Shades of Pink and Amber in Jaipur

Street food in Jaipur
Street food in Jaipur

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.

A street cart selling pani puri on the streets of Jaipur.
A street cart selling pani puri on the streets of Jaipur.

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.

Then again, perhaps the pink isn't so faded after all.
Then again, perhaps the pink isn’t so faded after all.

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.

Fresh spices. The right sack in the foreground contains turmeric, before it's ground into powder.
Fresh spices. The right sack in the foreground contains twists of fresh turmeric, before they’ve been ground into powder.

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.

Snapping a picture in one of the mirrors in the aptly named Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace) in the Amber Fort.
Snapping a picture in one of the mirrors in the aptly named Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace) in the Amber Fort.
Sitting on one of the walls of the Amber Fort.
Sitting on one of the walls of the Amber Fort.

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 view from the Sun Gate overlooking Maota Lake. How'd you to have coffee every morning on that floating terrace?
The view from the Sun Gate overlooking Maota Lake. How’d you to have coffee every morning on that floating terrace?
Even though you’d think that the fort is so named because of its light yellow sandstone, it’s actually named for the small town in which it technically lies. (And that, in turn, stems from the name of Amba, the Mother Goddess.)
Even though you’d think that the fort is so named because of its light yellow sandstone, it’s actually named for the small town in which it technically lies. (And that, in turn, stems from the name of Amba, the Mother Goddess.)

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.

I loved the way this woman's brilliant saffron sari contrasted with her blue scarf and red bindi. Most Indians are willing to let you take their picture, so long as you ask beforehand and hand over 20-50 rupees as a "thank you" afterward.
I loved the way this woman’s brilliant saffron sari contrasted with her blue scarf and red bindi. Most Indians are willing to let you take their picture, so long as you ask beforehand and hand over 20-50 rupees as a “thank you” afterward.
The mirrors of Sheesh Mahal
The mirrors of Sheesh Mahal
One of the inner verdant courtyards.
One of the inner verdant courtyards…
...and another courtyard, this one all red sandstone and marble.
…and another courtyard, this one all red sandstone and marble.
Another fascinating detail in the Amber Fort is this "magic fresco." Depending on what part of the carving you cover, you can see a scorpion, butterfly, shrimp, lotus flower, and a half-dozen other depictions.
Another fascinating detail in the Amber Fort is this “magic fresco.” Depending on what part of the carving you cover, you can see a scorpion, butterfly, shrimp, lotus flower, and a half-dozen other depictions.
Elephants coming through the Sulaj Pol (Sun Gate) entrance.
Elephants coming through the Sulaj Pol (Sun Gate) entrance.
Red pillars
Red pillars

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.

Elephants making their way up the path.
Elephants making their way up the path.
One of the signs of a healthy elephant is the tough, bristly hair that covers them. Amber Fort elephants? No hair to be seen. Not to mention the fact that the gaudy seats and outfits of the mahouts (riders) are tailored for tourists.
One of the signs of a healthy elephant is the tough, bristly hair that covers them. Amber Fort elephants? No hair to be seen. Not to mention the fact that the gaudy seats and outfits of the mahouts (riders) are tailored for tourists.

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).

Chand Pol, the gate near our hotel
Chand Pol, the gate near our hotel

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.

The Water Palace. Wonder how it got that name...
The Water Palace. Wonder how it got that name…
The Palace of Breeze
The Palace of Breeze

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.)

A closer shot of Hawa Mahal and its angled wall.
A closer shot of Hawa Mahal and its angled wall.

How could you not learn to love pink in a city like this?

3 thoughts on “Shades of Pink and Amber in Jaipur”

  1. It seems you had a great time out in Jaipur. Photos are quite enlightening. Did you eat that Paanipur BTW 🙂 I too went to Jaipur and had great time there. The highlight of my trip was time spent at Chokhi Dhani. Did you go there? And did you notice that there are a lots of tortoise in the water of the Man Sagar Lake which houses Jal Mahal.

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  2. Great post with lots of interesting tidbits about the city and architecture! I love Indian Saris they are so brilliant in colors and patterns, my regular clothing could never compete. Lovely photos, too! From your post and photos, I feel like I spent two days in Jaipur, too 🙂

    Like

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