Celebrating Diwali in the Pink City

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Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, was nicknamed the “Pink City” when many of its buildings were painted pink to welcome Prince Albert. Today it’s really more of a terracotta, but the hopsitality the color represents can still be found throughout the city. We experienced this on our first night - Laura’s birthday - when our hostel surprised us with a large delicious chocolate cake. We made a lot of friends up on the rooftop terrace that night!

Our first day we explored the city by foot. We took a few pictures of the beautiful Hawa Mahal, a palace with high viewing screens where the royal ladies could watch the street below without being seen themselves. We wandered past the City Palace and eventually to our favorite sight: the Jantar Mantar. Horoscopes and astrology are an important part of Hinduism, helping to make all sorts of decisions from matchmaking to investments. The Jantar Mantar is a park filled with a bunch of 18th century astronomical instruments that were the largest of the day, built in order to more accurately observe celestial bodies and thus make better predictions. There weren’t many signs in English so we couldn’t figure out how all of the instruments worked, but they were still cool to look at and make up our own explanations.

The Hawa Mahal with viewing screens so ladies could look out unseen.
More views around the "pink" city.
Following the shadow of the view piece, you can determine the day, month, zodiac sign, and more.
The world's largest stone sundial which is accurate to within two seconds - really good for a sundial!

To explore the parts of the city we couldn’t see on foot, we joined our hostel’s sunrise tour. Yup, you read that right: we managed to drag ourselves out of bed at 5 AM! We were given delicious steaming chai while we watched the sun rise over the city from Nahargarh Fort. After sunrise, we visited a few temples, watched some yoga at a step well, hiked to the top of an ancient walled fort, and visited the Amber Palace.

From the top of Nahargarh Fort.
The sun doesn't rise over the horizon in Jaipur; it emerges from the smog.
Looking out from atop a Hindu temple.
A beautiful 17th century water reservoir known as Sagar.
Steps leading up to the hilltop wall.
Walking along the fortress walls with a view of the Amber Fort in the background.
A stepwell that was used for water storage and bathing.
The Amber Fort, one of the most famous forts in Rajasthan.
Elephants painted for Diwali.

The real highlight of Jaipur was celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. It is one of the biggest Hindu festivals of the year, and the city was completely covered in decorations. On the eve of Diwali, we rode around in open-air jeeps to see some of the best and most decorated spots in the city. The next night we joined in the celebrations with our hostel owners and the other guests by helping to prepare the traditional dinner, lighting small clay lamps, and setting off a ton of fireworks (along with the rest of the city). In retrospect, it was a miracle that no one set the roof on fire or damaged their hearing. We had a great time celebrating!

There were beautiful floral arrangements all over the city.
The city was completely lit up at night for Diwali.
Lighting clay lamps and preparing food for dinner.
Firework safety is a top priority here.

We were warned by everyone to avoid pani puri, a common street food in India, as it’s often made with fresh water - aka not potable for our Western stomachs. On our night tour of the Diwali lights, however, we ended up having some on the streets… but lo and behold, our stomachs held out! It was delicious but we didn’t risk trying it again, instead opting for a “safer” bet at McDonald’s. We had heard it was fun to go and see how different the menu is, especially without any beef options. Well, one Spicy McPaneer and Masala Grilled Veg later and we had the most upset tummies of our time in India. So much for playing it safe!

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