Jaipur (Rajasthan)

Jaipur: An overview
The third angle of India’s coveted Golden Triangle along with Delhi and Agra, Jaipur is vibrant in its display of traditional Rajasthani culture. Jaipur tour packages entail a trip into its heart, to the old walled quarter called the Pink City whose labyrinthine bazaars heave with traditional Rajasthani handicraft ranging from jewellery, clothes, pottery to woodwork.

Rated among the most exclusive in Asia, this bazaar alone draws people to Jaipur who do not seem to mind the crowds, the ambitious salesmen and the dizzying energy of it all. Among the most flamboyant states in the country, Jaipur’s streets despite its trundling buses, ambling camels, buzzing auto-rickshaws and swarms of motorcycles, offer visual splendors in the form of its architectural masterpieces and oasis of calm that you would feel you are in someplace exotic.

As you go through Jaipur holiday packages make sure it incorporates visits to the City Palace that continues to house the royal family, the Jantar Mantar, a royal observatory and the honeycomb-styled Hawa Mahal with a bustling bazaar under it. And just beyond the cacophony of the city rises the fairy-tale Amber Fort over a hill, the city surrounding it on all sides, one of the main reasons people make a Jaipur trip.

Jaipur’s main areas
Jaipur can be divided into three main areas. The urban sprawl at its heart which is the Pink City, home to the Hawa Mahal and City Palace. The south of the Pink City is greener and calmer, the commotion that comes with the old walled city missing here; this part is home to the Central Museum, Ram Niwas Garden.

The third part is the outskirt which is dotted with several royal vestiges such as the Nahargarh Fort, the temples of Galta and the royal cenotaphs at Royal Gaitor.

Places to visit in Jaipur

The Pink City
In the heart of Jaipur nestles the Pink City which was the original walled city with imposing gateways built by Maharaja Jai Singh. A distinct feature of this all rose-coloured constructions is its grid plan, the straight streets, wide and broad, opening up to airy squares at the major intersections, the plan created as per Vaastu Shastra.

Here’s a look at the significant landmarks that make up the Pink City.

Jantar Mantar: To the south of the City Palace is the vast green enclosure home to the Jantar Mantar which is a set a 18 stone astronomical measuring devices built in the 18th century on being commissioned by Maharaja Jai Singh, who was an ardent astronomer himself. The arbitrarily placed shapes and structures give the impression of some abstract sculpture park, and indeed makes for a great photo opportunity.

There are five such similarly named observatories across North India, including one in Delhi, created by Jai Singh who was believed to be more astrologically motivated than astronomically. To better understand the workings of this observatory, it will serve you well to hire the services of a guide and learn how the movement and position of planets and stars are identified.

The observatory could be used to even predict the time of monsoon accurately. Of the most impressive constructions of the Jantar Mantar is the Samrat Yantra, a 27 metre sundial that can calculate the time to up to two seconds. Another device, the Jaiprakash Yantra has two hemispheres on the ground, each made of six curved marble sheets with a ring suspended in the centre, their shadows marking the time, day and zodiac sign.

City Palace: The City Palace, Jaipur’s most magnificent construction lies in the heart of Pink City. Maharaja Jai Singh had originally built in the 1720s with the direct royal lineage still occupying a section of the palace. You can spot them in procession on official gathering when they pass through the southern gate, the grand Tripolia Gate.

Regular visitors to the palace enter through the more modest eastern gate that leads you into one of its main courtyards with the beautiful Mubarak Mahal in the center. This was built in 19th century as a reception hall, though is presently home to a textile collection comprising exclusive handwoven, brocaded and sequinned fabrics that were adorned by the royals of the yore.

To the north of the courtyard is the Armoury which houses with flamboyance an arsenal of weapons, one of the finest in Rajasthan.

Hawa Mahal: To the east of City Palace lies one of Jaipur most recognised landmark, the Hawa Mahal or Palace of Winds. The idea behind this 18th century structure was to let courtly women watch the proceedings on the street without getting noticed owing to the fact that they were supposed to remain in purdah.

The five storey structure is riddled with several hundred jaali windows and balconies, making the building appear bigger than it really is. Inside the Hawa Mahal, there are no stairs but ramps to allow for the palanquins carrying the royal ladies to pass. In order to enter the structure, you need to take a brief walk around the back of the building along a lane that goes north from Tripolia Bazaar.

Once you get inside, you can scale up the back of the structure and see through the screened niches through which royal woman had once looked down, taking in a view of the chaotic streets of Jaipur. The Hawa Mahal was commissioned to be built in 1799 by Sawai Pratap Singh which was basically nothing but an extension of the original palace.There are a total of 953 windows on the Hawa Mahal, though some as small as peep holes to prevent common people to look back at the royal women.

Built in the shape of Lord Krishna’s crown, whom Sawai Pratap Singh worshiped, the top three levels of the structure are called Vichitra Mandir, Prakash Mandir and Hawa Mandir, with Lord Krishna worshiped at the Vichitra Mandir. The Hawa Mahal glows pink against the sunset sky and is quite a spectacle to behold at this hour.

Things to do in Jaipur

Beyond the Pink City
To the south of the Pink City is a broad road going out from New Gate and is flanked by the greenery-studded Ram Niwas Gardens, named after the person who built it, Maharaja Ram Singh between (1835 to 1880). Amid the garden looms the stunning Albert Hall and to its south the Museum of Indology. To the north of the Pink City stretches the Nahargarh Fort while to its east over an elevation is the very popular Monkey Palace or Galta.

Nahargarh Fort: On the edge of the hills to the north of Jaipur is the dramatic Nahargarh Fort, meaning the abode of tigers that harks back on the belief that tigers roamed freely on the hills. This magnificent fort on the Aravalli ranges in Jaipur was constructed by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1734 as a defence for Jaipur city.

The sunset views over the fort is most rewarding. The imposing ramparts of the fort stretch for close to a kilometre along the ridge-top and go around a step-well. Inside the old fort are palace apartments built by Madho Singh II during 1883 to 1892, rooms believed to have been occupied by his concubines far away from the prying eyes of his courtiers as well as the four official wives.

About 15 kilometre from Jaipur, you can drive your vehicle to the fort on a road that diverts towards Amber Road a little while later. From the parking it is a stiff 20 minute walk up a steep path that gets up the north side of Jaipur city centre, though the path could be a bit of a challenge to find, and it would be easier to take a rickshaw instead.

It is best to go to the fort earlier in the day and avoid returning late. The palace complex has a few cafes, of them the RSTC Padao Restaurant offers the best views over the city.

Amber Fort: The star-attraction of Jaipur, this grandiose fort is made up of elaborate and exquisite palace complex built from pink and pale yellow sandstone and even white marble. The complex is divided into four sections, each having its own courtyard. You can visit the fort on the back of an elephant like the kings of yore, or simply walk up to the fort in around 10 minutes.

You also have the choice of taking 4WD to the top and back. You can enter Amber Fort through Suraj Pol and pass through its main courtyard, the Jaleb Chowk, and area where armies returning from war would show off their booties which even women would view from the veiled windows of the palace complex. Those entering by car enter through Chand Pol on the opposite side of the main courtyard.

It is best to hire the services of a guide to view this fort. Take the stairway up from Jaleb Chowk leading to the main palace. But before that you can take the steps to the right, to the Siladevi Temple to view the relief work on its brilliant silver doors. When you go up the main stairway, you will land in the Diwan-i-Am, the second courtyard with double row of columns, the latticed galleries are above them.

The third courtyard is the maharaja’s abode which you can enter through the Ganesh Pol adorned with arches with fresco details. Look up the multi-mirrored ceiling and the inlaid panels of the Jai Mandir. It has carved marble panels all around the hall that are both intricate and quirky. From Jai Mandir, you can take in wonderful views of the fort ramparts and see as far as the Maota Lake beneath.

On the opposite side of Jai Mandir is the Sukh Niwas with its ivory-inlaid sandalwood door and a little channel that once carried cool water through the room. The fourth courtyard is called Zenana which was meant for women and were designed in a way that the maharaja could come on his nightly visits without his other concubines or wives knowing.

The light and sound show at Amber Fort is quite a draw and is held in the fort complex near the Maota Lake.

Albert Hall: One of Jaipur’s most prominent landmarks, the Albert Hall built in 1867 is an interesting melange of Mughal and Venetians styles. The structure is home to the Central Museum which houses a collection that focuses on traditional as well as other Indian themes. You will find some of the finest displays of Jaipur pottery, a range of Mughal as well as Rajasthani miniature paintings, jewellery collection, clay figurines, woodwork and furniture, numismatics, musical instruments, ivory work, carpets, statues of Hindu gods and goddesses aside from artifacts from all around the world such as Egyptian antiques, hand-painted tiles outside of priceless articles from Myanmar, Japan and Persia.

Galta: About 3 kilometre east of Jaipur is a steep valley which is home to a small place called Galta. Galta encompasses several temples that are hundreds of years old squeezed into a plunging ravine. Galta is believed to be sacred owing to the freshwater spring that oozes continuously through the rocks in an otherwise arid and rocky valley, filling up two tanks.

Presently, these two tanks have become the mainstay of a giant colony of macaque monkeys that have earned the place its nick name that of the Monkey Palace. Monkeys can be seen splashing around in the water at all times, distracting the tourists from pursuing their photography of the various shrines, and standing and watching the monkeys endlessly.

This assortment of shrines are dedicated to Lord Krishna, Lord Rama and Hanuman and are extremely picturesque. Above the tanks on the top of the ridge is the most beautiful of them all, the Surya Mandir, entailing a brief climb, affording majestic views of the city spread out below.

Royal Gaitor: To the north of the city centre is the Royal Gaitor, a walled funeral complex home to stately marble cenotaphs or chhatris of the royal family of Jaipur. There are two main courtyards in the complex and each are crammed with elaborate marble mausoleums. The first courtyard comprises the magnificent 20th century cenotaph of Madho Singh II, a lover of food and one who fathered 125 children with his four wives and some 50-odd concubines.

The more elaborate cenotaph belongs to Jai Singh II who died in 1743, he had founded Jaipur and is also the first ruler to be interred at this Royal Gaitor. On top of the ridge over the Gaitor which you can reach through a steep flight of stairs is the Ganesh Mandir, one of the major Ganesh temples in the city.

Sisodia Rani Palace Garden: This landmark is about 6 kilometre from the city on the Agra Road through the Ghat Gate. This formal garden offers perfect respite from the summer heat and is a green oasis amid the clamour of Jaipur city. The place is home to terraced gardens with statues and fountains built for Sisodia Rani, the second wife of Maharaja Jai Singh II in the 18th century.

The gardens are overlooked by the palace of the same name. On the outer walls of the palace you will find murals showcasing hunting scenes among other mythological scenes. Regular buses from the city leave for Sisodia Rani Palace Garden. You can even take an auto-rickshaw from the city centre and negotiate a return journey with them.

Shopping in Jaipur

Jaipur is a souvenir shopper’s haven. To the south of the Pink City is Bapu Bazaar, the best destination in all of Jaipur to buy clothes and textiles, even the iconic block-print fabrics and Bandhani tie-and-dye. On the opposite side of the town, just beyond Zorawar Gate are emporiums stacking embroidery and wall-hangings and beautiful handicraft pieces.

You can buy vases of Persian influence, plates, tiles and candle-stands from the popular blue pottery stores along the Amber Road, or even from the workshop of the late Kripal Singh. For silver jewellery, you must visit Johari Bazaar, the street running north of Sanganeri Gate in the Pink City and also at the Chameliwala Market which is just off MI Road behind the Copper Chimney restaurant.

The Chameliwala Market also houses one of Jaipur’s best collection of gemstones.

Eating out in Jaipur

For traditional Indian food, you can head to Niro’s, a very popular pick on MI Road. Its pleasant, mirror-ceilinged interiors are a great way to escape the crowd on the streets while tucking into some delectable North Indian offerings such as Rogan Josh and Butter Chicken apart from the ubiquitous Continental and Chinese fare.

This age-old restaurant is a favourite of the locals and tourists. The Peacock Rooftop Restaurant is a part of Hotel Pearl Palace and is lauded for its delectable multi-cuisine offering and eclectic ambience. The restaurant affords a great view of the Hathroi Fort. Aside from its dinner menu, the place is popular for serving hearty breakfasts, juicy burgers, pizzas and traditional Rajasthani thalis at lunchtime.

At dinnertime, it runs to packed house, so it is advisable to make a booking ahead. For a dose of Mediterranean cuisine in Jaipur, try out Jaipur Modern Kitchen housed inside a homeware and fashion boutique which works with organic ingredients and whips up pizzas with healthy toppings and wraps, all of it made in-house aside from a range of gluten-free dishes.

You will find recipes made of locally-grown quinoa encompassing appetisers, soups, main course and even desserts. For a dose of fine-textured, creamy kulfi, your address is Pandit Kulfi, a little shop that has earned wonderful reviews for its kulfi on a stick in flavours such as chocolate, mango, paan, custard apple and pistachio.

You can experience the process of kulfi making if you visit around 4 in the evening when the creamy milk is poured into conical moulds and put for refrigeration in a salted ice box. If you have been craving for some coffee after all the shopping, there is no place better than the Indian Coffee House, a traditional coffee setup offering a rich cup of filtered coffee.

Order a dosa or a plate of vegetable pakoras to go with your beverage.

Best time to visit Jaipur

Jaipur is a dry, semi-desert region with three dominant seasons – a dry winter, a very dry and scorching summer and a short but intense monsoon. Expectedly, the best time to visit Jaipur remains the winter months beginning November through February when the tourist footfalls are also the highest owing to the warm sunshine through the day and cold that sets in at nightfall.

Jaipur in winter (November to February)
With the temperature hovering between 26 to 8 degree Celsius, this is the ideal season to visit Jaipur with a nice, pleasant nip setting in through the day before the cold and the chill descends at night. The early morning fog dissipates as the sun shines bright over the city, making it most suitable to go sightseeing around.

You can walk on foot or take a auto-rickshaw, eat at its pretty eateries and restaurants, visit the monuments before finding a cool shade in one of the city’s many parks. This is the perfect season to ride on an elephant back and enter the Amber Fort, go cycling around Nahargarh Fort or simply walk around the Pink City, its medieval bazaars and by-lanes.

Literattis throng Jaipur in great numbers at this time for the annual Jaipur Literature Festival.

Jaipur in summer (March to June)
This is the time when the temperature hovers between 42 and 24 degree Celsius, the hottest time to visit Jaipur. Summer is the least ideal time to visit Jaipur as the days are blistering hot, and the heat wave lasts through the better part of the night. There is no respite from the heat if you visit in this season, and may not be pleasant exploring the steep forts where you need to walk up ramps and the heaving bazaars with the sun beating down on you.

The evenings are relatively better, but most sightseeing attractions shut down by the time the sun goes down. But if you are a pool person, it could be the best time to check yourself into a plush hotel and relax by the pool, sipping into watermelon and muskmelon juice and varied mocktails. Summer is also a good time to look up the colourful Night Bazaar in Chaura Rasta.

The hotel prices are also considerably low at this time of the year. If you plan a summer visit, do not land up without your sunshades, sunscreen, summer clothes, hats and water bottles.

Jaipur in monsoon (July to October)
The temperature at this time of the year lingers between 34 and 23 degree Celsius. Monsoon are a better bet compared to summer as the days are significantly less hotter and the winds are nippier. Monsoon introduces a certain mysticism to the air and even the views are heavenly. It is wonderful to look at the forts and other red sandstone landmarks through a curtain of rain.

Monsoons are also a great time to tuck into crunchy Rajasthani snacks to go with hot teas. It is also the time for the festival, Teej, when the street kiosks sell a surfeit of a local sweet delicacy called Ghevar. Jal Mahal is absolutely delightful in this season, and so is a hot Rajasthani fare in Chokhi Dhani.

The Pink City though chaotic looks gorgeous in the rains and remains up to you to brave the crowds to indulge in a spot of shopping in its many bazaars. Carrying an umbrella and windcheater in this season is a must. Since this is a shoulder season, the hotel prices are still affordable.