A flamboyant showcase of Rajasthani architecture, Jaipur has long been established on tourist itineraries as the third corner of India’s “Golden Triangle”, along with Agra and Delhi. At the heart of Jaipur lies the Pink City, the old walled quarter, whose bazaars rank among the most vibrant in Asia, renowned for their textiles, jewellery and Rajasthani handicrafts. For all its colour, however, Jaipur’s heavy traffic, dense crowds and pushy traders make it a taxing place to explore, and many visitors stay just long enough to catch a train to more laidback destinations further west or south. If you can put up with the urban stress, however, the city’s modern outlook and commercial hustle and bustle offer a stimulating contrast to many other places in the state.
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Jaipur’s attractions fall into three distinct areas. At the heart of the urban sprawl, the historic Pink City is where you’ll find the fine City Palace and the Hawa Mahal. The leafier and less hectic area south of the Pink City is home to the Ram Niwas Gardens and Central Museum, while the city’s outskirts are dotted with a string of intriguing relics of royal rule, most notably Nahargarh Fort, the cenotaphs at Royal Gaitor, and the temples (and monkeys) of Galta.
The City Palace
At the heart of the Pink City stands the magnificent City Palace, originally built by Jai Singh in the 1720s and having 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 its southern side. Less exalted visitors enter through a modest gate on the eastern side of the palace that leads into the first of the 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.
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 lend 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, including the well-known example in Delhi, though his motivation was astrological rather than astronomical.
It’s a very 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 27m-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.
There are five cities that are home to each Jantar Mantar; New Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, Mathura and Varanasi. Opening times vary for each site so you will need to check the times on the official websites before visiting. The Jantar Mantar is opening from 9 am to 4:30 pm in Jaipur.
History of Jantar Mantar
Jai Singh II, born in 1688, descended the throne at just 12 years old after his Father died. The young king was highly intelligent and eager to learn and actually founded Jaipur, in which he is responsible for much of its architecture. In the early 1700s, Jai Singh met Pandit Jagannatha Samrat who became his chief advisor in astronomy and heavily influenced the Jantar Mantar. The two became close friends until Jai Singh's death in 1743.
Jai Singh had a keen interest in the stars and planets and enjoyed exploring them, as Hinduism focuses on their changing alignments to make personal decisions, many of his people were also eager and encouraged his interests. At this point, telescopes had been used for 100 years however Jai wanted to use ancient methods. Together with Pandit, they improved the traditional tables that indicate the changing positions of the stars and created the Jantar Mantar.
Meaning of Jantar Mantar
The name Jantar Mantar translates more or less to Calculation Instrument and the Samrat Yantra that belongs to Jaipur translates similarly to Supreme Instrument, a name given in the 18th century that still holds it meaning today as the Samrat Yantra is deemed the world's largest sundial - quite supreme!
Jaipur’s most instantly recognizable landmark, the Hawa Mahal, or “Palace of Winds”, stands to the east of the City Palace – 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 seems far larger than it really is; in fact, it’s little more than a facade. Once inside, the top storeys have no stairs but ramps, to enable the royal ladies to be carried on their palanquins easily. 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 where the ladies of the court would once have looked down, and which still offer superb views over the mayhem of Jaipur below.
History of Hawa Mahal
The original palace received an extension in the form of Hawa Mahal in 1799, ordered by Sawai Pratap Singh. The purpose was to allow the ladies of the palace to view the street for people-watching whilst in purdah, a strict rule that prohibits religious women from being seen by males. The location also allowed the ladies to participate and watch street-festivals from up high.
The Hawa Mahal has a total of 953 windows (although small and more similar to peep-holes than windows to prevent the public from viewing the women), each with lattices and balconies. The top three stories are named Vichitra Mandir, Prakash Mandir and Hawa Mandir. Krishna is worshipped at the Vichitra Mandir level.
The palace was built in the shape of Krishna's crown, the Hindu God whom Sawai Pratap Singh was fond of.
When To Visit Hawa Mahal
Jaipur is a fascinating city that lures visitors for its many historical monuments and culture. The best times to visit are during the winter months between November and February as the Summer months reach unbearable highs. To visit the Hawa Mahal, you can purchase a Tourist Pass that enables you to visit other gems in Jaipur if you wish.
The palace itself is open from 9 am to 4.30pm, which includes the Hawa Mahal itself however it’s best appreciated from the outside during the early morning when it glows orange-pink in the rays of the rising sun. If you wish to see the inside of the Hawa Mahal and the palace grounds, which is quite spectacular in itself then a ticket will be needed to enter. Individual tickets can be bought onsite from official vendors for Rps.50 if you do not plan on buying the Tourist Pass ticket.
The Palace is in Bad Choupad and is fairly centrally located so easy to get too. From Jaipur Railway Station, take the bus number 1, 2 or 3 to Bad Choupad. Many hotels encourage tourists to visit the Hawa Mahal as it is the main site of interest in the city, something locals are very proud of - for reasons of demand, many hotels organise group drop-offs for guests to the palace, so be sure to ask. From the Amber Palace, you will need to take a taxi. Be sure to run the taxi meter whenever getting cabs in Jaipur, as many take advantage of unknowledgeable tourists. If you are having a cultural day and coming from Albert Hall Museum, you will need to walk to Ram Niwas Garden and take the number 12 bus.
Immediately south of the Pink City, the wide road leading out from New Gate is flanked by the surprisingly lush Ram Niwas Gardens, named after their creator, Maharaja Ram Singh (1835–80). Standing sentinel in among these gardens is the city’s florid Albert Hall, a prominent city landmark. Built in 1867, it exhibits a whimsical mix of Venetian and Mughal styles (Italian below, Indian on top) and today houses the city’s Central Museum. The bulk of the collection focuses on regional and Indian themes, including fine displays of Jaipur pottery, Hindu statuary and Mughal and Rajasthani miniature paintings, supported by an eclectic array of artefacts from around the globe – everything from Egyptian antiquities to decorative tiles from Stoke-on-Trent, with forays into Japan, Myanmar and Persia.
Teetering on the edge of the hills north of Jaipur is the dramatic Nahargarh, or “Tiger Fort”, built by Jai Singh II in 1734 and offering superb views of Jaipur, best enjoyed at sunset. The fort’s imposing walls sprawl for nearly 1km along the ridgetop and envelop a step-well among other features, but the only significant surviving structures within are the palace apartments, built inside the old fort by Madho Singh II between 1883 and 1892 as a love nest in which he kept his most treasured concubines away from the disapproving eyes of his courtiers and four official wives.
Vehicles can only get to the fort along a road that branches off Amber Road, a 15km journey from Jaipur. It’s simpler to walk to the fort along the steep path that climbs up from the north side of the city centre, a stiff fifteen to twenty-minute walk, although the path is a bit tricky to find, so you might want to take a rickshaw to the bottom. Try to avoid going up too late in the day or returning after dark – the fort is popular with delinquent teenagers and other unsavoury types, and the atmosphere can be a tad seedy at the best of times. There are a couple of cafés in the palace complex; the RSTC Padao Restaurant has the best views.
On the northern edge of the city centre, the walled funerary complex of Royal Gaitor contains the stately marble mausoleums (chhatris) of Jaipur’s ruling family. The compound consists of two main courtyards, each crammed full of imposing memorials. The first (and more modern) courtyard is dominated by the grandiose twentieth-century cenotaph of Madho Singh II (d. 1922), a ruler of famously gargantuan appetites, whose four wives and fifty-odd concubines bore him “around 125” children. The second, older, courtyard is home to the elaborate tomb of Jai Singh II (d. 1743), the founder of Jaipur and the first ruler to be interred at Gaitor.
On the ridgetop above Gaitor (reachable via a steep set of stairs) lies the Ganesh Mandir, the second of the city’s two major Ganesh temples – a huge building instantly recognizable from the huge swastika painted on its side.
Galta Ji “Monkey Palace”
Nestling in a steep-sided valley 3km east of Jaipur, Galta comprises a picturesque collection of 250-year-old temples squeezed into a narrow rocky ravine. Galta owes its sacred status in large part to a freshwater spring that seeps constantly through the rocks in the otherwise dry valley, keeping two tanks full. Surreally, these ponds are now the domain of more than five thousand macaque monkeys, which have earned Galta its nickname of the “Monkey Palace”. For many tourists the sight of the splashing monkeys outstrips the attraction of the temples themselves, though the assorted shrines, dedicated variously to Krishna, Rama and Hanuman, are attractively atmospheric. It’s also worth walking up to the spectacularly situated Surya Mandir, perched above the tanks on the ridgetop, which boasts dramatic views of the city below.
Accommodation in Jaipur
Jaipur has a wide range of accommodation, mostly found west of the city centre, along (or close to) MI Rd and in the upmarket suburb of Bani Park. It’s a good idea to book ahead, particularly around the Elephant Festival (first half of March). Note that almost all the places listed below offer free pick-up from the bus or train station. Be aware that commission-seeking auto-rickshaw wallahs can be a problem.
Eating in Jaipur
If you’ve overloaded on curries and need a respite, the veggie-friendly Anokhi Café is the perfect tonic; it's attached to the Anokhi boutique, on KK Square Mall. There’s real coffee, fresh juices, terrific cakes and cookies, plus sandwiches, falafels, bean burgers, pizzas and amazing salads. The city’s most appealing rooftop restaurant is the Peacock (in Pearl Palace hotel, Hari Kishan Somani Marg), with quirky original decor featuring cute metal chairs and a striking peacock canopy – particularly pretty after dark. There’s a big menu of veg and non-veg Indian options, all well prepared, with flavoursome sauces, crisp breads and cold beers, plus Chinese, pizzas and the usual Western snacks. For a blowout try Suarna Mahal at the Rambagh Palace, Indian fine-dining in a superbly over-the-top Neoclassical-style dining room.
Shopping in Jaipur
If you come across an Indian handicraft object or garment abroad, chances are it will have been bought in Jaipur. As a regular tourist, you’ll find it harder to hunt out the best merchandise here, but as a source of souvenirs, perhaps only Delhi can surpass it. In keeping with Maharaja Jai Singh’s original city divisions, different streets are reserved for purveyors of different goods. Bapu Bazaar, on the south side of the Pink City, is the best place for clothes and textiles, including Jaipur’s famous block-print work and bandhani tie-dye. On the opposite side of town, along Amber Rd just beyond Zorawar Gate, rows of emporiums are stacked with gorgeous patchwork wall-hangings and embroidery; these places do a steady trade with bus parties of wealthy tourists, so be prepared to be hassled; haggle hard. For old-style Persian-influenced vases, along with tiles, plates and candleholders, visit the outlets of the city’s renowned blue potteries along Amber Rd or the workshop of the late Kripal Singh.
Jewellery and gemstones in Jaipur
The two best places for silver jewellery are Johari Bazaar, the broad street running north of Sanganeri Gate in the Pink City, and Chameliwala Market, just off MI Road in the tangle of alleyways behind the Copper Chimney restaurant. The latter also has the city’s best selection of gems, though it’s also a hard place to shop in peace, thanks to a particularly slippery breed of scam merchant, known locally as lapkars. These young men – usually smartly dressed and speaking excellent English – will regale you with beguiling tales about how you can buy gems in Jaipur and sell them back home for a massive profit. This is nonsense, of course, but by the time you realize this you’ll be thousands of kilometres away with a handful of worthless cut-glass “gems” wondering where all the mysterious entries on your credit-card bill came from. If you’re paying for gemstones or jewellery with a credit card in Jaipur, don’t let it out of your sight, and never agree to leave a docket as security.
There’s a government-sponsored gem-testing laboratory at the Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, Rajasthan Chamber Bhavan, MI Rd near Ajmeri Gate, where you can have gemstones tested for authenticity. The cost is ₹1000 per stone, with reports delivered the following working day (or ₹1600 per stone for a same-day report if you deliver the stone before 1pm).