Discover India in Jaipur

 

Contributor:
Andy Marty

Nationality:
Australian

Social Links:
Instagram: @andympics
Facebook: @andympics

Age Group:
 30-40

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
 Photography
Casual

 

Destination: Jaipur - Rajasthan, India. December 2018

There are few cities in India regarded for their beauty as much as Jaipur. It was founded and named after Maharaja Jai Singh II and was where the family ruled over Rajasthan. 

Jaipur is affectionately known as the “Pink City”, owing to the original color the walls of many of the buildings were painted. These days, the city buildings are mostly painted in earthy red colors, which was done in preparation for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1876

The ancient step well of Panna Meena Ka Kund

The ancient step well of Panna Meena Ka Kund

 Getting In:

The international airport (map) is only just outside the main city area and a relatively short drive to most hotels. International flights arrive from several destinations including Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and Sharjah – we flew Air Arabia from Sharjah to Jaipur. There are also domestic flights from several cities within India.

International visitors arriving into Jaipur will require a Visa. Check online to see what category of visa you require and most can be applied for and processed online in less than 1 week. You will need scans of passport photos and your travel history.

Many visitors will arrive to Jaipur via train, with lines linking the popular destinations of Delhi, Agra, Jodpur and Jaipur. There are many options and classes of travel on trains in India. Be sure to book a carriage with air-conditioning if travelling in warmer months! 

Travel by car/taxi is possible for long distances in India and surprisingly cheap. However, be warned that certain cars (including Uber drivers) are often not permitted to cross state boundaries – they will accept Uber requests and then only inform you of this once they arrive to collect you. If they are able to cross, they will often need to get paperwork completed, which can take a long time, especially if there is traffic – definitely check this information before you agree to travel with them.

There is also a bus service from Delhi to Jaipur. Again, be sure to book a ticket on the air-conditioned bus in the warmer months (it is around USD15 one way). Only book through Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation as some other companies are unreliable in terms of service and vehicles.

The busy and colourful streetlife of Jaipur

The busy and colourful streetlife of Jaipur

Getting around Jaipur:

Once in Jaipur, it is relatively easy to book Uber drivers where needed and this is a very convenient way to get around, especially if you have some distance to travel. 

There are private “chauffeur” cars, which can be booked per trip or per day. If you are looking to spend a day visiting the highlights of Jaipur this is probably your best option. It will cost you around USD50.00 for a day. Many of these drivers will be in front of the hotels or can be arranged by your hotel. Most can speak English quite well and communicate via Whatsapp. It is a very convenient way to visit places around Jaipur, as many of the highlights are some distance away from each other.

In the city centre there are large numbers of rickshaws waiting to take people around. Trips in rickshaws are certainly far cheaper and in most cases the price can be bargained. 

The chauffeur probably offers a safer and more comfortable mode of transport, but if you’re looking to save a few dollars or enjoy the authentic experience, certainly give the rickshaws a go!

Friendly people in the streets of Bapu Bazar

Friendly people in the streets of Bapu Bazar

 Fairmont Jaipur: (map)

We stayed at Fairmont Jaipur, a luxury hotel on the North of the city. It is a stunning property that is immaculately presented with traditional architecture and furnishings. The layout and service is designed around providing guests with an authentic experience, with many small touches capturing elements of the region’s fascinating history. 

Guests are welcomed on arrival with a traditional greeting complete with drums and rose petals – you will be transported back to the time of the ruling Maharaja as you enter the large wooden doors. Inside the music will continue and you will become immersed in the atmosphere of Rajasthan. 

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A warm traditional greeting awaits at Fairmont Jaipur

A warm traditional greeting awaits at Fairmont Jaipur

 In the evening belly dancers will perform in the lobby and guests are encouraged to join in. The hotel frequently hosts local weddings and if you are in the hotel it is almost impossible not to be drawn to the arrival of the wedding party – complete with painted elephants and horses.

Join the belly dancing

Join the belly dancing

 The rooms are elegantly furnished and all have enormous  bath tubs suitable for relaxing the weariest of travellers. The beds maintain the high standard set by Fairmont properties around the world.

 

The hotel serves breakfast from 2 restaurants, both providing buffet style service. There is a selection of traditional dishes and global cuisine, but when in India, I would definitely recommend sampling some of the local delicacies! If the weather is nice, a perfect spot for breakfast is outside the Zoya Restaurant overlooking the pond.

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 There are also several dinner options including a wonderful in room dining menu (I have had many, and the butter chicken on this menu stacks up very well). However, to truly appreciate the local cuisine, I don’t think you can go past the Thali – literally a meal fit for a King. Served in Zarin Restaurant, the Thali arrives as many small dishes on a large silver tray. You are able to sample a variety of flavors and textures. The meal is enormous and an experience in itself.

 There is also an elegant high tea served in Anjum – a beautifully decorated room that takes a golden glow in the afternoon as the sun sets out the window.

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 Exploring Jaipur:

1.    Panna Meena Ka Kund: (map)

These ancient stepwells or “baoris” were common in the North of India for centuries. They would collect water and fill up in the rainy monsoon season. As the dry season progressed and the level dropped, people could walk down the cascading steps cut into the sides to access water. Now, they mostly serve as tourist attractions, creating unique photo opportunities.

The Panna Meena Ka Kund stepwell is located close to the Amber Fort. I would suggest going early in the morning if you want a photo without people in it. There is a security guard stopping people from entering the stepwell as the water has become a source of infection and people are not allowed to go into the water. If you are extremely nice and assure the security that you only wish to go onto the steps, they may allow you to take a quick photograph.

There is another larger stepwell around an hours drive out of Jaipur – Chand Baori (map) that is meant to be incredible. If you have time when you visit, it might be worth taking a drive to see this.

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 2.    Amber Fort (Amer Fort): (map)

One of the highlights of Jaipur, Amber Fort is a large fort palace built on the side of a hill in 1592 from red sandstone and marble. Although it is roughly amber in color, the name does not come from this, rather it is named after the town of Amber. The main section of the fort consists of 4 courtyards.

The popular photo opportunity is of the steps leading up to the large colored facade of Ganesh Pol (Ganesh Gate) in the first courtyard. If you want the iconic picture at the top of the steps, without hundreds of tourists, you will need to come as early as the fort opens (8am) and then hope it isn’t crowded.

The steps of Ganesh Pol, Amber Fort

The steps of Ganesh Pol, Amber Fort

Entering through Ganesh Pol, you will reach the equally impressive Sheesh Mahal – a large room covered in thousands of mirrors and colored glass which would reflect candlelight to create a mesmerizing glittering effect.

Entry to Amber Fort is R500 for foreign tourists (around USD7) and gives you access to the entire complex. You can pay extra for guided tours (R100).

The fort is also the site of a light show after dark, that is best viewed from the lower sections of the fort.

Many tourists travel up to and from Amber Fort on the elephant rides that are offered. However there is significant concerns over the standard of treatment many of these animals receive and tourists are encouraged not to support the practice.

When you visit Amber Fort early in the morning, it is a different experience than when the crowds of tourists arrive!

When you visit Amber Fort early in the morning, it is a different experience than when the crowds of tourists arrive!

 3.    Jaigarh Fort: (map)

Only a short walk up from Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort is the “strongest” of Jaipur’s 3 main forts. It is also the home of the world’s largest cannon! Entry is R85

 4.    Nahargarh Fort: (map)

You will definitely need to get a car up to Nahargarh Fort and the road up is quite windy and narrow. There is an area to stop close to the fort that has a pretty good view of Jal Mahal (The Water Palace in the middle of the Mansarovar Lake). 

A view of the Taj Mahal on the road to Nahargarh Fort

A view of the Taj Mahal on the road to Nahargarh Fort

The first section of the fort walls is free to visit and explore with some nice, albeit restricted, views across parts of Jaipur. 

The main section of the fort requires payment to enter (R200) and this includes a drink from the restaurant at the top of the fort. The gates and just inside is quite touristy with several small stands. Lots of people hang around the first few hundred meters, but the best views across the city are seen from the top of the fort which is around a 15 minute walk (there are also rickshaws that can take people if they prefer). Scenes from several Bollywood movies were shot on the walls of the fort and it is a very popular place to view sunsets – if you are lucky enough to be there on a day without intense haze!

Sunset through the Jaipur haze from the top of Nahargarh Fort

Sunset through the Jaipur haze from the top of Nahargarh Fort

The view over a sprawling Jaipur suburb

The view over a sprawling Jaipur suburb

 5.    Jawahar Circle: (map)

A huge roundabout on the south of Jaipur, with a park area in the middle. Probably the cleanest and nicest place in the city to go for a walk. There is a small street-food bazar (great for refreshing ice cream), a rose garden and a children’s play area. But the most popular and iconic is the entry at the northern end of the park – Patrika Gate (map). The huge archways are impressive and on the inside are colorful murals depicting the local history of Jaipur. It is a hugely popular photo spot, so again, if you want to avoid crowded photos, you will need to visit early in the morning. The Patrika Gates are open 24 hours, so get there as early as you can and you will have it almost to yourself! We visited around 7am and it was pretty much empty.

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 6.    City Palace: (map)

Much of the City Palace is now a museum and there is still a section which remains the residence of the Royal Family – Chandra Mahal. Entry to the palace is R500, however if you want to access Chandra Mahal you will need to pay R3000 per person which includes a tour guide. There are some sections of the residence which are certainly worth seeing and it’s a fascinating insight into the life of the ruling family. If you can spare the money, walking through the residence is really interesting, especially with the informed guides. 

One of the highlights of the City Palace is a courtyard with 4 elaborately decorated doorways depicting the 4 seasons of the year – each one draws on elements of the season that are significant in Rajasthan culture.

The Lotus doorway

The Lotus doorway

The Peacock doorway

The Peacock doorway

 

The Diwan-i-aam or the Hall of Public Audience is where the King used to sit and listen to the issues of his subjects. 

Diwan-i-aam where the King would hear the problems of his people.

Diwan-i-aam where the King would hear the problems of his people.

 Chand Mahal has a total of 7 floors, with each floor serving a different purpose or giving respect to a different season or special holiday in the year.

The Chhawi Niwas is a beautifully decorated blue and white room, and was used to celebrate the monsoon rains.

Chhavi Niwas - The “blue room” that celebrates the monsoon season

Chhavi Niwas - The “blue room” that celebrates the monsoon season

On the 5th floor is a room decorated all over with concave mirrors (similar to the Sheesh Mahal at Amber Fort). When you visit they will close the doors and light a cangle causing each of the small mirrors to reflect the candle light and the entire roof illuminates.

The Shobha Niwas is a sitting area for the Maharaja and is elaborately decorated.

On the ground floor is the dining room used to accept and entertain guest and dignitaries. This is still the room used to host many of the world’s important political figures. It is one of the rooms inside the Chand Mahal where photography is not permitted.

The view over City Palace from the top of Chand Mahal

The view over City Palace from the top of Chand Mahal

 7.    Hawa Mahal: (map)

Probably the most iconic building in Jaipur with its unmistakable terracotta façade – which is actually the rear of the building! The façade of the Mahal is close to the street, which makes it very difficult to photograph! The best views of the building are actually from across the street in 2 small cafes. Whilst most people pull up in a car and take a quick photo from the street, I would recommend visiting either the Windview Café (map) or The Tattoo Café (map). Both have much better views directly at the façade. Even better, you can sit and enjoy some local staples while enjoying the view. We visited with Indian locals and they told us that the dishes at Windview Café in particular were the typical dishes they would eat as snacks – Masala Maggi Noodles, Aloo Tiki burgers, etc.

Hawa Mahal was built as part of the City palace to give the women a place to watch life going by outside. There are 950 windows looking out on to the street and the breeze circulating through the windows kept it cool and provided the building with its name - Hawa meaning breeze in Hindi.

If you wish, you can enter the Mahal for R50.

 The street in front of the Hawa Mahal façade is worth taking a walk along, with many small bazars, local shops and street sellers. If you are interested in streetscapes and local culture it is certainly worth half an hour or so.

The facade of Hawa Mahal seen from the street

The facade of Hawa Mahal seen from the street

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 8.    Bapu Bazar: (map)

I love visiting local markets in any city I visit, so I always try to seek out the authentic places where locals shop. Bapu Bazar in Jaipur is a typical Indian street market with loads of shops selling anything from textiles to samosas. Naturally they will quickly identify a tourist and look to bargain at far higher than normal prices! It’s a great place for a photo walk or to sample local street food. Quick word of warning – steer clear of the Panni Puri unless you have a far stronger stomach than I do!

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 9.    Jal Mahal: (map)

The iconic “Water Palace” of Jaipur sits by itself in Mansarovar Lake. In the winter the lake can dry out, but summer monsoons quickly fill it again. The Palace is not accessible to visitors, but there are several places to get a nice view. Because the water is usually very calm and flat, the Palace often creates a nice reflection in the right light. It is also illuminated at night, which makes it look great against the water.

The illuminated Jawa Mahal reflecting in the lake.

The illuminated Jawa Mahal reflecting in the lake.

 Places To East:

We ate the majority of our meals at Fairmont Jaipur and certainly even if you are not staying at this hotel, I would thoroughly recommend visiting for dinner to try the Thali.

 Plan to have a bite to eat at Windview Café when you want to take photos of Hawa Mahal – the Aloo Tiki burger is really good and the food is really cheap!

 One other place we went for dinner was Palladio Café and Bar (map). The food and service are “ok” without being outstanding and the prices are pretty steep for India. But the décor and atmosphere is really impressive! The bar area is decorated similar to the Chhawi Niwas in the City Palace, with elaborate blue and white walls. Outside, tables are seated around small fires and fairy lights. The food is Italian cuisine.

Palladio Cafe and Bar at night.

Palladio Cafe and Bar at night.

 Traveling In India:

India is one of my favorite destinations for travel, but there are some things to take into consideration.

Be sure to check your visa requirements, as all foreign visitors require a visa. Check your requirements online and you can often get your visa processed online.

Speak to your doctor before traveling to India as there are some important diseases to be aware of. In particular some visitors may require proof of yellow fever vaccination as part of their entry requirements. It would be worth making sure your vaccinations for Hepatitis, Diptheria, Tetanus and Typhoid are up to date.

“Traveller’s Diarrhea” is common for visitors to India. Whilst most people think it is the fault of eating something, it is far more common to be caused by water – drinking water, even ice in drinks, poorly washed salad and foods that contain water (like Panni Puri). Be cautious of what you drink or check that what you’re eating doesn’t have water in it. I always travel with a small medical kit that includes anti-diarrhea medication and rehydration tablets.

Malaria and Dengue Fever can be significant problems in India, especially around the monsoon season. There are prophylactic medications for malaria, most of which have side effects. However there isn’t for Dengue Fever and the prevention of avoiding mosquito bites is probably the best way of avoiding both. I always use insect repellent and mosquito nets. It’s a good idea to spray your room when you leave to prevent mosquitos waiting for you when you get back!

Staying connected in India can be a bit of a challenge as it isn’t as easy as most countries to pick up a SIM card at the airport. In order to get a local mobile sim, you need paperwork from your hotel (a police letter). You will then need to present this, copies of your passport and entry visa when you purchase a sim card. It will take at least 1 business day for the sim to be activated. If you are visiting only for a couple of days, you are better off using roaming.

There is an undeniable level of poverty in India and some people find it confronting. But there is also an incredible beauty in the country. Travel to India is an “experience”. There are few places so deep in culture and where you can truly immerse yourself. It is a place to explore and certainly Jaipur is one of those cities that has an amazing amount to offer to visitors looking to experience authentic culture.



























 

Leon, Nicaragua - Why you should plan a Nicaragua visit

 
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Content creators and travel bloggers, Cathie & Al from Flat World Travel give us an amazing insight into one of the favourite cities they visited during a recent trip to Nicaragua/ Read all about Leon here and follow the links to their blog for more on travel in Nicaragua.

 

Contributor:
Cathie

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Website: http://travel.flatworldonline.com
Instagram: @flatworldtravel

Age Group:
 

Gender:
Couple

Travel Style:
Couple travel
Adventure

 

Destination: Leon, Nicaragua, November 2017

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Inspiration:

We were hired to do photos and video for a destination wedding in Cancun in November. We decided to add on to the trip and go to Nicaragua. This was the perfect destination. We found one of our favorite cities on the trip was Leon.  We were looking for somewhere warm to go after the wedding.  And through Instagram and travel blogs we had seen some beautiful photos from Nicaragua. I always had an interest in this country. We started researching it and fell in love with it’s mixture of colonial historical cities that we love to explore as well as beautiful nature to be adventurous in. Nicaragua really does have it all. While we didn’t spend anytime in the major city of Managua we did enjoy Leon. You can get a real feel for city life of the people and not be far from nature and adventure at the same time. And who could pass up the opportunity to go to volcano boarding down an active volcano.!!!

Getting There:

We flew from Cancun to Nicaragua since we already had our flights arranged from Philadelphia to Cancun. Once we arrived in Nicaragua and for our travel around the country we hired private drivers through our various boutique hotels. Because we were traveling with a lot of photo and video gear, more than we normally do since we were coming from a wedding, we wanted to always make sure we traveled in the safest way possible. Even if that meant spending extra. It was also nice to always be in air conditioning and to  talk with the drivers. Well at least try since our Spanish is very limited. Our driver dropped us right off at teh place we were staying in Leon.

Local Knowledge:

Leon is known for being even the most artistic and progressive city in Nicaragua. The people of Leon were the first to support the Sandanistas in the 1960’s and ’70s. As a result, the city and its people suffered some of the worst attacks during Somoza’s crackdown. Their central market was torched, different parts of the city were bombed, and anyone suspected of sympathizing with the Sandanistas was often tortured or executed. And the United States flip flopped on who they supported, all to the detriment of the people of Nicaragua.
And you can see minutes of resistance throughout the city. From graffiti to beautifully painted murals. Definitely worth visiting is the Museum of Revolution

Leon is also known for its beautiful churches with sweeping vistas of the city, a lively Center Plaza, bustling commerce, and amazingly beautiful volcanoes.

Where To Stay:

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We stayed at the Hotel Azul for $72 a night. I would consider that a little high for most places in Leon but it had great rooms, a pool, a restaurant and breakfast included. Hotel Azul is a great spot and the location being so close to the main plaza was perfect. We would Totally stay there again!

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What To Do:

Really our favorite thing to do in Leon was just to wander around. Going to the areas where it's mostly locals. We really didn't see a ton of tourist when we were there. We spent hours just checking out neighborhoods around the city just seeing what it was truly like. We also were lucky to come across an amazingly fun festival in the central plaza one night. It was almost all locals there so we could really get a feel of what celebrations are like in Nicaragua. this one was for the "opening of Christmas " "The Festival of Lights" and it was a total party!

and Do check out the Revolution Museum. One of the highlights of touring around Leon was Museo Historico de la Revolucion the ‘Museum of Revolution”. It is so easy to spot with its anti-Bush graffiti still on the front. Once we paid to get in, we also had a tour guide. Of course he didn’t speak any English and our Spanish is very limited. However, knowing how to put together some words and with the help of Google translate, we felt like we learned a lot. And our tour guide was a very interesting man. He fought with the Sandinistas. You could even see on his shoulder where he’d been shot. And he showed us the spot in the building where it happened, this being the old City Hall building. You can still see blood on the walls and the impacts where the bullet hit.

One of the cool aspects of the tour is getting to go up on the roof. As a photographer and videographer, we always aim to get higher whenever visiting a new location. It’s the best way to get the lay of the land and get some killer views. There’s something so surreal about being up on the roof of the museum. And we had a great view to the white cathedral known as Basilica de la Asuncion (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral).

Eating:

Nicaragua isnt really known for its "culinary delights" but we had some awesome food while there. in Leon we mostly ate at small places that didn't cost a whole lot. I don't eat meat but I am a pescatarian. One lunch place we really enjoyed was Cocinarte. It is a vegetarian place and is located in the oldest house in Leon.  
Another great lunch spot we went to was Pan y Paz French bakery, which was way cheap AND awesome! We didn't expect the sandwich shop to be so good. and there are a couple locations around the city. 
We ate dinner in at Al Carbon, that was pretty cool. Al really wanted some steak and I needed a place with good seafood. We also stopped in at a great rooftop bar at Calle Vicente to take in the local flavor mixed with a few tourists. It’s a great place for having a drink and doing some people watching!

Must Do:

Go Volcano Baording down Cerre Negro. So much fun you will want to hike right back up to do it again. Sadly we were only allowed the 1 time.
You have to do it with an organized tour. The drive was a little more than an hour and you have a chance to go to the bathroom before beginning your climb up (take the opportunity!) Everything I read talked about how easy the climb up was. Of course most articles focus on the fun and safety coming back down the hill on a thin piece of wood. Let me tell you that climb up was not easy. It was hot as hell, even though there was a nice breeze every now and then. It is rocky and straight up for most of it. It’s not the worst hike I’ve done by far, but it certainly is not the easiest either. Plus you are carrying a small cloth bag with your gear and a long thin piece of wood on your back. When you are small like me, it acts like a wind sail!!

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Must See:

Without a dounbt-the rooftop at  Basilica de la Asuncion (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral). The Basilica de la Asuncion took over a 100 years to build and it is one of the largest churches in Central America. And it is Awesome. There are so many different details in the outside of the building. But the best part is certainly its roof. You need to check the schedule for when it is open and it costs 40 Cordobas to get in, this is less than $1.50 . Is really cool up there. You don’t expect It to look like a Greek city. It definitely looks very Grecian with all its white domes. And it offers wonderful vistas of the city. Just be mindful you will have to take your shoes off once you get to the top of the staircase.. 

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Number 1 Travel Tip:

Take the time to at least learn some basic Spanish. And being polite and patience goes a long way. While we knew some Spanish words such common phrases, nouns and verbs we weren’t good at putting them all together. Also make sure to download Google translate on your phone. This will help you when trying to communicate. You can even hover over text and read the translation in English. Very few people speak English there. Often times, you could find at least one person working at the restaurant who may know English a little better and loves to practice their English with you. Bye-bye been able to communicate somewhatYou definitely have your experiences broadened.

And I know it's only supposed to be one tip but if you're a photographer or videographer don't bring your drone. They're not allowed. And it's just not worth the risk. Just honor their restrictions!

5 Word Travel:

Friendly
colorful
beautiful
cultural
Adventurous

Excess Baggage:

You’re not in Kansas anymore… things just aren’t like you might think. Even with all the above we found people just saying Si ‘(Yes) even when yes shouldn’t be the answer. For example, I may say “no come carne” when ordering chips and cheese and just stopped being surprised when still came with meat which I don’t eat. It seems like trying to get anything different than what they have listed just doesn’t translate. Remember this is a Spanish-speaking country!! So some things just won’t translate to be exactly what you mean.

and oh yeah....In Leon don’t be alarmed by the 6am church bells going off. And then at seven there’s a siren that goes off letting everybody know it is time to go to work. It can be quite jarring if nobody warned you in advance LOL!!