Rajasthan’s capital, Jaipur is no stranger to tourists. It is most preferred destination on the popular Golden Triangle Circuit (Delhi-Jaipur-Agra). Jaipur has the distinction of being North India’s first planned city; but it was not always the burgeoning metropolis that it is quickly transforming into. Even in the present day, the original ‘walled city’ of Jaipur remains the same – time seems to stand still in this heritage part. There is Jaipur and then there is the heritage walled city referred to as ‘chaar diwari’ or ‘sheher’ by the inhabitants who live here, and pink city by the millions of tourists that Jaipur hosts every year.
A version of this article was also published as cover story in Air Asia In-flight magazine.
Architecture & Design of the ‘Pink City’
Maharaja Jai Singh II was the founder of Jaipur in the year 1727, when the capital was shifted from Amber. Literal translation of Jaipur means ‘city of victory’. Construction of the capital took 6 years, the original ‘walled pink city’ or ‘old city’ is enclosed by lofty walls and imposing gateways which physically demarcate it from the sprawling new parts of Jaipur.
Pink City’s most striking feature is its layout; wide, bolt straight streets that broaden into bigger spaces at intersections. The design is said to have been made in accordance with the Shilp Shastra. Shilp Shastras are ancient Hindu Vedic architectural designs. Jai Singh II is said to have encouraged traders and artists to settle here, giving tax incentives to merchants to ensure Jaipur’s economic prosperity. Thus, even today it comes as no surprise to come across locals from all parts of India who were settled here almost three centuries ago.
How did the name ‘Pink City’ come about?
I vividly remember when I had first set foot in the pink city almost two decades ago; it was easy to gawk at the stunning perfect symphony of this pleasant colour in the original walled city of Jaipur.
There are many versions of why Jaipur came to be known as the pink city. In 1876, Maharaja Man Singh II had the entire Old City painted in an orange hue to welcome the Prince of Wales (King Edward VII). While the above is a known fact; a very quirky legend says : ‘The journalist accompanying King Edward VII was colour blind. Although it isn’t clear who said what to whom, the truth is since then – Jaipur has come to be known as the pink city.’
Today all establishments and buildings of the Walled City are compelled by law to preserve the pink façade.
Daily life in the walled heritage city of Jaipur
Exploring the old city area of Jaipur offers a possibility to see the medieval alongside the modern. It is not unusual to see elephants go past cars in a traffic jam; while in the colourful streets old men donning turbans sell their wares to the nouveau riche generation. The old city is the heartbeat of Jaipur and is the preferred place for shopping even for the locals, because the prices are really competitive here.
Typically, a building in the walled city in Jaipur would have shops on the ground floor and residences on the first floor. For the outsider, there can be sense of newfound calm even in the chaos of these crowded markets. The festivals of Makar Sankranti, Gangaur, Holi, Teej, Diwali and more are celebrated with much fanfare and traditional outlook in the pink city.
Overview of the lanes in the heritage walled city of Jaipur
While the City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar are on every visitor’s radar; a detailed perusal of the pink city lies beyond the touristy spots. They can be found in the tiny by-lanes of the myriad bazaars; lanes that are a world in itself, there are tiny shops selling gems, turbans, blue pottery, jootis (traditional footwear), sweets, printed saris and spices. This heritage walled city part has also been included in a tentative list of world heritage monuments by UNESCO.
The major gates for entering the walled city are Chandpol (pol means ‘gate’), Ajmer Gate and Sanganeri Gate (There are 7 gates in total).
Check : An Offbeat Guide to Udaipur
Chhoti Chaupar & Badi Chaupar
Although the grandeur of the Chaupars (loosely translated as city squares) has been significantly reduced by the Jaipur Metro Project, they still remain the most important addresses in the walled city area in Jaipur. Choti Chaupar and Badi Chaupar also serve as important address landmarks for locals and tourists alike as most of the popular places to visit and tourist attractions of Jaipur lie around them.
A few lesser known sights :
Iswari Minar Swarga Sal (also called Swargasuli)
This minaret is located near the City Palace, west of Tripolia Gate. One can take the winding stairs to the top of the minaret for excellent views over the Old City of Jaipur.
Govind Devji Temple
Lord Krishna’s image has been installed as the guardian deity of Jaipur’s rulers. Govind Devji Temple is one of the most popular temples in the walled city of Jaipur and the mangla aarti (early morning) is a stunning visual extravaganza of devotees swaying to chants.
The image installed here is originally from the Govindevji Temple in Vrindavan, and was brought to Amber in the late 17th century to save it from the wrath of Aurangzeb. Janmashtmi celebrations at Govind Devji Temple are a veritable mélange of celebrations with colourful flowers. The old city faithful worship this deity and there are some people (I know personally) who begin their day by going to Govind Devji Temple every morning.
Gaitor ki Chhatriyan (Royal Gatore)
Although Gaitor ki Chhatriyan lie outside the city walls, these royal cenotaphs do warrant a visit. The monuments are beautifully and intricately carved. Most cenotaphs are in marble and it is a great place to catch some calm away from the crowds of the old city.
Galta Temple & Surya Mandir
Perched between the cliff faces of a rocky valley, Galta Temple is also known as the Monkey Temple. It is an old settlement with holy springs made into pools.
Just on the ridge above Galta ji is the Surya Mandir (Temple of the Sun God). Both these temples can be accessed via a walk from the walled city.
Exploring the Old City – Heritage Walk in Jaipur
Starting from Choti Chaupar, one reaches Kishanpol Bazaar which is popular for its shops selling sherbets of various flavours like rose, saffron etc.
Walk across Bapu Bazaar and Sanganeri Gate to reach Johari Bazaar (the jewellery market) where goldsmiths and artisans practise the art of delicate meenakari work (glazed enamelling), a speciality of Jaipur.
Stroll past Badi Chaupar to Hawa Mahal and notice the Sawai Mansingh Town Hall on your left. It is a fascinating structure with pretty windows.
Peep into the shops at Maniharon ka Rasta, a recommended place to buy colourful bangles made of lac (resin).
Khazane Walon ka Rasta is where marble and stoneware carvers are at work, chiseling perfect statues of gods and mythological figures. Haldiyon ka Raasta and Gopalji ka Raasta can be visited to get a hands on experience of seeing the gemstone artisans at work with precious and semi-precious stones.
Jantar Mantar is an astronomical observatory constructed by Jai Singh II in 1728. In 2010 it was added to India’s list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Visitors interested in learning the intricacies of the instruments are advised to take the guided tour. I highly recommend this just before sunset when the crowds have thinned and one can devote more time to understand the working of the instruments at Jantar Mantar.
Shopping in the Walled Pink City of Jaipur
Jaipur is a shopper’s paradise and is famous for crafts, gems, fine jewellery, brassware, blue pottery, leather footwear, rugs, tie and dye cotton fabrics, block prints, Kota doria saris, and papier mâche. Remember to bargain hard, the shopkeepers have seen it all.
The various bazaars are usually known for specific products :
Johari Bazaar for tie & dye sarees, jewellery and meenakari work.
Maniharon ka Rasta for colourful lac bangle;, seemingly millions of tiny shops in the market are established next to one another.
Khazane walon ka Rasta for stone carving.
Bazaar and shops near Hawa Mahal for both real and counterfeit antiques.
Purohit ji ka Katla (opposite side of Hawa Mahal) – for textiles at wholesale rates.
The old city favourite for shopping is Bapu Bazaar. Brightly coloured saris, jootis (traditional footwear) and perfumes make the street a favourite destination for Jaipur’s locals.
Prepare for an olfactory invasion at Badi Chaupar, where flower sellers sit with baskets full of fragrant roses, marigolds, jasmine, and tiny shops selling silver jewellery, and feather-light cotton quilts known as Jaipuri rajai.
Shop No. 307 in Kishanpol Bazaar has some of the best thandai (flavours to be used in milk) and sherbet flavours in Jaipur.
Check : The Tomb of Safdarjung in Delhi
Street Food in the Walled Heritage City of Jaipur
While the most popular joints for tourists are places like LMB (Laxmi Misthan Bhandar), authentic street food in Jaipur’s pink city is available elsewhere; and for a fraction of a restaurant’s price. There are also places that invoke a sense of legendary nostalgia, for the old timers.
Check : Street Food in Varanasi
Haldiyon ka Rasta for kachori samosa. While walking around Johari Bazaar, enter any bylane and follow the crowds to find the best savouries in Jaipur.
Samrat – For old world romance on a cold winter morning, the usual menu of kachori, samosa, mirchi bada. Their Badshah chai has a distinct flavour.
Kanji bade wala – sits on the corner near City Palace.
During festivals such as Teej, Ghevar shops spring up across the old city.
Murli paan bhandar to top it off. Have a meetha paan.
During winter – malpua and rabri for dessert. Winter also brings deliciousness in the form of breakfasts of doodh jalebi.
Expert Tip for exploring the Walled Heritage City of Jaipur : The battery operated autorickshaws buzz past traffic and are a recommended way to explore the walled city like a local. Prices per seat (Rs. 10) are fixed for Choti Chaupar and Badi Chaupar.
Must Have : Malai Kulfi at Ramchandra Kulfi shop & Pandit Kulfi shop.
Liked this post? Let me know how you explored Jaipur!