It’s in the pink...

It’s in the pink...

The blush on the pink city of Jaipur has grown more luscious after it earned its UNESCO World Heritage site tag, writes Kavita Kanan Chandra

BUOYANT Jal Mahal. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

The capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur conjures up the image of royal splendour, Rajput valour, and architectural grandeur. The fables and folklore woven around its historic forts and havelisbuild a powerful cultural and heritage narrative that entices. The fabulous food, fairs, and festivals, arts and crafts, music and dance ensure the city remains in a celebratory mode for the better part of the year except for a few summer months. However, this summer brought some cheer as the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee in Baku, Azerbaijan included the old walled city of Jaipur, built in 1727, in the coveted UNESCO World Heritage site.

The pleasing pink façade of the walled city, broad avenues, arched windows, and doors ofhavelis and rows of shops in the colonnaded market show an aesthetically built well-planned city. That the broad roads built in the 18th century could still take the load of vehicular traffic in the 21st century shows an aspect of how futuristic the town planning of this medieval town was.

During the 18th century, when the Mughal power was in decline, there was not an overall stagnation but there was the shifting of power, consolidation of small kingdoms, and the emergence of new cities. With trade and commerce flourishing, Kachhwaha ruler of Amber, Sawai Jai Singh II seized the opportunity to build a new city to boost the economy of his kingdom. It was 12 km from the hill fort of Amber, in the plains. With the Aravalli range skirting Jaipur in north and east, the outskirts offer a green panoramic view with thriving wildlife in forests that used to be the hunting grounds for the royalty.

Well conceptualised

Jaipur was conceptualised studying the urban planning of several European cities and for the first time, a blueprint was made to build medieval India’s first planned city. The congestion in Amber due to population growth and water shortage in the semi-arid region could be a few reasons for the shift. However, the important factor was the vision of a king blessed with business acumen and scientific temperament who could see a prosperous future in a modern city that happened to be situated in the thriving trade route from the imperial Mughal capitals of Delhi and Agra to the ports of Gujarat. Giving fruition to his vision was a Bengali architect Vidyadhar Bhattacharya, a junior auditor at Amber state. The city was designed on the concepts of Shilpa shashtra and Vastu shashtra to ensure a lot of natural sunshine and breeze in thoroughfares and residential and commercial establishments.  

Even today, when you walk down the spectacular arched pols (gates), located at seven entry points, in a way that each indicates a direction. For example, the east-west axis of the town had a broad road running through Tripolia Bazaar that had Chand Pol in the west and Suraj Pol in the east. The sunrise in the east flooded the road with ample sunshine. All the seven pols are intact even today. The names are Surajpol, Kishenpol, Rampol, Shivpol, Dhruvpol, Gangapol, and Chandpol.

The city is well laid out in a geometric grid of streets cutting each other at right angles. Several secondary and tertiary roads and lanes emerge from the three main arterial roads. The main roads are 108 feet in width, flanked on either side with shops half its width, so each shop gets adequate air and light. Each shop was later numbered during the reign of Man Singh II. The water conservation and management system, drainage system, and the organisation of town space as different functional units was well thought of.

The three chaupars (squares) - namely Chhoti Chaupar, Ramganj Chaupar and Badi Chaupar where temples to Hindu goddesses Saraswati, Durga and Lakshmi were established - had settlements of priests, warriors, and the third was a business hub. The entire city was divided into nine squares or chaukri, dedicated to nine planets.

Commercial hub

It was the foresight of Sawai Jai Singh II that once Jaipur was completed in 1733, he issued a decree in 1734 to develop the city as a commercial hub. Traders and investments were invited from far and wide, from Bengal to Iran, and were granted housing facilities. A thriving trade in jewellery, gemstones, handicrafts, artillery, and marble flourished in due course of time.

The craft traditions live, and a thriving commercial activity continues to date. It’s this continuity of living traditions that swung the heritage tag in Jaipur’s favour.  

Popularly called ‘parkota’, the walled city retains the ethos of a composite culture. The havelisand buildings show a blend of architectural styles, incorporating elements from ancient Hindu, Mughal and Western ideas.

One example is the City Palace, home to the rulers of Jaipur from the first half of the 18th century. It’s an amalgamation of Rajput and Mughal architecture in a sprawling complex. It has a museum housing royal artefacts. The extravagantly decorated Chandra Mahal is closed for public.

Kesar ka Bagh at Amber Fort
Kesar ka Bagh at Amber Fort

A heritage

The adjoining UNESCO heritage site of Jantar Mantar, built during 1728-1734, shows Jai Singh II's keen interest in astronomy. It is well preserved and has 19 astronomical instruments that resemble large sculptures used to calculate time, the position of stars and the Sun, and to predict natural phenomena.

One outstanding feature of the walled city is the syncretic culture where numerous temples co-exist with mosques. The prominent one being the three-storied Jama Masjid at Johari bazaar with tall minarets and arched screens in front.

The jharokhas, arched gates, and latticework decorate the buildings. The entire city, painted in pink by Maharaja Ram Singh in 1876 to honour the visit of the Prince of Wales, and the later addition of Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, added to the aesthetics.

The walled city was secured by a garrison of 17,000 soldiers and contained 36 business units. Each lane being dedicated to one business or craft and named after the economic activity.

A walk down the narrow lane of Haldiyon Ka Rasta, flanked by jewellery shops, would dazzle you with its glitter of gold and shimmer of silver. A stroll down Maniharon Ka Rasta would lead you to many workshops of lac bangle makers. Spices from Jhalaniyon Ka Rasta to marble and stone busts in Khajanewalon Ka Rasta; the skilled artisans and traders abound in every lane.

Inside Amber Fort.
Inside Amber Fort.

Worth savouring

Its colourful markets are a treasure trove of traditional textiles and crafts. An array of leheriya and gota-patti work in sarees and dupattas, tie and dye fabric, gems and jewellery, razai, camel skin bags and belts, blue pottery, traditional textiles, Rajasthani puppets, eatables like papad and achar are things to buy from there. The street food offers savouries and sweets in the maze of lanes. The hot mirch ka pakoda, delicious pyaz ki kachori, spicy samosa and patashi (pani puri) are must-haves. Those with a sweet tooth could visit the Laxmi Misthan Bhandar in Johari Bazaar for the delectable paneer ghevar, rabdi and laddoos. The quintessential Rajasthani favourite dal-bati-choorma could be had at most traditional eating places.

A short distance from Badi Chaupar stands the iconic Hawa Mahal or the palace of winds, erected by Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799. The projected windows, balconies and perforated screen with ornate pink façade makes it the most Instagram-worthy photo among tourists. It was meant for royal ladies to observe unnoticed the lively street scenes below.

The Sireh Deodi Bazaar outside sells quilts, puppets and camel skin handicrafts and embroidered jutties (footwear). Look out for a middle-aged Surendra Kumar, owner of an heirloom camera that has an 1846 lens made by legendary German camera maker Carl Zeiss. Get yourself clicked for Rs 300-plus for that vintage photograph.

Blue pottery on sale.
Blue pottery on sale.

Beyond the walled city

The water supply to the new city was facilitated by Darbhavati river and later Jhotwara river, while Jai Sagar and Man Sagar lakes were created. The beauty of the latter is enhanced by the five-storied Jal Mahal that remains partly submerged, giving an illusion of a floating palace. Built in mid-18th century, it hosted duck-shooting events by the royalty. Nowadays, birdwatchers throng the lakeside. Though the receding water level worried many, they perked up sighting 84 species, including 72 migratory birds like coot, pochard, wood sandpiper, little ringed plover, shoveler, redshank among others.

One could drive a little further to visit the three elegant forts of Amber (the former capital of the old state of Dhundhar) and Jaigarh.

The UNESCO heritage site of Amber Fort has a massive citadel built by Man Singh I in 1592 on a high hillock. Do take a guide here. The Sheesh Mahal here is a favourite with Bollywood. Unfortunately, for years, it has been closed to the public. Another highlight is the light and sound show in the evening.  

The nearby Jaigarh Fort is connected to Amber through a secret passage. It attracts tourists for its few surviving cannon foundries and the world’s largest cannon on wheels. At 50-tonne, Jai Van, cast in 1726, was never fired.

A little detour and take the winding road going up the forested hill to Nahargarh Fort. It belies its dangerous past when tigers roamed around and the fierce Meena tribe once ruled there till Kachhwahas defeated them. Enjoy the panoramic view from its breezy terrace. A sculpture park and lion safari has been introduced last year (lions brought from Gujarat).

For a more natural experience, wildlife enthusiasts should go for morning and evening safari to Jhalana forest, just 15 minutes’ drive from the city centre. The soothing calm of the forest, lush greenery, and the high probability of leopard-sighting would make your day.   

Camel leather bags.
Camel leather bags.

The vintage and modern

No better place to enjoy the rich legacy of royal Rajasthan than its museums. Archaeological artefacts and sculptures are displayed at India’s first art gallery at the underground metro station in Chhoti Chaupar. The museum of legacies, housed in the former school of arts (1867), showcases Rajasthani art. The majestic Indo-Saracenic architecture of Albert Hall Museum (1876) forms the backdrop of many selfies, but its collection of exquisite paintings and sculptures is even better. The Gems and Jewellery Museum, and the Doll Museum are worth visiting.

The Jawahar Kala Kendra and Birla Auditorium host arts and crafts exhibitions and performing arts.

A few tourist attractions are the 18th century terraced garden of Sisodiya Rani Ka Bagh, the Vidyadhar Garden, the garden in the foothills of Moti Doongri Palace, Galta ji Ka Temple with its hot spring, Samode Garden and Sanganer that is famous for block printed cotton, handmade paper, and blue pottery. The Jaipur Rugs at Mansarovar sells handcrafted carpets from rural artisans. The many heritage boutique hotels here are popular for hosting weddings, film shoots, and global events.   

Festivals

The Tripolia Bazaar gate in the walled city opens only twice during the grand processions of Teej and Gangaur, taken out by women. During Diwali, the entire walled city is lit up, and Holi is also celebrated with fervour.

Apart from religious festivals; Jaipur is gaining popularity for its literary, art and culture, dance, music and theatre festivals. During winter weekends, leading vocalists and musicians perform free for public in Central Park. The Jaipur Literature Festival is the most popular event that attracts renowned litterateurs from around the world. Jaipur Diwas, International Film Festival, and the Kite Festival are a few other popular ones.  

Gastronomic delights

The beauty of Jaipur is its traditions that co-exist with modernity. If Chokhi Dhani is for rural cuisine, then hip cafés like White Sage give a farm-to-table experience of global food. Jaipur has the trendiest of cafes each distinct in its décor, concept, philosophy, social responsibility, and ethnic or global cuisine. With bars, hookah, live music, and rooftop restaurants; you are spoilt for choice.

For a sip of tea, visit Tapri The Tea House or Sancha Tea Boutique. For custom made coffee, visit Curious Life Coffee Roasters, and for organic continental snacks, Anokhi is a hot favourite.  

To splurge on traditional royal recipes, visit heritage Suvarna Mahal Restaurant at Taj Rambagh Palace or 1135 AD in Amber Fort. Café Palladio serves good Italian fare, and traditional lal-maas (red meat) could be had at Handi and Spice Court.  

There have been food festivals like Rajasthan Rasoi Utsav that brought back lost recipes of ethnic food while the upcoming Gourmet Getaway (9-13 October) would focus on forgotten recipes of the world.  

Jharokhas of Hawa Mahal.
Jharokhas of Hawa Mahal.

Challenges UNESCO world heritage site

With the ‘Walled city’ getting the honour of World Heritage City, the citizens are hopeful that this would boost tourism, augment planned development, and create jobs. From its nomination in 2015 to the formal application in February 2018, there were glitches though. The UNESCO team visited last September, the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) recommended a deferral as it felt the walled city’s heritage protection, conservation and management were woefully inadequate. With a spirited presentation of the state government, what won the day for Jaipur was its heritage value, a living vibrant old city thriving with people, heritage buildings and commercial activities.

However, a lot needs to be done to retain the UNESCO tag that might be perilous if encroachment, unruly traffic, haphazard parking, chaotic vendors and cleanliness is not sorted out within a year.

The six-point agenda to work upon, as outlined by the World Heritage Committee, includes no new construction to take place within the walled city, thus requiring a heritage impact assessment plan. Constituting a heritage committee for monitoring, creating a special area plan to segregate residential and commercial space, a heritage inventory of all 1,575 structures within the walled area, interception plan that focuses on traffic management, encroachment, parking, pedestrian plan, and cleanliness of the heritage area. The state government is required to prepare the special area heritage plan until 2021.