My first visit to Jaipur was when I was a 15-year old. Until then, I had not visited any of the other planned cities of India – be it a Rourkela, a Bokaro or a Chandigarh. I remember having instinctively liked the city ! Compared to my hometown, Ludhiana, I found Jaipur cleaner and better laid out. This love for Jaipur has not diminished. I regularly visit the city even now – sometimes for a reason and sometimes even without one ! Agreed that it has grown and has become chaotic now, but the charm still remains.
It is said that while Jaipur was planned, Vaastu Shastra principles were explicitly kept in mind. For a heritage hunter, this 285-year old city offers an extensive fare. With its vast array of forts and palaces, the aura of a princely state lives on. Amber Fort as it exists today has been built over the remains of a more-modest palace that was built in 967 CE. Jaigarh Fort was built in 1720s as a shield for Amber Fort. While Nahargarh Fort was the outermost shield !
The city has verve and zest. From a quiet, quaint capital city of Rajasthan, the desert state of India, it has grown to be a bustling Minipolis with a population exceeding 6 million. Today, this 10th largest city of India boasts of two UNESCO World Heritage sites – the Jantar Mantar and Amber Fort; albeit Amber Fort sharing the honours with 5 other hill forts of Rajasthan – Kumbhalgarh, Chittorgarh, Gagron, Jaisalmer and Ranthambore.
When planned, the city’s centrepiece was the City Palace Quarter, with five other similar sized quarters surrounding it on the East, South and West sides. These surrounding quarters today are globally famous centres for Jewellery, Rajasthani Juttis (traditional leather footwear), Bandhini or Bandhej (Tie & Dye printing on cotton cloth), Lakh ki Chudiya (Bangles made from Sealing Wax), Aari-Taari work (precious metal wire work on cloth), Marble Statues and Blue Pottery.
As a seat of the Rajasthan state government, it also has some magnificent structures – the Vidhan Sabha, Albert Hall (now a Museum), the Old Assembly Hall, City Palace, etc. The city has been given added colour by many newer, more modern buildings like World Trade Park, the Shree Cements Headquarters, Motisons building, et al.
Some of the more iconic structures include Raj Mandir, a landmark movie hall that still stays with the glorious cine-era tradition of the curtain raising, Birla Mandir – a white marble structure, the Charles Correa designed Jawahar Kala Kendra, etc.
Another attraction, not too far from Jaipur, is Sambhar Salt Lake (Shakambari Lake). Here, if you are in luck, you may spot thousands of pink flamingos (we did !). En route to Agra, in a small village called Abhaneri near Dausa, there is a 12-centuries old stepwell – Chand Baoli. Its architecture and geometric symmetry can put modern structures to shame.
When you plan a trip to India next, do go over the famous beaten path called the Golden Triangle and rediscover the mystique called Jaipur !