The Indian state of Rajasthan is synonymous with bright colours, sequined saris, colourful turbans, sand, castles, forts, kings, royalty, busy bazaars and delicious spicy food made with desert chilies. Needless to say, its capital city, Jaipur, also has a lot of character to offer.
By the stroke of luck, during the sultry month of April I had a work-related opportunity to visit the Pink City. Oh wait! Jaipur is also called the Pink City. It gets its name from the colour of the stone exclusively used for the construction of all the structures in the city…but why pink? Pink happens to be the colour of hospitality.
In 1876, the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria visited India on a tour and Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur painted the whole city pink in colour to welcome the guests. The tradition has been sincerely followed since then and by the residents, who are now, by law, compelled to maintain the pink colour. After my work event ended, I had 24 hours to myself to explore the first ever planned out city of India. Here’s what I could pack in one day.
As soon as my conference got over, I jumped on to an Uber and set out to see this astronomical marvel built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, which is very close to the City Palace, also known as Chandra Mahal. This place has the largest stone sundial of the world and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The observatory houses 19 geometric instruments (jantar), with which calculations (mantar) were done to measure time, distance and positions of celestial bodies. It is advisable to take an audio guide to see this place considering its rich science and history.
Isar Lat (Swargasuli)
This seven-story tall minaret was erected by Sawai Ishwari Singh in 1749 to commemorate his victory over the combined armies of Maratha and Mewar. A climb to the top of this 140-feet-tall structure gives you a panoramic view of Jaipur. It is within walking distance from Jantar Mantar. The panoramic view of Jaipur city is available from various other view points, so if you want to save on some time and energy, then this place can be given a miss, in my opinion.
City Palace (Chandra Mahal)
Located in the heart of the city and within minutes of walking distance from Jantar Mantar, this palace used to be the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur and still continues to be the residence of the royal family. A certain portion of the sprawling compound is open for public viewing and houses different museums displaying armoury, vintage buggies, automobiles, jewellery, clothing etc. The palace has three entrance gates, one is reserved for the royal family’s use and visitors use the other two. Photography isn’t allowed inside, so be prepared to make a mental note of all that you see and cherish the memories.
Hawa Mahal (Palace of Breeze)
Situated in the middle of a busy and chaotic market place, this place let’s you soak in a cacophony of various sound, smell and sights. The palace is an amazing work of architecture with 953 small windows, popularly called ‘jharokha’, that include intricate lattice work and are carved out on a five-story-tall stone wall. This wall served as a screen on the stone and was built for the benefit of the royal ladies, who could observe and enjoy the festivities, celebrations and daily life of the commoners from behind the wall without being seen by others. This wall is a part of the city palace and extended till the women’s chamber of the palace. Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh built it in 1799.
I took a battery operated auto rickshaw to the entrance of Hawa Mahal from the City Palace and paid a measly Rs. 10/-
Albert Hall Museum
By the time I finished climbing and browsing through all five stories of Hawa Mahal, the clock had struck 4.30 p.m., so, I still had time to catch Albert Hall Museum, which closes at 5 p.m. I took an auto (tuktuk) and headed there. Autos here are quite reasonable provided you bargain a bit. This museum houses lot of artifacts, sculptures, carpets, clothes, paintings, manuscripts, armoury, etc. depicting the life and culture of the people from yesteryear.
I was done with Albert Hall by 5.45 p.m. and had some time for browsing through the shopping places nearby. I don’t happen to be a shopping person, but mom wanted a bandhni print saree, which are very typical to Rajasthan. Bari Chaupar was my next destination, which happens to be just along the walls of Hawa Mahal. One can also visit Baapu Bazaar and Jowhari Bazar for beautiful and light quilts, block print sarees, Kurtis, skirts and palazzos, but wherever you shop, a hard bargaining is a must out here.
I went back to my hotel to freshen up and thought of calling it a day, but my colleagues were all set to venture out to a Rajasthani-themed village called Chokhi Dhani, situated about 25 kms outside the main city. This is a theme village with an ethnic village resort inside. Non-resident guests can visit the theme village, which offers a quick glimpse of the vibrant Rajasthani culture, art, folk music, food and lifestyle. At the entrance, you are greeted by ladies with garland and tilak. The whole place is designed like a mock village fair which offers elephant and camel rides, magic shows, puppet shows and traditional acrobatics and folk dance. You have palmists sitting in one corner, small market of artifacts, drinking water being pulled out from the well and much more. The whole atmosphere is full of fun and festivity. The food they serve and they way they serve it deserves a special mention. They make you sit on the floor in a common dining space and serve the traditional Rajasthani dishes like gatte ki subzi, daal-baati-churma, bajre ki roti, khichdi with dollops of ghee and white butter!! For calorie conscious people, this might not sound too exciting or for that matter the food might not appeal to many of our taste buds, but this is more of an experience than anything else. You can experience the true essence of Rajasthani hospitality here. The price for per person is a bit on the higher side, but for the entire experience, it can be tried at least for once when you are in Jaipur.
We had lot of fun and came back to our hotel with smiles hanging from our lips. I crashed as soon as I hit the bed. Jaipur can be excessively hot during the summers and this obviously wasn’t the right time for sightseeing in Jaipur, but I have already finished half of it. The next day, I had the forts to cover before boarding the flight in the night.
I started my day very early the next day for two reasons : 1) Amer Fort opens up for visitors by 8 am and 2) the summer heat will get unforgiving as the day progresses. I hired an Uber to go to this fort, situated about 12 kms outside the main city of Jaipur. Originally built by the Meena kings, it was later rebuilt by Raja Maan Singh and further enhanced by his successor Raja Jai Singh. The huge fort perched is on a high hill and overlooks Maota lake, nestled between the Aravalli ranges, housing the beautiful palace of the Kachwaha Rajputs as an evidence of the opulent lifestyle led by the royals in those days.
One can climb up to the fort or can also ride an elephant to the entrance. However, I preferred to climb up as I wasn’t too sure if this exercise is any good for the animals.
Jal Mahal (Water Palace)
This palace was used for duck hunting by the kings and is built in the middle of Man Sagar Lake in Jaipur city, which can be seen on your way to the Amer Fort. One can’t enter the palace or go near it, but you can stand by the lake and take pictures. It’s painful to see how poorly the surroundings of this beautiful historic structure have been maintained. While the palace appears to be a single-story structure, it was originally a five-story building but four are submerged in the water. This place is a treat to the eyes with the beautiful structure in the middle of the huge lake with mountains in the backdrop dotted with forts and palaces.
After coming out of Amer Fort, I bargained with the autos waiting outside to go to Nahargarh Fort. These forts are all perched on top of huge hills and it is advisable to hire autos to go to these forts as Ubers do not travel there.
Nahargarh Fort, constructed in 1734, stands on the edge of huge Aravalli Hills overlooking the Pink City. The fort gets its name from Nahar Singh Bhomia, whose spirit is believed to haunt the place and obstructed the construction of the fort. Later, his spirit was pacified by building a temple in his memory. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh built it to use as a hunting retreat, but later King Madho Singh extended it to include living quarters for his queens. The living quarters are all similar in size and structure and are all open to the visitors. What awed me most was the beautiful wall art and frescoes on the walls of the connecting corridors. This fort, too, provides a panoramic view of Jaipur city from the top.
Named after king Jai Singh II, the Jaigarh Fort is also on the Aravalli range and overlooks the Amber Fort and Maota Lake. It was built to protect the Amber Palace and is connected to the palace by a secret tunnel. It houses the world’s largest canon on wheels, Jaivana. This canon was built in the foundry situated inside the fort. This fort has kitchen and dining sections along with quarters for the military to stay and rest. The museum displays lot of weapons, canons and armoury from the yesteryears, along with some rare pictures of the kings of the royal family, who served Indian Army during various period of time. Don’t miss walking through the remains of the foundry inside the fort.
You need to buy separate tickets for yourself and your vehicle to enter Jaigarh Fort.
A visit to Jaipur isn’t complete without paying a visit to the resting place of the benevolent and supremely intelligent royal family, who displayed valour and compassion and love for their subjects and people. Gaitore is the royal cremation ground, where the Kachhwaha Rajput monarchs and other members of the royal family are cremated. One can find cenotaphs (chhatri) made of marble and sandstone dedicated to the legendary rulers of Jaipur. These cenotaphs display a perfect blend of Hindu temple and Islamic architecture.
This place is in the outskirts of Jaipur city and is on the way back to Jaipur from Amer Fort.
By this time, I finished my short but fulfilling trip of the pink city and it was time for me to rush to the airport to catch my return flight back home. Pink in colour and pink in vibrancy, Jaipur is one of the most beautiful and magnetic cities of India, which has lot of tales and fables buried deep underneath.
Quick Tips :
- Buying a composite entry ticket, which is valid for 2 days is advisable to avoid queues at the entrances of the major attractions. This ticket will cost you Rs. 300 and includes Jantar Mantar, Hawa Mahal, Albert Hall Museum, Amber Fort, Nahargarh Fort and a couple of other gardens. It is available in the ticket counter of anyone of these attractions. I picked up mine from Jantar Mantar. City Palace and Jaigarh Fort are not included in the same.
- Bargaining to the tune of 50% should be done while shopping for clothes, quilts and artefacts from Bapu Bazar, Johri Bazar etc
- For visiting the Forts, it is advisable to bargain and fix an auto for yourself as Uber or Ola services are either not available on top of the Aravalli hill ranges or are very expensive and it is very difficult to find a vehicle there. Ask the auto to take you to Nahargarh Fort and drive you through Jaigarh Fort and drop you at Gaitore. Also you can hire a vehicle for yourself to visit the entire stretch of forts and back to Jaipur city.
- One should carefully choose the guides at these places of attraction as lot of them might take you to shopping places instead of showing around. I prefer and would suggest exploring by yourself as that will give you freedom to browse at your own pace and not rush up