had the pleasure of travelling with – Nirmal of Bandwagon Travel. I feel like Nirmal deserves his own journal, but I’ll provide the context here. When my sister and I decided to book our trip to India, it was in quick succession to our visit to Scotland and so I knew we wouldn’t have much time to figure out the logistics. Our family was also concerned about us travelling alone, however I am not the kind of person to ever book a tour. I was stumped. How to make our initiation to India easier, without being lumped in with a group of strangers and ferried between tourist attractions? The answer was Nirmal. Luckily a friend of mine – thank you Rach!! – had the perfect recommendation and we locked in a trip with him. Annabel and I (well, me, because Annabel just coasted along with little to no involvement in the planning) chose our destinations and dates, and Nirmal made it happen. Having him with us seriously felt like hanging out with a (very knowledgable) friend, and meant that we saw so much more than we would have alone.
Anyway, back to our arrival. We walked out of the airport, Nirmal and our stoic but completely lovely driver Mr Singh were there to greet us, and were whisked through the streets of Jaipur to the haven that is 47 Jobner Bagh. If you’re staying in Jaipur, stay here. Every detail is well thought out, the property is beautiful, and the food is incredible. It is such a peaceful pocket in the hustle and bustle of the Pink City. Think vintage brass lassi cups for toothbrush holders, kantha quilts draped over hand-carved beds and marble bowls dotted throughout, brimming with marigolds.
On our first day, we left in the morning expecting to return for a leisurely afternoon and returned after nightfall, completely exhausted but exhilarated from the day. My initial plan had been to stay only one night in Jaipur, choosing to visit the (reportedly) more chill cities before being primed to explore the busiest city on our itinerary at the end of the trip. However, we chose to spend an extra day in Jaipur at the start of our trip so we could visit Dera Amer camp.
After waking early and driving past the heartbreaking morning traffic of elephants trudging their way up to the Amer Fort to cart entitled tourists around in the blazing sunshine, we continued on past the Fort and begun a drive along dusty dirt roads to Dera Amer Camp.
Our visit was one of those pinch-yourself moments. There are two elephants at the camp, rescued from the tourist trade at the fort. They are so sweet and playful, and seeing the connection that they have with their mahout (essentially their carers) was amazing. Their mahouts are the only people allowed to ride the elephants, but we got to help with their morning bath and go for a walk with them. It was so special, I’d definitely recommend booking a visit in if you can.
If you’re staying in Jaipur, then you’ll likely drive past the fort on your way back (as we did). It was a good time to stop as it wasn’t too late so was only just starting to get busy. It is stunning – the details were reminiscent of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. If it weren’t for the heat, I could have spent all day exploring the insanely detailed passageways.
For something a little bit different, pop in to visit The Old Photography by Tikam Chand, just down from the Wind Palace.
While the Wind Palace is famous for a reason (and is jaw-dropping in person), the Old Photography was fun and something I’d only recently stumbled across when planning. With a vintage wooden box camera, you can have your portrait taken by Mr Chand on the side of the street. It draws a crowd, and at one point we were waiting on the side of the road, cows ambling past, while drinking a coconut from the stall next door and lining up between a couple having their wedding portraits taken and a gentleman in Sadhu dress. Welcome to India.
Now for shopping. Ahhh, shopping, shopping, shopping. Annabel and I aren’t crazy shoppers at home, but we quickly realised that the same rules don’t apply in India. Often we would enter a shop with plenty of time on our hands, and before we knew what had happened, emerged after dark wondering where the last couple of hours went. After witnessing the vastly varying qualities of hand blocked cotton throughout the trip, on one of our last days we popped into Anokhi. Yes, it’s a chain, and yes, it’s more expensive than other shops – but it is consistently well-made, often using organic cotton (which is always clearly tagged). All I can say is that my entire family can expect block-printed stuff for Christmas. Another shopping tip is stopping in at Nila House. Again, pricier, but the quality is amazing and they run a bunch of super interesting workshops with local artisans. It has such a serene vibe and everything is gorgeous.
Finally, if the exploring has left you parched, I have a couple of suggestions. For a decidedly filling morning stop (which makes sense, considering that you’re essentially drinking a pint of yoghurt), make sure you stop in at Lassiwala. There are a couple that purport to be ‘famous’, but I’d recommend going early-ish, as the OG famous one (link here) sells out.
While I didn’t get sick of Indian food (and have been craving it since I got home!!), if you want to change things up Cafe Kothi does some delicious lunch options and a killer cold-brew coffee.
You could spend forever exploring Jaipur and continually stumble across hidden gems, which is why I’m hoping to come back sooner rather than later. But this was an excellent way to start.