3rd May 2019
The Pink City Rickshaw Company is an amazing initiative which was set up by ACCESS Development Services, a not-for-profit organisation aimed at providing innovative employment opportunities for women from low-income households. The company is aiming to train over 200 women to drive rickshaws around Jaipur, a job which is usually very male-dominated, and the added bonus is all the rickshaws are electric, taking a big and not inexpensive step to help fight India’s pollution problems.
During my recent trip to India, I was lucky enough to experience a wonderful tour with the Pink City Rickshaw Company while I was in Jaipur. This particular tour, called Wake up with Jaipur, is aimed at exploring the pink city during the quieter early morning hours, a refreshing way to see another side to the city that many people miss when speeding through the highlights and monuments during the busier hours of the day.
As the sun’s rising, I’m met at my hotel by my guide, a lovely lady called Jyoti, who’s waiting on the street by her immaculate pink rickshaw, ready to take me on a two-hour tour of Jaipur’s backstreets. Jyoti previously polished gemstones for a living and, as a widow, struggled to support her two sons. She’s now worked with the Pink City Rickshaw Company as a driver for two years and told me that she is very happy with her new position and the opportunities it has created for her.
The aim of the company is to empower these local women, breaking the stereotype of a woman’s role in India, by providing them with the opportunity to develop a career in what would ordinarily be a very competitive and male-dominant industry, drastically improving their livelihoods and even providing the chance for them to have shares in the company.
The ladies are also taught basic English language skills to be able to provide basic information to their visitors. The aim is not for them to provide an in-depth tour full of historical facts, but instead to allow visitors to step behind the scenes of one of India’s most beautiful cities, and soak up their surroundings away from the typical tourist crowds, in addition to supporting a very important and inspiring initiative that is leading the way in experiential travel in India.
As we set off for the old city, it’s a beautiful cool morning and the slower pace and quieter streets are a welcome change from the hot chaotic streets of the day before. We first head for Govind Dev Ji Temple, the 18th century Vaishnava temple located inside the City Palace grounds. Surrounded by pigeons, monkeys and cows, we wander into the temple which is busy with worshippers going about their daily routine of prayer before heading to work.
From here we then continue through the smaller streets to the local flower market, also known as Phool Mandi, which is already heaving with the sounds of sellers, and welcomes us with a stunning mix of bright colours and magnificent fragrances as we walk through the endless piles of rose petals and marigolds.
Driving on, the streets start to get busier, but Jyoti continues to navigate safely through the traffic as we then stop at a tiny food stall on the side of the road for a refreshing cup of masala chai, one of my favourite things to do in India. Sitting down to enjoy our chai together, we’re joined by Lakshmi, a local resident lady who is curious to meet me and seems to know Jyoti. Limited mostly to hand gestures and random words, I soon learn that Lakshmi has lived in the area all her life and runs this stall with her son.
The community that makes up this very small section of the street seems incredibly close-knit, and after finishing our chai, I’m then taken around the back of the stall to find a stunning little temple hiding amongst the courtyards and houses of this community. Jyoti’s English is not advanced enough to tell me the history and significance of the temple, but somehow this makes me enjoy it even more, not being inundated with facts and figures but simply given the space to take in the peace and quiet of this beautiful little corner of Jaipur’s old city, feeling a million miles away from any other tourist.
Passing by the stunning Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, before I know it the tour has come to an end and I’m back at my hotel. Sitting down to breakfast I think about the last two hours and how much I enjoyed my time with Jyoti.
I’ve never enjoyed spending hours at the big monuments and battling to see “that rock carving” in between listening to a century’s worth of history in 30 minutes. For me, Pink City Rickshaw Company offer exactly those kinds of unique experiences I love, which I think allow you to really appreciate a country and better understand its culture.
So much of the experience is what you make of it, what you see and notice and appreciate about everyone else’s simple daily routine, and the pride that your female driver conveys as she shows you around her city in her rickshaw. These modest tours offer the perfect opportunity to respectfully observe daily life whilst also supporting a forward-thinking, eco-friendly form of tourism that also strives to empower women and allow the visitor to gain a greater understanding of how tourism can have a positive impact on the local communities.