Jaipur is by no means India’s largest, grandest, or even oldest. Yet behind its earthy pink gates is an energetic city where markets, shops, and splendid architecture jostle against each other.
Jaipur – the gateway to the desert state of Rajasthan – was always intended as a place where commerce was meant to thrive. Since its establishment in 1727 by Maharaja Jai Singh II, the city saw a huge amount of trade happening through its bazaars. Craftsmen of all sorts came here to accommodate the needs of wealthy patrons, from exquisite jewelry and intricate furniture to a variety of art pieces. Even today, as soon as you pass one of the seven imposing gates, you will be mesmerized by Jaipur’s kaleidoscope of colors, smells, and sounds.
Aside from being a shopper’s paradise, Jaipur is known for its innovative urban planning. The city was designed according to the grid-iron plan prevalent in Europe, featuring broad streets, large public squares, and buildings with uniform facades. The zoning, however, refers to Vastu Shastra – an ancient Hindu concept that allocates neighborhoods based on castes and occupations. Subsequently, the city was divided into nine sectors. Two of these consist of civic buildings and palaces, whereas the remaining seven were designated for the public.
Is Jaipur really a Pink City?
Jaipur earns the nickname of the Pink City due to the dominant color scheme of its buildings. But that is only true for the historic core where residents are compelled by law to preserve the pink tone. Even the enclosed walls and gates also need to be painted in that color. Since the 20th century, the city has, however, spread beyond the walls, and homeowners decorate buildings in whatever styles and colors they like.
Despite its sobriquet, Jaipur barely has any real pink architecture. Instead, the city is painted in an earthy shade of pink, almost coral-like The color scheme is reportedly associated with hospitality. Therefore, in 1876, Maharaja Ram Singh painted the entire city in this color to welcome the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). It is also said that the coral color was to imitate the Mughal’s red sandstone architecture, such as Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, and many others.
1. City Palace
Founded at the same time as the walled city, City Palace represents Jaipur’s history and rich culture. It dominates the heart of Pink City, with multiple courtyards, pavilions, and buildings spreading over many hectares. Until 1949, this palatial complex served as the residence and the royal court of the Maharaja of Jaipur. It was also the venue of religious and cultural events, as well as an amazing hub of arts and commerce. These days, City Palace continues to be the home of the Jaipur royal family. Yet parts of it are converted into museums and opened to the public.
Architecturally, City Palace blends Mughal features with traditional Rajput architecture. Cusped arches and stone inlay filigree works – characteristics of Islamic design – are visible across the palace. Meanwhile, domed canopies and vibrant paintings of deities clearly reflect the Hindu root.
Visitors to the palace will start from one of the two remarkable side gates. They will pass by Mughal-inspired audience halls and the elegant Mubarak Mahal (Textile Museum) whose balconies look like paper-cutting arts, before reaching the inner courtyard. Here, four magnificent gateways are on display. They depict the four seasons with elaborate motifs, including peacocks (autumn), flower petals (summer), roses (winter), and probably banana leaves (spring). This area also provides access to the most imposing structure of the palace, the Chandra Mahal.
A blend of Rajput and Mughal architecture.
Overlooking the entire complex, the seven-tiered Chandra Mahal is among Jaipur’s oldest and most important buildings. It is the residence of the present royal family and one can recognize their presence thanks to the flags atop the building. The quarter-size flag is unfurled when the Maharaja is in the palace. When he is away, only the Queen’s flag is hoisted.
Being home to the Maharaja, this stately structure contains some of the most exquisite rooms in Jaipur. For example, Chhavi Niwas on the fourth floor is painted in azure blue with sophisticated white floral patterns. Meanwhile, Sukh Niwas (Hall of Pleasure) and Shobha Niwas (Hall of Beauty) on the second and third floors are adorned with ethereal mirrorwork. Each room is unique and represents the splendor of the Jaipur royal family.
2. Jantar Mantar
Aside from being a great warrior, Maharaja Jai Singh II was a keen astronomer. He had a strong interest in celestial bodies and wanted devices to accurately determine their positions. An observatory (Jantar Mantar) was, therefore, constructed just a few steps away from City Palace. It includes some 20 complex instruments for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking major stars in their orbits, ascertaining the declinations of planets, and determining the celestial altitudes.
Interestingly, these astronomical tools are designed to operate with the naked eye. All are surprisingly precise, with tolerance no less than the modern-day device. All were built from local materials such as stones and marble. Sometimes bronze tablets, bricks, and mortar were also employed. The site earned the recognition of UNESCO in 2010 because it expresses the skills and comprehensive knowledge regarding the cosmos of an 18th-century court led by a scholarly ruler.
3. Hawa Mahal
About 500 meters southwest of City Palace stands one of the most famous architectures in Jaipur, Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Breeze. This red sandstone building was constructed in 1799 by the grandson of Maharaja Jai Singh as an extension of the women’s chambers. It has five stories and is best known for its honeycomb-like exterior which consists of 953 small windows ornated with fine lattice works.
With so many windows, cool air can easily circulate through Hawa Mahal, making the whole palace more pleasant during summer. This feature also allowed royal ladies of yesteryears to observe everyday life on the street below without being seen. Once again, Rajput Hindu architecture was blended with Mughal elements, resulting in a structure that looks like it has come straight out of One Thousand and One night.
4. Albert Hall Museum
Another curious fusion is the Albert Hall Museum, located right outside a city gate. Here, Mughal features such as stylish chhatris (domed pavilion), intricately carved arches, and murals with Islamic motifs are combined with a Neo-Gothic layout and structure. This style is referred to as Indo-Saracenic and was favored by the British in India during the 19th century. It comes complete with two inner courtyards and a manicured lawn that embraced the entire building.
Initially, Albert Hall Museum was built as a town hall by Maharaja Ram Singh. He constructed this remarkable building to ensure a visit from Prince Albert Edward of Wales, hence the name. But in 1887, his successor, Madho Singh II, decided this place should be a museum for the art of Jaipur, and it has been open to the public since then. Many kinds of artifacts are exhibited here, ranging from Persian carpets, paintings, jewelry, and ivory sculptures to refined works in crystal.
Tips for visiting Jaipur
- For foreign visitors, a ticket to City Palace costs 700₹. It’s a composite ticket that grants entry to three properties managed by Jaipur royal family: City Palace, Jaigarh Fort, and the Royal Cenotaph. The ticket is purchasable online at the e-ticket shop of Royal Jaipur.
- As mentioned above, Chandra Mahal is the residential area of the royal family. Hence, access to this area is only possible with a guided tour which charges about 3000₹. A hefty price tag but those rooms are definitely worth seeing. Furthermore, the availability of this tour will have to be confirmed on the day of the visit at any of the two ticket counters. Thus, it cannot be bought in advance.
- There is another type of composite ticket for other sights in Jaipur, including Jantar Mantar, Hawa Mahal, Amber Fort, Nahagahr Fort, and the Albert Hall Museum. The ticket costs 1000₹ and is available at the ticket counter of any participating attraction. Please note that this composite ticket is valid for two consecutive days.
- A guide is recommended at Jantar Mantar because they can provide information about astronomical instruments in a digestible way. Otherwise, you will have to read the signage which is extremely scientific and confusing (at least for me).
- Many visitors view the Hawa Mahal from the street and think it is the front of the palace. But this impressive facade is the rear side and it shows a stark contrast to the palace’s plain-looking front. The building also does not have an entrance at the front. Instead, people can enter from an entrance on Tripoli Bazaar street, near Badi Chaupar.
- Photography is not allowed inside the Albert Hall Museum. But this rule is only applicable on camera. Making pictures with the phone is fine.