Jaipur’s fairytale forts, temples, palaces and observatories evoke a magical aura. Here are 10 places to visit in Jaipur.
Be sure to pack your best camera as Jaipur’s vivid colours are a photographer’s heaven. One of the best vantage points is at the corner of Chandpol and Kibhanpol Bazaars, where you will find a small temple with a rooftop platform that looks down upon the most colourful and busiest intersection in Jaipur.
Wiry merchants balance enormous baskets of fruit, vegetables, noodles and nuts as they stride among the trishaws, elephants, camel-pulled carts and glittering wedding horses. Alluring women in blindingly bright colours sashay through the chaotic bazaars while men in multicoloured turbans and curly moustaches guard the halls of Jaipur’s monumental forts.
2-Palace on Wheels
Roll back through time and travel like a Maharaja on the Palace on Wheels. Each carriage has been refurbished to resemble the original saloons of the Maharajas and come complete with private bathrooms, wall-to-wall carpeting and a personal attendant. From Jaipur, you’ll be able to explore classic India – Jaisalmer’s desert camps, Jodhpur’s blue city, Udaipur’s lakes and gardens, Bharatpur’s bird sanctuary and the fabled Taj Mahal at Agra – in railway luxury. For more information see www.palaceonwheelsindia.com or call +91 141 5115777.
3-Princes and palaces
Jaipur’s main palace, the City Palace (www.royalfamilyjaipur.com), has been converted into a museum. Elegant arches sit upon slender columns and latticed marble screens; galleries that were once full of delicate wall paintings are linked by a maze-like complex of interconnecting courtyards and pavilions; audience halls, sitting rooms, dining rooms, banqueting chambers and offices that once bustled with official activity now are now filled with ogling tourists.
It’s not hard to picture a time when queens, princesses and concubines schemed in the zenana, or private women’s quarters, while Jaipur’s dashing warrior princes held court. Adding to the mystique of the City Palace is the fact that Sawai Bhawani Singh, the man who would be Maharaja had history taken a different course, continues to live in a section of the complex.
4-Ride a rickshaw
Hop on a rickshaw and ride through Jaipur’s fascinating bazaars. The main markets are Johari Bazaar, Bapu Bazaar, Nehru Bazaar, Tripolia Bazaar and M.I. Road. You’ll see stone masons, wood carvers and brass workers chiselling away; there are shops specialising in precious and semi precious stones, ornaments and jewellery, artisans making enamel bracelets and colourful stalls that sell anything from shoes to carpets. Don’t forget to haggle for the best price before your journey. A 30-minute ride should cost between Rs150 – 250.
5-Palace of the Wind
One of Jaipur’s most recognizable icons is the Hawa Mahal, or the Palace of Wind. Built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799 A.D, this architectural marvel is a pyramid shaped structure with thousands of tiny windows, domes and spires. Although the façade has the appearance of a grand palace, that is all it is – a façade with no building. The royal women used to stand on platforms behind this façade so that they could watch the parades on the road below without being seen.
Ride an elephant (Rs 400 return) or a jeep (Rs 120 return) up to the top of Amber Fort, the ancient capital of Jaipur’s Kachhawah rulers. There is an imposing stairway that leads to the Diwan – I – Am, or Hall of Public Audience, with its double row of columns and latticed galleries.
The Jai Mandir, or Hall of Victory, has glittering mirror ceilings and walls. From the 16th century right up until the 1980’s, a goat used to be sacrificed each day at the Kali Temple. The maharaja’s apartments are situated on the higher terrace and are linked to the zenana, or women’s apartments.
Join in the fun at Jaipur’s Elephant Festival where elephants dressed up in royal finery parade for the crowds, run races, play polo and tug-of-war. For centuries, the elephant has been a symbol of strength and wealth for the Rajput kings. The festival is usually held around March each year to coincide with India’s Holi Festival. See www.incredibleindia.org for further information.
8-Live like a Maharaja
Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II was one of the first Rajasthan nobles to convert his family palaces into a five-star luxury hotel. In 1958, the family moved out of their principal residence – the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur – and handed over the reigns to the Taj Group to run it as a hotel. In years to come, the families other palaces suffered the same fate.
Rambagh Palace Hotel (Bhawani Singh Road, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, tel: +91 141 2211 919, email: [email protected], www.tajhotels.com) has a string of royal suites that reflect the opulent living of past eras, there are restaurants where turbaned and moustachioed retainers are at your beck and call, and wide marbled patios where guests can soak in the regal atmosphere. Rooms start from US$380 per night, the Grand Presidential Suite costs from US$4500 per night.
The concept of living like a Maharaja has such powerful market appeal that it has also inspired the Indian-managed Oberoi Group (www.oberoihotels.com) to design and construct from scratch, a string of brand new luxury hotels which capture the romance of Rajasthan’s opulent heritage.
9-Count your lucky stars
In 1724 Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II created a complex of astronomical instruments which were chiselled out of stone. The amazing thing is that, to this day, most of these instruments continue to provide accurate measurements. Although, as a keen astronomer, he built a string of observatories around the region, Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar (www.jantarmantar.org) is the largest and the best preserved.
Climb the steep narrow steps to get on top of these instruments for a great view of the surrounding area or crawl around under the instruments that measure local time, the angle of the sun, altitude and declination of the stars and planets. The most striking instrument is the Brihat Samrat Yantra Sundial, a commanding yellow construction which has a 27-meter high arm set at an angle of 27 degrees. The shadow this casts moves up to four meters an hour and calculates the local time as well as various attributes of the heavenly bodies.
10-Spot a tiger
Situated 107 kilometres from Jaipur, Sariska National Park covers an area of 800 sq km. Take a jeep safari through the forested landscape where the rocks and tall grass of Sariska hide a range of wildlife including tigers, jungle cats, civets, wild boars and languor monkeys. The park is open almost all year round, but the best time to view wildlife is from October to April.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Incredible India