Jaipur is India's pink jewel of history, architecture and sophisticated culture
Jaipur's forts, palaces and temples are some of the most exciting tourist attractions in India
If you love history and old buildings, you must visit Jaipur, the state capital of Rajasthan, in northwest India. Established in the late-1700s by the ruler of the Amber Kingdom, Sawai Jai Singh, Jaipur was India’s first planned city.
Also nicknamed the “Pink City” for the colour of much of its architecture, Jaipur completes India's “Golden Triangle” of must-see tourist destinations, along with Delhi and Agra.
The Amber Fort is well worth a visit during the spring or summer as its pastel-yellow architecture looks so striking in the greenness of the Aravalli Range valley it surveys. Built in 1592, about 11km from Jaipur, this Hindu- and Muslim-styled stronghold-palace complex is one of the region's important attractions. Visitors traditionally reach the hilltop complex on an elephant, and then see the structure's four distinct areas - each with its own quaint, leafy courtyard.
The fort's highlights include the spectacular hall, the Sheesh Mahal, which is covered in vivid inlaid panels and thousands of tiny glass mirrors, and Shila Devi Temple, which has exquisite silver doors that are a confection of repoussé (raised relief) work. There are two other majestic, age-old castles in this vicinity: Jaigarh, with red walls, grassy quads and world-record-sized cannon (Jaivana); and Nahargarh, which is celebrated for housing the fading splendour of the Madhavendra Bhawan palace.
One can imagine that this part of India was almost like a maharajas' playground in the past. Other opulent edifices include the early 18th-century, multistoreyed City Palace complex, which is still used as a royal residence; and the mirage-like Jal Mahal, which means “Water Palace” – a composite of Rajput and Mughal architectural styles in the middle of the aquamarine-calm of Man Sagar Lake.
There are also plenty of ancient temples in Jaipur, from the hallowed surrounds of Govind Dev Ji, Moti Dungri or Galtaji, to the remarkable Unesco World Heritage-listed, Jantar Mantar, which was built in the 1720s as an observatory. This structure of weird stone fabrications also displays sophisticated instruments that were designed to quantify time, track stars, and calculate the arrival of eclipses.
For an unmissable excursion, take the Agra Road to Chand Baori, in the sleepy village of Abhaneri, 95km from Jaipur. Built in the 10th-century, this landmark might seem to be a mathematical puzzle, but it is actually an illustration of Indian engineering ingenuity: a stepwell. One of the oldest and deepest (30 metres) of its kind in the whole of Asia, the point of this zigzagging, stairway-wonder was to conserve water – the temperature at the bottom of the structure where the liquid is kept, is 5 to 6 degrees cooler than at the surface.
The similarly-aged Harshat Mata Temple is nearby, and named after the Hindu goddess of joy and happiness. This domed building is adorned with deep-relief, orange-tinged sandstone sculptures. Having seen this region’s astonishing sights, visitors might find it hard to argue with the writer Mark Twain’s view of India: “The most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his round. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.”