Rajasthan is the largest state in India, with four major cities that are recommended for travel, namely Jaipur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur. In terms of accessibility Jaipur is the easiest and gives one a flavour of what Rajasthan is!
Known as the ‘Pink City’, Jaipur is located around 260km from New Delhi, and it holds the distinction of being the first planned city in India. Easily accessible, it truly is a glorious riot of colours and splendour. Established in 1727, it gets its names from its founder Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. Why Pink City? As with any folklore, there are many stories, but the most commonly believed one is that it was painted pink to celebrate the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1876. The tradition is followed to this day.
Before giving you a quick guide on what not to miss: most attractions have an entrance fee and you should keep cash handy, as most places do not accept cards.
What to see in Jaipur
Amber Fort (also referred to as Amer) is located atop the Aravalli Mountain range. Though the distance is only 11km, it could take you up to 45 minutes to reach with the narrow winding roads. Being a popular tourist destination, expect crowds, especially during the winter months. Cobbled paths lead up to the magnificent structure, surrounded by ramparts and numerous gates. Major attractions of the fort are Diwan-e-Aam (akin to the House of Commons), Diwan-e-Khaas (akin to the House of Lords), Sukh Niwaas (translates to House of Pleasure – it is said that the kings used to spend time here with their queens, sometimes mistresses, hence the name) and Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors).
It is roughly a 15 minutes climb up to these attractions. Alternatively, you can opt for a jeep ride or an elephant ride. I was told that the condition and treatment of animals have significantly improved with the Jaipur government taking interest – but as a principle we recommend not to ride elephants. It is recommended to visit Amer Fort early in the day (before 9:00am) to guarantee a ride and avoid the queues, if one is really keen. Though audio tours are available, it is advisable to hire a guide, as there is a lot to cover and you could lose yourself in the labyrinth of lanes!
Sound and Light show: Not to be missed! The remarkable Sound and Light show is the icing on the cake. History and anecdotes of Rajput Kings blend with folk music and light effects.
Timings for the English show are:
Summer : 7:30pm
Timings and charges do tend to change, so do check and make bookings before visiting.
En route to Amber Fort you will pass the Jal Mahal, built in water, not on land, not even on an island – intriguing, isn’t it?
Jaigarh Fort: located close by and overlooking Amber Fort is Jaigarh Fort. It is architecturally similar to the Amber Fort, and offers a panoramic view of the city of Jaipur. This almost-intact fort is surrounded by huge ramparts and is connected to Amber Fort with subterranean passages. It was originally built to protect the Amber Fort and the palace within the complex. This fort also houses the world’s largest cannon on wheels, the length of its barrel being a little more than 20 feet!
The fort stands on a short diversion from the Jaipur-Delhi Highway, which leads to the cannon at the Dungar Darwaza, the same road leads to another important fort called the Nahargarh Fort.
Jantar Mantar is nothing short of fascinating. It is mind boggling to see the precision with which the instruments found here work. I was truly amazed at the depth of knowledge of science, so many years ago. Located in central Jaipur, it was built in 1724 and is a scientific astronomical observatory. The Samrat Yantra (or solar clock) tells you the time of the day based on the shadow cast by the sun. There are two of them, with the larger one being accurate to a point of, hold your breath, 2 seconds! There are many other instruments that help calculate the zodiac month, sun signs and so on.
Timings: Open from 9am to 5pm, all days
Do hire a guide or pick up an audio guide (English, French, Spanish, Mandarin) to make sense of the all the instruments on display.
Right across from the Jantar Mantar is the City Palace and Museum. Still owned by the Royal Family of Jaipur, they have opened out parts of it for public viewing. Walk through the many gardens, courtyards and buildings that make up the City palace complex to view a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal Architecture.
The Mubarak Mahal (or Royal guest house) now house the Museum, which contains a collection of royal costumes. Not to be missed are the clothes worn by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh I, who was 6.5ft tall and 4ft wide! He had 108 wives, wonder what husbands today would think of that?!
The Chandra Mahal (Moon palace) is still largely occupied by the Royal family. The Royal courtyard called the Pritam Niwas Chowk (courtyard of the beloved) is the stunner. The four gates found here, designed to represent the four seasons are spectacular.
Right opposite the Chandra Mahal is the Diwan-e-Khas, a hall for a private audience with the King. Interesting artefacts here are these water urns, called Gangajelies, used to carry water. They are officially the biggest sterling silver urns as per the Guiness Book of World Records – or so we were told by our guide. They were made for the Maharaja for his visits to London, where he would carry two such urns, each carrying 4000 litres of drinking water! Mind-boggling! The Diwan-e-Aam, a hall for public audience with the King houses a golden ornate throne. Not only was it used as throne, it also doubled up as a houdah while riding an elephant! Photography is not permitted here.
While winding through the roads of Jaipur, you are bound to chance upon the Hawa Mahal or the Palace of winds. Its bee-hive structure will be hard to miss, and its rose-coloured stone makes it so attractive you will definitely stop to take a look. The main reason for this structure was to give the royal ladies a place where they could sit and enjoy processions, as they were not allowed to come out in the open.
Chokhi Dhani , a Rajasthani village setting, located 20kms from Jaipur, serves to give you a glimpse of Rajasthani culture. While it has grown in popularity in years, it has become excessively crowded and commercial. Traditional folk dance and song, acrobats, local games, puppet shows, palm readers feature, with lots of activities for children too. The entry ticket includes dinner, consisting of traditional Rajasthani fare.
Shopping in Jaipur
Last but not the least, shopping in Rajasthan is not to be missed. Even if you do not intend to buy anything, a visit to the local bazaar is a must. Colourful clothes, footwear, silver – the range is vast. Street shopping is usually around sight-seeing points, but do remember to bargain with vendors. To name a few, Bapu Bazaar is the best place to shop, and is located in the heart of the city. If pottery is what interests you, head to Mirza Ismal Road. If you’re standing awestruck looking at the Hawa Mahal, prepare to be awed further by Sireh Deori Bazaar, right across. Want more? Johari bazaar for jewellery and Kishanpol and Nehru bazaar for textiles. Some of the bigger shops which have attached workshops are even willing to let children try hand block printing with organic dyes!
Getting to Jaipur
There are multiple ways to get to Jaipur from New Delhi. We traveled by road from Gurgaon (one of the major satellite towns in the National Capital Region of Delhi) to Jaipur, a distance of roughly 240km. With breaks along the way it took us about 5 hours. There are lots of branches of an aptly named Highway King restaurant along the way. Stop here to savour local cuisine, but do bear in mind a lot of these places usually cater only vegetarian fare. If that doesn’t interest you, there is the ubiquitous McDonalds!
The other options for travel include very convenient flights of an hour from Delhi, and bus or train to soak in a truly Indian experience!
Places to stay
Jaipur has a range of hotels to suit every budget. If you want to splurge, head to the Rambagh Palace or the Oberoi Rajvilas which start upward of RM1500 per night. The former is a palace which has been converted into a hotel. Alternatively, there are Havelis, which have been turned into B&Bs and home-stays that are easy on the pocket.
The best time to visit Jaipur is closer to or during winter, from October – February. Days are hot (around 26°C) during winter but nights do get chilly, so carry a light jacket. Summer temperatures go up to 50°C.
Local Transport: There are plenty of options from cycle rickshaws to autorickshaws. There are no fixed rates nor do they use the meter. As a tourist, it is best to check with your hotel for rates and operators.
A city created by visionary Maharajas, bathed in pink, creates impressions that last a life time and leave you asking for more.