The distinctive shade of terra-cotta pink is what I first noticed about Jaipur, India, the capital city of Rajasthan, the Land of Kings. Bazaars, gardens, and palaces show flashes of pink, a color with historic roots. Back in 1853, the city draped itself in this warm hue to welcome Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, on a royal visit. Now, all buildings facing the main street within the city walls must maintain the pink color.
Behind this bright color is an equally vibrant city. Driving from the heart of Jaipur to my hotel on the outskirts of town, I saw the chaos of daily life on full display–bustling barber shops, games of catch, cooking around a fire, and friends sharing a drink.
During my time in Jaipur I explored the history, royal heritage, intricate architecture, and, of course, the shopping that it is known for. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries:
Jal Mahal: Now Open for Pleasure
Jal Mahal was built as a pleasure palace for the royal ruler Maharaja Jai Singh II in the 18th century–think moonlit parties and duck hunting gatherings. It is located in the middle of Man Sagar Lake, where winds sweep off the water’s surface and through open-air corridors (there are no rooms here as it was never meant to be residential). Today, these corridors hold carefully curated pieces of art from Indian artists. Plans are in place for a restaurant on the shoreline and concerts in the palace’s rooftop garden. The restoration of the palace has been a remarkable and sometimes contentious collaboration between the private and public sectors. Jah Mahal is open to the public for the first time this year, and guests have to book a visit in advance with Jal Mahal Resorts, but the full visitor experience should be ready by early 2012.
You’ll find fabulous goods for sale in Jaipur. Gem Palace is still run by the same family that established the shop in 1852. Even if it’s out of your price range, you’ll still enjoy the warmth of the staff and feeling like a queen while you try on millions of dollars’ worth of jewels. If you’re looking for something within budget, seek out the high-quality goat, camel, and water buffalo leather markets. Central Jaipur has hundreds of stalls to peruse, and you can barter with the owners.
The city’s main tourist attraction is actually an opulent former palace. The famous Hall of Mirrors is the most memorable part of the complex, patterned with intricate mirrors, mosaics, and glass. Also inside Amber Fort is Hot Pink, an upscale store offering bags, pashminas, and other clothing.
An Oasis of a Hotel
The Oberoi Rajvilas felt like home for two reasons, one being that it reminded me of properties in my home state of Arizona. The other is that it is actually based on Mr. Oberoi’s country retreat and thus feels as if you’re staying in a friend’s superswanky yet totally comfortable villa, with private courtyards and pools. I loved the option to stay in a private luxury tent. Even the spa feels homey–it’s in the former landlord’s original house.
Annie Fitzsimmons is a New York-based travel and hotel writer. She is a frequent contributor to publications that share her love of exploration and discovery. Follow her adventures on Twitter at @anniefitz and on her personal blog, Hotel Belle.