If I had to judge an Indian City by its cover, Jaipur would win. Jaipur is typically the last stop on the “Golden Triangle” tour of North India (after Delhi and Agra). I was tempted to skip it, because I hadn’t heard much about it before, but I’m so glad that I didn’t. From an aesthetic perspective alone, I adored my days wandering around "the pink city” and I found it to be a welcome relief after Agra’s chaos. The whole city is kind of like an Anthropologie photo shoot waiting to happen.
And, because we all know looks aren’t everything, I should also say that Jaipur is a really interesting place. It claims to be the first “planned” city in India, meaning that it was built under Maharaja (King) Sawai Jai in 1727 and designed by an architect. Because of this, all of Jaipur is set up in a grid formation (a welcome relief from many other disorienting cities I’ve spent time in). Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan which I found to be a pretty unique area. The state of Rajasthan feels the most like the kind of India one would envision after reading the Arabian Nights. A few miles away from Jaipur the desert begins, and even Jaipur itself is full of elephants and camels. There’s a particular style of dress worn by the people there and its famous for its textiles and crafts. (The Lonely Planet said that Jaipur is addicted to shopping and one of the best places in India to find quality things, and unfortunately for my Watson year budgeting, and fortunately for my wardrobe when I return to the U.S. in July 2012, I found this to be quite true).
Making hand block textiles
Peacock Feathers for Sale
Another reason to love Jaipur was the student discounts. Basically every museum or historical site I’ve visited in India charges markedly different amounts for foreigners and Indian citizens (to give you an idea of how much discrepancy there can be, a ticket to the Taj Mahal for a foreigner is 750 rupees/$15 USD, and for an Indian citizen, it’s 20 rupees/$0.25 USD). Despite occasionally grumbling about this discrepancy, I actually think it’s a really good system as a way of encouraging locals to visit cultural sites. That said, I did appreciate it that every monument in Jaipur had cheaper rates for foreign and Indian students. It’s the first time in my travels I was able to flash my International Student Identity Card and reap the benefits.
Jaipur is not pink by accident. When the King was designing the city, basically, he was jealous of the red sandstone used to make many monuments in Delhi and Agra (they're pretty stunning...see earlier blog entries). Unfortunately, bringing in this kind of sandstone to Jaipur would be too expensive. The King decided he would use marble and another kind of sandstone instead, but paint it pink so it would look like the Delhi and Agra monuments. He did this specifically before the arrival of Prince Albert to Jaipur, hoping to impress him, and the “pink city” has remained pink today (at least the older parts of the city).
Because Jaipur was designed by the Maharaja, it is, quite excellently set up for him. In the center of the city is a gorgeous palace with different rooms set up for the Maharaja for different seasons. He wouldn’t walk anywhere and would just be pushed or carried around in a wheelchair, so the whole palace is made up of ramps. It’s also just gorgeous:
The Ladies Palace:
My favorite Jaipur monument, and perhaps the most iconic, is the Hawa Mahal (“Palace of winds”). This was designed for the royal ladies in the palace to be able to watch royal processions and city life without being seen. As a result, all of the windows kind of look like they’re made of honey combs.
Like Delhi, Jaipur also contains a huge observatory area (the King was a huge astrology fan and built five massive complexes all over the city).
The Amber Fort. (All the forts are beginning to blur together a bit for me….I’m learning way more about defense mechanisms of the Mughals than I ever thought I would need to know…)
Amber Fort puppy
I became friends with this little girl on a tour around the city. I found her absolutely delightful, as I find all Indian children who call me “auntie” and ask for my “good name.” She also confirmed my decision that if I ever have a daughter, she will be dressed in Indian clothes exclusively.