Jaipur might be the most flamboyant city in the state of Rajasthan. It’s a city bursting with history and architecture, boasting monumental treasures, and home to many cultural and traditional narratives documented through its buildings. On one hand, there is chaos and mayhem on its streets. On the other, pockets of calm and peace remind travelers of the splendor of its majestic past.
The foundation of the city
Jai Singh II, the Raja of Amber, founded the first planned city of India with the help of renowned Bengali architect Vidyadhar Bhattacharya. The king decided to move his capital from Amber to the new city of Jaipur due to a rising population and water scarcity. The city grew with new roads, gardens, squares, palaces, and military fortification over just a few years. The kingdom of Jaipur was one of the main hubs of power for the Mughals and then the British. When the Prince of Wales paid a visit to this historic town in 1876, the then King of Jaipur, Maharaj Ram Singh, painted the city pink as a symbol of hospitality. To this date, residents of the old city are advised by the state government to keep the color on their homes.
There are a number of gems that also make up the city and its outskirts. These structures hold centuries of tales and legends.
Located six miles from the main city in the small town of Amber, the majestic Amer Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site and requires a half day (at least) to explore. Built by Raja Man Singh in the 17th century, the magnificent structure looks over Lake Maota. Intricate carvings on the roof and pillar can be found all through the complex, each with a story of its own. The most gorgeous palace and the highlight of the Amer Fort is the Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace), also known as the Jai Mandir (Victory Palace). The multi-mirrored ceiling is exquisite and the walls are covered in silver glamor. Another structure in the Amer Fort worth visiting is the Zenana (the women’s quarters). This section is designed so that all the rooms open to a common courtyard, but are also accessible through hidden pathways.
20 minutes from Jal Mahal is the oldest museum in Rajasthan. Built in 1887, this stunning museum contains collections from several parts of the country and covers a number of topics such as industrial art, history, education, and economics. Albert Hall was designed by Major Samuel Swinton Jacob, a British military engineer and the director of the newly-established Jaipur PWD in 1867. He spent the rest of his 35-year career in Jaipur, contributing substantially to the architecture of the city. A perfect blend of Indo-Saracenic architecture, the museum consists of exhibits ranging from larger-than-life size paintings of the kings of the Rajput Empire, their original swords and shields, ancient cookware, and more.
Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the Jal Mahal is located in the middle of Man Sagar Lake. Considered to be one of the finest examples of Rajput and Mughal architecture, it is made up of red sandstone that serves as a beautiful contrast to the blue water around it. Intriguingly, only one of the five stories of the palace is still above water–the rest has been submerged for decades. While it cannot be visited by travelers, the palace looks spectacular in the evening when it is illuminated and you can still get an excellent view from the shoreline.
Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) is one of the most beautiful palaces in India. Though most tourists are happy to stop at the facade and take a few pictures before moving on, it’s worth it to explore the palace from inside. The honeycomb-designed building gets its name from the more than 950 windows that make up the exterior. Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the reason for the specially-designed windows was to allow the queens and consorts inside the palace to see the city without being seen by an outsider.
Just a block away from Hawa Mahal is the ancient astronomical observatory Jantar Mantar. Built between 1724 to 1730, this UNESCO World Heritage site consists of 20 fixed instruments. It was constructed to observe celestial bodies with the naked eye. Additional buildings of unique shapes and sizes make up this complex, each serving as a different function for astronomical study. The masonry instruments range from a few feet to 90 feet high.
Looking for more of India’s architectural wonders? Read our guide to Old Delhi.
Header photo by Mitchell Ng Liang an.