I snapped this view of the teeming Pink City last weekend atop one of those gorgeous terraces skirting the Hawa Mahal. Colloquially known as the “Palace of the Winds,” this 18th century edifice is one of Jaipur’s many architectural landmarks and a popular day-tripper destination. Since I arrived in India, I’ve been playing the dual role of sight-seer and local resident—trying to satiate my wanderlust with an occasional touristy fix while adapting to the humdrum of everyday Hindustani life. For me, the most satisfying experiences—the ones that mitigate my occasional homesickness and longings for the First World fixtures I had always taken for granted (right now, that’s any packaged and commercialized carbohydrate, preferably with an ingredients list that’s two inches long and includes “high fructose corn syrup”)—are my subtle intercultural conquests.


The only men I need. (Just joshin’ ya, Ben.)

Bargaining down the price of a kurta from 325 to 250 rupees; dexterously devouring chappati and sabzi sans the salty, drippy, fingertip mess; running an errand without my usual entourage of wide-eyed and white-skinned Americans; or just being bored, lying in my room with my friends and host sister, gossiping, perspiring and our stomachs growling beneath the fluorescent glow of a book light because the power suddenly went out and dinner would be postponed another half hour –these and then some are small victories, but they make a big difference in my cultural-adjustment-period-transition-phase just existing here without hesitation, comfortably, normally, even. I’m beginning to move past the whole I-can-see-myself-living-for-a-semester-here to actually feeling at home.

I owe a lot of this to my host family, the Rajawats, who’ve housed almost a dozen MSID students over the years in addition to the foreign expats and Indian coeds who stay in the guest quarters on the upper level. Although my host parents’ hospitality often errs on the side of overkill, (almost everyday I reassure Jai Singh, or “Papa-ji,” that yes, I love my room, am very comfortable, and sleeping very well—all true, by the way, minus the fact that the constantly circling ceiling fans here have seriously chapped my lips) I can tell their care comes from genuine concern, rather than contractual obligation.

Papa-ji and Noni, my host brother, showing some Buckeye pride.

Papa-ji, for one, goes out of his way to update Lydia, my MSID housemate, and me on the minutiae of his gold fishes’ gestation and Krishna, “Mama-ji,” typical of her humble dedication and quiet stubbornness, cooks us parathas for breakfast and chappatis for lunch even while running a fever.

Then there’s Bulbul, my 14-year-old host sister, who chases off the local boys who harass Lydia and me, threatening them with slaps and blows in her rapid-fire Hindi. She bargains with street vendors so we don’t get cheated on our Ganesh statues, even if it’s just a matter of 50 rupees (about $1 USD) and paints henna designs on our hands. With Bulbul, everything—Bollywood stars, kurtas, hair clips, toenail polish—is “looking so nice.” When she coyly asks to use my computer so she can change her Facebook pro-pic to a different Aishwarya Rai photo and listen to Bollywood music, I always agree, especially since she’ll help me with my Hindi pronunciation later.

Bulbul showing off her mad mehndi skills.

But it’s Lydia who’s held my hand throughout my pimply, little awkward phase. Lydia has been living and studying in India a month longer than I have and plans to stay for the entire academic year. Well-traveled, well-read and fluent in Spanish, German and by the end of the year, Hindi, she exudes cosmopolitan sophistication.  Thanks to her movie star good looks a la Christina Hendricks, she’s been swatting away lingering stares, chai dates, and marriage proposals like flies ever since her red hair entered the subcontinent. Without her—I swear—I’d be curled up in a trash heap somewhere with gangrene and an intestinal tapeworm, or at least, a tad queasy—and I wouldn’t have a clothesline to hang my socks.

Too presh.

So here’s my approach to study abroad: soak up the sights, flavors and exoticism that Western travelers have been marveling about for centuries, but don’t get bogged down in all the sensory fluff. Real India—including the downright depressing and the wonderfully mundane —lies outside the palace gate.

And because I know all ya’ll haters love to hate, here’s some tourist porn for ya: feast your eyes on this slideshow of the Hawa Mahal…

….and this one of Amber Fort (We rode elephants to the top!!).

So sorry about those obnoxious ads at the bottom of the slideshows. In other news, I’m working on a bucket list of must-sees and dos in India so I can make the most of my adventure here and (let’s be honest) generate some good blog material. If you have any suggestions, seasoned Indian wayfarers and Bombay dreamers, please post them in the comment section. I’ll whittle down my list and publish it here sometime this week.


Published by deannapan

I'm a journalist who specializes in education, race and social justice reporting.

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  1. Perfectly written. I feel like I am right there with you. Your bosses at Cincinnati magazine are absolutely right. You are an amazing writer. Check out the recommendations they wrote about you on LinkedIn!!
    Love you!!

  2. Top 10 Jaipur Attractions -What to See and Do in the “Pink City” of Jaipur (I noted those things you have already DONE!)

    1. City Palace –
    Upon visiting the magnificant City Palace, it’s easy to see that the royal family of Jaipur was one of the richest in India. The huge complex of courtyards, gardens, and buildings blend both Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. The Peacock Gate is exquisite, and contains an alluring display of detailed workmanship featuring bright peacocks. Today, the royal family lives in the graceful Chandra Mahal (Moon Palace) bordering the courtyard. Also inside the City Palace complex is a museum, art gallery, and interesting displays of royal costumes and old Indian weapons.
    •Location: Chokri Shahad, Old City, Jaipur.
    •Entry Cost: 180 rupees ($4) for foreigners (includes entry to Jaigarh Fort).
    •Opening Hours: 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

    2. “Hawa Mahal” Palace of the Winds – DONE
    The intricate and fascinating facade of the Palace of the Winds is probably Jaipur’s most recognized building. Constructed in 1799, it has five floors that contain rows of small windows and screens. Wind used to flow through the openings, giving the palace its name. However, the wind has now gone from the Wind Palace4. Legend has it that the palace, which overlooks the main street of Jaipur’s lively Old City, was built so that the women of the royal household could watch the streets below without being observed. A panoramic view can be had from the top of the building.

    •Location: Next to the City Palace. Enter from the rear of the building.
    •Entry Cost: 30 rupees (70 cents) for foreigners.
    •Opening Hours: 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. daily.

    3. Galta Monkey Temple
    Getting to this rather ruinous but holy Hindi temple, nestled in peaceful surroundings between two granite cliffs, is quite an adventure but it’s completely worth the effort. The temple is part of a larger temple complex, which also has three sacred pools of water. One of the pools has been taken over by thousands of monkeys that congregate there to swim and bathe. They’re generally friendly and love to be fed.
    •Location: At the far eastern side of the city, outside Gulta Pol, near Agra Road, Jaipur. To get there, take a rickshaw, walk up the hill to the white Sun Temple, then follow the steps downhill into the gorge.
    •Entry Cost: Free
    •Opening Hours: Visit late afternoon, near sunset, when the monkeys flock to the temple.

    4. Amber Fort and Palace – DONE
    Around half an hour’s drive from the city center, like something out of a fairy tale, Amber Fort is set on a hill top overlooking the Maota Lake. It was the original home of Rajput royalty until Jaipur city was constructed, and contains a number of breathtaking palaces, halls, gardens, and temples. Inside, the elaborate mirror work adds to the grandeur. The fort entrance is reached by walking up the hill, going in a jeep, or taking a lurching elephant ride.
    •Location: North of Jaipur. Frequent buses depart from the Palace of the Winds to Amber Fort. Taxis are also available.
    •Entry Cost: 50 rupees for foreigners. Elephant rides are 550 rupees ($13).
    •Opening Hours: 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. daily.
    •Sound & Light Show: Takes place every evening.

    5. Nahargarh Fort
    Nahargarh Fort, also known as Tiger Fort, is perched high on the rugged Aravali Hills overlooking Jaipur city. The fort was built 1734 to help defend the city. It found fame in 2006, after many scenes from the movie Rang De Basanti were filmed there. Nahargarh Fort offers spectacular views, which are best seen at sunset. It also makes a great place for a picnic as there’s a cafe on the premises, which serves beer and snacks until 10 p.m. The fort looks particularly attractive at night when it’s lit up.
    •Location: North west of Jaipur city center. Get there by local bus, taxi, or a steep half hour trek directly up the hill.
    •Entry Cost: Foreigners 30 rupees.
    •Opening Hours: Sunrise to sunset, daily. Palace open from 10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. daily.

    6. Jaigarh Fort
    The massive Jaigarh Fort was built in 1726 and holds great appeal for military lovers. Flanked by towering gateways and watchtowers, it contains the world’s largest cannon on wheels. The cannon has never been fired though, and neither has the fort been captured. As a result the fort has remained intact over its long life, and is very well preserved. Infact, it’s one of the best-preserved military structures of medieval India. Jaigarh doesn’t have the delicate interiors of Amber Fort, and therefore appears as a real fortress. Climb the Diwa Burj watchtower to get an excellent view over the plains.
    •Location: North of Jaipur, within walking distance of Amber Fort.
    •Entry Cost: 50 rupees ($1).
    •Opening Hours: 9 am to 4.30 p.m. daily.

    7. Markets and Shopping
    Jaipur is an excellent place to shop and you’ll find an enticing variety of goods available there. Some of the most popular items are precious gemstones, silver jewelry, bangles, clothes, blue pottery, and textiles. For fine jewelry, head to the reputable Gem Palace10 and Amrapali11. If it’s costume jewelry you’re after, you’ll find some great stuff at Johari Bazaar (particularly in Gopalji ka Rasta and Haldion ka Rasta lanes) and Chameliwala Market. Anokhi12 is renowned for its quality contemporary textiles such as clothing, bedspreads, and bags. For the famous blue pottery, check out Kripal Kumbh13.
    •Location: Most of the shops, including Gem Palace, Amrapali, and Chameliwala Market are on M I Road.
    •Opening Hours: Many shops are closed on Sundays.

    8. Jantar Mantar Observatory
    Jantar Mantar, built by King Jai Singh II between 1727 and 1734, literally means “calculation instrument”. More than just a curious collection of sculptures, each structure at the intriguing Jantar Mantar observatory has a specialized astronomical function. There are 14 structures in total, which measure time, predict eclipses, and track stars. The most impressive one is the huge Samrat Yantra sundial. At a height of 90 feet (27 meters), it has a shadow that moves roughly the width of a person’s hand every minute. It’s a profound display of how quickly time does in fact go!
    •Location: Next to the City Palace, Jaipur.
    •Entry Cost: 10 rupees (20 cents) plus 50 rupees ($1) for a camera.
    •Opening Hours: 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. daily.
    Visit Their Website16

    9. Government Central (Albert Hall) Museum
    This old and famous museum was modeled on the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Its collection includes portraits of local kings, costumes, woodcarvings, paintings, and arts and crafts. Unfortunately photography isn’t allowed.
    •Location: Ram Nivas Bagh, south of the Old City, Jaipur.
    •Entry Cost: 30 rupees (60 cents) for foreigners.
    •Opening Hours: 10 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. daily.

    10. Dera Amer Elephant Safari – DONE
    Jaipur is well known for its elephant rides, and this elephant safari is a thrilling way to explore the countryside around the city. Situated on a private estate in the green foothills behind Amber Fort, it enables visitors to get right away from the hustle and bustle. The safari ventures though villages, agricultural fields, hills, and ancient monuments. Many people take a safari before or after visiting Amber Fort, but night safaris are popular as well. If you wish, it’s even possible to stay at the camp.
    •Location: 20 minutes from Amber Fort, Jaipur.
    •Cost: Around $130 per person for a morning safari, buffet lunch, beer and soft drinks. Inquire with the company for exact pricing.
    •Opening Hours: Safaris run from morning to night.
    Visit Their Website20This About.com page has been optimized for print. To view this page in its original form, please visit: http://goindia.about.com/od/cities/tp/jaipur-attractions.htm

    1. Awesome! Thanks for the list! Actually, I went on a bus tour of the Pink City on Friday night and our second to last stop was this delish dinner buffet at that cafe at Nahargarh Fort. The view was amazing!

  3. Dede!!!! This is the best blog post I’ve ever seen and read in ma life! It hurts ma hearrt. But honestly if I’m the crowd, this was the crowd pleaser! Love all the Pics as well! Oh and I love you I’ll call you when you wake up! </333

  4. More bucket list items:

    Play cricket in a park
    Visit an artist village
    Wear a sari
    Get full hand and feet Mehendi
    Ride a camel
    Get cooking lessions from your host mamma

  5. Dede-

    Loving the blogs! Keep them coming…they are my relief when I can’t stand to bill one more minute!! Oh, and the more pics the better! I want to see everything through Dede eyes.

    P.S. Missing all my sibs and Benny 🙂

  6. dear dede
    dad and i wish you will see the taj mahal, the iron pillar, the red fort all in agra
    love mom
    ps missing you much

  7. Dede,
    I love your blog. I hope you enjoy your time there. Can’t wait to see you when you come home. Love aunt Elisa. Uncle Tom misses you too Luv U

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