NYE in JAIPUR – Painting the Town Pink  

We arrived in Jaipur on a cold winter’s day. Still high on our luck at spotting an elusive tiger at Ranthambore National Park the evening before. The main focus of this short break was Ranthambore, but at the last minute, we added two days in Jaipur. Since we were so close to the 31st of December, we thought we might as well ring in the new Rajasthani style. 

The first obstacle we faced was finding accommodation. We were late when we decided to go on this holiday, so most hotels were already full. Jaipur is an extremely popular tourist destination. Three hours from Delhi and Agra, it’s part of the hallowed Golden Triangle of Indian sightseeing meccas. Crowds flock to Jaipur year-round for its historical landmarks, majestic forts, delicious food, and all sorts of amazing shopping. So, it was no surprise that some hotels charge up to 70,000 per night. And I don’t know about you, but I’m afraid nothing could justify me spending that sort of money on a hotel. No matter how decadent the rooms or service. 

Where to stay?

After a few days scouring the net for a deal, I chanced upon a gorgeous homestay. And wonder of wonders – it was available for New Year’s Eve. The Dileep Kothi is the private home of the erstwhile royal family of Barli. From the moment you step into the cool white entrance, you are greeted with the full force of legendary Rajasthani hospitality. The three-storied home may now belong to the 16th generation of royals, but the rooms and public areas are modern and chic. Each suite is lovingly restored and decorated with a harmonious blend of new and old. The hotel has only six suites spread over three floors. There is a generous lounge area on each floor, which provides that extra space you need to work or read. Breakfast is a genteel sit-down affair, where you are served a delicious choice of Indian and Western options. The staff are on call around the clock, and the location is central enough to get to anywhere you want without it being noisy and crowded. 

Our room at Dileep Kothi was just plain delightful

So, there we were in one of the loveliest hotels in Jaipur, feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. Next came the difficult task of deciding what could and could not be squeezed into our two days in the Pink City. We decided there were three categories that we needed to fulfil. The first was good food. There were lassis to be drunk, mithais to be had, and traditional Rajasthani food to be devoured. The second involved shopping. We arrived in Jaipur with empty bags, ready to fill them with local jewellery, traditional textiles, and maybe some funky footwear.

Time to see them sights

And our final category included the historical landmarks around the city. This surprisingly proved to be the toughest to arrange. The one full day we had at our disposal was the 31st of December. Probably the worst possible day to venture out and sightsee. Private cabs and tour guides had been booked months in advance, and those who were available did not want to get stuck in the inevitable traffic jams that New Year’s Eve celebrations bring. We were left with no other option but to put off our plans to visit Amber and Nahargarh Fort. Instead, we decided to visit the old city to walk around the bazaars, and visit the ancient observatory of Jantar Mantar. 

The Jantar Mantar observatory is located next to the City Palace. The fees to enter are only Rs. 50 per person. I recommend hiring a guide when you are there, though. There are several milling about the place, and their charges are ridiculously affordable for the wealth of information they impart. Our guide charged us Rs. 400 for an hour’s walk around the complex. As an astronomy scholar, he answered our many questions and patiently explained Jantar Mantar’s wonders. Even if you are strapped for time, I suggest squeezing in at least an hour to visit this amazing ode to science and engineering.  

Jantar Mantar was a revelation – definitely book a guide for all the inside information

Just a few hints before you book any sightseeing tour in Jaipur. Keep in mind that there are two rates applicable. One for Indian tourists and the other for foreigners. Extra fees are also charged if you carry video equipment or DSLR cameras. With regards to the best time to visit – it goes without saying that you should visit places like Jantar Mantar or Nahargarh Fort during the day. Amber Fort does have a sound and light show in the evening, but the full impact of the fort and its inner rooms and courtyards are lost in the dark. Places like Hawa Mahal, City Palace and the Albert Museum close by early evening, so check the timings before heading out. Local guides can be found at all tourist sites. Many of them speak several languages as well. However, if you are strapped for time, always pre-book a guide, maybe even for the day, to help you optimise your tour experience. 

Shop till you drop

We visited two of the bigger markets in Jaipur to get our fill of local handicrafts and souvenirs. Johri Bazaar is the place to go if you are looking for jewellery. Shop after shop selling everything from costume jewellery to precious stones. There’s even Maniharan ka rasta – an entire street dedicated to shops selling lac bangles – a region speciality. And remember always to bargain. Our rickshaw driver helpfully suggested cutting down the price by 35 percent. And it worked! 

Let’s just say Lana had her shopping list ready

Bapu Bazaar, around the corner from Hawa Maha,l is a profusion of shops selling textiles, ready-made traditional clothes, and leather mojris. It’s best to visit Bapu Bazaar either mid-morning or early evening to avoid the crowds. We also made a quick dash to the Anokhi store in Ashok Nagar. Known for its ethnic block prints and Western designs, Anokhi also makes lovely tote bags, aprons and bedspreads. They make the perfect gifts for loved ones back home. 

Food for the soul

Let’s be honest; there are only that many meals one can squeeze into two days, but we tried. We slowly but surely ticked the must-dos off our list and were left fuller of tummy and happier of heart. High on the list of places you must eat and drink at is Bar Palladio in the Narain Niwas Palace Hotel for the Insta-pretty decor and the perfect Jaipur martini. There’s Niro’s on MI Road – a popular family restaurant that’s been feeding the people of Jaipur since 1949. We managed a quick stop at Laxmi Misthan Bhandar between shopping and haggling. Famous for their mithai, chaats, and lassi, there’s plenty you can pack and take away as the most awesome foodie gifts. Check out their mirchi vada and malai ghevar. The stuff of legends! And finally, there’s Handi Restaurant. With several branches all over the city, we dined at the MI Road one. On a friend’s recco, we ordered the keema batti. Exquisite dough balls wrapped around a kheema (mince) and fried. Served with a bowl of soupy gravy and the spiciest red chutneys, keema batti is my new favourite winter food. 

When I knew I was spending New Year’s in Jaipur, I asked all my friends and contacts for recommendations on what to do and where to go. ‘What’s the scene like in the city,’ I asked. The resounding answer was that the locals prefer private parties at homes or farmhouses outside the city. It’s a situation of who you know that determines where you are going. Fair enough, but what about if you don’t want to party, what then? One friend shared her time-tested tradition for a fun New Year’s Eve plan. ‘We usually drive out of the city earlier in the evening. There are several delicious dhabas along the highways that are perfect stops. Places like Nahargarh Fort or Sambhar Lake are gorgeous at night. There are scenic viewpoints and places where you can even pitch your own tent and celebrate under the stars. It’s cold though, so bundle up and carry food and water.’ Sounds like a plan. 

Note to self:

If you are in Jaipur over New Year, please take the regular precautions you would in any city at night. Don’t venture out alone and in remote places, don’t drink and drive, and don’t carry around too much cash on you. Reservations and prior bookings are also recommended. According to general consensus, if it’s parties or a nightclub you are looking for, stick to the ones at five-star hotels or well-known venues. Some names that kept popping up as recommendations include The Lalit Hotel, Rajasthali Resort, Blackout, House of People, and Extreme. I will take their word on this front, as we didn’t venture further than our hotel terrace on New Year’s Eve. And what a perfect way to end the year that turned out to be. As we bade goodbye to the old and welcomed the new, the sky around us was lit up by fireworks. A crackling bonfire warmed us up, and everything seemed possible. A happy new year indeed. 

This was a commissioned piece but all views expressed are my own

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