Visitors to the Rajasthan capital of Jaipur can expect the unexpected, travel editor Winsor Dobbin reports.
Yes, that really is an elephant being ridden down a busy city street. Yes, the traffic is gridlocked for two hours because 50,000 religious devotees are staging a procession. Yes, those are goats nuzzling their way through the rubbish in the gutter. India is one of the most frenetic – but fascinating – countries on the planet, a cacophony of sound, a 24-hour assault on the senses.
Jaipur, the bustling capital of Rajasthan state, is a destination in its own right; full of ancient forts and palaces with striking contrasts between conspicuous consumption and desperate poverty; between the old and the new, traditional cultures and Western ways. Visitors to Rajasthan are up from 3.8 million to 4.5 million over the past 12 months and tourism now accounts for over 15% of income.
Here you’ll find farmers who still carry milk churns on their heads and live in communal compounds, but also watch TV through their satellite dishes; tribesmen in traditional costumes chatting away on their mobile phones.
Beguiling Rajasthan is not for those who want to wind down and relax on their holiday, but is ideal for lovers of high-energy destinations, spicy food and challenges. Sydneysiders can now get to Rajasthan via Kuala Lumpur following the launch of AirAsia X flights direct from Kuala Lumpur to Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. Known as the “Pink City” because so many of its buildings are pink in colour, Jaipur is regarded as one of most beautiful and magnificent cities of India.
Jaipur’s rich cultural heritage is displayed in the traditions, customs, lifestyle, art, jewellery, textiles and architecture, as well as its traditional art and music. The majestic forts and havelis, old-style mansions, the beautiful temples, serene landscapes and the rich cultural heritage have made Jaipur a magnet for tourists. The foundation of the city dates back several centuries, with credit to the great warrior Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II, who ascended the Amber Throne in 1699.
The fascinating Amber Palace is a major drawcard along with the must-see City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal, Nahargarh Fort, Birla Temple, Jantar Mantar and Panna Meena ka Kund.
The City Palace is one of the most famous tourist attractions; dating back to the 19th century, the palace was built by Sawai Jai Singh and showcases a unique combination of Rajput, Mughal and European styles of architecture with an array of courtyards, gardens and special structures. One of the most prominent landmarks of the pink city, Hawa Mahal is located nearby – it was where women of the Royal family used to live. Constructed with red and pink sandstone and symbolizing the shape of Lord Krishna’s crown, Hawa Mahal is an architectural masterpiece with over 900 intricately carved ‘jharokhas’ or small windows.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jantar Mantar is the largest of the five astronomical observatories built by Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II, the founder of Jaipur. It contains sixteen geometric devices, designed to measure time, track celestial bodies and observe the orbits of the planets.
The Albert Hall, brilliantly lit at night, gets its name from The Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Also known as the ‘Water Palace’, Jal Mahal is situated in the heart of the Man Sagar Lake, below the majestic Nahargarh Hills. Its unique location and charming beauty make it one of the best photographic sites in Jaipur. Originally built by Maharajah Sawai Madho Singh some 300 years ago, the palace was renovated by his son to beautify its exteriors with courtyards and gardens built in typical Mughal style.
Travel outside the city by taxi or tuk tuk to explore several historic forts and monuments.The northern winter is regarded as the best time to visit Jaipur. Fresh breezes make daytime sightseeing comfortable.
Some of the most popular festivals of Jaipur take place during this time, including the Jaipur Literature Festival, Elephant Buzz and Jaipur International Kite Festival.
I stayed in the excellent Mandawa Haveli Hotel, which dates back to 1896. This inner-city mansion has a lovely swimming pool, very comfortable rooms and a restaurant serving tasty food. This heritage property has 70 rooms in various styles and offers traditional puppet shows in the courtyard most evenings. Other affordable accommodation choices include the delightful and authentic Narain Niwas Palace (also with a swimming pool in which to relax during summer) and the more modern Fern Hotel on the marvellously named Tonk Road.
Check out the award-winning Spice Court for some authentic local dishes, including a delicious and spicy goat curry, which matches brilliantly with the local Kingfisher beer.
Air Asia X has four-times weekly flights between Kuala Lumpur and Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Since 2010 Air Asia group has carried over 16 million passengers in and out of India. There are direct connections with Australian capital cities.
Lie-flat beds are available on all flights, as well as budget seats. Air Asia X now serves a total of 19 Indian cities. See www.airasia.com
The Mandawa Haveli Hotel is set back from Sansar Chandra Road, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302001, India. Room rates start from around $140 per night. www.mandawahaveli.com
Words: Winsor Dobbin