Part of the “Golden Triangle” tour, Jaipur (along with Delhi and Agra) is highly recommended for travelers exploring north-western India. Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, as well as the state’s biggest city. The stunning use of natural sandstone in its historic buildings has earned Jaipur the nickname, “Pink City”. Since the summer heat can prove to be quite unbearable for visitors, the best time to visit Jaipur is the winter, between the months of November and March.
Visitors can take advantage of a composite ticket which costs 100 Indian Rupees for Indians, and 500 Indian Rupees for foreign nationals. This ticket provides access to 7 monuments in Jaipur:
- Amber Palace
- Jantar Mantar
- Hawa Mahal
- Albert Hall
- Sisodia Garden
- Vidhyadhar Garden
Amer Fort is not only a prime tourist attraction in Jaipur, it is a symbol of historic pride for the entire state of Rajasthan. Also referred to as Amer Palace or Amber Fort, this Jaipur wonder is listed as one of the top 100 endangered sites in the world by the World Monument Fund. The fort is situated on the Cheel Ka Teela (Hill of Eagles) on the Aravalli hills, and overlooks the Maota Lake. It is also connected via a subterranean passage to Jaigarh Fort, another big attraction of Jaipur. This passage served as an escape route during times of war.
The Meenas first founded the settlement of Amer in 967 CE. In fact, the name “Amer” comes from Goddess Amba, the family deity of the Meena dynasty. The fort itself was built in the 1600s during the reign of Raja Man Singh I, a member of the Kachhwaha dynasty. He was also one of the Navratnas or “Nine Gems” of the Mughal Emperor at the time, Akbar. Located 11 kilometers from Jaipur, Amer Fort served as the capital of the Kachhwaha clan, until Sawai Jai Singh II declared Jaipur as the official capital in 1727.
Over 150 years, Amer Fort underwent many improvements and additions by several rulers. With its Hindu and Mughal architectural elements, Amer Fort is impressive for its sweeping ramparts, huge gates and cobbled footpaths. While Jaigarh functioned as an armory and military fortress, Amer served as a royal residence. The extensive palace complex is built from pale yellow and pink sandstone, as well as marble. There are four main sections, each with its own courtyard. The main highlights of Amer Fort include:
- Diwan-i-Am: The “Hall of Public Audience” features columns in two rows, each topped by an elephant figure.
- Sheesh Mahal: The “magic flower” panel is particularly popular. Carved onto one of the pillars, the marble panel consist of seven exquisite designs including a lotus, a scorpion, a lion’s tail, a fish tail, a corn cob, a hooded cobra, and an elephant’s trunk.
- Jai Mandir: The “Hall of Victory” is famous for its multi-mirrored ceiling, complete with carved marble panels with intricate relief work. Even if one match is struck, the light is reflected in the many thousand mirrors.
- Sukh Niwas: The “Hall of Pleasure” has an ivory-inlaid sandalwood door that opens into a water channel area, which once brought cool air into the inner rooms.
- Zenana: The women’s quarters were arranged in a secluded design, which meant that the maharaja (king) could visit his wives’ or concubines’ chambers at night without anyone noticing.
In the evening, the Amer Sound and Light Show takes place near the Maota Lake.
You can climb up to the fort in 10 minutes, or hire a 4WD costing 400 Indian Rupees roundtrip for five passengers.
Point to note: While elephant rides are offered at Amer Fort, the condition of the elephants has come under criticism from animal welfare groups. Several cases of abuse and permanent injuries have been registered. While many visitors choose to ride an elephant up to the fort, it is important to remember that exercising responsible tourism is key for wildlife preservation. Invest in travel guides and packages that support wildlife protection and animal sanctuaries.
Literally meaning “The Palace of Winds”, the Hawa Mahal is located in Jaipur’s Chawri Bazaar. Considered as one of the finest examples of Rajput architecture, the Hawa Mahal was constructed in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, member of the Kachhwaha dynasty, as an extension to the City Palace (central Jaipur).
Like other buildings in Jaipur, Hawa Mahal is constructed of pink and red sandstone, There are 953 small casements that allow for cool breezes, making it the perfect summer palace. The five-tiered honeycomb facade imitates the crown of the Hindu god, Krishna, since Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh was a devotee of Krishna. In fact, the maharaja (king) performed his worship in the Vichitra Mandir located in the top three storeys of the palace.
Essentially a multi-tiered latticed screen wall, the palace was designed to hide the Rajput women in the royal household. They could observe the festivities and drama on the streets without being seen themselves. Among the Rajputs, a woman could only show her face to male relatives. Male strangers were forbidden to even interact with women. This system was known as the “purdah”. Another interesting detail to note is that there are no steps to the upper floors, only ramps. These were for the palanquins of the royal ladies, so that they may enter and leave the palace unseen.
Albert Hall Museum
Located in Ram Niwas Garden in Jaipur, the Albert Hall Museum is the oldest museum in the state of Rajasthan. It is named after Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who visited Jaipur in 1876 for the establishment of the museum’s foundation rock.
Earlier suggestions included using the building as a cultural or educational institution, or as a town hall. However, Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II decided to act upon Resident Surgeon Dr. Thomas Holbein Hendley’s suggestion, and opened a museum for Industrial Arts in 1881. It was meant to showcase the works of local craftsmen, and proved to be extremely popular.
In 1883, Dr. Hendley set up the “Jaipur Exhibition” at Naya Mahal, which is now the old Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly). The goal was to encourage local artisans, provide them with a means for employment, preserve traditional crafts, and entertain the people of Jaipur.
The Albert Hall Museum was completed in 1887 under the supervision of architect Samuel Swinton Jacob, a British engineer who was appointed Director of Jaipur PWD. All temporary exhibits and artifacts in the neighborhood were now housed permanently in the museum.
An amalgamation of various Indian classical styles like the Mughals and Rajputs, the structural elements of the Albert Hall Museum are an astounding example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Murals in the corridors depict scenes from the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, while others glorify the Egyptian, European, Persian, Chinese, Greek and Babylonian civilizations. In the words of the great Rudyard Kipling, “It is now a rebuke to all other museums in India from Calcutta downwards.”
There are 15 gallery collections and several rotating exhibits. Some of the works showcased are:
- Metal Art consisting of 19th century vessels, shields, salvers and figurines in bronze, brass, silver, zinc and alloys.
- Miniature Paintings from treatises, poems, novels, plays and ballads, such as the Bhagavad Gita, Geet Govind, Harivamsa, Kadambari and Ragamala.
- Antique musical instruments like the shehanai, karak, bankia, ravan hatha and chouteau.
- Indian Pottery styles from the 19th century, including unglazed traditional works from Bikaner, Bengal, Bhawalpur and Khurja; glazed pottery from Bombay, Sindh, Multan, and Delhi; and vintage Jaipur blue pottery.
Govind Dev Ji Mandir
The Govind Dev Ji temple is located between Chandra Mahal and Badal Mahal, in the City Palace complex in central Jaipur.
According to Hindu mythology, the deity in the temple was sculpted by the great grandson of Lord Krishna, Bajranabh. Around 5,000 years ago, when Bajranabh was 13 years old, he asked his grandmother what Lord Krishna looked like. Using the description, he made three attempts to make an image of Krishna. The third image was considered a near likeness, and it was named Bajrakrit or “created by Bajra”.
This image of Lord Krishna was passed down to Srila Rupa Goswami, a devotional teacher and philosopher belonging to the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition in India. He and his brother Santana Goswami are considered the most senior of the six Goswamis of Vrindavan, all of whom were disciples of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, an avatar of Lord Krishna.
Years later, the deity was brought from Vrindavan by the founder of Jaipur, Raja Sawai Jai Singh II. The king had a dream, where Lord Krishna instructed him to install the image in his palace, so as to save it from being destroyed by the zealot Mughal emperor, Aurangazeb.
Today, the Govind Dev Ji Mandir is considered one of the most important temples outside Vrindavan for Krishna devotees.
Point to note: While visitors can take photographs and recording of temple premises, most temples in India forbid any media within the garbagriha or the innermost sanctum where the deity resides.
Bazaars of Jaipur
Jaipur is famous for its handicrafts and at any point of the day, its bazaars are always teeming with tourists and locals alike. There is plenty for the eye and for the wallet, provided one knows how to bargain hard!
The Rajput maharajas (kings) and Mughal emperors were great patrons of art, and often invited artists and craftsmen from India and abroad to display their skills in the royal courts. Under the royal patronage, many artisans settled in India. Jaipur in particular, soon developed into a center for art and culture. Many traditional works flourished, such as block printing, stone carving, marble sculpting, miniature painting, ivory carving, leather ware, and shellac work.
Some of the more unique arts include:
Bandhani: Coming from the Hindi word Bandhan or “tying”, sections of cloth (silk or cotton) are tied and dipped into a vat of dye. The more minuscule the tied sections, the finer the print. Bandhani work uses natural colors such as yellow, red, green and black.
Leheriya: Meaning “wave” in Rajasthani, the dyeing technique is used to produce complex wave patterns on textiles. The cloth is rolled diagonally, with certain portions of the fabric resisted by gently binding threads within a short distance from one another. The dyeing process is repeated until the needed amount of color is achieved.
Blue Pottery: The vibrant blue dye is used to color the pottery, creating animal, bird, plant and geometric designs. The concept was first invented by the Mongols, who combined Chinese glazing techniques with Persian decorative arts. When the Mughals arrived in India, they used the blue glazing technique in architectural designs in Delhi. From Delhi, the technique traveled to Jaipur, where blue pottery flourished under Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II. Some of the older designs can still be seen at Rambagh Palace.
Meenakari: Patronized by Raja Man Singh of Mewar in the 16th century, the art of meenakari involves the use of brilliant colors in intricate designs on the surface of metal. In fact, the word Meena means “the azure color of heaven”. The technique was created by Iranian craftsmen in the Sassanid era, and was brought to India (including Jaipur) during foreign invasions.
Kundan: Meaning “highly refined gold”, only fiery yellow melted gold is used to set gems in jewelry. Believed to be one of the most ancient forms of jewelry making in India, kundan jewelry was inspired by the Mughals and their love of precious stones, diamonds and jewelry designs.
Tarkashi: Artisans from Mainpuri, Uttar Pradesh migrated to Jaipur, and brought the art of Tarkashi with them. Taar means “wire”. Fine flattened wires of brass, copper or silver are inlaid into wood. The geometric forms are derived from ancient Mughal decorative designs.
Zardozi: A type of metal embroidery that embellished the attire of the royal families of India, Zardozi was also used to decorate scabbards, royal tents, wall hangings, and regal paraphernalia of horses and elephants. Zar means “gold”, while Dozi means “embroidery”. Elaborate designs are made with gold and silver threads. This Persian embroidery art reached its peak during the reign of the Mughal emperor, Akbar. When the austere Aurangzeb took power, he stopped the patronizing of what he believed as unnecessary indulgences. As a result, artisans left Delhi and traveled to the courts of Rajasthan (such as Jaipur) and Punjab for work.
India has a great number of habitats like forests, wetlands, deserts and grasslands. Such a diverse terrain supports a variety of plants and animals. Monkeys are one of them.
There are more than 15 species of monkeys found in the Indian subcontinent alone. The Rhesus Macaques belong to the Old World Monkeys, and are native to Asia. They are a common sight in Jaipur.
Primates are revered as a form of the monkey god, Hanuman. But sprawling cities and dense populations have led to clashes between man and primates, with increasing monkey aggression leading to declining public adoration. While food is the main objective, monkeys often have other preferences. In Vrindavan for example, monkeys have developed a strange liking for spectacles, and will attempt to steal your frames!
Jai Mahal Palace
Staying at one of Jaipur’s heritage hotels is an experience in unparalleled luxury and comfort. Built in the 18th century, the Jai Mahal Palace is spread over 18 acres, and includes a number of facilities including six dining outlets, an ayurvedic and aromatherapy spa, a running track, a miniature golf course, a swimming pool and heritage walks. Keep an eye out for the peacocks!
With its grand Indo-Sarcenic architectural facade, the Jai Mahal Palace is complete with intricate marble floors, stencilled floral motifs and portraits of the royal family. Like most other heritage hotels in Jaipur, the palace is located in the Civil Lines area, where government officials including the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, reside. That makes the area both serene and safe.
Guests are welcomed with the traditional sprinkling of water perfumed with roses, jasmine and sandalwood. The hotel corridors are also scented through the air-conditioning ducts. The premises are equipped with ramps everywhere including the lawns, making the palace grounds completely accessible for people with disabilities. There are also rooms with services such as handrails, an emergency bell, special lights and lower beds.
Guests can also experience activities like magic, pottery skills, puppeteering, and traditional folk dances by local artist troupes.
Ghoomar: Originally performed by the Bhil tribe, the dance is performed by groups of women swirling together, with men and women singing on the sidelines. The rhythmic movements create an illusion of flowing colors, as the women’s ghaghara (long skirt worn by Rajasthani women) swirls during pirouetting.
Bhavai: Performed only by extremely skilled dancers, women balance 8 to 9 pitchers on their hands while placing their feet on a number of items including earthen pots, brass pitchers, glass tumblers, the edge of a naked sword, and the rim of a brass thali (plate).
Chari: This dance form hails from the Gujjar community in Kishangarh. Brass pots are ignited using cotton seeds dipped in oil, and women balance these pots while dancing. Chari is usually performed for big occasions such as a wedding, or the birth of a baby boy.