05/10/2012 06:58 am ET Updated Jul 10, 2012

Painted Elephants And The Pink City Of Jaipur (PHOTOS)

Many little girls fantasize about a completely pink bedroom, a closet full of rose colored dresses and an endless supply of bows in a rainbow of fuchsia and pale raspberry. You can only imagine my excitement at the prospect of seeing the famed pink city of Jaipur.

While the color may be closer to terra cotta -- legend has it the city got its name from a certain British monarch who clearly didn't have an eye for color -- I was happy enough strolling down the sandy colored streets and enjoying the monochromatic buildings. My first stop was Hava Mehel or the Wind Palace, a giant, one-walled palace that served as a façade for the royal women. They were forbidden to show their faces in public, so this giant wall, almost completely covered in windows (165 to be precise), provided the perfect viewing balconies for ceremonies and parades.

Stifling a yawn, I continued on down the street. I had gotten up extra early that morning so that I could fulfill a tourist requirement and ride one of Jaipur's painted elephants. Due to the heat, the elephants are only allowed to be ridden early in the morning, when it is still relatively cool. Clambering aboard Sasha, my elephant for the day, I settled in on her rough back. There was a metal cage surrounding me, and I held on tight as Sasha swayed dangerously up the steep hill. As the group of elephants formed a line and slowly followed one another up towards the palace, I looked around at the landscape. You could see the Amber fort snaking its way around the city, offering both protection and glamour to this already exotic city.

We finally reached the palace and I hopped off Sasha, leaving some banana money with her driver. The Amber Palace stood shimmering in front of me, its jewel colors shining brightly in the morning sun. The painted colors of the palace are actually made from crushed jewels, a nod to one of the larger industries in the city. I lost my breath at the sight of the hall of mirrors, where the glass was both convex and concave to give more dimension to the room. The sun glinting off the reflective flowers made the walls shine as if they were embedded with diamonds.

After the Palace visit, I headed to the Pink City Gem Palace for a lesson on Jaipur's renowned skill. I learned that there are four points to look for when assessing a gem, known as the 4 Cs: Clarity, Caret, Cut, and Color. After admiring a tray of brilliant emerald stones, I was surprised to learn that the trick to identifying a real emerald is looking for something inside the stone. Real emeralds aren't perfect, and contain bubbles, cracks or a slight cloud deep inside. I wandered around the shop, taking one last look at the vintage style rings, each one set with a brilliant stone, before I made myself leave. India may be known for its cheap pricing, but I was already racking up quite a tally from the surplus of local handicrafts around me!

My final stop of the day was at the Jantar Mantar, Jaipur's famed astrological observatory. The former Maharaja, Jai Sing II was an avid astrologer and founded numerous centers across India to help research and study the alignment of the sun and planets. The instruments found in this outdoor observatory can identify the exact time of day and month, based on the shadow and position of the sun. With the sun baking overhead, I hurried to a small patch of shade to examine the outdoor museum from a safe distance. The stone monuments were created before GPS and computer systems, but they provided completely accurate information that we still use today. It was an impressive sight, and if not for the sweltering heat, I might have lingered there a while longer.