To the Land of the Kings 1: Jaipur

After a couple of days in Agra, I head to Jaipur, the third corner of the traveler-favorite Golden Triangle. As the capital of Rajasthan, the city naturally then makes for an ideal gateway to the rest of the state. Rajasthan, literally “Land of the Kings,” is India’s largest state and its most stylish and exuberant. Its opulent palaces, imposing forts, and graceful temples form an abundant concentration of architectural marvels that are a testament to the state’s rich history. These are all presented in the kaleidoscope of colors that make India the vibrant place that travelers have loved.

I arrive in the evening at the train station after half a day of train travel from Agra. First impressions of the city are not ideal, with aggressive touts, pollution, traffic, and general urban mayhem greeting me as I exit the train station. The rest of the day presents no significant incident and I reach my accommodation for the next couple of nights after a few minutes’ walk. After a good night’s sleep, I wake up early the next morning for a walking tour of the Old City.

The opulent City Palace is in the center of Jaipur’s Old City, geographically and symbolically.
Jaipur’s City Palace contains impressive architecture, including decorative gates in its inner courtyard.
The City Palace is manned by traditionally costumed staff.

Jaipur was founded in 1727 by Jai Singh II in what is now known as the Old City (or Pink City for the dominant color of the buildings). At the center of it (geographically and politically) is the City Palace, an ostentatious compound of elegant buildings and courtyards that continue to serve as the residence of the royal family. The palace grounds is also home to a couple of museums showcasing a textile collection and an armory.

Just outside the palace gates are two more interesting sights. One is the Jantar Mantar, an observatory containing huge astronomy devices that make the area look more like a whimsical park. Jai Singh II was an astronomy aficionado and had these structures built in the early 18th century to calculate astronomical positions.

A little further on from the palace is the Hawa Mahal, perhaps Jaipur’s most iconic structure. The building was constructed in 1799 to allow the royal women to witness daily life in the streets as well as the passing parades (since women during those times were not allowed to be seen by men and were basically confined in the palace).

The Jantar Mantar features strange-looking structures, which are actually astronomy instruments.
The Hawa Mahal, Jaipur’s iconic building, was built for royal ladies to be able to watch parades in the streets.

Outside the palace grounds, I get a more relatable working-class-feel of Jaipur. The Old City slowly comes to life with vendors setting up their shops, decorating sidewalks with colorful textiles, jewelry, and other thingamajigs. Smells of street food waft through the air, competing with the smell of incense from a nearby temple. And, of course, cows roam the streets, unmindful of the traffic flowing past them.

It’s all getting overwhelming, so I duck into a nearby cafe to have some moment of peace and a couple of samosas and lassi for breakfast.

A camel-drawn cart enters the Old City’s New Gate.
Bapu Bazaar is filled with textiles of all colors.

By the 19th century, the city’s population has grown large enough that the boundaries had to be enlarged. Wide boulevards were paved, and modern buildings were constructed, extending Jaipur way beyond the city walls.

As I walk back to my hotel, I see Jaipur as a bustling city that somehow successfully balances the traditions of its glorious past with the modern trappings of a capital. Camel-drawn carts and cycle rickshaws share the main thoroughfares with autorickshaws and cars. Modern buildings dominate the skyline but with temples with traditional architecture interrupting here and there. And restaurants serve traditional Rajasthani dishes along with modern Indian fare.

The Albert Hall Museum stands just outside of the Old City Walls.
Various Rajasthani sweets are sold in the famed LMB Hotel.
The Raj Mandir is distinctive with its pink art deco facade.

On my last evening in the city, I am in the rooftop cafe of my hotel, watching the sunset while eating a pair of samosas I bought from a nearby food stall. It’s a cold evening.

I’m chatting with a friend through Facebook Messenger and updating her regarding my India trip. Is it safe for female travelers, she asks.

Generally it is, I tell her, though to be safe it’s better to travel with a companion or have a guide. But traveling in India is a rewarding experience. I’m halfway through it, and so far — except for the tenacious vendors and rickshaw drivers, the chaos in the streets, and the smell of cow dung — it’s been an enjoyable ride.

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