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Travel & Holiday

Jaipur's pretty in pink

The capital of Rajasthan, which hosts the Jaipur Literature Festival, is a city of accidental discoveries, from food to shopping
The Straits Times - January 31, 2012
By: Deepika Shetty
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Jaipur's pretty in pink Sights to behold: Hawa Mahal, the palace of winds --PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

With 70,000 people jostling for space, the Jaipur Literature Festival, Asia's biggest, is all about surviving the crowds. By the end of my first day at the festival, I am done with standing on my toes, peeping over the shoulders of burly security guards just for a glimpse of the authors' mugs on a TV monitor. I need food and I am in search of Samode Haveli, home to a popular restaurant.

The tuk-tuk driver does not get it. That is how I end up at Saba Haveli (477 Gangapole, tel: +91-141-2630521, http://sabahaveli.com/home.htm), a magnificent 270-year-old house which has been turned into a family-run hotel. There are no reservations, and dinner, the gracious owner Sanjay Rai says, will take an hour.

I am ready for the wait as the property, which has a huge rooftop terrace, offers spectacular views of Jaipur and Mr Rai is a natural storyteller. An hour flies by as he lists things one must do in his city. Dinner, when it does show up in the form of a sumptuous Rajasthani thali, is a delightful home-cooked meal consisting of 15 small local dishes which came up to just 600 rupees (S$15).

Jaipur, the capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan, as I learn over the next four days, is all about such accidental discoveries. It is my third visit, the last being 15 years ago and things have changed.

The streets are a lot busier, shopping malls have opened but the best shopping is still to be found in places such as Anokhi (C-11 Prithviraj Road, C-Scheme, tel: +91-141-253-0226, www.anokhi.com), which has been recommended as much for its fabrics as for its famous Organic Cafe. But a meal here is not meant to be.

The festival crowd has descended, the wait for a table is over an hour long. So I go shopping instead, filling my basket with the softest hand-woven cottons, shirts, night-suits, scarves and note-books whose covers sport colourful textiles made using hand-blocks and natural dyes. Prices start from under 100 rupees for small wooden block prints or note-books and can go up to a few thousand rupees for a complete outfit or bedspread.

At Anokhi, the chatter among people in the know is about Rasa (S-55 Ashok Marg, C-Scheme, tel: +91-98290-64223, www.rasajaipur.com), which opened three years ago. It takes a bit of help getting there but it is easy to see its charm. Designer couple Madhulika and Manish Tibrewal have created an elegant store offering bedspreads, cushion covers and tunics using block print textiles which have a more contemporary feel. Their cuts, fabrics and finishes reveal their sensitive eye towards Indian textiles and traditional craftsmanship. Prices start from 800 rupees for a cushion cover and go up to 25,000 rupees for their intricately embroidered silk jackets.

From these well-appointed stores, it is time to head into the bustling bazaars.

There are many palaces, forts, museums, temples and an observatory, but to me, nothing is as richly rewarding as taking to the streets and exploring the Pink City. It is so called because of its distinctive buildings, which were originally painted pink to imitate the red sandstone architecture of Mughal cities in India.

One example is the Hawa Mahal, the palace of winds, an 18th-century marvel which towers over the main street and is probably the city's most photographed structure.

Shaped like a crown and constructed of red and pink sandstone, the side facing the street has 953 small latticed windows. It was through these that royal ladies once gazed unseen onto the street below.

These days, the bazaars are teeming with locals, villagers and tourists, with men in their turbans and women in their colourful traditional wear adding to the rich colours of the city.

Built in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who commissioned a young Bengali architect to design the city in accordance with the Shilp Shastra, an ancient Hindu treatise on architecture, Jaipur has a style consistent with classical symmetrical proportions and controlled elevations.

This can best be seen in the old part of town, where wide intersecting boulevards are lined with hundreds of uniformly sized shops. The traditional buildings are rich with details such as arches, carved stone lattices, rows of minuscule peep-windows, jharokhas (balconies) and cupolas.

Artisans continue to practise their hereditary arts in the same neighbourhoods where the work began centuries ago.

From marble carvers, silversmiths and coppersmiths to shoemakers, lacquer bangle makers and gem polishers, Jaipur is a paradise for finding traditional handmade objects and exquisite gem and silver works.

Those who cannot handle the bustle of a bazaar and are interested in bling would do well to make at least two mandatory stops in the city.

Amrapali (Panch Batti, M.I. Road, tel: +91-141-2377940, http://amrapalijewels.com/) is where you get to see many creations which are a nod to the magnificence of Indian jewellery, such as filigree work, hand-beaten gold and silver earrings and rings, and designs with intricate settings in stone.

The Gem Palace, also in M.I. Road (www.gempalace.com, tel: +91- 141-237-4175), has a history longer than Amrapali's. It was founded in 1852 and its clientele includes royalty, movie stars and international fashion designers. It was established in 1728 by the Kasliwal family, who were the maharaja's crown jewellers. Today, their beautifully appointed shop is more like a museum where you get to see many pieces designed by the family. These include a gold enamelled parrot inlaid with rubies and diamonds. It is actually a drinking flask, which was made in 1890 for a wealthy family for sipping saffron.

But this is Jaipur and even when there are blinding distractions, food is never too far away.

In the famous Johari Bazaar (Jewel Bazaar) is LMB (tel: +91-141-256-5844, www.hotellmb.com), which has a famous sweet shop known for its dahi vada (a traditional deep-fried snack which is served with yogurt), sugarless fig rolls and spiced cashews. It is also a great place for lunch, and one must not miss out on its vegetarian Rajasthani thali, with 15 small local dishes for 265 rupees.

For those looking for non-vegetarian options, a stop at Niro's (M.I. Road, tel: +91-141-2374493, www.nirosindia.com) is a must. Specialities include laal maas (mutton cooked in spicy red gravy) and reshmi kebab (mutton marinated in traditional spices and chargrilled).

Save one night to drive slightly out of the city for a rustic Rajasthani experience at Chokhi Dhani.

And like I did, devote one afternoon leading into the evening to explore some sights.

At The City Palace, where the ceremonial flag is proudly hoisted, turbanned footmen are on hand to guard and greet visitors at the gateways leading to its plentiful ramparts.

A short drive from the busy city is the Jal Mahal, a palace built on a lake, which offers views of the Aravalli hills, dotted with temples and ancient forts on one side and the city on the other.

Nearby is the Amer Fort, another creation of the inventive Jai Singh II, which is renowned for its delicate murals and airy interiors.

Jaipur at dusk is a pink beauty, and a walk to Amer Fort that stands amid wooded hills, high above forbidding ramparts, is recommended.

The nippy winter evenings make it the best time to see this fort which was constructed in 1592 and is widely regarded as the finest example of Rajput architecture in India. A light-and-sound show is held on its grounds every evening.

After that, it is only fitting to end this visit feeling a bit like royalty. Drinks at The Rambagh Palace (Bhawani Singh Road, tel: +91-141-221-1919, www.tajhotels.com), it is. The luxury hotel used to be the residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur. At night, it is brightly lit up, almost ablaze with lights. From its sprawling verandahs, the illuminated fort can be seen in the distance. As I look at the bright lights, the night sky and history all around me, I know this is no place for fond farewells.

Even before the drinks arrive, I am mapping out the next trip to see more of fascinating Rajasthan. I do not know its ending but I do know it will start in Jaipur.

GETTING THERE

The flight time from Singapore to New Delhi is about 51/2 hours and several airlines including Singapore Airlines offer daily flights. Jaipur is about 260km away from the Indian capital. A 45-minute domestic flight gets you to Jaipur.

5 things to do

1 Layer well in winter as the temperature can drop to 5 deg C. Best months to visit Jaipur are October to March.

2 Hire an auto-rickshaw to see the city. But fix your price before you hop on as most of them have meters that do not work. Bargain to hire one for between 400 and 1,000 rupees (S$10 and S$25).

3 Do your research before you go gem-shopping or stick to reputed stores such as Gem Palace (www.gempalacejaipur.com).

4 Carry enough rupees. Credit-card machines are not available everywhere and not all money-changers are authorised dealers.

5 Have a meal at Chokhi Dhani, which is about 15km from the city. Its mud walls are lined with lamps, and musicians and dancers entertain. Open for dinner from 6pm. Costs 350 rupees a person. 12 Miles, Tonk Road, tel: +91-141-516 5000, www.chokhidhani.com

2 don'ts

1 Avoid driving from Indian capital New Delhi to Jaipur as it takes between five and seven hours because of the condition of the roads. Instead, book a 45-minute domestic flight. Several airlines including Jet Airways operate Delhi-Jaipur flights.

2 Don't follow traffic lights when crossing streets. Follow the crowds instead.

 

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