First-time Travel to India: Lost in the Streets of Jaipur

You may or may not agree, but I’ve always felt that the names of cities like Jaipur or Udaipur (the “pur” suffix meaning “city” or “settlement)  evoke the magnificence of the past.

The capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur, is home to stunning palaces like “Hawa Mahal” and the City Palace; the imposing Amber (or Amer) Fort is just a short drive from the city. And, sure, if you ever go to Jaipur you shouldn’t skip those places.

But there is something else you will find in Jaipur, as this city has it in spades: character. And an overbearing atmosphere that will knock down most first-time visitors to India.

Street scene in Jaipur

Young woman in the midst of traffic chaos in Jaipur. © 2015 All rights reserved.

I arrived in Jaipur after just one very fuzzy and jet-lagged day in Delhi, where I could not make much sense of my surroundings. It was only the day after, well-rested and already in Jaipur, that the overwhelming chaos that is India hit me hard.

Street scene in Jaipur

People were generally quite friendly and didn’t mind being photographed. © 2015 All rights reserved.

I was walking with my group from our hotel to Chandpole Gate, one of the seven gates in Jaipur’s old city wall, when it started. An all-out attack on my senses like I’d never experienced before: noise, dust, heat, foul smells, spicy aromas, colors, honking, rubbish, traffic, animals and people. Lots of people.

You can be on the verge of feeling crushed by it all. And that’s before you even start thinking about the grim implications of what you are seeing for the everyday life of many of the people you are encountering on the streets.

Man in Jaipur, India

The bazaar was full of colours and interesting people. © 2015 All rights reserved.

Spice shop in Jaipur

A spice shop, I think. © 2015 All rights reserved.

Street food in Jaipur

There was food on sale everywhere. © 2015 All rights reserved.

That’s India. At least the cities of India I’ve been to. Many people love it and many others hate it, because it’s just too much. But it’s great.

As a Westerner coming from a place where all these things are part of daily life too, but usually not all at the same time, and not on the scale you find them in India, it’s impossible not to be dazzled by this country, both its beauty and its ugliness. As a photographer, though, and as a human being, I always try to focus on the beautiful.

Pottery sellers in Jaipur

Pottery sellers and customers. © 2015 All rights reserved.

People on the streets of Jaipur

I’m not sure there were bus stops per se. For me, it was hard to see order amongst the prevailing chaos. © 2015 All rights reserved.

Sadhu and musicians in Jaipur

A sadhu (“holy man”), I believe, and some musicians at a temple. © 2015 All rights reserved.

For an accelerated course in India’s hectic street pace, you could do a lot worse than getting lost in one of Jaipur’s bazaars. That’s what I did one afternoon after lunch, when I strayed from the group with my camera and spent almost five hours wandering around, aimlessly, trying to take it all in.

Street food cart in Jaipur

A street food cart. © 2015 All rights reserved.

Bazaar in Jaipur

Shopping at the bazaar. © 2015 All rights reserved.

Man and autorickshaws in Jaipur, India

I cannot begin to tell you how much this man’s eyes spoke to me. © 2015 All rights reserved.

There were very few tourists in sight, at least from what I could tell. People were going about their business, shopping, eating snacks at food stalls, and the mood was one of festive chaos in anticipation of Diwali, the “Festival of lights” which was coming up in a few days.

Men making flower Garlands

Making flower garlands for Diwali, the “Festival of Lights”. © 2015 All rights reserved.

Bazaar in Jaipur, India

I couldn’t tell what these children were looking at so attentively. © 2015 All rights reserved.

Bus in Jaipur, India

Women in Jaipur looked really smart in their colorful saris. © 2015 All rights reserved.

Woman in Jaipur, India

Notice everything that’s going on behind this young woman. © 2015 All rights reserved.

Street scene in Jaipur

A food seller. © 2015 All rights reserved.

While I enjoyed experiencing all this on my own, taking the time to watch and make lots of photos, I also wondered how many details and subtleties I was missing due to my lack of understanding of local culture and customs.

Street food stall in Jaipur

Another street food stall. © 2015 All rights reserved.

Women at food stall

This looks like a much safer bet to try some street food: many customers is usually a good sign. © 2015 All rights reserved.

Women on the streets of Jaipur

The bazaar’s arches are painted in Jaipur’s trademark pink colour (sometimes it looks more orange than pink to me). © 2015 All rights reserved.

Women in colourful saris near Chandpole gate,  Jaipur

Women buying fresh produce near Chandpole gate. © 2015 All rights reserved.

Still, what I experienced that afternoon is very much the reason why I love to travel: plunging into a different culture, being assaulted by new stimuli, trying to make sense of things, talking to some people, discovering the world’s diversity, feeling lost…

Is that why you travel too?

4 Comments

    1. Thanks very much, Anvi!
      It means a lot coming from you. India is such a wonderful country, and so inspiring for people like us, who like photography.

    1. Thanks Jenny!
      India certainly is an experience every traveler should go through, even if they are unsure how they’re going to deal with it.

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