Before the Mughal rule started in India, much of North-Western and Northern India was ruled by the Hindu kings from the state of Rajasthan. The architecture here is a lot more traditional Hindu architecture with slight Persian influences. Jaipur is the capital of this state and is a go-to destination for anyone interested in seeing the gorgeous palaces and forts built at the time.
Jaipur is commonly known as the ‘Pink City‘ because of the use of red sand stone in a lot of it’s older structures. The name becomes obvious the minute you set foot into the city!
I spent two days here which gave me enough time to hit the main spots I’ve listed below, and gave me some extra time to explore local markets and food places.
The Amer Fort
Pronounced as ‘Ah-mare’ and popularly known as ‘Amber Fort’ among tourists due to its reddish color and similarity to the actual name. Located about 30 mins away from the city of Jaipur, this 16th-century fort is perched on top of a hill with a great view of the city below. The palace is completely vacant with all accessories being displayed in museums and the City palace. The bareness of structure brings out the architectural details to light and make it easier to appreciate. The cobbled pathway that leads up to the fort, the spacious courtyard and the red sand stone buildings all present some really nice photo ops. Not much crowd on a weekday afternoon too!
Literally translates to ‘Palace of Winds’. So, the pictures of Hawa Mahal look AMAZING but try not to build up expectation. What you see in a generic picture is really all there is to see in the Hawa Mahal. It’s a shell building with nothing inside, more of an archway marking one of the entrances to the City Palace. Visitors can enter it, if they want to, but you’re not really missing much if you don’t.
The story behind it goes like this. The main City Palace is about a mile inside the city and away from what was the main road at the time. This road would be used for all processions and parades. The women of the palace household, who would usually stay indoors (let’s just move past this), would not be able to watch the fan-fare from the palace and requested this balcony to be built closer to the main-road from where they could view and be a part of all the festivities. So it’s essentially an extended balcony.
All that being said, it’s a beautiful structure none the less. I was a little underwhelmed at the time I visited it. But, the more I look at the pictures I took, the more I like it and glad I took the time to visit it!
An 18th century astronomical observatory is now classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has life sized instruments that were used to measure the positions of stars, planets, eclipses and other significant astronomical developments. For all you science nerds out there (ay-yo!), this place is fascinating, with amazingly accurate instruments. I would not recommend going here without a tour guide though. It would be difficult to understand the significance of the instruments as the informational plaques are not too detailed. I might have geek-ed out a little too much and asked a million questions that my guide very patiently answered. If you’re not really into this stuff, it’s ok to skip this.
Souvenir tip: The souvenir shop here has some pretty cool and good quality stuff! I had a hard time finding the exact same designs and quality at other places. Wish I had bought more 😦
And at last, the City Palace! The 18th century structure was built to house the Maharaja (King) of Rajasthan and a part of it continues to house the now royal family (no longer in power). Parts of this palace is converted into a museum that houses royal wears and articles and another part of it is converted into an exhibition center from where you can purchase some good quality souvenirs.
However, the most authentic parts of the palace are in the less-explored wing that requires an additional purchase to enter. This is also one of the parts of the palace that is still reserved to be used by the present Maharaja. The ticket was priced at around $40 and I found it totally worth it. This part is way less crowded as not too many people make the additional purchase, and this gave me the opportunity to take my time to explore and get some great shots. It also takes visitors through the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of mirrors) which is this cool room with all walls and the ceilings made of these tiny mirrors. The ticket price includes being served chai (tea) on the palace courtyard which was both delicious and relaxing!
Dinner at Chokhi Dhani is a must when visiting Jaipur! It is a staged model village that is pretty much a crash course into traditional Rajasthani entertainment and food. There are puppet shows, rope walkers, traditional dances, henna artists, a little arts and crafts market, you name it! Literally takes an evening to explore the place. Of course, no real village looks exactly like Chokhi Dhani and it caters to tourists in a very obvious way, but I didn’t mind that at all. The experience is still very exciting and totally worth it. And the food! Some of the best Indian food I’ve had in my life!