The fabled Pink City - a recently designated UNESCO World Heritage Site - is a kaleidoscopic snapshot of India’s ancient, modern, glitzy and chaotic landscape. At its centre are historic streets lined with the stately pink mansions that give the city its name. A breathtaking cascade of pink, gabled windows sweep over the Palace of the Winds (part of the opulent City Palace and Museum, which is still a royal residence today) and a host of huge, exotically decorated ancient forts dot the surrounding hills. The Old City is a fascinating contrast: a maze crammed with shoppers, cyclists, tuk-tuks, markets, food vendors and the workshops of the city's numerous skilled artisans.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
What better way to start exploring the Pink City than with the Pink Ladies? The inspirational, not-for-profit organisation, The Pink City Rickshaw Company, provides much-needed employment opportunities for women from low income households. Chug along in an ecofriendly, custom-designed, and distinctively pink e-rickshaw to witness the morning ceremony at one of Jaipur’s sacred temples. With a bit of advance warning, the ladies can also introduce you to local delicacies such as kachoris, lassi, kulfi and cardamom tea, or help you find some of the best handicraft shops in the city where you can browse quality products and support local craftspeople.
Rajasthan is renowned for its hospitality, and Jaipur is no exception. Stay at one of the small boutique hotels nestled by the city walls and get to know the staff and the owners, who are often the descendents of families who have owned the properties for generations. There could be opportunities to learn to tie a traditional Saree or Safa (turban), fly a kite, meet a local chef and learn some of their secret recipes, or get involved with celebrating a community festival. Alternatively, the city’s warm hospitality can be seen in simpler, spontaneous moments, such as being invited to relax and get your bearings while taking tea with a local family in the Old City.
Any bleary eyes caused by the early morning wake up call will soon be gone as you sip a fresh fruit juice and watch the skilled crew prepare the hot air balloon for your morning flight. As the sun starts to peak over the surrounding hills, it’s time to take off. Along with your pilot and flying companions, you’ll rise slowly skywards. After the thrill of the ascent, the balloons drift slowly, the sun reaches higher in the sky, and the forts, palaces and patchwork of the surrounding countryside reveal themselves beneath you. Watch out for the locals who often greet the balloons from their rooftops, and be sure to wave back.
Take your best shot at spotting wildlife with an itinerary that includes not one but three different parks, all located in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. This allows you to explore some surprisingly diverse scenery, see myriad bird and animal species, and hugely increase your chances of spotting one of these elusive big cats.