Jaipur - The Pink City
Looking to Amber Fort, just outside the pink city of Jaipur. Photo - Kurt Werby/Gettyimages.com
The Pink City
Bustle, colour and beauty:
Peter Whitehead reveals some of the allure of Jaipur, and tells why he can’t wait to take Ross Garden tours first trip to India.
Jaipur, south-west of Delhi, is one of the must-see destinations in Rajasthan in northern India. Within the old walls lies the original Pink City. Here the buildings are all in shades of rusty pink. The sunrise tints blend together to create a unique look – instantly recognisable as Jaipur. It’s romantic, exotic, and typical of the surprises that India has in store in that the real reason for such an extravagant gesture is that the colour was chosen to mask the poor quality building materials used in the 18th century.
Colour, whether in saris or bangles, is a rich part of Rajasthan culture. Photo - Peter Whitehead
Beyond the charm of the pink city, visitors to Jaipur are impressed – even somewhat daunted - by the sense of colour and vibrancy in this large and bustling city. Everyone is friendly and everyone is eager to sell you something! The street vendors, rickshaws and tuk tuks are all part of the happy mayhem. This is especially fun in the streets and bazaars of the old city. Here we’ll find silk saris, hand-dyed and embroidered textiles, tablecloths, carpets, clothing, trinkets and precious and semiprecious stones. It’s a shopper’s dream!
Marigold chain sellers at the Amber Fort. Photo - Peter Whitehead
The old city
One of our highlights will be a visit to the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds in the Old City. This was built in 1799 so that the women of the court could watch street processions while being hidden in purdah. It’s essentially a grandstand, designed in the form of the crown of Krishna, the Hindu god. The honeycomb of windows is decorated with intricate latticework designed to hide the faces of the women of the court. The place is still right in the heart of the city and flower sellers outside will offer you garlands of brilliant marigolds – sold with a smile.
The Palace of the Winds looks like a fairytale castle. Photo - Peter Whitehead
Not far away, still in the Old City, is the remarkable Jantar Mantar Observatory. Astrology has always played a part in Indian culture and folklore and this observatory is one of five identical ones created in northern India. The astronomical measuring devices, built in 1730 are among the largest in the world and are astonishingly accurate. The 27m high sundial, for instance, is accurate to within two seconds!
Still in the Old City is the impressive City Palace and Museum showcasing beautiful miniature paintings, manuscripts, medieval carpets and ancient Indian artefacts. At the entrance to the ‘Hall of Private Audience’, stand two massive solid silver urns. They are 1.5m high and each hold 8,000 litres of water! (There’s a great story behind these urns but I’m saving that one for the tour!)
The ornate peacock gate at Jaipur City Palace. Photo - Peter Adams/Gettyimages.com
Gardens of the Mughal emperors
We’ll also see some wonderful Mughal gardens. These take the original Persian ideal of the paradise garden in which water is shown symbolically and physically to be the source of all life, and overlay it with a love of flowers influenced by Muslim and Hindu cultures. Often terraced, and filled with gushing fountains, waterfalls, brimming pools and long rills, the gardens were a place of spiritual meditation, sensual delight and respite from the heat - retreats for the Mughal emperors. We’ll visit two such gardens in Jaipur. Plantings are minimal these days, but usually include fragrant shrubs such as frangipani and jasmine. Pomegranate, mango and towering neem trees are also a feature as are glistening peacocks, and cheeky little chipmunks.
Part of the gardens of the Taj Rambagh Palace, where we stay in Jaipur. It was the home of the Jaipur royal family until 1957. Photo - Chandani Chowk
The veranda is a fine spot for afternoon tea. Photo - Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces
No visit to Jaipur is complete without a visit to Amber Fort Palace. This 16th century Rajput fort is situated on a stark rocky hill overlooking a lake. The arched corridors leading from the gardens of the main courtyard will take us to a labyrinth of rooms featuring incredible marble mosaics and mirrored inlays. Tulips and irises, drawn in semi-precious stones, are recognisable in the patterns, surmounted by elegant and intricate arches. It is mind bogglingly beautiful!
The sunken garden at the Amber Fort with the central star-shaped water feature that symbolises heavenly perfection. Photo - Peter Whitehead
It doesn't take much imagination to stand here in Amber Fort and cast your mind back to the Mughal and Rajput eras and wonder in awe at the splendour and magnificence of those turbulent and martial times. It’s just one of the reasons Hilary and I love India. We've visited several times and are always stuck by the friendliness of the people, the beauty of the scenery and the sheer vitality of the place. We can’t wait to share it with you!
Colourful saris at the Amber Fort. Photo - Peter Whitehead