A visit to the extraordinary observatory and the City Palace in the heart of Jaipur
Our drive to Jaipur from Ranthambore took us five hours, including a couple of stops, taking us deep in to the heart of rural Rajasthan passing through many small villages. We had a very careful and respectful driver but there were still a few occasions where we found ourselves headed directly towards another vehicle, but having spent a week in the country we were starting to feel a bit more relaxed in these life-threatening situations. It did not feel too long before we found ourselves heading into the vibrant capital of Rajasthan, with its population of around 3½ million. Strangely enough, it was this city that bought us to India, or more correctly its depiction in the film “The Very Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. Shallow or what?
Our hotel was situated in the old city, which took us a further 45 minutes to reach. As we passed through the gate that took us beyond the wall that surrounds the old city it was clear to see why Jaipur is known as the “Pink City”, with the walls of every building painted in a terracotta pink colour. The traffic came to a standstill and we soon discovered why as a procession approached us led by a very enthusiastic band. We were very excited to see an elephant in the parade decorated in bright cloth and paint. This was only the second elephant we had seen! At the rear of the procession was a float on which sat, cross-legged, a very stately looking Hari Krishna holy man, who was apparently very famous. Once the procession passed the traffic cleared quickly and we soon reached our hotel for the next two nights
Things to do in and around Jaipur
1. HAWA MAHAL (‘PALACE OF WINDS’ OR ‘PALACE OF THE BREEZE’)
Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state, was founded in 1727 by Maharaja Jai Singh II who ruled Jaipur State from 1699 – 1744. Initially his capital was Amber, some 11 km from Jaipur. He felt the need to shift his capital city as its population increased beyond the resources around Amber, especially the scarcity of water. Jaipur was the first planned city of India and the Maharaja took great interest in its design. He consulted several books on architecture and architects before deciding on the layout of Jaipur. The Maharaja created free housing to encourage traders and business people to move to the city. In 1876, when the Prince of Wales visited Jaipur, the whole city was painted pink to welcome him and after that Jaipur was referred to as the ‘Pink City’. The paint is renewed on a strict cycle to keep it looking fresh.
Hawa Mahal (‘Palace of Winds’ or ‘Palace of the Breeze’) is a five storey structure made from pink and red sandstone. It was built in 1799 by the Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh to allow the female members of the royal family to watch the processions and events happening in the streets below without being observed by the common folk. It is a very shallow building with many rooms that have ornately latticed windows through which the ladies could observe what was going on outside.
2. KANTAR MANTAR (OBSERVATORY)
Located in the heart of Jaipur, Jantar Mantar, is a monument that houses a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments. Built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh II, and completed in 1734, it features the world’s largest stone sundial and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The instruments are constructed from masonry, stone and brass and were built using astronomy and instrument design principles outlined in ancient Hindu Sanskrit texts. The instruments allow the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye; the scale of the structures was very impressive. As well as instruments of various sizes (and accuracy) for telling time there was a number set aside for astrology, which is very important in Hindu culture, especially when it comes to births and marriage.
3. CITY PALACE
Jaipur’s City Palace was built by Sawai Jai Singh who headed the Kachwaha Rajput Clan and is credited as the founder of Jaipur. The Palace served as the seat of his throne.
Construction of the Palace was 17th century, as he wanted to shift the capital of the state from Amber to Jaipur.
Raja Man Singh II was the last ruler of this dynasty to hold the throne in this Palace. The beautiful structure was designed by architects Vidyadhar Bhattacharya and Samuel Swinton Jacob who brought a European influence to the design.
4. AMBER FORT
The Amber (or Amer) Fort located in the town of Amer, 11 km from Jaipur high up in the hills.
This was the original capital city of Maharaj Jai Singh II. The approach to the fort takes you through the a gate in the imposing wall that surrounds the city of Amer, which stretches for miles around the area, snaking as it follows the undulations of the hills, like some mini-me version of the Great Wall of China. The fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013, as part of a group of six hill forts in Rajasthan.
5. TAKE A TOUR OF JAIPUR’S BAZAAR
Jaipur’s bazaar has hundreds of tiny shops selling a multitude of brightly coloured garments and trinkets. The sights, sounds and smells were overwhelming. During our visit to India, we had been discouraged from eating the street food but on this occasion our guide took us to a handful of food stands where we were able to try the delicious savory and sweet dishes on offer. We passed by a small shop selling pickles and tried their gooseberry pickle – scrumptious! The bazaar was extensive, with specific areas set-aside for specialist retailers. The most lavish of these were the shops selling products for weddings; saris, turbans and every possible accoutrement needed for the Hindu nuptials. The Hindu wedding is often a lavish five-day affair that will cost the bride’s family two or three times more than a typical western style wedding.
Best time to visit Jaipur
Winters are from October to March and are the best time to enjoy holidays in Jaipur city. The days are very pleasant but the nights are cold with less than 4°C . Carry heavy woollens while travelling. You can enjoy the sightseeing at the historic forts along with the Elephant Festival in March, Kite Festival during Makar Sankranti and Jaipur Literature Fest in January.
Summers are from April to June and are very hot and dry. During this time the average temperature is 44°C – 45°C Hot winds blows throughout the day making sightseeing next to impossible. The festival of Gangaur is celebrated during this time. Drink lots of water and juices, wear light cotton wares and carry a pair of good sunglasses if you are planning visit this city at this time.
Monsoons are from July to September but Jaipur receives low to medium rainfall. You can join the local festival of Teej if you are in the city in the month of August.
Where to stay?
1. ALSISAR HAVELI
This charming heritage hotel was built in 1892 as a nobleman’s townhouse. Having been carefully restored, this historic haveli was converted into a heritage hotel in 1994. Alsisar Haveli lies in the heart of the Old City of Jaipur, just a ten-minute drive from the popular Pink City with all its major sights and museums. The hotel is owned by the “Kachawa” clan of Rajputs who for more than five centuries ago founded a sub-clan popularly known as “Shekhawat”.
2. DERA MANDAWA
During our visit, we had the pleasure of staying at the Dera Mandawa, which is conveniently located in the heart of all the action in Jaipur.
Established in circa 1885 by Thakur Jait Singh Ji of Mandawa, it was built for his stay when he came to attend the court of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Today it is a boutique heritage hotel run by his great-grandson, Thakur Durga Singh ji and the Mandawa family.
3. HOTEL PEARL PALACE
Conveniently located just south of Jaipur Railway Station, Hotel Pearl Palace is a charming budget hotel that in many ways feels more like a mid-range boutique property. The 30 rooms here range from basic dorm rooms (guests can rent out whole dorms or just single beds) to snazzy and spacious air-conditioned Deluxe Rooms.
The hotel’s most attractive feature by far is its gorgeous Peacock Rooftop Restaurant, a two-story terrace restaurant with a large menu as well as room service.