By Michael Goldstein
In the Indian state of Rajasthan in western India, the city of Jaipur has much to offer to the common touristic eye. The hustle and bustle of tourists and vehicles, reminiscent of New York City itself, forms a “Golden Triangle” tourist circle with two other cities, Delhi and Agra. In addition to being India’s (and possibly the world’s go-to place for the best gemstone and jewelry shops (such as the Gem Palace, which opened for business in 1852), there are enough palaces and attractions to provide more than a day’s adventure in Asia. This month, we’ll be highlighting everything Jaipur has to offer, from the hottest spots to the biggest achievements in architecture.
Jaipur is notable for being called “The Pink City,” thanks mainly to the five-story Hawa Mahal (mahal being the Indian word for palace), which gets its distinct “paint job” from the sandstones that it’s built out of. Also called the “Palace of Winds,” this distinctive landmark was built as an area of seclusion for royal women, but it looks less like an architectural achievement and more like a collection of stylized beehive honeycombs. The Hawa Mahal also bears a light resemblance to the crown of the mythical god, Krishna, because the ancient ruler Sawai Pratap Singh was believed to be such a devotee to Krishna, he ordered that the Hawa Mahal be built with Krishna’s crown in mind.
But the Hawa Mahal isn’t the only Mahal in Jaipur. There is also the Jal Mahal. Its name means “Water Palace,” which it gets from its appearance of floating on top of the Man Sagar Lake that surrounds it. In addition to once serving as a hunting lodge and summer retreat, the Jal Mahal area offers frequent boat rides and opportunities to spot all the different bird species that populate the area, such as flamingos, spoonbills, grebes, and bee-eaters.
At the heart of the Pink City lies the City Palace, a marvelous complex of former royalty that achieves a mixture of both Mughal and Rajput architecture. Jaipur was the first planned city of India’s medieval era, and the City Palace used to stand in the center of the old city. As a whole, it’s a paradise for art and architecture lovers, and there’s even an armory showcasing the largest collection of weapons in the country, many of them being ceremonial items.
If royal palaces aren’t your interest, the best site to explore is Jantar Mantar, which looks like a sculpture park but is actually an observatory for measuring the heavens. There are nineteen astronomical instruments in all, each a large instrument with a very specific purpose. The most notable is the Samrat Yantra, or the “Supreme Instrument,” which holds the record for being one of the largest stone sundials in the world. The instruments were constructed by the ruler, Jai Singh II, who loved the stars more than anything else in the world.
And any trip to India would be far from complete without meeting the elephants. Jaipur is home to Elefantastic, which is more than just an elephant sanctuary/farm. This is a place where of people are dedicated to delivering exceptional experiences for hard-core pachyderm fans, providing everything from snapshots of elephant life, inspiring stories, and even charming inspirations from the elephants.
What makes Jaipur such a popular tourist destination is that it serves as a starting point of sorts to other tourist attractions in Rajasthan, such as Mount Abu and Udaipur, the latter location being a shooting location for the James Bond film Octopussy, as well as the birthplace of Rudyard Kipling’s character from The Jungle Book, the panther Bagheera. So for tourists, Jaipur can be the main course and the dessert to be enjoyed afterwards.
Located in the middle of Man Sagar Lake, Jal Mahal is a five-storied palace, out of which four floors remain under water when the lake is full.