India’s oldest planned city brings the best of Rajasthan’s culture to the fore. From food to architecture to shopping, Jaipur presents everything in one colourful package. Remarkably, for a city as old as this, it has kept up well with the times, as you will realise when you walk into its hip cafes, trendy bars and swank hotels. Here’s how to make the most of your time in the Pink City.
Start straight from the heart of the old city, at the City Palace. The complex hosts a museum documenting the life and times of the royals, whose descendants still occupy a part of this palace. From here, hop across to Jantar Mantar, built as a celestial observatory by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh and completed in 1734. It is home to the world’s largest stone sundial and other purpose built architecture that tracks the position of the stars in the sky. Next door is the intricate and imposing Hawa Mahal, built as an elaborate but discreet viewing gallery for women of the royal household to look out at life on the street below. It is through these ventilated galleries that the women would shop from the merchants who would flock to the palace. Today, the markets around Hawa Mahal are bustling with more wares than you can imagine. But come back to these later—you don’t want to be lugging shopping bags when you’re exploring two of Jaipur’s neighbouring forts.
Nahargarh Fort lords over the city from its vantage on the Aravalli ridge. It makes for an excellent sunset point, provided you don’t mind the snaking jam of vehicles on the way down. Next door, the Amer Fort is where you can spend half a day. Spare the poor elephants and make the easy, 10-minute climb up to the fort. Allow the (audio) guide to take you through the palace and its story. Spend time at the Sheesh Mahal, the breathtaking palace of mirrors, gape at the ornate garden at the centre of the fort, and snap the Kesar Kyari and its surrounding lake from the galleries above. Time your visit to the second half of the day, so you can hang around for the spectacular sound-and-light show after sunset. (Tip: the one in Hindi has been penned by Gulzar and narrated by Amitabh Bachchan, though the version in English is no less impressive.) Along the way, you may also stop by for a boat ride around the surreal Jal Mahal.
If you happen to visit in winter, schedule a visit to the Rajasthan Polo Club, preferably during a match, is a great experience. Sip on Champagne and watch the game unfold, before hoping to be invited for an after party by the city’s swish set.
Jaipur’s foodscape draws heavily from Mughal and Rajput parentage, so you know you’re in for a treat. Vegetarians will particularly enjoy the tongue-tingling flavours at nearly every street corner. From fragrant chai to savoury kachoris and the world’s best lassi (at Lassiwala, Jayanti Market), the city has it all. But if you want to grab a seat and have a meal, here’s where you should go:
When it comes to where to party in the city, your best bet for drinks is probably the bar at Jaipur’s hotels that cater to every kind of traveller. The most popular, with its deep blue walls, and Instagram-ready interiors is Bar Palladio, in Narain Niwas Palace, but there’s more. Steam, the concept bar at the Taj Rambagh Palace is set inside a replica train carriage and features the finest spirits from around the world. The marble patio outside only adds to the setting. In the same hotel is The Polo Bar, which serves up its signature Polotini a setting that reflects the history of the old-world sport. The Jaipur Marriott is home to Lounge 18, where the indoor bar opens up to the pool area. Rub shoulders with overworked travelling business executives and local partygoers who enjoy the potent yet inventive cocktails. Also worth considering is Sheesh Mahal, at the ITC Rajputana, where the bar takes its inspiration from the room in Jaipur’s City Palace. Unlike its inspiration, you will get cocktails here, though we’re partial to the single malts. Rounding out the offerings is Ta Blu, on the rooftop of the Clarks Amer, from where you can look out over the Pink City, with a drink in hand. Popular with city residents, this is a local institution, and if you’re lucky there will be a gig going on as well.
Jaipur is home to mix of stores, from places where you can get traditional block printed outfits, to stores that sell the best of Indian fashion, and of course gems and jewellery, there’s something for every taste, and budget the city. A visit to the three most popular bazaars is probably a good place to start. Johari Baazaar is known for its traditional fabrics like tie-and-dye and gota. You’ll find jewellery stores too lining Gopalji ka rasta and Haldiyon ka rasta, so prepare to spend an afternoon here, and don’t forget to haggle. Bapu Bazaar on the other hand is best known for its goods made of camel leather, and its confections like churan. Attar and jewellery can also be found here. Lastly, there’s Chamaliwala Bazaar, which is where you should visit if you’re looking for jewellery, as this is market known for its silversmiths.
When it comes to the stores to stop by at. Anokhi, which offers block printed clothing in silhouettes that are for the 21st century should be on your list. Next-door is the Anokhi Café, where you can grab a bite, or the sit down and rest with a cup of coffee. Also worth checking out, especially for a well-curated set of clothing from some of India’s best designers, is Hot Pink, in Narain Niwas Palace. The store is one of many in the palace complex, but here you’ll find outfits from Namrata Joshipura and Manish Arora on the racks. In the same palace, check out Idli, where you’ll find everything from home décor to jewellery, all put together by French designer Thierry Journo. Successfully bridging the divide between modern India and ancient techniques is Jaipur Modern, a lifestyle store that has a range of clothing, and textiles, though we’re partial to their supple scarves in gorgeous colour combinations. There’s a café attached for those hungry for a bite afterwards.
For something traditional, the Jaipur Blue Pottery Art Centre which is known for its ceramic artefacts in the city’s signature blue colour. You’ll find tiles, plates and more to bring home with you. Another favourite is PM Allah Buksh and Sons, which is run by the fifth generation of the family, where brass artisans turn out lamps and more with intricate filigree work. If you like something that’s too big to fit into your suitcase, don’t worry they ship worldwide. Rajasthali, the state-run emporium is also a well-stocked one-stop-shop for those that want to see that handicrafts and designs that Rajasthan is known for.
Perhaps the best-known jewellery stores to come out of Jaipur are Amrapali and Gem Palace, both of which have now expanded all over the country. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit the original outlets. While Amrapali has a line of jewellery designed by Manish Arora, Gem Palace is known for its classic designs and traditional pieces.
There’s a host of tours and experiences that have sprung up recently to cater to those that are looking to see the city differently. For example, Virasat Experiences offers walking tours themed around different points of interest—like photography, gastronomy, history and more. If you’re looking to get some exercise, they set-up cycling tours of the city as well. Skywaltz is another company that offers hot-air balloon trips from which you can look down on the city and Amer Fort while enjoying a journey up in the crowds. Adventure seekers can also try para-motoring on the outskirts of the city that is organized by Wingmasters Co. This aerial experience allows you to see nearby attractions like the Mundota Fort from above.
Within the city, once you’ve had your fill of shopping and sightseeing, make your way to the Anokhi Museum of Handprinting where you can try your hand at blockprinting your own shirt. For those looking to get away from the city, book a night at Dera Amer, campsite that can organise elephant treks through the jungle and facilitate visits to neighbouring village as well.
|Airport Road, Sanganer, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302011||JAI|