Romance-seekers, adventure-fiends, culture-vulters and luxury-lovers will all find something to be enchanted by in Jaipur. We asked India-regular Natalie Bannister to make like a Maharani and experience the royal romance of India's most colourful and flamboyant region...
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We begin, and end, our journey in the gateway to India’s desert state, Rajasthan, and in typical Indian style, it’s chaotic and bursting at the seams. With a seductive blend of grand palaces, imposing forts and shopping gems, long-time visitors, including myself, can attest that there is a beauty to the chaos. Rajasthan's capital city, Jaipur, remains a treasure trove of old India.
Known as the Pink City, thanks to its profusion of salmon-hued façades, Jaipur boasts some of the most photographed scenes in all of Rajasthan – the blush tones of the Old City walls and intricately-painted murals of palace doors provide the backdrop to many a traveller’s Instagram posts. The streets are a riot of colour and character – peacocks still roam the gardens of grand old palaces, monkeys scamper across rooftops, and brightly-painted elephants lumber down the streets on the outskirts of the city centre, absorbing the new while embracing the old. It’s a feast for the senses.
There’s plenty of luxury to be found here too, as Jaipur is home to some of India’s most splendid hotels, many of which are centuries-old palaces and havelis (traditional-style mansions) that have been converted into plush boutique retreats. If there’s one place in Rajasthan where you can feel like both an intrepid traveller and like royalty in the space of a single day, Jaipur is it!
Join an organised walking tour, like a morning or evening Heritage Walk with Vedic Walks through the bazaars, artisan centres and historical sites in the quieter hours. Or take to the sky at sunrise or sunset in a hot-air balloon with SkyWaltz Balloon Safari for a sensational bird’s eye view of Jaipur's three forts which once formed a vital defence ring for the city.
The 16th-century Amer Fort (also called Amber Fort) is the largest of the three, with a commanding position high on a hill overlooking the city. This sprawling palace complex is a perfect example of Mughal architecture – the mirrored Sheesh Mahal, in particular, is stunning – and you can spend a few hours exploring here.
You may begin to suffer from ‘fort fatigue’ (it's a thing here in Jaipur), but don't be tempted to skip the nearby Nahargarh Fort – with fewer crowds than Amer, you can wander peacefully through the empty halls, hidden passageways and ornately-painted royal chambers. Nahargarh was the hunting residence of the Maharajas of Jaipur (the name translates to Tiger Fort), but these days the only hunters are the tourists and locals who come to capture the splendid views over the Pink City. The walls of the fort extend over the hills to the sprawling red-sandstone fort of Jaigarh, built in 1726 to protect the Amer Fort and its palace complex, completing this city's impressive fortifications.
There are many palaces and temples in Jaipur, but make sure you head to temple to the stars, Jantar Mantar. Built in the early 18th-century under the orders of Prince Jai Singh II, a passionate observer of the cosmos, it's now a UNESCO World Heritage site. This series of architectural monuments, that were designed for observing and measuring the distances and positions of celestial objects, are remarkable.
Jantar Mantar can be combined with a tour of the City Palace, finishing with a glimpse of the extraordinary Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Winds. This exquisite hive of latticed windows, carved out of pink sandstone, is undeniably the city's most distinctive landmark. It was built in 1799 to enable the ladies of the royal household (who at the time strictly observed purdah) to be able to watch the processions and life of the streets below without being seen by the public. Now, you can take in the superb views and the mayhem of Sireh Deori Bazaar, one of Jaipur's many bustling bazaars, from the screened niches.
Jaipur is a major centre for textiles, gems and block printing, and couples will find plenty of reasons to shop up a storm in the city's markets and boutiques. Treasure hunters can explore tiny workshops and emporiums plying the trade of semi-precious stones and silver jewellery in Johari Bazaar. Or, go for gold at The Gem Palace (gempalace.com) where, even if you can’t afford to buy anything (few could!), you'll see some of the most exquisite jewels in all of India.
Dining in Jaipur is a sophisticated affair, with a burgeoning social scene and a plethora of fine dining restaurants, the most popular of which is Bar Palladio, set in the entry grounds of Narain Niwas Palace Hotel. Owned by Italian expat Barbara Miolini, and designed by Dutch designer Marie-Anne Oudejans, Bar Palladio is one of the most beautiful spaces for wining and dining in Rajasthan. The Italian menu is as delicious as the restaurant's exotic murals, peacock-blue and white palette, tented canopies and garden pavilions. It’s our favourite place to unwind here, cocktail in hand, after a hectic day of shopping and sightseeing.
Jaipur offers plenty of ways to indulge in royal romance, whether it's a meal at 51 Shades of Pink or high tea at The Colonnade, both found at Sujan Rajmahal Palace Hotel. Or, you could have cocktails out in the courtyard or by the pool, followed by a lovely candlelit dinner at regal Samode Haveli Hotel. Stop by Baradari, the newly-renovated contemporary restaurant within Jaipur’s City Palace, for al fresco dining in a courtyard that’s several centuries old. Or, take your seat at the opulent 1135 AD, set in the grounds of Amer Fort, which recreates centuries-old royal recipes that were once closely guarded by palace cooks. The restaurant has an open-air courtyard, a formal dining room and a private dining space, Sheesh Mahal, which has been crafted entirely in silver and gold to make you feel like royalty.
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Images by Natalie Bannister and Manav Parhawk