Rajasthan –“The land of Royalty & Valour” is India at its exotic and colourful best. This is the domain of the Rajputs – an assemblage of battle hardy tribes who have for more than a thousand years been in command of this western frontier of India. The Rajput’s sense of dignity and valour is unparalleled in the Indian context. The Rajasthanis themselves are a brilliant splash of colour and Jaipur, the state capital, is often referred to as India’s “Pink City” largely due to the pink coloured sandstone with which the city’s regal splendours consisting of forts and palaces have been constructed.
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The city being located in the surreal backdrop of a breathtaking desert like landscape has been luring discerning travellers from far off lands since time immemorial.
Apart from opulent palaces, Jaipur and much of Rajasthan is filled with magnificent garrisons, battle scarred fortifications and sneaky watch towers that remind one of the state’s belligerent past.
The spirit of the Rajputs and their zest for life is palpable in the bustling streets of the city with the men folk topping their outfit with huge pastel coloured turbans and almost without exception, sporting fierce “handlebar moustaches”. The women are conspicuous by their bright, mirrored skirts that gel so well with their chunky jewellery, worn from head to toe. No wonder, visitors to Jaipur make it a point to buy ethnic Rajasthani jewellery as souvenirs.
A visit to Johari and Tripolia Bazar could be a very rewarding experience where exclusive ethnic Rajasthani jewellery items like Kundan, Thewa and Meenakari can be bought. In fact, Britain’s Prince Charles was gifted an exclusively crafted Thewa Jewellery set by the Indian government on his marriage to Princess Diana.
Maharaja Jai Singh II (1699-1744) is the founder architect of the city and it was under his connoisseur-like architectural vision that the city of Jaipur was designed, adhering strictly to the ancient Indian architectural style – “Shilpa Shastra”.
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Before conceiving the city of Jaipur, Maharaja Jai Singh II had his royal hillside fortress at neighbouring Amber, but with the gradual erosion of Mughal power in Rajasthan from 1727 onwards, he decided to move downhill onto the plains to build the city of his dreams.
City orientation: The Walled “Pink City ” is ideally situated in the northeast of Jaipur while the new parts have spread away to the south and west. The main shopping centre in the Old city is Johari Bazaar or the quintessential Rajasthani jeweller ’s market. Mirza Ismail Road is the main street of the new part of Jaipur and is home to a plethora of shops and commercial establishments.
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The Old City is encircled by a crenelated wall with seven gates – the major gates are Chandpol, Sanganeri and Ajmeri. The broad avenues of the Pink City divide themselves into neat rectangles. This part of the city is extremely colourful – in the evening light, the pink and orange structures emits a magical glow, nicely complemented by the brightly clothed Rajasthanis themselves. The Minaret piercing heaven – Iswari Minar Swarga Sul near the Tripolia Gate was built for the benefit of visitors to have a panoramic view of the cityscape.
Palace of the winds: Built in 1799, Palace of the Winds or Hawa Mahal is Jaipur’s central landmark, although it is actually little more than a facade. This imposing five storied structure looks out over the main street of the Old city. Delicately carved out by master craftsmen, the structure is best known for its intricate sandstone windows and semi-octagonal shape.
The Palace of the Winds was originally built to enable the ladies of the royal family to watch the everyday life and processions of this charming city. If you take the trouble of climbing atop the Hawa Mahal, you are guaranteed a breath-taking view of the cityscape.
Central Museum: As you move south of the Old City, the Central Museum, one of the best preserved museums of this princely state draws your attention. Located in the beautifully landscaped Ram Niwas Gardens, the ground floor in particular has one of the most extensive collections of royal costumes and woodwork, depicting the life and times of Rajasthan’s iconic royal past. The first floor is dedicated to the Maharajas of Jaipur and apart from the miniatures, it also houses priceless Rajasthani artefacts.
City Palace: One of the most iconic palatial structures in Jaipur is the magnificent City Palace,
located right in the heart of the Old City. This is one of the finest examples of India’s fusion architecture, where the very best of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture blends in perfect harmony.
The pièce de résistance is the seven storied Chandra Mahal, offering breathtaking views of the garden and the city. On the ground floor and first floor is a museum dedicated to Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II. For the art connoisseur, the museum is a must visit site for its paintings that include miniatures from the Rajasthani, Mughal and Persian schools. The armoury is well stocked with guns and swords dating back to the 15th century. The textile section is particularly awe-inspiring with opulent costumes of the former Maharajas and Maharanis of Jaipur. Two other majestic structures on the way to the palace complex are the Diwan-I-Aam, ‘hall of public audience’ and the Diwan- I-Khas, the ‘hall of private audience’, adorned with a beautifully paved marble gallery.
Observatory: As you move on from the imposing City Palace to the Observatory or “Jantar Mantar”, a sense of curiosity engulfs you. Maharaja Jai Singh is credited with building five exclusive Observatories in India. The one in Jaipur is the largest and best preserved. The Maharaja’s abiding interest in Astronomy is reflected here and one could measure the positions of stars, altitudes and even calculate eclipses. The pièce de résistance here is the 30 meter high sundial.
Interesting trips away from the city: Amber, the ancient capital of Jaipur state, 11 kms from Jaipur city, could be a riveting out-of-the-city experience. The hillside Amber Fort overlooking a shimmering lake offers picturesque panoramic views.
Rambagh Palace, 8 kms from Jaipur city, used to be the former royal residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur. It is one of the finest examples of India’s contemporary luxury hospitality scene and one of the Jewels of The Taj group of hotels and easily one of the world’s most outstanding Palace Hotels.
Reaching Jaipur: The Jaipur International Airport is well connected by a network of domestic flights to and from Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Jodhpur and Udaipur. There are also a few international flights from Dubai and Muscat.
Accommodation: The Taj Rambagh is a high end luxury hotel, much preferred for its opulence and royal Rajasthani hospitality. Experience the finest luxury hotel in Jaipur at the ITC Rajputana. Known for its long corridors, isolated courtyards and intricate Rajashthani lattice work, ITC Rajputana is designed in the traditional Rajasthani haveli style.
Another 5 star luxury hotel which epitomises traditional Rajasthani charm is The Oberoi Rajvilas. Adorned with Mughal arches, gold leaf frescoes, high domed ceilings and magnificent crystal chandeliers, The Oberoi Rajvilas is a perfect choice for those looking for serenity and peace. The Lalit Jaipur, located in one of the city’s prime commercial neighbourhoods, is ideal for business meetings and conferences.
Chokhidhani – Curating the Rajasthani village experience in luxury Chokhidhani, which literally translates to ‘special village’, is about 20 km from Jaipur and a fantastic to way to enjoy a recreated experience of a typical traditional Rajasthani village. It’s great fun, especially for little children, who will have much to keep them entertained – elephant and camel rides, games stalls, dancers, food counters, acrobatic acts, puppet show, street magicians and much more. It’s like a permanent village fair, only in an ultra luxury setting. Of the four restaurants, Sangri offers the quintessential Rajasthani dining experience, complete with cross legged seating on the floor and eating off a traditional leaf plate on a low table. It’s an eat-as-much-as-you-can experience and the staff keep plying you with food, course after course, till you are quite literally ‘fed up’! Don’t miss the traditional Rajasthani staples – the dal bhati churma, the missi roti and that delectable sweetmeat made of broken wheat, lapsi. For a more fine dining experience, opt for the Royal restaurant, where you are served in silver tableware and can enjoy live entertainment with your dinner, much as the Maharajahs of yore did.