I’m not usually a huge fan of pink, but for Jaipur, also known as “the Pink City,” I made an exception. Jaipur was our second stop in India, and despite the fact that it has only six million people – compared with Delhi’s sixteen million – it still seemed just as chaotic, if not more so. I think any extended time spent dealing with traffic in India would either give me a serious case of road rage or make me the most patient person ever. I’d rather not find out which one of those extremes would apply.
In 1876, Prince Albert and Queen Elizabeth II of Britain visited Jaipur, and the Indian ruler decided that all of the buildings in Jaipur should be adorned in pink in their honor. It was supposed to mimic the red sandstone shades of other Mughal buildings, like Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi. Ever since then, “Pink City” stuck as its nickname, even though most of that rosy hue has faded away over the years.
Jaipur is a massive city, and I’m well aware that I only saw the tiniest of fractions in the two days I spent there. What I saw, though, I loved. Between the horse- and camel-drawn carts mingling with tuk-tuks in the streets, the spicy aromas of sacks of freshly ground turmeric, cardamom, and ginger, and the constant cacophony of beeping horns, it was an assault on the senses in the best way.
On one side of our hotel’s road, goat heads and freshly plucked chicken carcasses sat across from barbers wielding wickedly sharp straight razors. The streets of Jaipur – and India in general, from what I saw – are a patchwork quilt of innumerable shops and experiences, so vastly different that you’d never think they could all fit together seamlessly…and yet, somehow, they do.
The crown jewel of Jaipur – at least for me – was the Amber Fort, a building that is so grand in scale and execution that even if it didn’t sit atop a nearby hill overlooking the city, it would still seem magnificent. I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the totally insane skyline of Hong Kong…but the Amber Fort somehow makes them all seem a bit gaudy. Sure, they’re all still beautiful, but when you realize that the Amber Fort was built by manpower alone, it suddenly strikes an entirely different, awestruck chord within you.
The Amber Fort was built in 1592, and the fact that this building is older than my country boggles my mind. It was built without the help of any modern machinery, and that makes it even more of a marvel. There’s no way you could cover all of the courtyards, galleries, and corridors in one day. At every turn, there’s another stairway zigging and zagging its way upward, and just when you think you’ve reached a dead end, a gateway opens up into a huge courtyard filled with white marble and green shrubbery.
The touristy thing to do at the Amber Fort is to ride elephants from the entrance near the lake up the winding pathway and through the Suraj Pol (Sun Gate). However, as is the case throughout too much of Asia, the elephants are poorly treated. Elephants’ aren’t equipped to walk on hard, ridged concrete for hours on end, and traipsing up and down for hours on end results in tender, sore feet. Unfortunately, the more tourists that decide to ride the elephants, the more it’s reinforced as a lucrative sideshow. For our part, we were more than happy just to hoof it to the top.
Though the Amber Fort is probably the biggest architectural draw in Jaipur, it’s definitely not the only one. As a walled city, Jaipur has plenty of huge gates. Our hotel was located just a few minutes away from Chand Pol (the Moon Gate).
Jaipur’s got its fair share of palaces too, and they’re every bit as impressive as you could imagine. The Jal Mahal (Water Palace) sits in the center of the Man Sagar lake en route to the Amber Fort. These days, it’s a functioning restaurant and is only accessible by boat.
There’s also the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Breeze), which was probably my favorite building that we saw within the city limits. Technically, it’s only a façade, rather than a proper palace. Its outer walls are built at an 88-degree angle, which allowed upper-class women to view life on the streets below without being seen by the lower classes that crowded them. (And with around 950 windows, there could’ve been quite a few peeping ladies at any time.)
How could you not learn to love pink in a city like this?