Planning a Trip
The Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) information bureau is located on Platform 1 at the Jaipur Railway Station (tel. 0141/220-3531; open 24 hr.). There's an RTDC tourist help desk at Hotel Swagatam (behind Sadar Thana; tel. 0141/220-2586 or 0141/220-3531; Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; closed second Sat of every month). The Tourist Reception Centre is located at the Government Hostel, Paryatan Bhawan (tel. 0141/511-0595 through -0598; same hours as station office; mainly for emergencies or problems) on M.I. Road, the main thoroughfare in Jaipur. You'll find the less helpful Government of India Tourist Office at the Khasa Kothi hotel (tel. 0141/237-2200; Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-2pm), or call their 24-hour help line, tel. 1363, for information or assistance in an emergency, or to organize a guide. For predeparture planning, check out the RTDC's website (www.rajasthantourism.gov.in), or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out about any events or festivals or current arts and entertainment listings, pick up a copy of the daily Hindustan Times or the Jaipur Vision.
Getting There & Away
By Air -- Both Jet Airways (tel. 0141/511-2222 through -2225) and Indian Airlines (tel. 0141/274-3500 or -3324) have daily flights between Jaipur and Delhi (40-60 min.), Jodhpur (45 min.), Udaipur (50 min.), and Mumbai (directly 1 hr., 30 min.). Indian also flies to Kolkata (2 hr., 25 min. to 3 hr., 45 min.) four times a week. Sanganer Airport lies 15 minutes south of the center of town; most hotels are 30 minutes away. Use the prepaid taxi service for the most convenient trip into the city (unless your hotel provides a complimentary transfer); a taxi ride to the Old City should cost under Rs 300 ($7.35/£3.70). It's a terribly grueling auto-rickshaw ride (but slightly cheaper at around Rs 200/$4.90/£2.50).
By Train -- The Jaipur Railway Station is located west of the Old City (reservations Mon-Sat 8am-2pm and 2:15-8pm, Sun 8am-2pm). You can reach Jaipur by train from just about anywhere. The Ajmer Shatabdi connects Jaipur with Delhi in 4 1/2 hours (daily except Wed); from Agra the Marudhar Express (early morning, alternate days) takes about 5 hours, while the late night Howrah Express (arriving midnight) takes 4 hours. You will be inundated with offers from rickshaw-wallas upon your arrival at Jaipur Station -- to avoid this, go to the prepaid auto-rickshaw counter. Dial tel. 131 for railway inquiries, tel. 0141/220-4531 for recorded arrival and departure information, and tel. 135 for reservations. Reservations for foreign tourists are made at counter 8. To book a ticket, your easiest option is to get your hotel or a travel agent to do it for you. Either will charge a service fee of Rs 50 to Rs 100 ($1.25-$2.45/65p-£1.25) per passenger.
By Bus -- Buses arrive at the Inter-State Bus Terminal (called Sindhi Camp bus stand) on Station Road. For information, call tel. 0141/511-6043 for regular buses; or tel. 0141/511-6031 or 0141/220-5790 for deluxe buses. Deluxe Volvo coaches from Delhi will drop you off at Bikaner House, near India Gate. Departing from the same depot, you'll pay Rs 460 ($11/£5.70) for a seat on an A/C deluxe bus to Delhi; these leave half-hourly between 6am and 12:30am. It's a 5 1/2-hour trip.
By Car -- As is the case everywhere, you will need to hire a driver with your car. The Jaipur-Delhi National Highway no. 8 is a dual carriage road that should get you between the two cities in 4 hours. The single-road highway between Agra and Jaipur through Fatehpur Sikri and Bharatpur is in reasonable condition, too. There's not much you can do about the driving habits of other drivers, but you can certainly say something if you feel yours is driving rashly.
Unprecedented commercial development in the state capital in recent years has not been accompanied by infrastructural change; rush-hour traffic is probably worse here than anywhere else in the country, although there are plans afoot to address the crisis. The best way to get around the crowded city center is on foot or by rickshaw. A rickshaw should set you back Rs 50 ($1.25/65p) per hour -- always discuss the fare upfront before you get into the rickshaw. If you're in a bind and simply need a taxi right away, call Pink City Taxi (tel. 0141/220-5000). More viable, however, is to hire an air-conditioned car and driver for use within the city for approximately 4 hours (40km/25 miles) at Rs 700 ($17/£8.65); 8 hours (80km/50 miles) at Rs 1,200 ($30/£15). If your intention is to hire a car and driver to tour Rajasthan at your own pace, contact RTDC Transport Unit (tel. 0141/220-0778). For more information on hiring a car and driver from elsewhere, see chapter 2. K. K. Holidays and Vacations (105 Neelkanth, 1 Bhawani Singh Rd., opposite Nehru Sehkar Bhawan; tel. 0141/510-6820, -2241, or -2245) is a reliable travel agency that charges the standard going rate for hiring a car (local or outstation) and has a fleet of vehicles to suit all budgets and needs. Mahender Singh, the director, and his GM, I. V. Singh, are not only helpful but Internet-savvy and can prebook all of your car and hotel arrangements if you e-mail them in advance (email@example.com). If you like to support small local businesses, we suggest you contact Shankar Meena (tel. 98-2939-6947) of Rama Tours & Travels (Srinath Colony, Near Airport, Sanganer) to arrange a car of really excellent quality at standard rates. Chances are Shankar or his brother Ramavtar will be your driver, and although their English may not be all that great, service is good-natured, and you'll be doing your bit for local entrepreneurship. You can also contact Hari Ram Choudhary (tel. 94-1444-2618) for trips in the city or farther afield; he's been in the business for nearly 25 years and knows his way around.
Guided Tours -- Official guides, who hang around outside attractions (and charge Rs 100/$2.45/£1.25 per monument) tend to have their commentary down pat, but their enthusiasm wanes as soon as they've been hired and a price has been settled upon; while they often can't engage in dialogue, they will convince you that the tour is going to last a lot longer than it needs to be. Don't take chances with these professional amateurs: Hire Jaimini Shastri (tel. 93-1450-9684; firstname.lastname@example.org; Rs 600/$15/£7.40 for the day), one of the most respected guides in Jaipur and well-versed in the city's history, culture, and arts and crafts. He can give you the best guided tour of Jantar Mantar, speaking at length on astronomy, astrology, and the observatory. Book him well in advance, and -- if you are planning to tour the whole state -- consider booking him for the entire trip. Alternatively, organize a guide through your hotel, or contact Rajasthan Travel (tel. 0141/236-5408) or Sita World Travel (tel. 0141/237-3996 or 0141/510-2020); you will inevitably pay a higher rate if you use a middleman, but the official rate is Rs 600 ($15/£7.40) per day. If you don't mind groups (and a guide that may, once again, have limited knowledge of English), RTDC (tel. 0141/231-5714) offers several tours. A packed half-day (5-hr.) tour, departing 8am, 11:30am, and 1:30pm, covers Hawa Mahal, Amer Palace and Fort, Jal Mahal, the Gaitor Maharaja Cenotaphs, the City Palace and Museum, Jantar Mantar, Albert Hall (Central Museum), and Jawahar Kala Kendra. The 8am tour (Rs 110/$2.70/£1.30) is advisable. The full-day tour (9am-6:30pm) includes all of the above as well as Nahargarh and Jaigarh forts, and Birla Planetarium; it costs Rs 160 ($3.90/£2). The Pink City by Night Tour is essentially a bus tour to view various city monuments (including the Secretariate) as they are lit up in the evening; a vegetarian dinner at Nahargarh Fort is included (6:30-10:30pm; Rs 100/$2.45/£1.25). Night tours depart from the Government Hostel on M.I. Rd.
Tip: Consider picking up a copy of Dharmendar Kanwar's Jaipur -- 10 Easy Walks (Rupa; Rs 295/$7.20/£3.65) from the excellent new Crossword bookstore (First Floor, K.K. Square, C 11, Prithvi Raj Marg; tel. 0141/237-9400), which will also deliver books to you.
The major attractions and best bazaars lie within the walls of the Old City. Just south of the wall lies Mirza Ismail (M.I.) Road -- running west to east, this major thoroughfare is where most of the primary retail outlets and a few good restaurants are located, and divides the city between the old (north) and new (south). The Old City is clearly distinguishable by its terra-cotta-colored walls and ramparts, and the new by its modern shops. Station Road, Sansar Chandra Marg, and Bhagwan Das Marg all intersect M.I. Road. Along these you will find all the services you need, from travel agents and money-changers to ATMs, restaurants, and Internet cafes. Farther south (but still within walking distance), diagonally opposite both Ajmeri Gate and New Gate of the Old City, lie Albert Hall and the Museum of Indology.
As is the case everywhere in India, Jaipur seems to celebrate something new every month, but the following are worth noting: In February during the Harvest Festival (Basant Panchami) the city celebrates a Kite Festival, when hundreds of colorful kites sail the blue Jaipur sky, especially around the City Palace area; there's also a competition and display. In March, when Holi celebrants throughout the country splash color on anything that moves, Jaipur celebrates an Elephant Festival. The massive pachyderms -- dressed to the nines and decorated with paint -- march through the city's streets to the City Palace, accompanied by loud drumbeats and chanting. The event sees a tug-of-war between the elephants and their mahouts (elephant trainers/caretakers), as well as men playing polo -- on elephant-back, of course. Make sure you book accommodations in advance during this period.
The following month (Apr) is Gangaur, when the women of Rajasthan pray to the goddess Parvati (also known as Gangaur) for the longevity of their husbands or for husbands fair and kind. This culminates in a procession to Gangaur Temple by the symbolic Siva, accompanied by elephants, to take his bride home. Teej (July-Aug) sees Rajasthan's always colorfully clad women dressed in full regalia to celebrate the onset of the monsoon, while Diwali (Festival of Lights), the Hindu New Year, is celebrated throughout India in November.
Tip: Although all festivals are meant to be fun celebrations, a few unruly young men may try to ruin it with their aggressive behavior, especially during Holi and Diwali. Ask your hotel where it is advisable to go, and make sure you have your own transport if you are going to watch the festivities; single women travelers are advised to go with a male companion.