After 20 years or more travelling to Rajasthan, it is in the desert capital city of Jaipur that I can safely say my heart has settled upon. Whilst I love the tranquility of Udaipur and the madness of Delhi - the sight of the terracotta pink walls and the smell of the 'mogra' (Indian Jasmine) from the flower vendors at the crossroads and I know - 'I'm home'. I often find myself scribbling down my recommendations for people - at shows, or in the shop - and I love passing on my favourite tips - from the 'must see' sights, to where to stay but also some more hidden gems. I thought I would put together a fun whistle-stop tour for those visiting the city for the first time as part of a bigger Rajasthan trip - I will gradually pen longer, more in-depth fashion/shopping, eating and hotel guides if you are spending longer there or are returning and want to delve a bit deeper - but this seemed like a good place to start!
Let me warn you Jaipur is exhilarating, beguiling and requires planning to make the most of everything there is to see - take some time getting your head around the layout of the city, where things are located and work out an itinerary that works for you - as you could end up spending a lot of time in traffic if you zig zag across the city. Whilst it's easy to get swept away in the romance of the place, to maximise your time - get organised!
The 'pink city' is so called thanks to the coral hue of the buildings in its historic walled centre - in 1876, the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria visited India on a tour. Since pink denotes the colour of hospitality, Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur painted the whole city pink in colour to welcome the guests. From the city gates to shops and the famous Hawa Mahal (above) - this magic pigment changes from a burnt orange through to a sun bleached peach depending on the time of day.
Wake up early and catch the flower market ‘Phool Mandi’ (open 6am to noon).
This is the most delicious sensory overload - a working market where the city's flower sellers and temple goers come for their fresh daily blooms, the narrow thoroughfares are bustling with great pillows of roses, mogra, tuberrose and marigolds. Make sure you take your camera or iphone to capture the perfect instagram shot. It's not just flowers - there is a vibrant fruit and vegetable market too - perfect for catching a slice of 'everyday' life, Jaipuri style.
Grab a tuk tuk and head to Laxmi Misthan Bhandar for brunch (nicknamed LMB by all of the locals) - don't be put off by the faded facade, you'll be in good company as its a busy haunt for locals who love the Indian take on fast food - no frills, cheap and quick, and oh so moreish.
The City Palace is part museum, gallery and still a Royal Residence - the vast complex deserves a good 3-4 hours to do it justice. From the cool blue of the Chandra Mahal (that inspired our latest pyjama collection) to the historic textile and costume museum and the '4 Gates' that are so beautifully adorned and embellished with symbolic artwork.
After a day of sightseeing - slow the pace right down and head to Bar Palladio in the beautiful Narain Niwas hotel for sundowners. Booking is essential at this stunning Marie-Anne Oudejans designed bar and café nestled in the lush grounds of the hotel. Serving delicious Italian food and the best cocktails in town, it is one of the most beautiful and most photographed places in India. Relaxing in one of the pavilions in the garden as golden hour descends and the city cools is one of those magical moments that will stay with you as a highlight of your trip.
Amer Fort is 11km outside the city – set off early to avoid the crowds and see the sunrise - it's worth the early start! Amer is the original, historic capital of Rajasthan, the fort was the royal residence, overshadowed by the Jaigargh Fort which housed the military, on the hilltop ridge above - the two are connected by a subterranean tunnel system to enable the royal family to escape to higher ground when under threat of invasion.
Jaigargh is quieter and less ornate - with a fascinating armoury and the views across to Jaipur and the Aravalli mountain range are breath-taking. Amer Fort itself can be blisteringly hot. The large courtyards, composed or red sandstone and marble offer little shade, so wear sunscreen! It's worth getting a guide (they are Government regulated), rather than wandering around aimlessly - there is so much rich history, both social and architectural, to drink in.
After your early start, stop off for a delicious breakfast from Jagdamba Paratha - this is a very unassuming slightly grubby looking café by the side of road but people travel from HUGE distances to eat these delicious buttery little creations and trust me - one is not enough!! There is of course chai on the menu and here the masala tea in very good, too.
On your way back into town, pull over and get 'the snap' of the Jal Mahal lake palace - closed to the public - it's a quiet vista after the busy forts - the lake is usually teeming with water buffalo, herons and if you're lucky you'll see a few elephants pass by.
Jaipur is a shoppers' paradise, my favourite area is the Johari Bazaar (complete with resident monkey troupe!) - make sure you wear comfy shoes and be prepared to barter, haggle and get involved in this cultural ritual. Treat it as fun, be courteous and respectful but remember when you ask a price in the market you will be quoted top price so have fun and negotiate until you feel like you are paying a fair price.
I book a private car through my hotel to zip me around when I'm on business - it's much more cost effective than you think! Around £20-£30 for the day. Although on-demand car app Ola is big in the city and a convenient way of nipping about.
Don't get overwhelmed - it's a mis-conception that Indian cities are all one frenetic pace - it can be, but make sure you seek out the pockets of greenery and calm in the city when you need a break - from the cool inner courtyards of the havelis (see below) to the oasis of central park.
I will do a full hotel guide - but my one tip for staying in Jaipur is to swerve the 'big boys' and pick an authentic city haveli to stay in - the Indian equivalent of a Moroccan riad, they are converted private homes, or palaces. Probably the most iconic of the city's havelis is the Samode Haveli Hotel - now a national treasure in Jaipur, with a secret oasis pool and beautiful garden where you can escape the hustle and bustle and immerse yourself in the incredible architecture in the bedrooms and grounds.
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