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India

I’ve always dreamt of visiting India which is, to me, a rather magical place. The fascination that I’ve always had with Sanskrit literature, the history of the Indus Valley civilization, India’s cultural and linguistic influence throughout Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, Indian cuisine, clothing, and music, and, of course, one of the country’s most famous exports to the world, Gautama Buddha, came to the fore as R and I decided to visit this country two years ago.

India evokes adjectives and feelings like no other. It’s such a huge country and with only three weeks here, we decided to only spend time in Jaipur, the largest city in the state of Rajasthan. All in all, it was an incredible experience to visit this city although, I wouldn’t recommend traveling here with an infant with reasons as you’ll see below. Please keep in mind that I’m only covering Jaipur, so know that these tips are not reflective of the entire country.

Some Tips on Visiting India (with a focus on Jaipur):

  • Philippine citizens need to apply for a visa which can be done entirely online. It’s pretty straightforward and you need to apply at least five days before your travel date. When I did mine two years ago, it costed me 80 USD for a three-week stay. Here is the official website on where you can lodge your application: eVisa India.
  • Accommodation here is pretty affordable and there’s a good range of hostels, hotels, and guesthouses that you can choose from. We stayed at Haveli Kalwara, situated right at the heart of Indira bazaar (Note: Jaipur City is historically an area where traveling merchants did business. So, the entire city center is lined up with different bazaars, with each bazaar area offering a different product. Most sellers have their stores passed down from three generations up.). It was a unique experience to be staying in the middle of the market. We woke up so early to the sound of beeping cars and motorcycles, and only got to sleep when the city started to sleep. The outside walls seemed so chaotic, and the guesthouse provided an oasis for us!
  • A trip to India will never be complete without sampling its amazing cuisine. We ate out every day for lunch, and since the portions were huge, we almost always took out our leftovers for dinner. Although we ate quite a lot, we actually lost a lot of weight on our three-week stay here (I lost 10 pounds) because of the heat and because we walked a lot. Rajasthani cuisine is largely vegetarian. In fact, it is the state with the most number of vegetarians in India (and Jaipur’s McDonald’s is no exception)! We sampled a different restaurant every day, and we also revisited our favorites.
    • We highly recommend the following: Copper Chimney, Handi Restaurant, Laxmi Misthan Bhandar, Natraj Restaurant, Niros Restaurant, and Surya Mahal (for North Indian cuisine); Dasaprakash (for South Indian cuisine and the best ice cream in town); Baradari Restaurant and Bar (a bit pricey but a nice splurge, with great food and a nice ambience. We went here for our monthsary.); and, Midtown Restaurant and Peacock Rooftop Restaurant (for your multi-cuisine cravings).
Rajasthani Thali

The Rajasthani Thali… Yep, that’s good for one.

  • We thoroughly enjoyed touring Jaipur City with Yo! Tours, a youth-led startup offering free walking tours around India. We spent around two hours doing the tour and it was so worth it. The company depends on tips to keep the services going, so don’t hesitate to give a big tip if you’ve enjoyed the tour!
  • Apart from the city, we also visited Amber Fort, around 30-45 minutes by rickshaw from Jaipur. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known to be around for almost 500 years now. I suggest spending an entire day here because there’s just so much to see. Instead of getting a tour guide, we instead downloaded the CaptivaTour app which offers free and paid walking heritage tours in Agra, New Delhi, and Jaipur. It’s available on Apple Store and Google Play.
  • We are not big fans of souvenirs, but if there are two items that you should definitely bring home from Jaipur, it would be a custom-fit Indian dress and block-printed sheets. We went to Raju Om Sai Textiles where we had our full silk dress customized at a quarter of the price compared to the Philippines! We also bought two block-printed mandala sheets. Here is Raj (the owner)’s WhatsApp contact number should you be interested: +91-99280-86129.
  • It can appear daunting, but walking around the city is, to me, the best way to see the city IF you are not traveling with kids. If you do, the best way would be to hire a rickshaw, whether manual or motor-run. You will encounter a lot of sights on the way: stray monkeys, dogs, cats, cows, overflowing trash bins, the practice of over-beeping and not giving way to pedestrians, and people defecating behind trees (which may appear “weird” when done in the city, but is actually common practice in rural India). These may be a lot to take in for a traveling family with kids, so it’s better to guard each other against physical, mental, and emotional stresses. What’s a few rupees to add for your transportation if it’s going to help you get through your travel?
  • Why I want to go back: We only got to visit Rajasthan on our three-week stay. 29 more states to see, with each uniquely its own!
  • As with any country in the world: Do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | take good care of your valuables | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in the local language, culture, and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut ❤

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What Jaipur Bazaars are Famous for

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

Visitors in Jaipur may be surprised to find store after store in every space imaginable in the heart of the city that one bazaar area leads to yet another bazaar, then another, then another… It seems, a simple activity as “going to the market” is an endless loop on itself.

Jaipur is divided into two, the Old City and the New City, by a massive pink wall. Whatever is inside the wall is Old Jaipur, and whatever is outside is New Jaipur. It is safe to say that whatever lies inside the wall gives a story on how the region was built into Jaipur, and what lies outside is a testament to how Jaipur was built into the city that it is today.

That being said, the oldest bazaars in Jaipur are built inside the wall. The Indian continent, being part of the legendary Silk Road that linked Asia and Europe, is a sight to many ancient trading places. It is not unusual to meet merchants manning stores with histories that go as far back as the 18th century, or merchant families that expect their children to follow the same profession. Entering the Old City, you will find yourself immersed in a somewhat overwhelming array of choices with an overwhelming “pressure” to recognize a merchant’s presence. It is not “pressure” as we know it today, though, but good old “marketing.” It’s just how things have been working here, so patience from the visitor is appreciated.

Jaipur_Marble Carvings

Centuries-old stone sculpting tradition in Jaipur

All bazaars are interconnected and while the whole of Jaipur is famous for its textiles, each bazaar area has its unique character (i.e., is known for products it offers):

Bapu Bazaar: for leather shoes (most popular items sold are made from camel skin), local perfumes, and textiles.

Indira Bazaar: for new and used electronics, and home furnishings.

Johari Bazaar: for jewelry, sarees, silver items, and textiles.

Kishanpol Bazaar: for textiles.

Mirza Ismail (M.I.) Road: for blue pottery, brass items, jewelry, and wood items. It is also famous for its traditional restaurants and street food.

Nehru Bazaar: for traditional attire.

Ramganj Bazaar: for local shoes.

Sanganer Village: for block printing, blue pottery, and handmade paper.

Tripolia Bazaar: bangles, carpets, ironware, marble carving, small souvenirs, textiles, and utensils.

It is easy to walk through these bazaars as they arranged in a loop. Here is the Google Map link for your reference: https://goo.gl/maps/Vym3i1PoNjJ2.

  • Why it’s a must to visit local bazaars while in Jaipur: You may get overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, and smells, but personally I find it the best way to experience Jaipur. No other grand structure can replicate this living museum!
  • As with any country in the world: Do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in the local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut❤

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Water Collection in Jaipur, India

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

India, unfortunately, has a bad reputation with the quality of its water supply. While this may be true when you compare it with Singapore (the country with the highest standard in the world, outperforming even the World Health Organization’s recommendation), it is not ‘that’ bad as you imagine it to be—in Jaipur, at least.

Rajasthan, with Jaipur as its capital, is located along the fringes of the Thar (Great Indian) Desert. With this challenging environment, generations after generations had to innovate methods to successfully collect, store, and distribute water all throughout the state. People had to consider methods that will keep up not only with the vulnerable geography but also with the increasing population. In Jaipur alone, population density is at 6,300/sq. km, the 10th in India.

haveli water-min

A rainwater collection tank at a haveli-turned-guesthouse where I’m staying now.

Walking along bazaars in Jaipur, it is not uncommon to see rainwater collection tanks secured on top of havelis and rental buildings. This centuries-old tank system is just one of the many indigenous water collection methods being employed in the city. Other methods include putting up of artificial lakes, baories (step-wells), kunds (stepped ponds), reservoirs, and wells. Most of these were constructed at the time of Jai Singh II, founder of Jaipur and the city’s master planner.

These indigenous facilities are continuously preserved and renovated, still enjoyed by Jaipur’s citizens even after almost three centuries since they were built. Badi Chaupar and Choti Chaupar, 19th-century public squares, still provide water to the public up until today. The only difference is that from an open reservoir, supply from these fountains is now delivered in pipes. It is not difficult to miss these fountains as you will often see people gather around the pipes bringing bottles and buckets.

Water storage was once a mark of social status, with those from princely and noble families having their own water collection system in their homes. Water distribution was also controlled by these affluent families. Palaces (which are now converted into hotels or museums) and havelis still have these storage systems in place and are still being used.

Today, thanks to everyone’s effort to preserve and improve on centuries-old water collection, storage, and distribution systems, the public now has free access to clean water all around Jaipur. The concept of ‘clean’ is always relative, but so far, I had no problems with bathing and washing with tap water, and enjoying my coffee and tea with boiled tap water.

  • Why you should not be so trusting of tap water here just yet: If you’re not used to drinking from the tap, it is best to stick to bottled water even for brushing your teeth. You don’t want to ruin your trip for trying out something ‘local.’ Before this trip, I exposed myself to drinking a fair bit from different taps and eating street food in the Philippines to get that ‘more resilient stomach’ for digestive issues that may arise. So far, the trick works.
  • As with any country in the world: Do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in the local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut❤

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Havelis in Jaipur, India

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

haveli-min

Havelis: a constant sight in Jaipur

An interesting constant feature in bazaars around Jaipur, India, is the haveli.

Havelis of Jaipur refer to “medieval north Indian mansions belonging to nobles” (UNESCO, 2011) that feature square or rectangular-shaped courtyard houses. These structures are hard to miss for they form the very fabric of bazaar life in Jaipur.

Without the unique typology of havelis consisting of bungalows, stepped terraces, multiple courtyards, well-defined chowkri (sector), and intricate window panes, Jaipur’s noble past can be easily overridden by urbanization. Putting historical socio-economic issues aside, on architectural and cultural preservation points of view, we can give Rajasthan’s* Tourism and Urban Development Ministry due credit for all the preservation work being done.

Many havelis are passed down through generations and to sell these heirlooms are considered unthinkable. Today, many havelis are transformed into commercial rental spaces, restaurants, and guesthouses. Usually, the first floor is for rentals; and the subsequent floors serve as a guesthouse which is also managed by the haveli-owning family. The owning family lives in the haveli, as well.

It is best to think of a haveli structure as divided into two: the single-family cluster (1) and the servant cluster (2). Between these two clusters lies a thin zenana wing, a waiting area reserved for the house’s attending ladies (today, these cluster differentiations are redefined as you will read below). A family’s status is determined by the number of clusters in their haveli: more clusters mean a higher status.

  • Why it’s a good choice to stay in a haveli:  R and I are grateful for the opportunity to live in a haveli all throughout our stay here in Jaipur. Living in one is like stepping back in time with marble floorings, pillars, carvings, antique implements, and paintings found even in the tiniest of rooms.

A haveli guesthouse is run much like how it was in Jaipur’s noble past, with the owning family in its own cluster, the guests in another, and the attending men and women in another. These days, thankfully, things have changed: the clustering now only refers to sleeping arrangements, and it is not uncommon to see the owning family, guests, and attendants sharing a meal and working together.

Staying in a haveli is one of the rare opportunities to live in a breathing museum. It is okay to get too comfortable, too!

  • As with any country in the world: Do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in the local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut❤

*Rajasthan refers to the northern state of India.

Source: Jain, S. (2011). Walking into the Microcosm of Jaipur. UNESCO New Delhi.