I’ve visited Jaipur thrice in less than as many years, each time mesmerised by a new shade of the Pink City – the magnificent melting pot of colours chronicling a captivating narrative of Jaipur’s transcendent heritage as India’s first planned city, built by a Rajput King, Sawai Jai Singh II.
Today the lasting legacy of the royal family – and their fabled forts, palaces and landmarks – hold as much charm as the more contemporary culturescape which has flourished in recent years. Whether visiting for the first or the nth time, gathered here are a bucket-list of places to visit and things to do in this most radiant pocket of Rajasthan…
Situated about 11km away from the city centre, there’s something about the enduring grandeur of this mountainside fort-palace which makes you want to whisper… it’s truly from another world.
Built in the 16th century by Maan Singh – a trusted general of the Mughal emperor, Akbar – the awe-inspiring architecture combines traditional Rajput and Hindu styles with the gracefully ornate touches characteristic of the Mughal era.
The sandstone complex houses a number of different courtyards and buildings such as Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience) and Sukh Niwas (Hall of Pleasure). The most striking is undoubtedly, Sheesh Mahal. Designed as part of the queen’s private apartments, the walls and ceilings of this “Mirror Palace” are sheathed by intricate carvings and paintings made of glass. The beguiling results are best seen when two candles are lit in complete darkness, creating the effect of thousands of stars glittering in the ceiling!
If you have the luxury of time (not to mention, the stamina), you could also traipse across to the neighbouring Jaigarh Fort via the 18th century tunnels connecting the two historic landmarks!
Set in the heart of the Old City, the walled complex of City Palace is a treasure trove of wonders, spanning gardens, courtyards and buildings from different eras.
The four gates of the inner courtyard are particularly impressive, each representing one of the four seasons and dedicated to a God. There’s the Peacock Gate (illustrative of autumn), the Lotus Gate (inspired by summer), the Green Gate (signifying spring) and the Rose Gate (a reflection of winter).
From antiques and artefacts to an unparalleled collection of miniatures, the lavishly-appointed City Palace Museum is a destination in its own right; while a private tour of the royal residence – Chandra Mahal – is a riveting education in the storied history of Jaipur.
It’s here that we learn that the city was imbued with a yellow-hue, before being painted pink as a way of welcoming the Prince of Wales to Jaipur in 1853. Our wanders take us from Shobha Niwas (a Murano-inlaid hall dedicated to the celebration of Diwali) to the airily-bright quarters of Sukh Niwas, fashioned with limestone and mood-lifting shades of indigo to have an innately cooling effect!
Of course, we make sure to stop by at Baradari for a meal after – juxtaposed against the palatial backdrop, the contemporary design of this modern Indian restaurant at City Palace, is simply stunning! More in my foodie’s guide to Jaipur, here.
Delicately rising in the shape of a crown, the five-storied Hawa Mahal was built in 1799, with the purpose of providing women of the royal household a discreet viewpoint for looking out onto city life (particularly the passing processions).
Now symbolic of the Pink City, the iconic structure is not unlike a scene straight out of a Wes Anderson film. Don’t miss the colourful glass windows, which filter in the suns rays to project kaleidoscopic patterns on the floor!
Speaking of vibrantly-vivid colours, they weave a compelling story of Jaipur’s history at Patrika Gate – the newly-created entrance of Jawahar Circle Garden. The hand-painted illustrations depict portraits and palaces, alongside scenes characteristic of Jaipur through the ages – from wartime through to the daily lives and work of the locals!
Jawahar Kala Kendra (JKK) Museum
The recent revival of the capacious JKK Museum as Jaipur’s cultural hub owes much to the new-age visions steered by Pooja Sood (Director of Khoj International Artists, an arts organisation aimed at providing a financial, physical and intellectual space for artists).
In its new avatar, Kendra is curated as a platform dedicated to cross-cutting fields of arts and culture, running the gamut from new media and popular culture through to architecture and design, painting and photography. Most recently, its outdoor spaces served as one of the four sites for JaipurPhoto, an international photography festival.
Of course, Jaipur’s jewellery houses remain an integral embodiment of the city’s rich cultural fabric. Established in 1852, Gem Palace is in fact, one of the country’s oldest jewellery stores – housed in a haveli embellished by Mughal-style minarets.
Walking in, one is instantly dazzled by the endless rows of gemstone jewellery glittering radiantly behind glass cabinets. There are all manners of artefacts and figurines too, moulded by precious materials, from crystal to onyx and rose quartz.
While designs take their cue from the archives, part of the new collections are suffused with a mercurially-modern sophistication under the creative direction of Samir Kasliwal, the half-Italian heir to the luxury brand. Set at ease by the welcoming warmth of his gregarious staff, it’s not long before you’re pluckily adorning yourself with as many of the statement pieces as strike your boundless fancy. The Indo-Russian series proves particularly beguiling in my case…
Narain Niwas Palace
With its mango-yellow front, stained-glassed windows, liveried staff and strutting peacocks, there’s a quirkily unique touch of authenticity to the converted home of one of Rajasthan’s aristocratic families, now a heritage hotel.
To level with you, the rooms are best described as functionally basic; but what they lack for by way of luxuries, the setting more than makes up for with its endearingly-eccentric character which is well-suited for a budget-conscious traveller.
Non-guests will find reason a-plenty to visit too, as the all-encompassing complex spans a string of chic boutiques, including Hot Pink where you can find everything from trendy tunics and dresses, to multi-hued scarves and fashionable homewares. And of course, Naraian Niwas Palace is also home to Bar Palladio, the city’s most glamorous bolthole…
SUJÁN Raj Mahal Palace
With just 13 unimaginably-sumptuous rooms, SUJÁN’s Rajmahal Palace is the top choice seeking an uncompromising degree of luxury. But what truly set this boutique hotel apart is its fancifully playful edge, embodied by custom-made prints wallpapering the surrounds – from 51 Shades of Pink in the breakfast room, to the eggshell blue and turquoise tones in The Colonnade.
Lunch, afternoon tea, a cocktail (or all of the above!) at this picturesque palace is an unmissable experience whilst in Jaipur (read the full review, here), as is a visit to that royal institution among institutions, Rambagh Palace.
On the subject of fine dining in Jaipur, the city’s versatile food scene definitely provides enough fodder for a Chapter of its own, alongside other local favourites and contemporary cafes. If you fancy a read, do flick through to my Foodie’s Guide to Jaipur, here.