At the heart of Jaipur lies Jai Singh’s original city, popularly known as the Pink City, enclosed by walls and imposing gateways. One of the Pink City’s most striking features is its regular grid-plan, with wide, straight streets, broadening to spacious squares (choupads) at major intersections – a design created in accordance with the Vastu Shastra, a series of ancient Hindu architectural treatises. The city’s other striking feature is its uniform pink colour, intended to camouflage the poor-quality materials from which its buildings were originally constructed. A heritage walk audioguide (2.5km; around 2hr; Rs110), covering some of the most interesting sights in the Pink City, is available from the Hawa Mahal.
At the heart of the Pink City stands the magnificent City Palace. To reach the palace entrance, go through the small archway on the north side of Tripolia Bazaar just west of the junction with Chaura Rasta and follow the road as it veers round to the right, past the Jantar Mantar. The entrance is past here, on your left.
The palace was originally built by Jai Singh in the 1720s and has lost none of its original pomp and splendour. The royal family still occupies part of the palace, advancing in procession on formal occasions through the grand Tripolia Gate on the south side of the palace. Less exalted visitors enter through a modest gate on the eastern side of the palace that leads into the first of the palace’s two main courtyards, centred on the elegant Mubarak Mahal. Built as a reception hall in 1899, the building now holds the museum’s textile collection, housing some of the elaborately woven and brocaded fabrics that formerly graced the royal wardrobe. On the north side of the courtyard, the Armoury is probably the finest such collection in Rajasthan, a vast array of blood-curdling but often beautifully decorated weapons.
Past the Mubarak Mahal, an ornate gateway flanked by pair of fine stone elephants leads into the palace’s second main courtyard, painted deep salmon pink. In its centre the raised Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), an open-sided pavilion where important decisions of state were taken by the maharaja and his advisers. The hall contains two silver urns, or gangajalis, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest crafted silver objects in the world, each more than 1.5m high with a capacity of 8182 litres. When Madho Singh II went to London to attend the coronation of King Edward VII in 1901, he was so reluctant to trust the water in the West that he had these urns filled with Ganges water and took them along with him.
On the left (west) side of the courtyard, a small corridor leads through to the Pritam Niwas Chowk, or “Peacock Courtyard”, adorned with four superbly painted doorways representing the four seasons. This courtyard also gives the best view of the soaring yellow Chandra Mahal, the residence of the royal family (closed to the public), its heavily balconied seven-storey facade rising to a slope-shouldered summit. When the maharaja is in residence his flag is flown from the topmost pavilion.
On the opposite (east) side of the Diwan-i-Khas courtyard, beneath a large clocktower, sits the ornate Sabha Niwas, the Hall of Public Audience (or Diwan-i-Am), bare except for a pair of thrones in the middle and portraits of various former maharajas around the walls. Beyond here is the small Diwan-i-Am courtyard, with a collection of old carriages tucked into one end.
Immediately south of the City Palace lies the remarkable Jantar Mantar, a large grassy enclosure containing eighteen huge stone astronomical measuring devices constructed between 1728 and 1734 at the behest of Jai Singh, who invented many of them himself, their strange, abstract shapes lending the whole place the look of a weird futuristic sculpture park. The Jantar Mantar is one of five identically named observatories created by the star-crazed Jai Singh across North India, though his motivation was astrological rather than astronomical.
It’s a good idea to pay for the services of a guide to explain the workings of the observatory, which was able to identify the position and movement of stars and planets, tell the time and even predict the intensity of the monsoon. Probably the most impressive of the observatory’s constructions is the 27-metre-high sundial, the Samrat Yantra, which can calculate the time to within two seconds. A more original device, the Jaiprakash Yantra, consists of two hemispheres laid in the ground, each composed of six curving marble slabs with a suspended ring in the centre, whose shadow marks the day, time and zodiac symbol – vital for calculating auspicious days for marriage.
Jaipur’s most instantly recognizable landmark, the Hawa Mahal, or “Palace of Winds”, stands to the east of the City Palace – best appreciated from the outside during the early morning, when it glows orange-pink in the rays of the rising sun. Built in 1799 to enable the women of the court to watch street processions while remaining in purdah, its five-storey facade, decked out with hundreds of finely screened windows and balconies, makes the building seem far larger than it really is; in fact, it’s little more than a facade. To get inside the palace itself you need to walk for five minutes around the rear of the building, following the lane that runs north from Tripolia Bazaar. Once inside, you can climb up the back of the facade to the screened niches from which the ladies of the court would once have looked down, and which still offer superb views over the mayhem of Jaipur below.