INDIA TRAVEL SERIES (DAY 3): UNVEILING MIGHTY JAIPUR

IT TOOK US FIVE HOURS to travel from Agra to Jaipur by car, and the road to the Pink City was another eye-opening journey on its own.

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Around 50 km away from our destination, we were greeted by an old goat herder by the roadside who was hoping to earn a bundle of rupees from us by selling his goats. We took a few minutes to admire his flock, and also his aged yet lively face. He was undeniably a man full of joy. He didn’t understand a word I said in English, but kept smiling nonetheless. With no plans of buying any livestock, we posed beside his goats for a photo-taking session instead and handed a few loose bills as a gratitude for our intrusion. We then hit the road once again en route to the famed Rajasthani Batman prison.

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Hours later, we found ourselves in front of the largest and deepest stepwell in India, just nearby Jaipur: the Chand Baori in Abhaneri, Rajasthan. Probably more known in the Hollywood world as Batman’s exotic prison in the film, The Dark Knight Rises, this national treasure has been constructed back in AD 800 and is no longer used at present. Despite its illustrious past, stunning architecture, and grand exposure in local and international movies such as The Fall and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Chand Baori has slackened in its appeal among tourists, overshadowed by other nearby Jaipur attractions. Like any other ancient ruins in India, you will find various stone relics as ornaments surrounding the stepwell. The relics range from Lord Vishnu to the goddesses and the muses of the Hindu religion. Although the stepwell has become unpopular among tourists, it has been an uncanny detour for me nonetheless to see such grandness in person.

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A hundred meters away from Chand Baori is the old temple of Harsidhhi Mata, the Happy Mother god. Dated and tired, the temple on a hill has been an almost forgotten landmark in Rajasthan. Stepping on the topmost area of the temple you will discover the gorgeous view of the village and their rustic way of life — the women in their colorful red, yellow, orange garments riding dusty jeeps; locals selling extravagant-looking carpets in their shops; and the idle old people sitting by the entrance of their homes while shooing houseflies.

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Mighty Jaipur, the land of the maharajahs and the capital of the kingdom of Rajasthan, punched me back to my senses upon entering their city. It was all but a vibrant scene: donkeys roaming, hogs scavenging in the piles of trash, women in striking pink veils begging for alms with their kids slung on their arms, horse carriages with their masters enduring the afternoon heat, Quran’s melodious call to prayer trumpeting on the streets, men happily chatting, loud honks of impatient drivers stuck in traffic, the pink-colored walls covered in hundred years of grime, and the holy cows sitting pretty in the middle of the streets as if they were real majesties — well technically they are majesties in India.

In Jaipur, I checked in at 47 Jobner Bagh,a cozy family guest house which was of excellent boutique hotel standards. That same night, Rajat (my concierge) brought me to the Amber Fort Light Show. Worn-down by the traveling and the lack of sleep for the past few days, I hesitated to leave the hotel at first, but curiosity won over me. Rajat and I were sitting in an outdoor theatre-like elevated platform while overlooking one side of the Amber Fort which was then still hidden behind the darkness of the night. With the breezy Jaipur winds blowing to our direction and the beautiful star-filled sky illuminating the surrounding, I can’t help but tear up as I said quietly to myself — I can’t believe I’m in India and everything has been amazing so far. And then they started playing the music and the lights that were happily dancing in beguiling synergy against the historical fort as the backdrop.

I remembered the Hindi phrase that Rajat thought me earlier that day: Kush Raho (Be Happy). I slept that night happy, blessed, and contented.

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For an obsessive-compulsive traveler like me, detailed itineraries and maps are my bible whenever I visit a new destination. It’s almost second-nature to me to plan ahead for my trips — by creating a dozen pages of daily schedules; developing comprehensive street maps and public transport points; and drafting a list of must-see, must-do, must-eat, and a myriad of other must-tries.

But why did I dare take a solo adventure — without itineraries and not having properly research about the place at all — to a distant, foreign country such as India?

For some people, they call it “bravery.” Yes, I traveled solo. But technically, I also didn’t. I was actually traveling with a concierge. The concept may sound foreign to some travelers my age, especially for people who are used to backpacking and traveling free-and-easy. Being escorted by a professional local travel companion makes all the difference.

I wandered in India with Ravishing India Holidays, a luxury tour operator headquartered in Singapore which specializes in travel concierge services in this rich, beautiful South Asian region. With a personal concierge who will help craft your itinerary even before you arrive and who will customize it depending on your mood and requirements while you are on journey, everything became easier and more fun than I expected it to be.

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