Jaipur was next on our itinerary after a day trip to Agra. A 2-hour train ride took us to the Pink City on a cool April night in 2011. We stayed at Baba Haveli, which was just a quick tuktuk ride away from the train station. The owner, Mr. Vijay Gautam, was an excellent host – a relief after an exhausting and quite a bad day in Agra. Albeit not so spacious, the rooms and hallways are quaint and charming, lavishly decorated with elaborate frescoes and tasteful furniture that exude old world charm. Our room has a tiny balcony facing the street. Despite that, we didn’t have a problem with noise and were able to sleep soundly.
Early the next morning, we started our tour. Tuktuks (autorickshaws) and local buses are the best modes of transportation to get around the city. But for time-challenged people such as I and my friend during the time we visited, private cars are available for rent. I highly recommend Real Rajasthan Tours. Aside from English-speaking drivers, they offer various tour packages and even customized ones for your convenience and travel satisfaction.
Dubbed as the “Pink City,” Jaipur takes pride in its distinct pink-painted buildings, which were intended to resemble the red sandstone Mughal architecture. The capital of Rajasthan is a bustling city filled with magnificent forts and palaces, and bazaars teeming with varied textiles, shoes, and Rajasthani jewellery – the latter being its famous commodity. It boasts of being India’s first planned city, known for the width and regularity of its streets. The city is at its most picturesque during late afternoons when its rose-colored architecture glows vibrantly under the rays of the setting sun.
Glorious decorative patterns can be found on almost every wall and structure, whether painted, carved or etched. I tried to capture these in photos as best as I could for future painting references. Composite tickets are available at a reasonable price of 300 INR for tourists that would grant you access to five monuments – Amber Palace, Nahargarh Fort, Jantar Mantar, Albert Hall, and Hawa Mahal. Additional charges apply for some sites if you’d like to take pictures.
We started our tour with the City Palace, an overwhelmingly gorgeous complex of exquisite palaces, gardens, and courtyards. Priced at 300 INR, it has the most expensive entrance ticket compared to other sites within the city, but still cheaper than that of Agra’s Taj Mahal. The City Palace was home to the Maharaja of Jaipur, but was opened in 1959 to the public as a museum. Decorative art, as well as textiles and costumes used by past royalties are housed in several halls. The most notable part of the complex is the Pritam Niwas Chowk, a rectangular courtyard with four exquisitely carved and painted doorways representing the four seasons – the Green Gate for spring, the Lotus Gate for summer, the Peacock Gate (my personal favorite) for autumn, and the Rose Gate for winter.
A short walk away from the City Palace is Jantar Mantar. Meaning “calculation instrument,” this observatory consists of fourteen large geometric devices built out of stones and marbles meant to measure time, track stars, and predict eclipses. It is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site with its being “the only practical proof left for Vedic astrology.”
An almost 2 hour-car ride took us to the edge of the Aravalli Hills where Nahargarh Fort stands, overlooking the Pink City. Known as “the Tiger Fort,” this structure was reputed to have been used by former royalty during hunting escapades. It was named after a prince whose spirit was purported to haunt the place, thus delaying the fort’s construction. The mischievous spirit was only pacified when a temple was built within the fort in his memory.
While much of its original structure lies in ruins, the building designed with suites for the nine wives of the Maharaja remains intact. These well-planned interconnected apartments have a very feminine vibe with pastel colors and delicate floral frescoes covering the walls up to the ceiling, making almost every nook and cranny picture-perfect.
Our last destination for Day 1 was Amber Fort. Perched high above on Amer’s rock terrain, this colossal palace complex used to be the earliest capital of Jaipur. Some structures I found most picturesque within the fort include: (1) The Ganesh Gate covered with ornate frescoes that leads to the private quarters of the royal family; (2) Kesar Kyaari, the lush, green geometric garden resembling that of Mughal dynasties’; (3) Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace), an unbelievably beautiful hall constructed in such a way that even a single ray of light that enters would be reflected in all the sparkling mosaics of little mirrors embedded onto the hall from floor to ceiling; and (4) the labyrinth-like corridors lined with latticed windows.
On our second day in the city, our first stop was the Albert Hall Museum. This oldest museum of the state is a sight to behold, boasting of an impressive Indo-Gothic architecture modeled after the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. A word of advice: Do get the audio guide to make the most out of your museum visit. Rest assured, it is well worth every penny.
Here’s a quick rundown of the other sites we visited on our second day in the city: (1) Hawa Mahal, also known as “Palace of Winds,” that was built so that the queens of Jaipur as well as women of noble birth could enjoy the beauty of nature through its windows without being seen themselves (they were not allowed to talk and interact with outsiders); (2) Galwar Bagh (Monkey Temple) located at the outskirts of the city; (3) the Birla Mandir Temple in its stunning white marble glory; and (4) Sisodia Rani Palace and Gardens with its multi-layered gardens and painted pavilions.