In the ‘Pink City’ for the literature festival? Indulge not just your grey matter.
Here’s putting the final brakes on the controversial cycle rickshaw rides that were going at thousands of rupees: the best way to take in Jaipur – the heritage part of it, famously, albeit a bit confusingly called the ‘Pink City’ – is by foot.
Going around Jaipur is like gadding about in a time machine. Medieval and modern coexist within a chaupar (a ‘junction’ or ‘square’) from each other. Sometimes even within each other like the Jaguar prowling about the City Palace courtyard, taking a Hollywood star around, guests of the royalty now democratically elected to power. Look around and there are more phantasmagorias – youngsters flocking to mishthan bhandars or traditional sweet shops, the galla or cash counters that still enjoy a literally elevated position in modern Marwari enterprises, a souvenir shop guy in camel leather jootis, local footwear, engage a package tour group in French, a stars-and-stripes kite displayed outside a Handipura shop. The city is sensory jolt, a breathing, moving monument. Ever growing, spiralling out of the walls of the Old City fondly known as the ‘Pink City’.
Begin your walk from Panch Batti, an important crossing that is located close to most of the major hotels in the old city area. From the Panch Batti, you can also see the statue of Sawai Jai Singh II and the Raj Mandir, the only cinema hall in the world registered as a tourist place. Exit the bustling MI Road through a lane towards the north which takes you into the walled city.
Once you are inside the old part of town, walk towards the Khajane Walon ka Raasta a street lined with exquisite marble works. The Khajane Walon ka Raasta intersects with the Chandpol Bazaar. Near the Chandpol Bazaar is the Kishanpol Bazaar which is famous for its tie-dye clothes. The Choti Chaupar is the intersection of the two bazaars and plays out some very rustic scenes including raw bonhomie featuring some ribald ribbing between traders. Before you make any harsh judgment keep in mind that in these parts, especially the agrarian belts, the more colourful the expletive, the closer the protagonists are. From the Choti Chaupar you enter the Tripolia Bazaar which is an important commerce centre in Jaipur.
Among the busiest streets in city, the shops sell mainly metal goods and kitchen utensils. The Maniharon ka Raasta is towards the right of the Tripolia Bazaar which is the centre for lac bangles. Bargain enthusiastically – you will not only get a good deal but it provides for general amusement, bringing down guards. To the north of this bazaar is the Sargasuli, a minaret tearing into the heavens, built by Sawai Ishwari Singh who committed suicide while on the brink of war (a suicide that was overshadowed by the sati – self immolation – of his 21 wives).
The Tripolia Gate, meaning ‘gate with three arches’, from which the bazaar got its name, is towards the west of Sargasuli. It is the main entrance to the City Palace as well as the Jantar Mantar. Exit the complex – after covering the sights listed under ‘attractions’ earlier – through the Jalebi Chowk, the Hawa Mahal is on your right. The Sireh Deori Bazaar here is also known as Hawa Mahal Bazaar. It sells handicrafts, textiles and some shops have on display some very antique items which they tell you is not for sale. A crowd puller tactic and it works. The Bari Chaupar is the junction here from where you proceed straight to the Johari Bazaar where you find most of Jaipur’s renowned jewellers and gold and silversmiths. The Johari Bazaar is also an important market for meenakari or enamelled works. (More under the ‘shopping’ section.) On the right is the famous LMB – Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar – a hotel which is almost a part of Jaipur’s heritage, renowned for its sweets, namkeens, paneer ghewar (a honeycomb-like sweet dish made of cottage cheese) and its Rajasthani thali.
From the Johari Bazaar do not head straight to the Sanganeri Gate but turn right and you will reach the Bapu Bazaar and further west, the Nehru Bazaar. The trinket and perfume shops of Nehru Bazaar make it a favourite hangout for the women. At the end of the bazaar towards the left is Ajmeri Gate and you exit on to MI Road. Turn right and you are back at Panch Batti.
Top tip: The cows of Jaipur are always fed or patted by people passing by. This makes them very ‘friendly’ and some might make a mild charge at you if it has been missing ‘human touch’ for long.
If there is a ‘heritage shopping’ then Jaipur is the mall: the suggested walk also covers the hub for traditional ornaments like the famous kundankari and meenakari works. This is a renowned world market for precious stones. Besides jewellery, there are also saris and other textile items, marble and stone artefacts, and goods made of clay, metal, lac and leather which you can check out. Excerpted from my book ‘Experience Agra and Around on the Road’ which was published by the Times of India last year.