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Jaipur: The Best Walking Tour

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Welcome to the princely city of Jaipur — home to stone forts, ornate temples, a sprawling palace and a seriously confusing observatory. Join me on a walking tour of India’s loveliest urban area:

In This India Travel Article You Will Discover:

  • Jaipur’s Delightful Pink City
  • Advice for a Day-Long Walking Tour
  • The Most Impressive Sites in the City

Jaipur is India’s first planned city — and it shows. Rather than a labyrinth of twisty roads all intertwined like a bucket of snakes, a distinct grid of thoroughfares cuts through downtown, offering some organization to the usual chaos of Indian urban traffic. Some. In rush hour, cars, motorcycles, rickshaws and autorickshaws are all practically rubbing against one another — and meandering donkey and camel carts and the occasional man on horseback tend to hold things up even more.

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The busy streets of Jaipur’s famous Pink City.

It was, however, the only place we got into a car accident — a wayward van scraped up the side of our auto-rickshaw, bending the side-view mirror, ripping the canopy and puncturing a tire.

No real harm done, I suppose — not even enough for the two drivers to so much as exchange words, in fact. Just another day driving in Jaipur.

On the plane ride to Delhi from London , a man sitting next to me had described Jaipur as a “princely city;” a fitting description, considering its status as capital of the Land of Kings — Rajasthan. Jaipur has also recently gained even more international fame as the setting for the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

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Built in 1799, Hawa Mahal is where the king kept his concubines.

Our second-class train ride from Agra that morning had left us mentally drained — some obnoxious fare-jumpers crowded our berth and spend four of the six hours annoying us with their banter and belligerence. So we called it a night early at our hotel, the charming Naila Bagh Palace — a heritage boutique hotel just outside of downtown Jaipur that once served as home to the Prime Minister (about 150 years ago). Or goal was a full day walking tour of the city the following day; we needed the rest.

Old City (Pink City)

Sure, it’s really more of an orange — but it’s called the Pink City, so I’ll bite. We rode another autorickshaw, this time incident free, to the New Gate of Pink City and hopped out at about 9:30 a.m. Nothing really gets going in India before 10:00 a.m., so early-ish in the morning is the best time to roam if you don’t fancy being approached by every shopkeeper in Old City. We strolled past the world’s largest movie theatre, the famous LMB Hotel (home to the vegetarian LMB restaurant — try the Special Thali) and proceeded to quickly lose our bearings. Thankfully, we were simultaneously approached by a Dutch ex-pat and a fast-talking local kid. The Dutchman pointed us in the direction of Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Wind, and dismissed the kid who was begging us to take him on as our tour guide.

“They don’t like pressure. Vamoose,” the Dutchman said. The kid relented. It’s so true — we Westerners put our guard up when hassled, no matter what’s being offered. This guy should hire himself out as a Tout Consultant.

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Brightly coloured stained glass is featured in multiple rooms on the third level of Hawa Mahal.

Hawa Mahal

Hawa Mahal — Palace of Wind — is downtown Jaipur’s most beautiful structure. A fairy-tale like building of pink sandstone and honeycombed windows, it towers above the streets as the area’s most prominent landmark. From ground floor to seven storeys above, every level we walked upon was prettier than the next — stained glass windows, spiralling and ornate architecture and the signature item, the aforementioned honeycomb windows. Since Hawa Mahal was quite literally where royal Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh kept his concubines (built in 1799), these one-way windows allowed his ladies to view the city below while remaining hidden from peasant onlookers.

It is, for all intents and purposes, a house of ill repute — but a stunning one at that.

The top floor offers a panoramic view of the city with the Jantar Mantar in the distance.

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Hawa Mahal — Palace of Wind — is so dubbed as the palace is designed to allow cool winds to pass through every floor and room; the original air conditioning. it really works.

Jantar Mantar

Somehow, we got lost walking from Hawa Mahal to the Jantar Mantar. Hopelessly turned around, we slipped a tuk-tuk driver 50 Rupees to drive us the three minutes back to the Jantar Mantar. Money well spent. The Jantar Mantar is one of several observatories built by Jai Singh in the early 1700s — but the only one that is still fully functional and is yet another of India’s innumerable UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is an impressive collection of stellar maps and cartography instruments, albeit a confounding one.

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Jantar Mantar. I… don’t… understand…

The centrepiece is the 20-metre-tall sundial, which we stumbled upon at exactly noon — experiencing its full effect. We had bought audio tours, which attempted to explain each item in the Jantar Mantar in the most elementary way possible; the narration was that of a father speaking to his young daughter.

It just made me feel dumber, as I still couldn’t understand half of what I was looking at — but it sure was cool though.

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Jantar Mantar’s sundial at exactly noon.

City Palace

The City Palace is right next to the Jantar Mantar (entrance to all of these sites is via a single ticket) — and will always stand out in my mind as the first place I saw actual snake charmers. I heard the flute, saw the cobra rise up — and simultaneously felt the hair on my arms stand up as well. I’m not afraid of snakes, I used to keep them as pets as a child, but the sight of a dancing, hooded king cobra incited a primal fear; one no doubt genetically imprinted on all humans following thousands of years of our ancestors being killed off by slippery serpents. Regardless, the City Palace is a delightful site — a sprawling complex rich with traditional Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. I loved the ornate peacock-feather paintings and the bright pink Hall of Private Audience (Diwani-i-Khas), home to the world’s largest silver object.

Check out the art museum and the costume museum too — and don’t leave without lunch at the café. The tandoori platter is quite good.

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Jaipur’s City Palace features beautiful painted archways and architecture.

Albert Hall Museum

The Albert Hall Museum is the filthiest museum I have ever set foot in. I really wanted to take a bottle of Windex to the whole place — it would be easier to enjoy the yogi miniatures, Rajput weaponry, thousand-year-old artefacts and Egyptian mummy without so many fingerprints on the glass. Still, a worthwhile stop — although we much prefer architecture to exhibits, so we more enjoyed sitting on the park bench in front of the museum and appreciating its birdhouse-like ornate design, replete with a few thousand dive bombing pigeons (courtesy the two tons of birdseed sprinkled on the road).

A group of school kids approached us, asking us to take pictures with them. We refused — they had been making fun of Erin and I when we ran into them inside. Yeah, I can’t speak Hindi, but I know when I’m being mocked.

“No pictures? Why not?” said one.

“Because I heard what you said about us.”

“Oh. OK.”

You can travel the world and be sure of one thing — there will always be punk kids acting like punk kids.

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The ornate and somewhat ominous-looking Albert Hall Museum; complete with its pigeon flock.

We avoid being pooped on by the birds, but were pooped ourselves, so we headed back to the Naila Bagh Palace and got rested up for dinner — which would be chicken tikka masala and mutter paneer (with plenty of naan and a cold Kingfisher) at Niro’s Restaurant, a popular diner-style eatery established in 1949… just one more must-do in lovely Jaipur.

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

1 comment… add one
  • GoUp Mar 15, 2013

    How can it be an observatory without a telescope?

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