Picture a city in the dry lands of northwest India, surrounded by arid hills. This was once a land of many warring cities led by rajahs — hence the name of the state, Rajasthan — and they’ve left their mark.
Each city has a fortified palace, sometimes several. Most are in excellent condition, preserved by the dry air. They are empty of furnishings, but they look as if their owners have just moved out and may yet return.
In the meantime, they are a favourite haunt of tourists, both local and international. (Read my post on the best of Rajasthan for more.)
Jaipur, the Pink City, location of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Rajasthan. For one thing, it’s the closest to New Delhi. For another, the city and its surroundings are host to not one but seven forts and palaces…
(Click through for lots more photos!)
Amber Fort, also known as Amer Fort, lies in the hills outside Jaipur. You can still see the fortifications running along the crests of those hills in the photo at the top of the post (click to enlarge). The fort itself overlooks a lake and the town that is its namesake. If you’re up early, you can take an elephant ride up from the lake to the main courtyard, just like the rajahs of old.
The fort is decorated in quintessential Rajasthani style, with intricate paintings and pierced-stone screens around its many pointed archways. (Click to enlarge and see more of the fabulous detail.)
It’s laid out much like the Red Fort in New Delhi (or the very similar Agra Fort in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal and a reasonably short train ride away). Formal gardens still flourish in some of the many courtyards.
Inside, though the furnishings and tapestries are gone, some of the decor still remains.
Can you imagine living in a place like this? If you ever had princess fantasies, it’s as grand as just about anything in Europe.
Above Amber Fort, even higher in the hills, lies Jaigarh Fort. This one is less of a palace and more of a working fort meant for defense, though it still boasts courtyards and gardens. It can be reached on foot from Amber Fort, or by rented rickshaw.
(Hot tip: rent a rickshaw for a full day of touring. Your guesthouse can arrange one. They’ll wait for you in the parking lots of the various sights, and it saves you from having to haggle each time. But make sure to agree on a price ahead of time, and be clear if you plan to visit sites outside the city, because that may up the price!)
The third of the forts outside Jaipur proper is Nahargarh Fort. Smaller than Amber Fort, it was built as a retreat and used variously as a harem and a hunting lodge. It’s less impressive, except for one thing — its tremendous bird’s-eye view of the city of Jaipur.
And now for something completely different. In the middle of Jaipur sits Hawa Mahal — the Palace of the Winds.
Amazing name, right? Conjures up all sorts of romantic images? Well, yes, except…
…it’s entirely a facade. It was built as a sort of grandstand to allow the royal women to watch parades and other events in the main street, without being seen themselves. (No, Rajasthan wasn’t, and still isn’t, exactly enlightened about women.)
Wandering around it is a surreal experience. It’s pastel pink (like the rest of the old part of Jaipur — hence the name the Pink City) and there’s no real back, only a front. It might as well be Disneyland…except that it’s several hundred years old and was used by royalty.
City Palace and Jal Mahal
If you’re not tired yet, Jaipur proper also boasts two more palaces, the City Palace (where descendents of the rajahs still live) and Jal Mahal, the lake palace.
And as if all that weren’t enough, you can even stay in Rambagh Palace, a luxury hotel that used to be a real palace…if you have the rupees to spare.
We didn’t, so we stayed instead at Krishna Palace — a mid-range family-run guesthouse. Between construction upstairs and our room located right behind the front desk, we didn’t have the quietest stay, but everyone was extremely friendly, helpful, and accommodating. Recommended!