Jaipur, the bustling capital of Rajasthan
Rajasthan’s bustling capital, designed according to Vedic concepts, has a lot to offer. From the “palace of winds” to the “floating palace”, the pink city has no close rival except neighbouring Amber, the Jaipur Maharajas’ previous capital.
Jaipur is a relatively recent town, built in the 18th century by the Maharaja Jai Singh II. He called in a Bengali town planner who designed the city, in compliance with Vedic concepts, in 9 blocks corresponding to the nine planets of Indian astrology. The entire town is based on a square grid plan. Everything – streets, shops etc. – was standardised from the outset.
Jai Singh’s descendant Ram Singh II had the town repainted in pink to welcome the visiting Prince of Wales in 1876, pink being the traditional colour of welcome. Jaipur has been called the Pink City ever since.
Festivals not to miss
Jaipur Literature Festival
The Jaipur Literature Festival is an annual literary festival taking place in the Indian city of Jaipur since 2006 during the month of January. The Diggi Palace Hotel serves as the main venue of the festival. JLF brings together some of the greatest thinkers and writers from across South Asia and the world. From Nobel laureates to local language writers. jaipurliteraturefestival.org
The Elephant Festival is held on the day of Holi festival, usually in the month of March. The festival features Elephant polo and Elephant Dance. The Elephant Festival begins with a beautiful procession of bedecked elephants, camels, horses and folk dancers. The owners proudly embellish their elephants with vibrant colors, jhools (saddle cloth) and heavy jewellery.The most beautifully decorated elephant is awarded.
Gangaur is a colourful women’s festival that is mainly celebrated in Rajasthan.The word ‘Gangaur’ is derived from ‘Gana’, a term for Lord Shiva, and ‘Gauri’, referring to his consort Parvati. In fact the festival is mainly in honour of Gauri, symbolising conjugal happiness. Single women pray to Gauri to find a good husband while married women pray for a happy married life.
Rajasthan Day is celebrated on 30th March every year with lot of enthusiasm and many exciting and colourful events. These include cultural, classical and theatre events. Rajasthan was formed on 30 March 1949. In significance of this and to make people of Rajasthan have a sense of pride in their state, this day is celebrated as a week long festival. The festival is jointly organized by Rajasthan government and Jaipur Virasat foundation.
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Chandra Mahal (City Palace)
The City Palace of Jaipur, begun in the 18th century by Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber, occupies the ninth Vedic block, in the town centre.
It incorporates an impressive and vast array of courtyards, gardens and buildings.The palace now houses a museum but the greatest part of it is still a royal residence.
The crowning jewel of the palace tour is the Pitam Niwas Chowk, a small courtyard with magnificent colourful doorways representing the four seasons.
Jantar Mantar of Jaipur is one of the five observatories of India together with Delhi, Varanasi, Mathura and Ujjain. It is considered as one of the largest and best preserved observatories. It was built by Sawai Jai Singh II in the year of 1724.
Located near City Palace and Hawa Mahal of Jaipur, the monument features masonry, stone and brass instruments that were built using astronomy and instrument design principles of ancient Hindu Sanskrit texts. The instruments allow the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye.
The observatory was built in order to establish birth charts and determine the best times for important events (weddings, trips …).
Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace)
The Wind Palace is best known building in Jaipur and perhaps the finest.
In fact it is barely more than a façade, and is part of the City Palace although it stands away from it. It was a zenana (harem), built so that the women of the court could watch the busy goings on in the street without being seen, through latticed windows.
It was built so that the breeze could circulate freely through the many balconies, refreshing the atmosphere – whence its name, which literally means “palace of winds”.
The pyramid-shaped façade is five storeys high with 61 balconies behind carved stone latticework screens, with 950 window niches. At its highest point it is only 2m wide.
It is a lovely sight at night, lit up to show it off to best advantage.
Govind Devji Temple
Govind Dev Ji temple, inside the City Palace complex, is dedicated to Krishna.
The god’s statue was brought from Vrindavan by Raja Sawai Jai Singh II, founder of Jaipur.
This spacious temple is a busy, bustling place, especially when the Holi festival is on.
Built in 1734 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, founder of Jaipur, Nahargarh (“abode of tigers”) stands proudly on the edge of the Aravalli hills above the pink city.
Together with Amber and Jaigarh forts, Nahargarh once formed a strong defensive ring for Jaipur. It’s the place to be at sunset, for the awesome view over the city.
Gatore Ki Chhatriyan Cenotaphs
The finely carved and sculpted Gatore Ki Chhatriyan (“last abode of the souls of the dead”), at the foot of the hill, below Nahargarh Fort, is a beautiful complex of temples and cenotaphs of the Rajput Kachwaha dynasty.
The first cenotaph is of Jaipur’s founder, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, and the most recent is of Sawai Raja Man Singh, the father of Maharaja Bhawani Singh, the last king of Jaipur.
Garh Ganesha Temple
Near Nahargarh Fort on the top of the Aravalli hills stands Garh Ganesha temple devoted to the elephant-headed god Ganesha.
It is reached by steps going up from the royal cenotaphs of Gatore Ki Chhatriyan.
Garh Ganesha was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh when he performed the Ashwamedha Yagna fire ritual before settling in Jaipur. It is said that he placed the statue so that he could see it from the City Palace with binoculars.
Birla Mandir (Laxmi Narayan Mandir)
Birla Mandir is a Hindu temple at the foot of Moti Dungari hill.
The temple is dedicated to Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity. The deities of the Hindu pantheon are portrayed inside the temple while the exterior is adorned with great figures such as Socrates, Zarathustra, Christ, Buddha and Confucius.
Raj Mandir Theatre
Why not take in a Bollywood* film? Raj Mandir is the place to go for that. It’s one of India’s most famous cinemas. Built in Art Deco style, it opened in 1976. The high-kitsch meringue-shaped auditorium is well worth seeing.
In any case going to the movies while in India is an unmissable experience. Even without understanding the language, the atmosphere says it all. Forget the hushed ambience of Western cinemas: Indian film fans throw themselves into the experience, shouting, singing and dancing. You’ll need to set aside three hours for this.
* “Bollywood”, a word made up from “Bombay” and “Hollywood”, is the name for a genre of popular films made in India in the Hindi language.
Jal Mahal (Water Palace)
Halfway between Jaipur and Amber stands the romantic Jal Mahal, “floating” in its lake.
It was built by Madho Singh in 1799 as a second home for the royal family and also, on a slightly less romantic note, for duck hunting.
Galta Monkey Temple (10km)
This temple tucked away in the Aravalli hills is a gem, though unfortunately badly maintained. It is an ancient pilgrimage site with several temples and seven kunds or bathing tanks. The holiest is these is the Galta Kund, which is said to never run dry.
The tanks are fed by a pure spring flowing from a rock named Gaumukh (shaped like a cow’s head). It is said that the saint Galav lived here a hundred years ago, pursuing his ascetic practices.
Since the 16th century this place has been a retreat for many Vishnu worshipping ascetics of the Ramanandi Sampradaya. The existing temple was built in the 18th century in the reign of Sawai Jai Singh II.
Thousands of monkeys live here, whence its name. It can be reached directly by car, or on foot from the Surya Temple (45 min).
Amer Palace (11km)
Amer, also called Amber, was the previous capital of the Maharajas of Jaipur. The hillside palace built by Maharaja Man Singh I is superb.
It is divided into four parts. The Suraj Pol (“sun gate”) opens onto the main courtyard, the Jaleb Chowk, where the king’s military parades were held. Indeed in Arabic, jaleb chowk literally means “a place where soldiers gather”. There you will find two staircases, one leading to the Sila Devi temple to Kali, where the Maharajas came to pray, and the other leading to the palace proper through the magnificent Ganesh gate (Ganesh Pol).
Panna Meena ka Kund (Amber 11km)
The Panna Meena ka Kund is an eight-level tank on the Jaipur road near Amber Museum.
It was built in the 16th century and was both a water supply and a gathering place for the local community.
Its perfect geometry, with intersecting staircases and numerous niches, is a delight to the eye. A lovely place to just amble around.
Jaigarh Fort (Amber 11km)
Jaigarh fort was built by Jai Singh II in 1726 to protect the Amber Fort.
It is located on the promontory called Cheel Ka Teela (Hill of Eagles) in the chain of Aravalli. It overlooks the Amber Fort 400m.The thick red sandstone wall extends over 3km. It includes a palace, gardens and a museum.
Sri Jagat Shiromaniji Temple (Amber 11km)
This temple to Krishna, below Amber Palace, was built in 1601 by Queen Kanakawati in memory of her son Jagat Singh.
The temple is also associated with the saint and poetess Mirabai.
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