Painting The Town Pink
The Sun-Herald Traveller
11 October 2015
Rajasthan’s capital is a mesmerising metropolis steeped in a rich and colourful history, writes Tatyana Leonov.
Our chirpy driver Ram Niwas pilots the car through the dense traffic, tactically moving his way around the narrow Jaipur roads as our Pure India Collection guide Praveen Agarwal begins to deliver his Jaipur spiel. ‘‘This is the largest city in one of India’s most-visited states. There is much to see.’’
I don’t doubt Praveen. My husband and I arrived in Jaipur, about a five-hour drive from Delhi, at dusk the previous night and it was immediately obvious to us that Jaipur warrants a visit of at least a few days.
Exploring the old city of Jaipur, the chaotic racket of everyday life, the wafts of incense and camphor, and the scent of spicy curries brewing is intoxicating. Although Praveen has ideas on which route to take, I find the best way to soak it up is to explore with no specific intention, stopping in at street-side shops manned by chatty craftsmen, snacking (try the spicy lentil-based puff pastries called dal kachoris and potato-and-onion cutlets called aloo tikki) along the way, and getting lost deliberately.
Although we’ve deviated from Praveen’s program, an hour or so later he starts his official tour. ‘‘Jaipur got the name Pink City in 1876,’’ he explains. ‘‘The Prince of Wales [Edward VII] was visiting and in his honour Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh painted all royal and official buildings pink.’’ Praveen pauses and chuckles, watching us as we inquisitively gaze at the other pink buildings. ‘‘The locals decided to paint many of the other buildings pink too.’’
Perhaps Jaipur’s most famous pink building, the five-storey crown-shaped Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds), is as pink as they come. The extension to the City Palace was constructed from pink sandstone in 1799, it was then pink- washed an even brighter pink with calcium oxide paint in 1876.
Founded in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, Rajasthan’s capital is India’s first planned city. A mathematics and science enthusiast, the king designed the city layout following the principles of Vastu Shastra (an Indian design and construction discipline). Two blocks were allocated to governmental buildings and the remaining seven blocks were designated for public housing.
The City Palace is one of the old city’s marvels and a sector of it is still home to the royals today. The sprawling patchwork of sizeable courtyards, luscious green gardens and well-designed buildings is one of Jaipur’s leading attractions.
Away from the tourists and just a stone’s throw from the City Palace, the area surrounding Talkatora Lake is a pleasant place to take a leisurely stroll. It’s a charming spot any time of day, but mid-afternoon is particularly enchanting. As the sun drops low, so does the temperature, and with that the locals come out to play. Watching life unravel while snacking on bhujia (similar to soy crisps but made with gram flour) – well that’s real India.
We retire to our hotel, Taj Hotels’ Rambagh Palace, happily exhausted. Although we’ve spent the day negotiating the old town’s streets, we can’t help but continue on the same path, drifting through the grounds and moseying our way into every nook and cranny before it gets dark.
The Rambagh Palace is the former residence of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II and it’s a spectacular example of architectural grandeur. Guests are treated like royalty – pampered and their every whim attended to.
We stride across shimmering marble floors, taking in every detail. Intricate Rajasthani motifs adorn the walls; we pass extraordinarily detailed stonework; admire beautifully carved pillars, and twist our heads upwards to appreciate the elaborate crystal chandeliers dangling from the high ceilings.
Retiring to our room with its four-poster bed, walk-in wardrobe, hand-painted wall motifs and decorative textured silks is surreal. We look out through our gold-tinted window over the courtyard and are rewarded with a serenade from the resident bansuri (bamboo flute) musician.
The next day Praveen wants to show Jaipur’s three main forts and he insists we visit the famous Amber Fort first. Ram drives slowly towards the massive complex so that we can appreciate the picturesque setting of the ancient former capital. Flanked by a lake on one side and rolling hills on the other sides, its exterior is made even more glorious in the morning sun.
Inside the fort is just as magnificent and we spend hours negotiating our way through the crowds.
My favourite space by far is the dazzling Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors). The walls and ceiling are adorned with thousands of mirror fragments, colourful mosaics and intricate flower carvings. The mirrors reflect the flickering colours, which results in dancing illuminations. Praveen explains that the king ordered the hall to be built so that the queen would be able to stargaze whenever she so desired. Thanks to the ingeniously designed space, the light from one candle gives the appearance of a thousand stars.
We head to Jaigarh Fort, on the ridge overlooking Amber Fort, next. I amble around the estate while the boys examine the world’s largest wheeled cannon.
Our last fort stop for the day is Nahargarh Fort. Located on a hilltop, it’s the smallest of the three forts, but the views of Jaipur city from here are unrivalled.
As the day’s last rays light up the Pink City we all stand and gape. A city painted pink for a prince, a king that built a room of stars for his queen . . . Jaipur is a truly impressivecity.
MORE INFORMATION: incredibleindia.org
GETTING THERE: Air India flies to Delhi direct from Sydney and Melbourne and then onto Jaipur. See airindia.in or call 1800 247 463.
SEE + DO: Pure India Collection is designed to be the ultimate in enriching and unique luxury travel experiences. Itineraries are fully customised and include accommodation, activities, guides, drivers and transfers. See pureindiacollection. com.au or call 1300 365 060.
SLEEPING THERE: Stay at Taj Hotels’ Rambagh Palace and enter another realm, one where your every desire is fulfilled (I swear the staff are trained to read minds). See tajhotels.com.
The writer travelled as a guest of Pure India Collection and Air India.