It took less than a week in India for me to make my first mistake.
Despite researching for so long about how to make my time in the Golden Triangle the best ever, I still managed to screw up.
You see, when I began to read about Jaipur, I came to two realisations: there’s so much I want to see in this city, but I also don’t want to spend more than a day there. This traffic-clogged city sounded like somewhere I wouldn’t warm to, and yet, it had so many world-class attractions that I wanted to see.
It felt like the most logical step was to take a tour. I hopped on Viator and found a company offering a day-long exploration of India’s pink city. They’d take me to all the best spots: Hawa Mahal, Amber Fort, Jal Mahal, Jantar Mantar, and the City Palace. Not only that, but the tour company had an average of five stars from 125 reviews.
It sounded like the perfect way to see as much of Jaipur as possible.
Let’s kick this post off by getting one thing out of the way: despite Jaipur having the nickname the Pink City, it’s far from pink. In fact, as you can see in the photo above, it’s a distinct shade of orange. Maybe pinky-orange at best, but definitely not pink.
The city was painted this shade way back in 1876, to welcome Prince Albert Edward — the eldest son of Queen Victoria — to town, and it’s remained that colour ever since. It’s now illegal for buildings in the old city to be repainted anything other than this tone of pink and these days, everything is regularly painted to ensure the walls look pristine at all times.
Although I’d seen photos of Jaipur before I arriving, I was still transfixed by this perfect shade of salmon as our driver took us through the old city. Within minutes of leaving our guesthouse, we were pulling up outside Hawa Mahal — arguably the most famous attraction in Jaipur.
We met our guide for the day here, and were quickly informed that Hawa Mahal is actually a facade, designed so the royal women could observe what was happening on the streets without being seen. Behind the impressive wall was a rather ordinary building.
It was here that we encountered the first disappointment of our tour.
We weren’t allowed to see inside the building because we were on such a tight time schedule. Despite the tour listing stating that we’d have an hour to explore Hawa Mahal, in reality, we had two minutes to take some photos and then we were back in the car again. We didn’t even have time to cross the road and take photos from more than six foot away from the building.
Next stop: Amber Fort.
This was an even more impressive building.
“You know, more people visit here than the Taj Mahal,” our guide told us as we left the car.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise I hadn’t even heard of Amber Fort before I’d started planning this trip, so I was astounded to discover that more people were visiting it than India’s most famous attraction. It was incredible.
It was also false.
Amber Fort receives two million visitors a year; the Taj Mahal seven million.
This was not the first time my guide would pass on incorrect information.
The one thing that was good about this tour was that elephant riding was not on the agenda. Don’t ride elephants, please.
There are two ways to reach the top of Amber Fort: by car and by elephant. And while it’s easy to romanticise the notion of riding an elephant up to a fort on the hill, as people would have done for centuries beforehand… it’s cruel to do so, and the elephants at Amber Fort are mistreated. Still, there was an alarming amount of people opting to elephant their way up to the entrance.
We began to explore Amber Fort at breakneck speed, racing through a series of four courtyards, palaces, halls, gates, and gardens. We dashed through the Hall of Mirrors, sped through the Hall of Public Audience, and darted around Jas Mandir.
“I’m making sure to show you the best of Amber Fort,” our guide reassured us. “We won’t see anything that isn’t worth seeing.”
I nodded appreciatively. We had been moving quickly, but we also had a lot on our agenda for the day.
With Amber Fort now under our belts, we sat outside in the sunshine, waiting for our driver to return to pick us up.
“How did you travel here to Jaipur?” our guide asked us.
“By car,” I said.
“Oh, so you saw Chand Baori?” He was referring to the incredible stepwell I shared on my Facebook page a few days ago.
“Very good. In that case, you do not need to see the stepwell here. You have already seen the best stepwell in India, so you don’t need to see one that is worse.”
I paused, as I racked my brains to try to remember if I’d wanted to see this stepwell. In the end, I went along with what he was saying and shrugged.
We were back on the road again and driving towards our next destination, Jal Mahal — Jaipur’s lake palace.
There, we stood on the banks of the lake, sun shining on our faces, big red sign at our feet. I had to perform some serious cropping to my photos in order to get the fence and trash out of the scene, and I wish we could have seen it from a different angle.
One where there wasn’t a fence in the way; one where the sun wasn’t blowing out the exposure in our photos.
Despite the tour listing stating we’d stop for an hour here, we were back in the car within five minutes, ready to cross the next attraction from our list: Jaipur’s city palace.
The city palace is a large complex in the centre of the city, with several courtyards, gardens, and museums to take a look at. I’m never going to get excited about an armoury or an exhibit on Indian textiles through the ages, so this was a relatively uninteresting stop for me.
The undisputed highlight of the city palace was the pigeon-chaser.
As we wandered through Sarvato Bhadra, an open-air hall in the middle of the complex, I spotted the smartly-dressed man keeping a watchful eye over the tourists. Or, at least, I thought he was watching us roam around.
It turned out he was actually looking out for objects that were a little more grey and flappy.
As soon as a pigeon swooped into the hall, this guy would grab his stick and wave a red piece of cloth at the bird until it gave up and soared back out into the sky.
The pigeon-chaser would then rest his pole back up against the column and steady himself for the next invader.
For our final stop, we were taken to Jantar Mantar — one of the spots I was most excited about seeing because I’m a dork.
Jantar Mantar is the largest stone observatory in the world, built in 1724 by Maharajah Sawaii Jai Singh II of Jaipur. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the complex is home to 19 instruments that can be used to study time and the position of dozens of astronomical objects. It’s even home to the world’s largest stone sundial, which gives the time in Jaipur to an accuracy of just two seconds. It was all so impressive, considering the precision of the enormous stone instruments and how long ago they were built.
Our guide was a bit useless here, and kept wittering on about horoscopes and astrology and how horoscopes were real because you can’t see the rays that are emitted from TV remotes so they just have to be.
“Lunch?” our guide asked, and I frowned.
“I don’t know…” I looked to Dave to see how he was feeling. “Where will we eat?”
“Very good restaurant,” he told us. “Rated well on TripAdvisor.”
That was what I was afraid of. But, we were hungry, so we agreed to head for lunch.
And for the first time since arriving in India, we entered a restaurant to be greeted by a sea of white faces. Giant tables crammed full of tour groups, a menu with prices triple what we’d be paying elsewhere, a vast array of dishes available to choose from, from pasta to pizza to chicken chow mein.
Fortunately, in India it’s practically impossible to have a bad meal. So while our food was overpriced and our fellow diners were on package holidays and our guide was collecting a hefty commission, the meal was still delicious.
And that concluded my tour of Jaipur.
It… hadn’t been great.
What Was Wrong With the Tour?
I tend to avoid taking tours while I travel, and this experience perfectly showcases why. Let’s dig into the details:
On a tour, you’re running on someone else’s schedule, so you often end up seeing the attractions at the worst possible time. Take Amber Fort. In my photo, Ganesh Pol looked like this:
Whereas if I’d been there when Amber Fort opened, it would have looked like this:
My photo looked like this:
Without the crowds, I would have been able to see it like this:
Another disappointment came from taking our tour was feeling as though we were rushed through each attraction.
Once we told our guide we didn’t want to do any shopping at the end of the tour — something I assume he would have made a commission from — he seemed to lose interest and switch to rushing us through every stop.
On the Viator listing, the tour company claims you’ll spend one hour at Hawa Mahal, three hours at Amber Fort, one hour at Jal Mahal, one hour at the city palace, and one hour at Jantar Mantar.
In reality, we spent two minutes at Hawa Mahal, one hour at the Amber Palace, two minutes at Jal Mahal, an hour at the city palace, and half an hour at Jantar Mantar.
The listing made it seem as though our tour would last for seven hours, when in reality, we were done in three. I felt rushed throughout our tour.
And finally, given that we were finished within half a day, I wish we’d have been shown more of what makes Jaipur special.
I let my guide convince me that I didn’t need to see the stepwell when, in fact, I love stepwells and dream of getting a photo like the one above. Amber fort could have been my opportunity. I should have insisted we see it, rather than believe my guide that it wasn’t worth seeing. It looks so cool!
This is Jaigarh Fort, beside Amber Fort, and it wasn’t on our agenda, either.
And here’s colourful Patrika Gate, which I would have loved to have seen with my own eyes.
We also missed Galta Ji, the monkey temple, and Nahargarh Fort, which looks out over Jaipur. We didn’t even have time to walk around the old city to take photos of the beautiful colours.
The tour could have either included so much more, or slowed things down so we could savour our time at the attractions.
What I Should Have Done Differently
Not taken this tour, for starters. I think that much is apparent.
I thought this would provide a perfect way to explore the Pink City, but it turned out to be the worst possible way to see Jaipur. I’m baffled by the numerous positive reviews this tour receives.
Still, I’m grateful that I took this tour because it means that I know exactly how not to see Jaipur. And that means that I can tell you how to see this city the right way.
Here’s how I would now choose to spend a day in Jaipur:
You’re going to want to see these attractions when they’re at their least busy — fewer people, after all, equals less stress and better photos. The city of Amer is seven miles outside of Jaipur and its fort is going to be the most popular attraction you’ll see. Because of this, you’ll want to be outside Amber Fort when it opens, which is at 8 a.m.
I’d be aiming to leave Jaipur at 7:30 in the morning in order to give you enough time to get there, and to also see the stepwell.
Amer’s stepwell makes for some seriously badass photos, so if you want to see the dizzying steps without anybody else on them, you’ll want to get there early. It’s beside Amber Fort, so spend a few minutes taking stepwell photos before heading up to the fort.
Once the fort opens, you’ll want to make the most of having it all to yourself, so prioritise seeing the most popular parts of the complex: the Hall of Mirrors is usually packed, so head straight there. Once you’ve walked through the four areas of Amber Fort, make the trek over to Jaigarh Fort and spent an hour taking photos from its walls.
With the main attraction out of the way, jump in an Uber back towards Jaipur and stop off at the lake palace. Spend half an hour taking photos, walking up and down the shores to ensure you land yourself with a photo that isn’t full of trash in the foreground.
With that, it’ll be back to Jaipur, so grab a rickshaw and ask the driver to take you to Hawa Mahal. Rather than rushing, take photos from both sides of the street, and head inside to have a look around. Several people I met in Rajasthan told me they enjoyed going inside more than admiring the exterior. Make sure to grab a chai from the Wind View Cafe opposite to get one of the best views of the Hawa Mahal without traffic getting in the way.
While you’re in the old city, head next to the City Palace and Jantar Mantar, and enjoy snapping photos of the pink buildings on the way. I’d suggest potentially skipping the city palace if you’re running short on time, as it was the least impressive part of Jaipur for me.
If you’re still feeling energised, you should head next to Nahargarh Fort, for an incredible view of the city. Visiting for sunset could be a great way to watch darkness fall over Jaipur.
And that’ll round off your one day in Jaipur! You’ll have seen more than I did on my trip, seen it in a better way, and spent far less money, too.
Where to stay in Jaipur: At least I did something right in Jaipur, because I absolutely adored the guesthouse I stayed in while I was there! Le Fort Homestay was a relaxing oasis in Jaipur, with a chilled-out owner, and delicious breakfast options. At $22 a night, it was great to have a clean room in a welcoming place that felt like home.
Where to eat in Jaipur: There are a couple of great restaurants near to Le Fort Homestay. My favourite was Kalyan Rooftop, but I also loved Peacock Restaurant for their delicious thalis.
How to get around: You can hire a driver for the day, which will be cheaper and easier, but I prefer to take Ubers and rickshaws to give me more freedom. Uber is so cheap in India! You’ll probably pay no more than a couple of dollars to get from one place to another.
My overall impression of Jaipur: I’ve now been to eight cities in northern India, and Jaipur was my least favourite. I even disliked it more than Agra, which is uniformly hated by travellers! The touts were overwhelming and there was so much hassle to deal with that it was hard to warm to the city. Just walking down the street would have people flocking to you and offering you rickshaws and trying to persuade you to enter their store or cafe. I just wanted to walk in peace!
But! I would still say Jaipur is more than worth visiting. There are so many great attractions and incredible sights, and the good thing about them is that they can all be seen within 24 hours.
So head to Jaipur, formulate a plan of attack for your visit, then get out after you’ve seen it all.