India’s pink city, Rajasthan’s Jaipur – so called for its profusion of deep pink palaces and forts – is one of the country’s most well-preserved metropolises, a must-see for Hong Kong travellers eager to connect with the days of the maharajahs. Founded in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who ordered the construction of modern Jaipur’s most popular attractions, the city is part of India’s golden triangle – a popular tourist loop that also takes in Agra (the site of the Taj Mahal) and India’s capital, Delhi.
During my time in Jaipur, I was left awestruck by the gorgeous silhouettes and intricate design details of the buildings – a treasure trove of inspiration for any creative-minded person – and was also frequently left buzzing from far too many cups of sweet, spicy masala chai, which is served everywhere from the most opulent hotels to basic local cafes! So here’s our Sassy Guide to Jaipur – where to stay and what to do in the pink city, plus a few tips you won’t find in the guidebook too.
WHEN TO GO
Jaipur has a hot semi-arid climate with monsoons between June and September. Sun worshippers should visit in April and May when the temperature is around 30 degrees, while those wishing to experience Jaipur’s sights in cooler climes can come October to March, Jaipur’s high season, for pleasant weather in the high teens to low 20s.
There are no direct flights to Jaipur from Hong Kong at present. Air India and Cathay Pacific offer flights from HK to Jaipur via Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Airport, which is a 45-minute flight to Jaipur. Jet Airways connects to Jaipur via Mumbai’s Chattrapathi Shivaji Airport, while Hong Kong Airlines flies to the pink city via Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport and Indira Gandhi Airport.
WHAT TO DO
The City Palace, Amber Fort and Nahargarh Fort are an alluring triangle of must-see attractions in the pink city. Once the seat of the Maharajah of Jaipur, the City Palace is a vast, opulent array of courtyards, gardens and buildings to get gloriously lost in. One complex, Mubarak Mahal, is a heady clash of Islamic, Rajput and European architectural styles and features a museum where you can admire royal formal costumes, while another section, Chandra Mahal, features gorgeous mirror work on the walls.
Perched on a hill, the Amber Fort can be reached by elephant or jeep – take a moment to reflect in the all-marble Silva Devi temple or admire the frescoes and coloured tiles at the Palace of Man Singh I. You can also lose the crowds and get the best city view at Nahargarh Fort, a serene spot that’s best visited early morning as Jaipur roars into life.
Those looking to leave muddy tracks should note that Four Wheel Drive tours are available around the 720-hectare Nahargarh Biological Park, which has an animal shelter housing lions and tigers, plus small farms and the Majhi Ki Bawdi step well (where water was once reached by descending a set of steps) framed against a jungle backdrop. Some of the animals said to inhabit the park are leopards (although they are notoriously shy!), sloth bears, deers, jackals, rhesus monkeys and langurs; if you’re feeling energetic, day-long hiking tours can also be arranged through the park.
If negotiating the jungle on foot sounds like too much effort, strolling in the city is fabulous fun – trying to cross the road is an adventure in itself as you compete for room with rickshaws, cows and other wandering animals in addition to the locals! Head into one of the many pashmina stores and pick up some fine silks, or dive into the backstreets and shop for silver jewellery, saris and leather sandals. Just don’t forget to bargain – set a price you’re willing to pay and stick to it!
SASSY TIP: Some hotels, including the Fairmont Jaipur, can arrange an early morning breakfast (usually between 7-8am) at Nahargarh Fort. Its lofty location offers 360-degree views over the city, and you can peer over the ancient fort walls and admire the pink city in all its early morning glory.
WHERE TO STAY
Fairmont Jaipur (Amber Fort area)
Built to resemble a Mughal Dynasty palace with the Aravalli hills as its backdrop, this 255-room hotel takes a typically Rajasthani approach to décor, with hand-painted wallpaper and mirrored chests of drawers in its rooms. Equally stunning is the hand-painted mural in the lobby area depicting ancient Jaipur that glitters under the chandeliers.
SASSY TIP: Set aside some time to enjoy the local musicians that play inside the hotel’s entrance – I caught an excellent sitar player during my stay! Alternatively, take part in the tea ceremony, where Indian blends such as Ceylon and Assam are savoured and you’ll learn how to describe and identify the aroma and colour of different teas and discover their medicinal benefits. Tea is served alongside scones, sandwiches and home-made macarons amid the plush splendour of Anjum in the hotel lobby.
Jas Villas (Jaipur Railway Station area)
For a more boutique Jaipur experience, book into this quiet 11-room restored mansion, which provides a welcome respite from the bustle of the city. With terraces overhanging with bougainvilleas and painted murals enlivening the dining room, this heritage-driven set-up delivers an authentic Rajput flavour. Take a stroll in the extensive lawns or cool down in the pool after an exhaustive day exploring Jaipur’s palaces and forts.
SASSY TIP: Forego the 10-minute tuk-tuk ride into town and opt for a buffet dinner at the hotel instead, which can be enjoyed poolside, on the balcony or in the courtyard garden. Dessert includes creamy kulfis and tangy lemon cake – yum!
Helen Dalley is a freelance writer based in Hong Kong and loves eating veggie Indian thali and checking out rock bands (though not at the same time!). Follow her on Twitter @hello_cleveland.