Things to Do in Jaipur
Jaipur is known for its spectacular architectural sites and the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of Winds, is perhaps the city’s most recognizable and photogenic building. The five floors of delicately-worked pink sandstone is only one room wide with rows of perforated screens and more than 900 windows to allow the breeze to pass through and cool the interior.
The honeycombed Hawa Mahal was constructed in 1799 by poet-king Sawai Pratap Singh, and, according to legend, was originally where the female members of the royal family could look down on the people in the streets below without being observed. Visitors can do some people watching of their own from this vantage point or can climb to the rooftop for an overhead view of the City Palace to one side and Siredeori Bazaar to the other.
It used to be that the Jal Mahal (Water Palace) was merely another fortress worthy of a quick photo op on the way to or from Amber Fort. After undergoing a dramatic restoration, however, the palace perched in the middle of Man Sagar Lake is worthy of a visit in its own right.
Sawai Pratap Singh built the five-story red sandstone palace in 1799 using Rajput and Mughal stylistic elements. After 200 years of neglect, water damage and general disrepair, the palace was restored to its original splendor. The rooftop gardens, Jal Mahal’s most stunning features, have been carved, painted and gilded by dozens of artists and designers, and the resulting details are exquisite.
During the monsoon season from June through September, the bottom four floors of the palace become submerged, but the boat trip across the glassy waters makes this the best time for a visit. Come at dusk when the setting sun lights up the water and marble alike.
The Amber Fort, built in 1592, once served as the palace and capital of the Kachchawahs during their reign until 1727, when the capital was moved to Jaipur. While the fort was abandoned in the eighteenth century, the remaining palaces, temples and courtyards are surprisingly well preserved and have retained much of their original beauty and craftsmanship. In 2013 the Hill Forts of Rajasthan, including Amber Fort, were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.
Located about 7 miles (11 kilometers) from Jaipur, the Amber Fort sits on a hill top and faces out over the Maota Lake. To enter the fort, you must make the steep climb by foot, jeep or elephant, passing beneath the Sun Gate and into the inner palaces. Plan to spend a minimum of half a day at the Amber Fort, taking care not to miss the Shila Davi Temple (dedicated to the goddess Kali) with its intricately worked silver doors, the glass mosaics of the Mirror Palace and the filigreed marble windows.
The Mubarak Mahal was built as a part of Jaipur’s City Palace to welcome foreign dignitaries of the Maharaja. Built on a raised platform, the white palace is an example of Mughal, Rajput, and European style architecture. Its colonnaded and carved exterior now leads to the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, which houses mostly historic textiles.
The Textile and Costume Museum on the first floor exhibits many of the clothing worn by royalty: formal costumes, traditional block prints, and a variety of embroidered textiles in precious fabrics, including silk and Kashmiri pashmina. Visitors can see the local history of both male and female attire, including uniquely shaped and sized items. Perhaps some of the most beautiful items are the brightly colored saris, many covered in golden embroidery. Royal carpets and antiquities can also been seen inside.
Walking through the grounds of Jantar Mantar may feel more like visiting a sculpture garden than an astronomical observatory. The eighteen devices, built by Jai Singh II, each serve a different function, such as predicting eclipses, telling time and tracking astrological bodies./p>
Jai Singh II built Jatar Mantar in 1726 and it remains the best preserved of the five observatories he built within his lifetime. Armed with knowledge of European astronomical advances, Jai Singh II invented many of the instruments himself, the most impressive of which is the massive Samrat Yantra sundial with a shadow that moves up to 13 feet (4 meters) per hour, or a hands-width every minute.
Guides onsite can explain how the devices work, and several are still used to make astrological and weather predictions. Try to come on a sunny day, since none of the devices will work under cloud cover, but avoid the middle of the day when the sun is particularly hot and shade is harder to come by.
The Central Museum (Albert Hall), modeled after the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, opened its doors in 1887, making it the oldest museum in the state of Rajasthan. The Indo-Saracenic sandstone and marble structure was designed by English architect Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob and was originally meant to function as a town hall. The architecture alone makes this museum worth a visit./p>
The museum’s collection, while not well organized, consists of miniature paintings, costumes, folk art, woodcarvings, portraits and jewelry from Jaipur royalty and Rajasthani tribesman alike. Unfortunately, photography isn’t permitted within the museum, but you can snap shots of the building’s exterior to your heart’s content.
The Central Museum sits within the Ram Niwas Gardens, and the 33-acre (13-hectare) garden also includes a small zoo and bird park, a theater and a few small cafes and picnic spots.
Built in 1988 entirely of white marble, Birla Lakshmi Narayan Temple & Museum is one of the newest and most recognizable landmarks in Jaipur. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu, the Preserver, and his consort Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity.
Besides the central Vishnu and Lakshmi idols carved from a single piece of white marble, the entire temple, both inside and out, is covered with intricate marble carvings depicting Indian mythology and historical figures like Socrates, Buddha, Jesus Christ and Confucius. Stained glass window panels inside the temple show more scenes from Hindu mythology. The temple and surrounding gardens offer a sense of serenity compared with the surrounding city, and if you’re interested in a look at a modern, functioning Hindu temple, this one’s hard to beat. The small museum displays a collection of Birla family relics and valuables.
While Jaipur’s Amber Fort more closely resembles a palace, Jaigarh Fort is a military fortress in the true sense of the word. The fort and its walls winding along the cliffs was built in 1726 to protect the Amber Fort below. Since the fort was never captured, it remains one of the best-preserved fortresses from medieval India.
Climb to the top of the Diwa Burj watchtower for sweeping views of the Amber Fort and the surrounding city. If time permits, explore some of the many temples built within the fort grounds, some of them dating back to before the fort’s construction. The fortress grounds contain the world’s largest cannon on wheels called Jaivana. The 20-foot (6-meter) and 50-ton cannon was only fired once, and it took 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of gun powder to do it. To save time traveling to and from Jaipur proper, combine your Jaigarh and Amber Fort visits. Either make the 20-minute climb on foot or hire a taxi outside Amber Fort.
More Things to Do in Jaipur
Beyond the extravagant palaces, lakes, elephants, camels, and bustling street activity that is Jaipur, visitors should not miss the shopping in the Pink City. Jaipur is known for its production of precious jewelry and brightly colored textiles. Bapu Bazaar is the best place in the city to browse the latter.
Some of the more famous fabrics include the block print materials and the embroidered clothing. Visitors should be prepared to bargain - but that’s half the fun of shopping in India. Ready-made textiles and all types of bangles and scarves are on display throughout the bazaar. Another highlight for many visitors is the wide array of camel leather goods, the most unique of which may be the jootis, or Rajasthani leather shoes. Outside of clothing, many look to Bapu Bazaar for its Rajasthani-crafted quilts and bedding. The pedestrian-only Bapu Bazaar is also just a great place to take a stroll and take in the daily life and energy of Jaipur.
This portion of Jaipur’s City Palace is the residence of the royal family and former Maharaja of the Pink City. Located in the west end of the palace complex, it stands seven stories tall and is also known as “Palace of the Moon.” As members of the royal family still reside here, visitors are only allowed on the first floor — which holds a museum of royal artifacts and decorated halls.
The Chandra Mahal is part of the City Palace that was built between 1727 and 1734, and is one of the oldest buildings in the site. There are paintings, historical murals, mirror work and floral decorations to gaze upon. The flag of the royal family still flies atop the highest tower, and the queen’s flag is flown whenever the king has left the palace.
The first palaces, courtyards, gardens and pavilions that make up Jaipur’s City Palace were built in 1727 by Maharaja Jai Singh II, ruler of the kingdom of Amber, in what is now Jaipur. The complex was added on to through the centuries, with some of the newer structures dating from the twentieth century. The royal family, one of the richest families in India, still lives in the Moon Palace (Chandra Mahal) on the site.
As you enter the first courtyard you’ll see the Guest Pavilion (Mubarak Mahal) which was built in the nineteenth century. The structure now serves as a museum housing a collection of textiles, accessories and musical instruments from the local royalty of the past. The City Palace armoury next door to the museum has one of the most extensive collections of rather vicious weapons on display, among them is an 11-pound (5-kilogram) sword.
This small lake sits under the massive Amer (Amber) fort just outside of Jaipur and includes a small island in its center, lush with gardens. The Kesar Kyari Bagh, or saffron garden, contains plants that are said to have been planted by a Maharaja in the 15th century, and all of the plants sit on a raised square platform base with intricate stonework laid between the colorful patterned plants.
The lake provides a serene setting from which to look up at Amer Fort on the hillside. The fort and palace are reflected on the water’s surface, and Maota Lake once served as the main source of water for the Amer Palace. The other garden on the lake, Dilaram Bagh, is named after its architect, and both gardens were clearly created to be seen from above, with geometric patterns that can only be seen from up the hill.
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