Apart from it presumably having some pink buildings I knew little of what to see in the Pink City of Rajasthan – Jaipur. It forms one point of India’s “Golden Triangle” tourism tangle and so I thought I’d better take a look after extensive exploration of Rajasthan’s other ‘coloured cities’. As I had only a day here I embarked upon a day tour provided by the RTDC (Rajasthan Tourism Development Council).
Jaipur is a big Indian city, with the full complement of rubbish and pollution. But enter the old city through the Tripolia Gate and you’ll find both a place for everyday people and an insight into the excessive consumption of the former Rajput rulers.
It got its name from the rose-coloured ochre wash on the buildings, which was originally applied during the time of the British Raj as part of preparations to welcome Prince Albert, the consort of Victoria, Empress of India.
Thanks to government tax breaks Jaipur’s soft pink aura has made a comeback recently, after years of understandable unpopularity post Indian independence.
Here’s what I discovered on the excellent Jaipur tour:
The City Palace of Jaipur
Entering the City Palace is to enter a world of exquisite art work – silver, rich textiles and elaborate armoury. The beautiful hand block-printed cotton was once the pride of the region. Don’t miss the enormous clothing of the seven-foot, 250lb Rajah or the black Diwali saree that is literally covered with gold.
These massive silver vessels were taken to London by the Maharaja full of Ganges water and food. I don’t think his British hosts were impressed.
We also caught a glimpse of the façade of the nearby beautiful Palace of the Winds – the Hawa Mahal – from where the court’s purdah ladies watched public processions from tiny latticed windows high in the walls.
The Laxminarayan Temple
This exquisite white Laxminarayan Temple in Jaipur was built in 1904 and attracts devotees from around India in large numbers who come to hear the spiritual teachings of the temples gurus. It is set in a lovely garden of bright Bougainvillea.
The Jantar Mantar
The kingdom of Jaipur’s most famous son was Jai Singh II, an important figure in the Mughal Empire that ruled much of the Indian subcontinent from 1526 through into the 18th century. This keen astronomer had built a number of medieval observatories – the Jantar Mantar – in Jaipur, Delhi and elsewhere.
The Jaipur example is the only one still operational and the 16 massive instruments still accurately tell the time and can be used to make astronomical calculations. One of these is the world’s biggest sundial: an impressive 27 metres high. Interestingly, Jaipur time is 40 minutes different to Indian Standard Time but the Jantar Mantar is still used to calculate the Hindu lunar calendar.
This fort is 1,000 years old and the proud possessor of the Largest Cannon in the World, apparently with a 35 kilometre firing range. I have no idea of the veracity of these claims but it is huge, although perhaps not terribly practical. It took an elephant to turn it and I’m not even sure how often it was fired in anger. There was a secret passageway from here to the…
The Amber Palace is a magnificent royal complex about half an hour into the hills outside Jaipur and capital of the Kuchwaha Rajputs from 1037 to 1728.
The royal apartments are covered with beautiful mosaics and overlook a formal garden courtyard where fountains play. The winter rooms, for the ‘cooler’ months, would have been draped with carpets and heated with lamps. The summer quarters are built high to catch the breeze and cooled by water cascading through fine perforations in the wall.
A pillared meeting place in the centre of the apartments was the centre of gossip for the multiple Maharanis. I wanted to attempt a pirouette in the dancing hall but felt the Indian tourists would have disapproved.
In the gardens of the Amber Palace, just outside the city, fountains play and lead visitors into the delightful summer royal rooms – built high to catch the breeze and cooled by water cascading through fine perforations in the wall.
This is known as the Tiger Palace and just one of many forts which seem to perch on every hilltop in this arid and rocky land. In 1734 Jai Singh built Nahargarh as a retreat for his Maharanis and the palace has nine identical apartments for the women and great views down over the city.
Wandering the streets of Jaipur
After the tour I wandered the back streets of the old city in the failing light. In rows of doorless alcoves, blacksmiths beat at metal and hand presses produce smudged printed material. The place is a hive of industry and poverty. A goat nibbled on a string of discarded marigolds in the wake of a noisy wedding procession.
The exquisite detail of the many works of art on display in Jaipur’s palaces is stunning but the city today is not a place for Maharajas but everyday Indians.
By Natasha von Geldern
Can you suggest any other things to do in Jaipur? What did i miss?