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India: Jaipur, the Pink City, and Tigers!

View World Tour: 2023 on Glichez's travel map.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Today was a full day of sightseeing around Jaipur and I was very excited to see more of the city. The main focus this morning was on the Amber Palace, which is located just to the north of the city. Before going there, we made a short stop at the Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Wind. The stunning building isn’t actually a palace, it is just a façade. It was built to allow the royal ladies to observe the everyday lives of the commoners outside the palace. They did so by looking out of the over 900 small windows that were decorated with intricate latticework, which allowed the ladies to look out without being seen by the commoners. The Hawa Mahal is connected to the nearby City Palace, which allowed the royal ladies to walk between the two places with ease.


When we finally arrived at the Amber Palace, the group had to transfer from our bus to smaller 4x4 Jeeps to drive to the top of the hill where the fort entrance is located. The fortified palace is situated along the banks of a river and it was very imposing to see it towering over the water. The architecture of this region was so unique and beautiful. Once we reached the palace itself, we met up with a local guide who took us around the entire complex.


Heading up the main staircase, we reached one of many courtyards in the palace. Behind us was the main entrance courtyard, which was the largest. As we continued into the palace, we reached a beautiful pavilion with some amazing pillars. From there, we could look down upon the river where a garden had been built for the palace. From the banks of the river, the garden was hidden, so it was nice to be able to get this view as well. We couldn’t visit that section of the palace, unfortunately. I could also see people riding elephants up to the palace rather than taking the 4x4 Jeeps. The other side of the courtyard had a much larger covered pavilion with more intricately carved pillars. The entire palace was quite crowded today.


Our guide then took us into the interior of the palace. The main building was very beautifully decorated, befitting a maharaja. We found ourselves in yet another courtyard which was full of bushes and flowers. The first building we stopped at was decorated with marble and small mirrors, which made the entire place sparkle. Detailed carvings had been made into the marble and painted as well. In one corner, our guide had each of us pose looking at a small mirror; he then stood next to us and used the mirror to take some great photos of our reflections.


We had some free time to wander around the courtyard on our own. I climbed up the stairs to the balcony so I could get a proper view of the entire courtyard. The balcony had several smaller buildings that appeared to have been used by the royal ladies as they had more of the latticework coverings on the windows.


Heading further into the palace, we reached the location of the chambers of the maharaja’s wives and concubines. The wives live in rooms along one side of the palace, while the maharaja lived in rooms overlooking the quarters of the wives. A long stretch of rooms adjacent to his apartments were where the concubines lived. The center of the courtyard where all of these apartments overlooked was a small pavilion where the royal ladies used to relax.


This brought our visit to the Amber Palace to a close. I found it a very interesting and fun visit, despite being so crowded. Anu then took the group to have our lunch before taking us back to the hotel. It was very hot outside by the time we got back to the hotel. I had found a few places around Jaipur that sounded interesting to visit during the free afternoon. When I discussed them with Anu, he said most of them weren’t worth visiting. It was a little disappointing that the other sights around town weren’t that impressive, but I made other plans instead.

I decided to head over to Starbucks for the afternoon and I was joined by Christina and Mandy. The three of us met in the hotel lobby at 15:30 and ordered an Uber to drive us to Starbucks. We opted to take an Uber tuk tuk there, which ended up being rather fun. The three of us were squished together in the back and thankfully the driver wasn’t too crazy during the 20-minute journey.

As we drove along through traffic, a car bumped into our tuk tuk – we were in a minor accident! The car peeled back some metal on the tuk tuk, but otherwise everything was fine. The ever so slight collision happened on Mandy’s side of the tuk tuk, so we all joked that she should pretend to have been injured when we met back up with the group later.

The Starbucks was very nice and had plenty of seating for us. After ordering our coffees and sweet treats (I had a cookie, while they shared some chocolate cakes), we hung out for a little while and chatted away. It was really nice to have some time away from the entire group. The group is friendly, but it can get tiring being around so many people all the time and having more intimate conversations is difficult. Mandy told us a lot about when she adopted her son from China, which I found very interesting. Both Mandy and Christina are lovely people and I really enjoyed any chance to chat with them.

Eventually, I did some reading while Mandy knitted, and Christina did social media on her phone. It was the perfect way to spend a hot afternoon in Jaipur! We spent roughly two hours at Starbucks before it was time to leave. Rather than returning to the hotel, we planned to meet the rest of the group at the restaurant at 19:00 for dinner. Before going there, I suggested that the three of us make a visit to a nearby temple. Mandy and Christina were keen, so we ordered another tuk tuk to take us to the temple.


The Birla Mandir temple is a very recent addition to the city, built in the late 1980s and contrasted out of while marble (it would fit in quite well in Ashgabat!). The Hindu temple is dedicated to the Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu. Their images adorn the interior of the temple in several carved marble wall panels.


The tuk tuk dropped us off at the parking lot and we had to proceed on foot. After climbing a short staircase, we found the main path leading to the temple. It was beautiful in the twilight of sunset! There is one tall tower, along with two smaller domes in front. The entire building was illuminated in a greenish light, which added to its beauty. There were a lot of people heading towards the temple this evening.


When we arrived at the entrance, signs indicated where we were to leave our shoes. Mandy preferred to wait outside, so she sat down in a chair to one side of the entrance. Christina and I were leaving our shoes with her rather than at the check counter, when a guard came up and was insisting that we take our shoes to the counter. We tried to explain that Mandy was remaining there, but he did not understand what we were saying. Only when she had sat down and it was clear that Mandy was remaining there did the guard relent.

Christina and I entered the temple compound and marveled at the stunning beauty of the temple itself. The entire exterior was covered with intricate carvings into the marble bricks. Depictions of various gods and other designs met our eyes everywhere we looked. Signs around the temple stated that photographs were not permitted, but people were snapping pictures all over the place, so we took a few quick ones as well. After walking around outside, we entered the temple to have a look around. The inside was not as large as one would expect. The highlight was when we walked around the central altar. The walls had some incredible carvings on them depicting Lakshmi and Vishnu. We didn’t understand everything that the images were conveying, but Christina was able to identify many of the figures in each one.


We rejoined Mandy and set off for the restaurant, which was only a 15-minute walk away from the temple. The walk was rather easy as it just followed the one main road outside the temple, but we did have to cross several busy streets along the way. Traffic in India is crazy and it made some people in our group uneasy each time we had to cross a street; I was reminded of traffic in Hanoi and was less intimidated. The three of us managed to navigate our way across the streets and to the restaurant.

The rest of the group had arrived shortly before us and we joined them inside to enjoy dinner. Yet again, Anu had taken us to a wonderful restaurant and I enjoyed my favorite meal of the entire trip. Unfortunately, I’m writing this entry too long after the dinner to recall the name of the dish I ordered – it was a recommendation by Anu and not one that I’d eaten before. For dessert, I ordered a “sizzling brownie” which lived up to the name. It was a brownie with ice cream served on a hot platter with that was drizzled with chocolate sauce. The sauce sizzled on the piping hot platter. It was good, not nowhere near as good as Hello to the Queen – that dessert still made the group swoon.


The bus took us back to our hotel, where I spent the time working before bed. Jaipur had been a very pleasant visit, though I think an extra day in the city would have been nice. There are so many different things to see and just not enough time.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Today was another one focused on driving as we made our way to Ranthambore National Park. It wasn’t too long of a drive and we arrived in the early afternoon. Our hotel for the next two nights was very nice and it even had a pool! We all went over to the hotel restaurant for lunch and I found the food to be just so-so. I ordered a fried rice which turned out to be too spicy for me to eat. I had been so lucky throughout most of the trip to not encounter many spicy dishes, but this one proved too much for me to handle.


The afternoon was spent relaxing at the hotel. Some in the group lounged by the pool, others napped or relaxed in their rooms, while I spent the time working and blogging, The hotel had decent WiFi, but it wouldn’t connect in my room, so I had to resort to using my mobile hotspot.


Dinner was included with our stay at the hotel and was served in the restaurant. It was a family-style buffet: the waiters brought out several dishes for our table to share, and we could get more of anything as well. Unfortunately, most of the food served was again too spicy for me! I was able to have some of the French fries and nan, but that was about it. I was very disappointed that everything being served was so spicy. Other restaurants had toned down the spice level because we were tourists and obviously not used to the traditional spice levels. Not this restaurant. Anu kindly offered to have them make something else for me, but I declined – I didn’t trust them to make something that wasn’t spicy.

The evening was then spent doing some work before heading to bed early. We had to be up at the crack of dawn the next day, so I wanted to make sure to get some sleep before the alarm rang at 05:00!

Thursday, October 12, 2023

The focus for today was on taking a safari drive through Ranthambore National Park. We had one included morning drive included with our tour, and most of the group had signed up for a second drive in the afternoon. I had opted out of the second drive, so all my hopes on seeing a tiger were wrapped up in the morning drive.

We had to depart the hotel at 06:00 this morning, so I had to wake up at 05:30 to get ready. It was the earliest wake up of the entire trip. The safari truck picked us up outside the hotel. It was a large truck with about 20 seats. Luckily, we were the first two board the truck and we could thus get the best seats. We drove through the small town and picked up a few more people before heading to the entrance to Ranthambore.

Ranthambore National Park is divided into several different zones and each safari truck is assigned to a specific zone for their drives, thus helping to prevent over crowding in one or more zones. We were assigned to Zone 1, though there are no boundaries between the zones so the animals can wander between them at will. It didn’t take us long to reach the entrance to Zone 1 and our safari drive began!


The trucks are required to stay on the designated pathways through each zone, which was understandable as it helped to preserve the animals’ natural habitat, but the animals also learned that the truck paths were places to avoid. All of us were eagerly hoping to see a tiger in the wild, though we knew the chances were slim because there are only 70 tigers in the entire park.

Shortly after entering the park, we saw some smaller safari trucks off-road in a clearing and our driver soon followed at high speed – they’d spotted something. The drive was somewhat dangerous because tree branches kept snapping back into our faces. When we reached the other trucks, we were told that a tiger had been spotted! We drove slowly further into the woods and then we spotted it – a female tiger walking through the trees!


Everyone in the truck was excited to see the lone tiger. I was surprised at how well camouflaged the tiger appeared among the trees – I thought the orange color would make it stand out. The tiger was slowly walking among the trees, totally ignoring the trucks. The entire encounter lasted less than one minute before the tiger walked down a hill and out of our view. It was exhilarating and was an amazing start to the safari! Anu told us that he had been on several safari drives recently and seen no animals, let alone a tiger. We were exceedingly lucky and now everything we would see would just be a bonus.

After making a hasty drive back to the main road through the park, we resumed the normal safari drive. It was only after we’d returned to the road that we were told that the drivers were technically forbidden from driving where we’d just gone, but since it was only a short drive, they decided to risk it. If they were caught, they could have their licenses revoked!

The remainder of the drive was less eventful, but we did see plenty of other animals. The one we saw the most was the spotted deer: we saw several small herds of them throughout the park. Most of the time they were just grazing, while other groups were running away as they heard the truck approach. We also saw some peacocks in the distance. When we stopped alongside a small lake, we could see a hawk perched atop a log, waiting to find some prey. It sat perfectly still and didn’t make the slightest of movements the entire time we watched it. Further along, we saw a young crocodile along the banks of a river (though it quickly disappeared into the water). The final stop was at a large open area where we could see many birds flying around. It was quite serene to sit there and just listen to the birds calling to one another.


The drive back through the park was quick and we only made a few stops to see more spotted deer. The hawk was still perched on the log as we drove past as well. We exited the park about three hours after entering and everyone was quite pleased with the safari. We were incredibly fortunate to have seen the tiger – let alone having it be the first animal we spotted!

Once we returned to the hotel, it was time for breakfast. They served several delicious options, including an omelet and French toast! We were able to have as much of each dish as we wanted as well. I had a few slices of French toast with my omelet – I was very pleased with today’s breakfast! Everyone then retired to our respective rooms to nap and get some rest.

I spent the remainder of the day relaxing in the room: watching Netflix, reading, blogging, and getting some work done. I eventually went to the hotel lobby so I could connect to the WiFi there – it was the only place in the hotel with a decent signal. The rest of the group had their afternoon safari at 14:00 and I saw them off while I worked in the lobby. Since I had seen a tiger in the morning, I had no regrets about skipping the afternoon drive. It was an expensive optional activity and given the scarcity of wildlife that we’d seen throughout the morning, it wasn’t worth it to me.

I had a late lunch at the hotel restaurant, and I ordered a good amount of food: Malai kofta, garlic nan, and plain rice. It was all quite good, though the kofta was a bit on the spicy side. This hotel restaurant really liked to make their dishes with a lot of spice, even when I asked for no spice. I then went back to my room to relax in the air-con.

When everyone returned around 18:00, they told me that they saw more of the same animals as the morning, but no more tigers. They did see some more birds and had a beautiful view over the entire park from atop a hill. It sounded quite nice, but not enough to make me regret my decision.

Dinner was included this evening and it was similar to the food we had had the previous evening. Again, most of the food was too spicy for me to eat, so I just had some rice and garlic nan. It was a very disappointing meal – I was glad that I ate such a large meal for lunch!

After dinner, everyone went back to their rooms to get some sleep. It had been a long and tiring day for us all, especially with the 06:00 start time for the first safari. I decided to not stay up late working and I was asleep by 23:00 – finally an early evening for me!

Posted by Glichez 05:21 Archived in India

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