Jaipur is known for its spectacular architectural sites and the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of Winds, is perhaps the city’s most recognizable and photogenic building. The five floors of delicately-worked pink sandstone is only one room wide with rows of perforated screens and more than 900 windows to allow the breeze to pass through and cool the interior.
The honeycombed Hawa Mahal was constructed in 1799 by poet-king Sawai Pratap Singh, and, according to legend, was originally where the female members of the royal family could look down on the people in the streets below without being observed. Visitors can do some people watching of their own from this vantage point or can climb to the rooftop for an overhead view of the City Palace to one side and Siredeori Bazaar to the other.
The Mubarak Mahal was built as a part of Jaipur’s City Palace to welcome foreign dignitaries of the Maharaja. Built on a raised platform, the white palace is an example of Mughal, Rajput, and European style architecture. Its colonnaded and carved exterior now leads to the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, which houses mostly historic textiles.
The Textile and Costume Museum on the first floor exhibits many of the clothing worn by royalty: formal costumes, traditional block prints, and a variety of embroidered textiles in precious fabrics, including silk and Kashmiri pashmina. Visitors can see the local history of both male and female attire, including uniquely shaped and sized items. Perhaps some of the most beautiful items are the brightly colored saris, many covered in golden embroidery. Royal carpets and antiquities can also been seen inside.
Walking through the grounds of Jantar Mantar may feel more like visiting a sculpture garden than an astronomical observatory. The eighteen devices, built by Jai Singh II, each serve a different function, such as predicting eclipses, telling time and tracking astrological bodies./p>
Jai Singh II built Jatar Mantar in 1726 and it remains the best preserved of the five observatories he built within his lifetime. Armed with knowledge of European astronomical advances, Jai Singh II invented many of the instruments himself, the most impressive of which is the massive Samrat Yantra sundial with a shadow that moves up to 13 feet (4 meters) per hour, or a hands-width every minute.
Guides onsite can explain how the devices work, and several are still used to make astrological and weather predictions. Try to come on a sunny day, since none of the devices will work under cloud cover, but avoid the middle of the day when the sun is particularly hot and shade is harder to come by.
It used to be that the Jal Mahal (Water Palace) was merely another fortress worthy of a quick photo op on the way to or from Amber Fort. After undergoing a dramatic restoration, however, the palace perched in the middle of Man Sagar Lake is worthy of a visit in its own right.
Sawai Pratap Singh built the five-story red sandstone palace in 1799 using Rajput and Mughal stylistic elements. After 200 years of neglect, water damage and general disrepair, the palace was restored to its original splendor. The rooftop gardens, Jal Mahal’s most stunning features, have been carved, painted and gilded by dozens of artists and designers, and the resulting details are exquisite.
During the monsoon season from June through September, the bottom four floors of the palace become submerged, but the boat trip across the glassy waters makes this the best time for a visit. Come at dusk when the setting sun lights up the water and marble alike.
Mehrangarh Fort is a huge ancient fort located in Jodhpur in the state of Rajasthan. It's one of the largest forts in India and was built in the mid-15th century by Rao Jodha. The fort sits on a rocky hill presiding some 125 meters above the city, with the structure merging with the rock on which it stands. Still run by the Jodhpur royal family to this day, Mehrangarh Fort is filled with a strong sense of history and legend.
Enclosed by thick, imposing walls, the fort complex contains a museum, courthouses, gardens, and several magnificent palaces with vast courtyards and elaborate architecture. Among the royal residences are the Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), which was used for dance performances and features beguiling stained-glass windows, and Jhanki Mahal (Queen’s Palace), where there’s a colorful display of the cradles of former rulers.
Lake Pichola, an artificial freshwater lake created in 1362, inspired the founding of Udaipur on its banks. On a calm day, the placid, glasslike water reflects the city's skyline, complete with white marble palaces, temples, mansions and ghats and lending credence to the city's nickname as the Venice of India.
Lake Pichola earned a spot on in the international spotlight when the Lake Palace, a white marble palace that appears to float on the waters of the lake, appeared in the James Bond film Octopussy in 1983. The dreamlike palace is often used as a setting for a number of Bollywood films as well. The lake's second palace, Jag Mandir, was the structure that inspired Shah Jahan to build the great Taj Mahal in New Delhi, according to local legend. Jag Mandir is open to the public and accessible by boat, but to enter the Lake Palace, you'll need to either book a room or make a reservation in the building’s hotel or restaurants.
The Central Museum (Albert Hall), modeled after the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, opened its doors in 1887, making it the oldest museum in the state of Rajasthan. The Indo-Saracenic sandstone and marble structure was designed by English architect Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob and was originally meant to function as a town hall. The architecture alone makes this museum worth a visit./p>
The museum’s collection, while not well organized, consists of miniature paintings, costumes, folk art, woodcarvings, portraits and jewelry from Jaipur royalty and Rajasthani tribesman alike. Unfortunately, photography isn’t permitted within the museum, but you can snap shots of the building’s exterior to your heart’s content.
The Central Museum sits within the Ram Niwas Gardens, and the 33-acre (13-hectare) garden also includes a small zoo and bird park, a theater and a few small cafes and picnic spots.
Not far from the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, the white-marble memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II (the 33rd Rathore ruler of Jodhpur) sits majestically above a small lake. The structure is a fine example of Rajput architecture. It’s built from carved marble sheets which are so thin and polished that they emit a warm glow when the sunlight hits them.
Enclosed within a multi-level garden, the cenotaph has been built in the style of a temple, featuring domes, pillars, and sculptures. It also displays portraits of the rulers and Maharajas of Jodhpur and houses a memorial to a peacock that flew into a funeral pyre. The royal crematorium and three other cenotaphs are located near to the main memorial.
Built in 1651 by Maharana Jagat Singh, Jagdish Temple is the largest and one of the most famous temples in Udaipur. The three-story structure, dedicated to the God Vishnu, enshrines a black stone statue of Jagannath, an avatar of Vishnu. The intricately carved facade depicts scenes of Vishnu and his most famous aspect Krishna on it's pyramid-like bell roof. Inside, you'll find four smaller shrines dedicated to Shiva, Ganesh, Durga and Surya, along with 100 pillars carved with detailed scenes.
While the temple complex itself doesn't take long to walk around, the carving and collection of artwork inside are worth taking your time to enjoy. Jagdish Temple is located a short walk north from the entrance of the Udaipur City Palace, making it convenient to combine the two attractions into a single outing. The area doesn't have a major problem with touts, but beware of individuals offering to guide you around the temple, as they'll try to charge you later.
Built in 1988 entirely of white marble, Birla Lakshmi Narayan Temple & Museum is one of the newest and most recognizable landmarks in Jaipur. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu, the Preserver, and his consort Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity.
Besides the central Vishnu and Lakshmi idols carved from a single piece of white marble, the entire temple, both inside and out, is covered with intricate marble carvings depicting Indian mythology and historical figures like Socrates, Buddha, Jesus Christ and Confucius. Stained glass window panels inside the temple show more scenes from Hindu mythology. The temple and surrounding gardens offer a sense of serenity compared with the surrounding city, and if you’re interested in a look at a modern, functioning Hindu temple, this one’s hard to beat. The small museum displays a collection of Birla family relics and valuables.
While Jaipur’s Amber Fort more closely resembles a palace, Jaigarh Fort is a military fortress in the true sense of the word. The fort and its walls winding along the cliffs was built in 1726 to protect the Amber Fort below. Since the fort was never captured, it remains one of the best-preserved fortresses from medieval India.
Climb to the top of the Diwa Burj watchtower for sweeping views of the Amber Fort and the surrounding city. If time permits, explore some of the many temples built within the fort grounds, some of them dating back to before the fort’s construction. The fortress grounds contain the world’s largest cannon on wheels called Jaivana. The 20-foot (6-meter) and 50-ton cannon was only fired once, and it took 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of gun powder to do it. To save time traveling to and from Jaipur proper, combine your Jaigarh and Amber Fort visits. Either make the 20-minute climb on foot or hire a taxi outside Amber Fort.
This manmade lake in the city of Udaipur is a destination for both locals and travelers looking to escape the energy of busy city streets. Home to three small islands, including Nehru Park, the picturesque blue waters and majestic green mountains serve as a breathtaking backdrop to this quiet respite. Visitors can navigate the calm lake aboard tiny motorboats, which carry travelers to the each of the small islands. Nehru remains the most popular, thanks to a well-kept garden, boat-shaped restaurant and a slightly lackluster zoo. The Udaipur Solar Observatory, ranked top solar observing site in all of Asia, is located on one of the lake’s other islands and draws tourists eager to check out the sky, the sun and the stars.
Bagore Ki Haveli is an 18th-century mansion (or haveli), situated by the water’s edge of Lake Pichola at Gangori Ghat in Udaipur. It was built by Amir Chand Badwa, the Prime Minister of Mewar and served the royalty of Mewar before being left vacant for 50 years. The building has since been restored to its original architectural style and now features a museum.
This grand haveli features more than 100 rooms situated around pleasant courtyards. Some of the rooms have been set up to evoke the period in which the house was inhabited, including the private quarters of the royal ladies; their dressing rooms, bedrooms, living quarters, worship rooms, and recreation areas. Others serve as galleries, displaying an intriguing collection of photographs, royal costumes, unusual monuments, and even the world’s biggest turban.
Beyond the extravagant palaces, lakes, elephants, camels, and bustling street activity that is Jaipur, visitors should not miss the shopping in the Pink City. Jaipur is known for its production of precious jewelry and brightly colored textiles. Bapu Bazaar is the best place in the city to browse the latter.
Some of the more famous fabrics include the block print materials and the embroidered clothing. Visitors should be prepared to bargain - but that’s half the fun of shopping in India. Ready-made textiles and all types of bangles and scarves are on display throughout the bazaar. Another highlight for many visitors is the wide array of camel leather goods, the most unique of which may be the jootis, or Rajasthani leather shoes. Outside of clothing, many look to Bapu Bazaar for its Rajasthani-crafted quilts and bedding. The pedestrian-only Bapu Bazaar is also just a great place to take a stroll and take in the daily life and energy of Jaipur.