18 November, 1727.
Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the Kachhwaha Rajput ruler at the helm of the Amer Kingdom for the past 28 years, knew he had to make a crucial decision.
Amer Fort, his administrative seat and residence, was becoming too small to meet the needs of his growing kingdom. Water was scarce, and because of it, other resources were being affected.
He needed a new city. A city that reflected his ideas, values, and plans for his kingdom.
Numerous consultations on Vastu Shastra and Shilpa Shastra were held. After which, under the guidance of his chief architect and city planner Vidyadhar Bhattacharya from West Bengal, Jaipur was created from scratch some 15 kilometres away.
Using a grid street plan, the new city was divided into nine blocks, a sacred number in Hinduism, and guarded by eight fortified gates. Within its walls, a majestic city palace was put up, surrounded with bustling marketplaces and graceful temples.
Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II had many ambitions for his namesake city. It was to be an economic hub, a centre for learning and spirituality, and adorned with splendid art and architecture. For this, he called the most learned priests from Varanasi, the finest craftsmen from various craft centres, and the most astute traders, offering them land and protection.
No money was spared. No vision too big or impossible.
Later kings added to the wonders of Jaipur. The foundation had been laid firm and sound to carry forward Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II’s legacy.
Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh [1778 – 1803], an avid lover of the arts, gave Jaipur its most iconic monuments, the ethereal Hawa Mahal and poetic Jal Mahal. Photographer-king and reformer, Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II [1835 – 1881], painted the city ‘pink’ in honour of Prince of Wales’ [the future King Edward] visit to the city. The name and colour were to stick henceforth.
With the old walled city listed as a UNESCO World Heritage City in 2019 and two World Heritage Sites of Jantar Mantar and Amer Fort, Jaipur is one of India’s most popular tourist sites and part of the Golden Triangle covering Agra, Delhi, and Jaipur. There are so many layers to it, it could take very many days to fully explore the city. But, if one had to take 15 experiences that one could only, and only have in Jaipur, I believe they would be as follows. They were mine for sure.
Happy travels to Jaipur. ❤
1. Come face-to-face with Jaipur’s most iconic monument, Hawa Mahal
One of India’s most photographed monuments, Hawa Mahal has appeared on every possible media related to tourism in India. Built in 1799, the pink façade is shaped to resemble the Indian deity Krishna’s crown and is the handiwork of Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh who believed the royal ladies deserved a place from which they could look at the bustling bazaars outside, albeit hidden behind screens. The 50-feet-high edifice is lined with 953 windows and is the tallest building in the world without a foundation. But don’t be fooled into believing that this is all there is to it. In fact, the pink façade is the back of the palace. Its entrance lies in a narrow alley behind, and between the two is a whole world of courtyards, halls, gateways, and towers.
2. Step into the splendour of Kachhwaha Rajput royalty at the Jaipur City Palace
Spread over one-seventh of the Old City, Jaipur’s City Palace was the administrative, ceremonial, and residential seat of its rulers from 1727 to 1947. Now a museum, with a private wing for the royal family, it comprises of striking edifices set in three courtyards. Pritam Chowk, the prettiest of the lot and flanked by Chandra Mahal, is decorated with four exquisite doorways representing the four seasons. The lace-like Mubarak Mahal  and older Diwan-e-Khas were built to welcome dignitaries. Four museums display the royal collections of photography and paintings, arms and armour, royal paraphernalia, and textiles and costumes. Don’t miss the photographs taken by photographer-king Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II [1835 – 1881] and the royal chambers in Chandra Mahal.
You may also like to read: Royal Splendour in Jaipur’s City Palace.
3. Learn about an astronomer-king’s 300-year-old astronomic observatory called Jantar Mantar
Jaipur’s founder, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II wore many hats and the one he perhaps wore with the most aplomb was that of an astronomer. Fascinated by the world of celestial bodies and inspired by another astronomer-king, Mirza Ulugh Beg of Samarkand, he set up monumental structures known as Jantar Mantar to measure time with the naked eye in Delhi, Jaipur, Mathura, Ujjain, and Varanasi. The one in Jaipur  is the largest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are some 20 structures or yantras in the precinct, of which many still function. Samrat Yantra, at a height of 75 feet, is the world’s biggest sundial with an accuracy of up to 2 seconds. A guide helps to explain how the various instruments tick.
4. Explore medieval Amer, the earlier capital of the Kingdom of Amer
Established in 1599 by Mirza Raja Man Singh I, King of Amer and Commander-in-Chief of the Mughal army, the UNESCO-listed Amer Fort is one of Rajasthan’s most popular attractions. Grand and elegant, its royal edifices perched high on a hill are encircled by steep fortifications. Of special mention are the Jaleb Chowk, Diwan-e-Aam, Diwan-e-Khas, Ganesh Pol and Zenana inside. Below the fort is the thousand-year-old town of Amer where it all started, bursting with stone Hindu and Jain temples, a charming stepwell, and a museum on hand-printing. The fort’s courtliness and town’s earthiness make for a fascinating combination. Why not wrap the day with one of the finest sound and light shows in the country held at Amer Fort?
You may also like to read: Photo essay: Amer, the UNESCO-listed Fort and Beyond.
5. Listen to sweet birdsong whilst surrounded with ornate royal cenotaphs
Two sets of mausoleums honour Jaipur’s royal dead. The pristine Gaitore Cenotaphs is dedicated to the Kachhwaha rulers from 1727 to 1947. All 10 apart from that of Maharaja Sawai Ishwari Singh stand here, the furthest away being the oldest and that of Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II being the most extravagant. Maharaniyon ki Chattriyan, the second set and a bit on the wild unkempt side, is unique for having mausoleums of only queens. Twice the size of Gaitore, its 11 memorials span 280 years. Some are sumptuous, some austere, some incomplete, and some unnamed. Both sites are rarely visited by tourists or locals, and you would in all likelihood have the places to yourself. Oh yes, along with the birds.
6. Discover how medieval forts in a desert state met their water needs on a Heritage Water Walk
As a hot and dry state prone to droughts, ever wondered how Rajasthan’s massive forts met the water needs of its populace, both royal and plebeian? A Heritage Water Walk in Nahargarh Fort answers many questions, both asked and unasked. Learn about rainwater harvesting principles, locate water channels and catchment areas deep in the forest cover, follow the water trail through 500-year-old engineering systems [which still work], and see it finally culminate in a spectacular gigantic stepwell, popularised by the Bollywood movie Rang de Basanti, perched high on a hill. The fact that the walk is accompanied with a passionate and knowledgeable narrative by its founder, Neeraj Doshi makes this one an absolute gem.
7. Gaze upon spell-binding views from the towering ramparts and bastions of Jaigarh and Nahargarh Forts
No other city offers three concentric rings of forts, each higher than the other. Amer Fort, seated on the lowest hill and the grandest of the lot is surrounded by Jaigarh Fort. Jaigarh was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1720 to house a permanent army and palaces that the royal family at Amer Fort could escape to during war through an underground tunnel. Further higher up is the Nahargarh Fort, also built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. But this dates to 1734 and was for the ultimate protection of the kingdom’s capital. With each fort, the bird’s eye views simply get more dazzling.
PS. The night views from Padao Restaurant at Nahargarh Fort are not to be missed.
You may also like to read: Travel Diaries: Jaigarh and Nahargarh: 2 Forts and 1 Traveller.
8. Wander through Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II’s European-inspired Madhavendra Bhawan at Nahargarh Fort
Strategic diplomatic ties kept the Jaipur rulers powerful even through turbulent times. First with the Mughals and later the British. The alliance with the British was initiated by Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II when he sided with them and gave them refuge at Nahargarh Fort during the 1857 Mutiny. These ties were further strengthened under Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II, Jaipur’s first ruler to travel to Europe in 1902 for the coronation of King Edward VII.
It was an alliance which spilled over onto Jaipur’s art and architecture and is most pronounced in Madhavendra Bhawan, a palace Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II built for his nine queens in Nahargarh Fort. Identical in design and layout, and decorated with floral frescoes, they are connected with two corridors: The Queens Corridor links the palaces so the ladies may mingle. The Kings Corridor connects each palace directly with the King’s room so none would know who he was spending the night with.
9. Meet one of the world’s largest ever cannons along with the case of the hidden treasures at Jaigarh Fort
Manufactured and still on display at Jaigarh Fort, Jaivan Cannon is the world’s largest cannon on wheels of the early modern era [15th to 18th Century]. With a 20-feet-long barrel weighing 50 tons it shoots out a 50-kilogram shot ball to a distance of around 35 kilometres. Impressive. However, the trial run in 1720 turned the gentleman who set it afire deaf, cracked the walls of the fort, damaged the surrounding village, and pregnant women living in the vicinity had miscarriages. The cannon was never used again.
In addition to the Jaivan Cannon, the fort has a fascinating tale of Mirza Raja Man Singh I’s hidden treasures from an Afghan conquest in the 1580s which he kept secret from the Mughals. In 1976, the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi decided to go looking for it. For two days the highway was shut. 60-70 trucks left the premises, but the official statement said no treasures were found. Was there ever really a treasure? Was it ever found? Some truths never get to surface.
10. Indulge in your love for photography at Patrika Gate, Jaipur’s most photogenic ‘modern’ monument
Not all picturesque monuments need to be a few hundred or a thousand years old. They can be as recent as 2016! And still be a wonder where the past and present fuse to make culture seamless. Built by the Rajasthan Patrika newspaper group, the nine-arched, 108-feet-high Patrika Gate is decorated with hand-painted murals across Rajasthan’s historical, archaeological, and artistic spectrum. No two murals are alike here. It is as if all of Rajasthan is contained within its pink walls in picture-perfect symmetry. To know more about the gate, here’s an interesting post on it by jaipurthrumylens.com, a Jaipur speciality blog.
11. Say Hello to Jaipur’s living traditions on a temple and haveli heritage walk
Hidden behind the streets in the Old City and huddled between its shops are temples and havelis where living traditions pulsate, and have done so over generations. Centres of learning and community life, Jaipur’s temples take the form of independent temples often identified by sculpted elephants at the main entrance to temples inside Brahmin homes called haveli-temples. No surprises then that the city was once also known as ‘Little Kashi’ because of the thousand or so temples within its walls. Some of Jaipur’s most charming 18th Century Hindu temples include the adjoined Roopchaturbhujji and Chaturbhujji Temples with their stunning wall paintings, Shri Radha Gopinathji Temple reverberating with the sweet sounds of bhajans by local women, and the haveli-temple Lal Hathiyon ka Mandir.
Meanwhile the havelis, homes of its residents, range from the enormous such as Raja Udai Singh ki Haveli and Nataniyon ki Haveli, now split into scores of shops, to the private and intimate crumbling structures such as Bejaipura House with peeling wall frescoes wherein the local families still reside. The heritage walk by Virasat Experiences strings these little gems together with ample time to be part of the prayers, customs, and conversations.
12. Take the road less travelled via Ghat ki Ghuni to Sisodia Rani ka Bagh
Merely four kilometres from Jaipur, but rarely ever traversed by tourists, is Ghat ki Ghuni, an alley through the Aravalli Hills. It used to be part of a major trading route between Jaipur and Agra-Delhi; one of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II’s visionary plans for his capital. What set Ghat ki Ghuni apart were the havelis, temples, and chhatris [pavilions] which lined its length, creating a visual precursor to the glory of Jaipur.
Much of it has now fallen into disrepair, but the hauntingly beautiful chhatris and Mughal-styled gardens behind them, such as the Sisodia Rani ka Bagh, still survive. The latter was laid out by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II for one of his queens Sisodia Rani from Mewar [Udaipur]. Oh, and along the way, you will most likely bump into a happy sage or two. 🙂
13. Connect with the mystical at Galtaji, Jaipur’s picturesque ‘Monkey Temple’
Nestled inside the verdant Aravalli Hills is Galtaji Temple, a group of temples that include two lovely fresco-clad haveli-temples, Shri Gyan Gopalji Temple and Shri Sitaramji Temple, and a series of seven kunds [water tanks] of which Galta Kund is the holiest. Though more known for its thousands of monkeys who scamper around and are lovingly fed by pilgrims, legends of sages give the ancient pilgrimage site a keen spiritual depth. Rishi Galav, after whom the temple is named, is said to have done penance for 60,000 years here. The gods were so pleased with him they blessed the barren land with a perennial source of water upon his request. Many Hindu religious scriptures were written within its walls and even Mughal Emperor Akbar was a devotee.
14. Attend evening prayers to Jaipur rulers’ principal deity at Govind Devji Mandir
Inside the City Palace is the historic temple of Govind Devji steeped in mythology and traditions. The principal deity of the royal family, Govind Devji is an avatar of the Hindu god Krishna. His and his consort, Radha’s effigies were brought to Jaipur from Vrindavan by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II and have been housed here since the city’s inception in 1727. It is believed the effigy is an exact likeness of Krishna and was made by his own great-grandson some 5,600 years ago drawn on descriptions given by Krishna’s daughter-in-law. Accompanied with ringing bells and lucid bhajans, the evening aarti at 6:30 pm is an atmospheric event attended by thousands.
15. Visit the spectacularly lit up Albert Hall Museum and its mind-boggling collection at night
Come night-time, all of Jaipur’s attractions are lit up in glorious golden light: the city gates, Hawa Mahal, City Palace … But none is more magical than Rajasthan’s oldest museum, the Albert Hall Museum  situated in Ram Niwas Garden just outside the Old City walls. Dappled in electric colours which change every few seconds, it is a sight to behold. The inside is no less interesting. Designed by Samuel Swinton Johnson with its foundation stone laid by the Prince of Wales Albert Edward in 1876, the Indo-Saracenic masterpiece contains an extensive collection of artifacts across 15 categories including an Egyptian Mummy. The night visit hours are from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm all days of the week.
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Tempted to make it to Jaipur to experience the above? Here’s some travel tips regarding logistics, based on what I did:
- Staying there: I stayed at 5 by Oyo – Metropolitan through Booking.com.
- Getting around: I used a tuk-tuk or walked.
- How many days?: I stayed for 5 full days.
- I liked eating at: Indian Coffee House in Jawahar Kala Kendra for its ambiance, Tattoo Cafe and Lounge for its views of Hawa Mahal, and LMB for local food.
[Note: This blog post is part of a series from my 35-day solo and independent road trip through Rajasthan from 17 October to 20 November, 2021. To read more posts in my Rajasthan series, click here.]