Jai ho Jaipur!
If you were only going to visit one city in India outside of Delhi, it would have to be Jaipur. Really, for a westerner leaving the corporate world behind for a visit to the Far East why would you go anywhere else. It’s an eclectic mix of any big cities’ social scene and all the colour, music and festivity at the heart of Rajasthan’s cultural heritage. As you can probably tell I’ve just visited the Pink City (so named for the pinkish hue in the sandstone), after needing to escape from the too much going-on-pace of Delhi. And Jaipur delivered; oh of course you still see all the every day sights of India, fresh fruit being sold beneath the cities most polluted bypass, 14 people clambering on a three-wheeler and I saw a cow on the roadside eating a stick, literally, it had chewed about the equivalent of a classroom ruler by the time we drove by. When you look up to the skyline, you’ll also see mountains and shrines carved into the tops of hills and fortresses with their walls tapering across the backbone of the mountaintops. With bold coloured silk flags blowing in the wind and white rough walled temples and houses set in hillside cavities, it gives the impression of Tibet or the Ashrams in Kathmandu.
Like much of Rajasthan, Jaipur is dotted with monuments from the past, palaces and forts that make for a fascinating experience in both accommodation and sightseeing. Many of the grand hotels were once the palatial homes of the Royal families that since their demise, have been converted. Because of their Rajput heritage, the hotels are luxurious, lavish, divinely opulent and make the set of Downton Abbey look like the stables quarters. Well, not entirely, the Earl of Carnarvon’s house could still hold its own.
Rambagh Palace, now a Taj Hotel, was originally the residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur until 1957 when it was converted into a luxury hotel. Until recently it was still the home of Maharani Gayatri Devi, a Princess in her own right, while simultaneously receiving tourists and hotel guests. Gayatri was the third Maharani of Jaipur during the 1940 ’s through her marriage to Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II. Following India’s independence and the subsequent abolition of the princely states, she became an extremely successful politician while carrying the title Queen Mother of Jaipur. I can’t imagine the weight of understanding that one would have to accept being born into royalty and witnessing the melting away of generations of titles to usher in a new age of republicanism. But apparently, Gayatri Devi managed it with absolute grace.
A day trip to Amer Fort is a step back in time conjuring images of Rajput warrior kings with it’s looming stone ramparts, Hindu princesses lounging in the mosaic mirrored halls and courtiers dashing across the open columned pavilions. When I first went to Amer Fort some 12 years ago, my first impression was that it was a place of both joy and strength in equal measure, with its cobbled pathways, intricately carved jali’s peering out into Maota Lake and its delicately landscaped water gardens and floral painted frescoes trimming the archways throughout. It was originally built by Raja Man Singh 1, who at one point in time became a trusted advisor to the Mogul Emperor Akbar and was included among the nine gems of the Emperor’s royal court. Now, of course, it’s flooded with tourists and the occasional snake charmer, but it’s riches are still breathtaking.
I think what I most like about Jaipur is it’s signature tryst with the west, loads of quaint little organic cafés, rooftop bars and premium service all alongside the jumbled marketplace of Rajasthan’s famous trade of blue pottery, sanganeri cotton sari’s, block printed fabrics, handmade kites, mirrored lanterns and rough beaten silverware. It really is the gateway to India’s most flamboyant state and an entirely charming and enchanting way to spend a weekend.