Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan, India’s regal ‘desert state,’ and affectionately known as the ‘Pink City,’ is India at its most colourful and chaotic. Founded in the 18th century by Maharaja Jai Singh II, the maharaja ruled over his kingdom from the city’s magnificent Amber Fort, where he set a trend for constructing gorgeous palaces and forts in blush-pink stone. The Jaipur of now has become far more of a sprawling, traffic-clogged destination than that of the Maharaja’s glory days – but hey, this is Rajasthan’s Big Apple. Steeped in sumptuous history, Jaipur offers fantastic cultural and historical attractions for children of all ages (not to mention its fair share of elephants, bazaars, auto-rickshaws and other enticing sights), and, with an incredible bounty of lovely, luxury stays, is 100% worth a (well-planned) visit.
Our Jaipur expert is Joanna Lester-George, an English-born travel addict and writer who fell in love with India during her first visit in 1999. She moved to Rajasthan eight years later to found KOKOindia, a friendly boutique travel company, specialising in stylish and bespoke holidays, retreats and safaris across the sub-continent (she especially loves designing family holidays, to introduce children to the magic of India). In 2008, she gave birth to her son Xavier in Goa, and, unable to resist settling down in a tropical paradise, they have been happily living there ever since, touring India (and the world) extensively together. As a travel writer, Joanna is a regular contributor to travel guides, magazines and websites, such as Planet Goa, Malli and The Footprint Travel Guide to India, sharing her knowledge and passion for India, the most extraordinary country on earth.
- Explore real-life fairytale forts (see SEE&DO).
- Dine in fancy palaces, Maharajah-style (see EAT).
- Catch a flick at the Raj Mandir Cinema – the iconic movie house that looks like a giant kitsch wedding cake (see CALL THE SITTER).
- Bask in the awesomeness of the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) (see SEE&DO).
- Pootle along in city traffic alongside camels and elephants (see GETTING AROUND).
Especially since you’ll likely be doing lots of cabbing or rickshaw-riding (see SEE & DO below), Jaipur is a relatively easy city with which to get to grips. The Old City (known as the ‘Pink City,’ ever since it was first painted pink – symbolic of hospitality – by Maharajah Ram Singh in 1876, in honour of a visit from the Prince of Wales), containing Jaipur’s bazaars (see SHOP below) lies to the north-east, with the newer parts of the city laid out to the west and south. You’ll likely get your bearings by travelling repeatedly down one of the new city’s three major interconnecting roads: Sansar Chandra Marg and Station Rd, both of which run roughly diagonally North-East to South-West, and Mirza Ismail (MI) Rd, which runs East-to-West.
SEE & DO
Exploring the sights of Jaipur with kids in comfort will require you being ‘chauffeured’ around the city by auto-rickshaw (tuk tuk) or cab: both are readily available everywhere, and make a hot city day of sight-seeing, or – dare we say it – shopping so much more bearable. From your vantage point amid the traffic chaos and colourful sights, you’ll witness an ancient world slowly blending with a modern Indian metropolis; some sights, too, are better seen from the outside, rather than heading on in. The Palace of the Winds (Hawa Mahal) is a great example: stunning from the outside, but of less interest to children from the in-.
If you’re not sightseeing in the Old (Pink) City, it’s worth escaping rush-hour (an apparently all-day event) to travel a few miles outside the city, where you’ll find magnificent forts and temples with splendid views and fewer tourists, and a highly rewarding, more hassle-free experience.
The Amber Fort & Palace
The Amber Fort (11km from Jaipur: grab a cab) is Jaipur’s most magnificent and unmissable attraction, a sprawling palace built high on a bluff by the city’s 16th-17th century Maharajah, Man Singh. With its endless ramparts and vast open courtyards, kids love the freedom to run around and explore. It’s a good idea to hire a guide here (ask at the ticket office) – one who can simultaneously dole out historical insights, dispatch bothersome hawkers and lead you to all the exciting nooks and crannies children love best. It’s a hot ten minute walk up to the fort from the road below, or you can grab a seat in a jeep, or – better yet – ride to the top of the steep ramparts on a decorated elephant (but note that there can be long queues for elephants in the morning, when tour buses arrive). At night, the fort is spectacularly lit up if you fancy a drive-by, or there’s an atmospheric Son et Lumiere show every night at 7.30 in English – a great history lesson for older kids.
This is one very cool open-air astronomical observatory for kids who are science-minded…or for those who just like to run about a bit. Built from 1728 onwards, the Jantar Mantar is the country’s best preserved observatory and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and comprises fourteen colossal stone devices in all manner of weird and wonderful shapes, cleverly designed all those centuries ago to track cosmic activity. If your children are learning to tell the time, you can impress them with a close-up of the Brihat Samrat Yantra, the world’s biggest sundial.
A great way to combine a peaceful temple visit with a glimpse inside the City Palace, a huge royal palace begun in the 17th century and expanded until well on into the 20th (inside which kids will likely enjoy the Armoury and the royal costumes in the Mubarak Mahal, or ‘Welcome Palace’). If you want to encounter Hinduism at its most colourful and devout, aim to be there at 5 pm for ‘Dharshan’ (the Sanskrit word meaning ‘vision of the divine’). Exquisitely dressed idols are brought out for worship and it’s a lovely way for kids to experience the spiritual side of India (the website’s quite something, too: make sure to turn your sound on).
If you’re looking for the definitive elephant experience in Rajasthan, this is the place to go. With over one hundred well-cared-for gentle giants, your kids can learn how to make chapatis (bread) and then feed them, practice traditional colourful elephant painting and have a good old splash about in the lake scrubbing the elephants down. And as if that wasn’t enough fun, you can end the day with a sunset elephant jungle safari (5-6 pm.). Beware of touts posing as Elefantastic employees: correspond with Elefantastic directly by phone or email, and have your taxi drop you off at the site itself, not far from the Amber Fort (see above).
This is one of the grandest temples in modern Indian architecture. A gorgeous extravagance of white marble dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it’s a serene spot with flower filled gardens, three domed temples and beautiful stained glass windows depicting Hindu myth .
The Lord Ganeshe Temple
An auspicious pilgrimage site dedicated to the elephant-headed god. Introduce your kids to Hinduism by showing them cute cartoons (see You Tube) of Ganeshe getting up to all sorts of mischief, and they’ll be suitably wide-eyed when they encounter the gigantic temple idol being fervently worshipped by local devotees. The entire area turns into a crazy carnival on Wednesdays, when pilgrims bring endless flowers and sweets as offerings for the frisky, pot-bellied God. (Located at Moti Dungri, close to the Birla Mandir.)
The Monkey Temple (Galta Ji)
A great place to visit for cheeky monkeys of all ages. Located just 10 kms from the city, this sacred site is a haven for pilgrims of Hanuman the Monkey God, as well as home to hundreds of Rhesus Macaques. It’s a popular family spot, but definitely discourage your children from teasing: monkeys can whip a bag of peanuts out of little hands before you can say “I’m the King of the Jungle.” Enjoy amazing views over the city whilst being entertained by monkey antics and soaking up some serious spiritual devotion. Make sure you take a taxi to the top of the hill rather than a rickshaw, or you’ll be in for a looooong hike.
The perfect architectural marvel if you’re looking for that ‘Fort Wow Factor’ but want to avoid the crowds. Located 15km outside Jaipur, Jaigarh Fort is a sprawling and starkly beautiful photographer’s dream, which, coincidentally, also houses the world’s largest cannon. It’s a long, winding road to the top but you’ll be rewarded with amazing views: your taxi can even drive you right inside the palace gates for an extra fifty rupees. There is a palace and museum attached, which showcase portraits and photos of how the royal family lived, as well as an impressive armory for kids to marvel at, and little ones will love peeping over the ramparts or running their toys along them.
Sisodia Rani Palace and Garden
This palace is one of the more peaceful attractions in Jaipur. Designed for the Sisodia Queen of Udaipur in 1728 by her royal groom, the beautiful multi-level Moghul garden boasts iridescent fountains, colourful pavilions and exotic murals depicting India’s most famous love stories. It’s just an 8km drive outside Jaipur, a hop away from Galta Ji (see above), if you want to combine a day trip.
There’s no shortage of atmosphere in Jaipur’s child-friendly lodgings; here’s our pick of the best places to retreat to after a hot day in the city.If you’re finding sightseeing hard work with the kids, try to cram all the city highlights into one day, and retreat to the quiet luxury of your palace hotel the next.
Diggi Palace This beautiful, 200 year old frescoed haveli (private mansion) is an oasis in the heart of Jaipur’s Pink City. Just a ten minute stroll from the Old City walls, the hotel is reasonably priced and handily located for sightseeing on foot. With its sun-filled courtyards, acres of lawn, a swimming pool and horse buggy rides, it’s a dream place for kids to stay and play. The multi-cuisine restaurant has something to suit even the trickiest palate, and uses organic produce from the ancestral owner’s private farms. Courtyard Suites and Palace Suites can accommodate extra beds, and children of all ages are warmly welcomed.
Taj Rambagh Palace This is Jaipur’s oldest, grandest palace hotel, and the definitive way to experience Old Raj opulence. Butler service, vintage cars, polo on elephant-back and gorgeous suites converted from the chambers of former Maharajas make a stay at the Rambagh Palace definitely worth a splurge. Kids love to chase peacocks around the landscaped grounds, and to splash about in the indoor and outdoor pools. The hotel babysitting service also affords grown ups the chance to fine-dine like royalty under the stars.
Tree of Life This luxury Villa and Spa Resort, set amid rolling countryside, is just 20 minutes from the Amber Fort, and a dream base from which to explore the city (warning – it can be very difficult to leave.) Privacy, peace and pampering can make all the difference on a busy family holiday, and the Luxury Pool and Spa Villas here – some with interconnecting bedrooms – are perfect for just that. Spacious in the extreme, they feature domed bedrooms, walk-in rain showers and comfy lounges with a log fire for chilly nights. If kids get bored with their own private pool and sunken tub, the resort has lots of wide open spaces, and a stunning infinity pool to divert them. Grown ups, meanwhile, can enjoy spa treatments in the privacy of their villa. To top it all off, the Executive Chef will drop by your villa to design a bespoke family dinner with you, which you can choose to eat ‘at home,’ or in the elegant hotel dining room. Final flourishes of family entertainment come in the form of camel cart rides, elephant safaris, cookery classes, yoga sessions and trips to the local village school.
Dera Mandawa This 125 year old ancestral haveli is the best affordable boutique hotel in Jaipur. Tucked away in the bustling heart of the city, it has seven beautifully converted mezzanine suites, and a sunny courtyard where the kids can let off steam. Ideally located for exploring the city sights with minimal travelling time, you can also enjoy complimentary use of the pool and a choice of restaurants at nearby Alsisar Haveli. And if you’re invited to enjoy dinner at Dera Mandawa with its charming ancestral owner, Durga Singh, be sure to accept: children love this unique experience of traditional Indian family life – especially the bit where their food is cooked on a bio-gas stove fuelled by cow dung.
Samode Palace Located in a sleepy village an hour outside Jaipur, this fabulous palace hotel will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale. Forty unique suites and guestrooms open onto bougainvillea-covered courtyards, with Deluxe and Royal Suites offering additional space for families. The service here is super friendly, and the hotel facilities include two restaurants, an all-day café, two marble mosaic swimming pools and a spa; older children love roaming the lavishly decorated halls and salons, which are lined with fascinating old royal family photos. You can also hop into one of the hotel’s rustic taxis (a bullock cart) and take a short ride out to Samode Bagh – the original royal gardens with vast lawns and a good range of outdoor games – whilst at night, the palace, and the fort directly above it, are lit up like a Bollywood film set. All in all , a quintessentially royal experience.
Top Tip: Avoid the rooms on the first floor if travelling with toddlers, due to winding staircases and balconies with low railings. Free baby cots, extra beds and high chairs are all available, and dining is made easy with kids’ menus and an all day buffet.
Anopura This utterly exclusive resort, 40 minutes outside Jaipur, is a dream of a place for a peaceful family getaway. Billed as the ‘World’s Smallest Boutique Hotel,’ it’s designed to look and feel like a traditional village home, albeit a pretty fancy one. Anopura boasts just two stylish suites that are set off an enclosed courtyard, and so are ideal for keeping little ones under wraps. There is an adjacent dining room, a cosy TV lounge, and soft charpoys for lounging under the stars – the perfect babysitting spot.
Beyond the courtyard lie pretty orchard gardens (for running around and playing a family game of boule), a plunge pool and The Tabari, a poolside lounge and dining space, which has sublime sofas and a communal dining table, although guests are welcome to eat wherever they choose. Nothing is too much trouble for the extremely friendly (and discreet) staff here, and if Latika the hotel’s soppy golden Labrador doesn’t keep the kids occupied, the staff will happily take them off your hands. Trips can be made into the countryside by bicycle, camel cart or farm jeep, and there are also visits to the Maharaja’s old hunting lodge or a chance to try your hand at pottery in the local village. When dusk falls, a bonfire magically pops up by the pool and the Tabari is transformed with lanterns and candles into the snuggliest, cosiest space possible.
Top tip: The Khejdi suite is best for families as the bathroom has both a sunken bath and two showers. Taking the Champa Suite just opposite will make Anopura exclusively yours.
The Farm Best described as an art house resort and home stay, this unique ‘hotel’ is just twenty minutes outside the city and yet very far from the madding crowd. The owners and designers, Surya and Ritu, have created an eclectic design space to call their home – a fascinating treasure trove of family heirlooms, modern art and wacky installations based around the theme of recycling. There are nine quirky, comfortable suites and rooms with en suite bathrooms and private sundecks. Kids have 20 acres of green fields to explore, complete with gnarly climbing trees, oversized hammocks and little bicycles. The communal lounge has plenty of books, movies and board games to keep the whole family entertained, and the owners’ delightful seven year old son will be happy to hang out with little ones. Delicious meals created from the farm’s own produce may be enjoyed in private, or in the delightful company of the owners around a traditional angeethi fire.
Top Tip: Staying in the pool-facing rooms means you can keep a watchful eye on sleeping angels whilst enjoying grown-up time in the Dining Room directly opposite.
You can find almost every kind of food in Jaipur – from North and South Indian cuisine, to Chinese and Continental (pizza joints are wall-to-wall too). Yet as Indian cities go, it’s not exactly a culinary paradise, so be sure to choose wisely. The street food in the bazaars is usually pretty tasty…don’t be afraid to sample it, but be aware that the food can be a little spicier in this part of India. It’s an excellent idea to keep an eye out for lassis – delicious cold yoghurt drinks served in earthenware cups, which can soothe a fiery palate or act as a great tummy-settler. You’ll also see Raipur’s most famous sweet, the ‘ghevar’, (a disc-shaped treat, and made from flour, oil and syrup) everywhere you go. Recommended for hot, dry Rajasthan summers, one expert ghevar maker told me “it keeps you cool, gay and elated.” Who could resist?
Steam at the Rambagh (Taj Rambagh Palace; see STAY above) Seriously, what kid wouldn’t leap at the chance to eat wood-fired pizza in the carriage of a classically restored steam train? The Rambagh is Jaipur’s most opulent palace hotel so you can expect stylish décor and impeccable service. Grown ups can enjoy a fantastic selection of drinks and cocktails in the ambient lounge bar, while children can race around on the lawns.
Nibs Café and Chocolataria (Lalkothi district) A cosy, comfortable haven for chocoholics, it’s also ideal for treats, snacks and light lunches too.
The Taj Jai Mahal Palace Hotel (Jacob Road, Civil Lines) The Marble Arch restaurant at this hotel has all-day dining to fit around sightseeing with hungry kids. Traditional Indian, Rajasthani, European and Oriental cuisine are served in the elegant palace grounds, so little ones can hop down and play while you finish in peace.
1135 AD (Amber Fort) A truly atmospheric dining experience offering outstanding food. Choose to dine like royalty in the Maharajah’s dining room or on the Fort terrace, whilst being serenaded by local musicians.
Anokhi (2nd floor, KK Square, C-Scheme) A popular family place for lunch if you’re craving fresh, western-style vegetarian food (hummus sandwiches; blue cheese salads). Combining it with the Anokhi shopping experience makes it perfect for a ‘coffee cake break.’
Lassiwalla (MI Rd, Ashok Nagar) Famous for the best lassis (yoghurt-based drinks) in Jaipur, be sure to find the original stall – Shop 312, next to the alleyway.
Sheesha (5th fl rooftop, City Pearl Bldg, Sanjay Marg) A sophisticated favourite with both locals and tourists, the terraced rooftop dining is great for families, and tandoori dishes are a specialty here. The menu doesn’t offer much explanation in the way of dishes, but if you don’t know your saag aloo from your chicken dopiaza, the friendly staff are always happy to help. After-dinner sheesha (water pipes) adds a touch of the exotic for grownups.
Four Seasons (D43A Subhash Marg, Ashok Nagar) Not part of the luxey hotel chain, but instead a child-friendly, vegetarian restaurant which serves a good variety of Rajasthani specialities, dosas (south Indian savoury crepes) and pizzas.
The Forresta Kitchen & Bar (Khasa Kothi Crossing) A lovely outdoor space with an extensive Indian and Continental menu. A decent cocktail here can be most welcome at the end of a long day’s sightseeing.
Jaipur Modern (C-Scheme) A snazzy contemporary Italian restaurant with a great vegetarian menu, to include delicious pizzas, homemade pasta, crepes, fresh juices and amazing desserts. The Jaipur Modern boutique store is right next door, so you can shop to your heart’s content whilst waiting for your pizza to arrive. Combining Western luxury brands with the chic designs of India’s hottest new kids on the block, the store’s unique brand is perfect for gifts. Beautiful scarves, dresses, Ibizan caftans, bed linen and cushions are fashioned from the finest silk, cottons and cashmere, making a visit to Jaipur Modern a real treat in every way.
Taruveda (Jacob Road, Civil Lines) A popular fusion restaurant with yummy (and healthy) Continental food and a lively atmosphere.
Bar Palladio (Narain Niwas Palace Hotel, Narain Singh Road) Jaipur’s classiest new joint has seen Fashion Designer Marie-Anne Oudejans go to town on the décor, with a peacock blue theme, lavish frescoes and mirrored walls inspired by Mogul and European influences. Petits salons offer families a quiet space to enjoy juices and cocktails, and the starters from the Italian menu are big enough to share.
As a shopping destination, Jaipur will have ardent souvenir shoppers on Cloud Nine. You can find anything here – from gem stones, silver, pottery and antiques, to puppets, hand blocked prints and carved wooden animals. The traditional bazaars are colourful and fun – but can be a bit hectic with little kids in tow. A more relaxed shopping experience can be yours if you hire a car and driver for the day to whisk you around.
Johari Bazaar in the Old Pink City is a paradise for browsers and magpies, with hundreds of stalls piled high with glittering gemstones, tribal jewellery and costume bangles. Chameliwala Bazaar is the best place to shop for fine silverwork and traditional tribal Kundan jewellery, while Ajmer Road is the best place to browse for Jaipur’s famous blue pottery, antiques and hand-blocked prints. If its textiles or Jootis you’re after (those funny, pointy camel leather shoes), then the pedestrianised Bapu Bazaar is the place for you.
The Gem Palace (Bhairath Bhavan,M. I. Road) Probably the most reputable place to shop if you’re serious about jewellery. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave of royal collections, vintage pieces and exclusive creations that has been run by Mogul court jewelers, the Kasliwal family, since 1852.
The Ladli Organization An inspirational place to go if Indian poverty has left its impact on your kids. Ladli rescues street children from abuse, child labor and prostitution, and provides them with education, nutrition, health care and useful vocational skills. All the jewellery and handicraft made by the children is sold to help fund the project, and buying your souvenirs here will help support a wonderful cause.
Suvasa (House of Dundlod, Jacob Road, Civil Lines) A boutique store selling beautiful fabrics, Indian clothing, scarves, kurtas and homewares.
Anokhi (Todi Ramzanipura, Jagatpura) A much loved Jaipur institution selling good quality Indian cotton clothing in hand blocked prints for both kids and adults. Along with its own health food café, you’ll also find the Crossword bookstore (with an amazing selection of kids’ toys and books) and an Italian/Mexican restaurant in the same building. A great one-stop place to shop.
Hot Pink (Narain Niwas, Narain Singh Road) Rajasthan’s first concept store – a spacious boutique set in the grounds of a 1930’s palace hotel that has been a firm favourite among Jaipur’s fashionistas for over a decade. Its cool, glamorous range of clothes for adults and children comes from both Indian and European designers, and includes trendy, wearable brands that will look good in any western city. There are big sofas to plonk the kids on, and gardens right outside to run around in – so you can shoppety-shop to your heart’s content. Prices range from Rs 200 to Rs 200,000 – and if you get too carried away, the Palladio Bar is right next door for a reviving martini.
Tokree (Alsisar Haveli, Bani Park) A clothing and homewares store located in the grounds of the fabulous Alsisar Haveli. Showcasing funky and original designs by owner/designer Sanyukta Singh, you’ll easily find the perfect gift or souvenir. Her unique range includes curios, antiques, kids clothes, bed linens, hand printed bags and cotton Rajasthani dresses.
Rasa (Ashok Marg, C-Scheme) is a small boutique store selling ritzy bed linen, Indian silk dresses, cashmere jackets and embroidered slippers.
AKFD (Prithviraj Road, C-Scheme) is not only a classy boutique store, but kids are most welcome. Local designers have transformed every day practical objects into gorgeous pieces for the home – such as lanterns, cushions, tableware, bags and childrens’ crafts.
- The Monsoon: the best times to visit Jaipur are between October and March, before the heat and humidity gathers pace. When the monsoon rains kick in (around June-time) it ain’t a whole lot of fun. Especially with kids.
- Henna tattoos (Mehendi): this ancient form of Indian body art may look like a beautiful souvenir of India, but if you succumb to the persistency of street hawkers (however cute) it’s likely you’ll get stuck with a dodgy design that won’t budge. I succumbed once – and still have the scar from the cheap, toxic henna to prove it. Your hotel spa menu will usually feature Mehendi or just ask for the nearest reputable Mehendi parlour.
- Gems: It’s great fun to wander the gem markets, but unless you know your onions (or emeralds) beware of ‘cheating men’ and their vastly inflated prices. If you love to haggle hard and think you can swing it, you can still take home a glittering souvenir of Jaipur. Just try to resist the curiosity to discover its actual worth once home – sentimental value should never be tarnished.
- Hawa Mahal – The famous Palace of the Winds is a must-see best enjoyed from the outside, rather than as part of a city tour.
TIPS FOR BABIES AND TODDLERS
- Most baby items, such as formula, nappies, baby food etc are easily available in Jaipur, but they may be of a lesser quality than you’re used to. Look out for the Himalaya brand of baby wipes and bathtime products. It’s always wise to carry hand sanitiser for curious sticky little fingers too.
- If you bring your own car seat, please be aware that most city cabs don’t have seatbelts to hold them in.
- There are lots of stairs and balconies at huge monuments such as the Amber Fort, so it’s always best to use a portable carrier or sling if travelling with a baby or toddler. Buggies/strollers are a rare sight in Rajasthan and although they can be hard to navigate among the thronging crowds, they are incredibly useful for those killer ramps.
- Restaurants and hotels are usually very accommodating to families but don’t expect to find any public changing facilities. Public toilets should generally be a no-go zone with kids (pop into restaurants or hotels if your little ones are caught short).
- Bring slippers and dressing gowns for when staying in heritage hotels –those marble floors can be mighty cold in the morning.
- Most hotels hold a daily traditional Rajasthani puppet show with funny, colourful puppets that are a big hit with younger kids. This is Punch and Judy style entertainment (without the gratuitous domestic violence bit), and you can even buy a handmade souvenir puppet at the end.
- There are some excellent website resources to help get your kids excited about Rajasthan – and India in general. Check out History for Kids for info on Indian Gods and religion. You can also look in on Tara Books for a flavour of Indian stories, as well as a wide selection available at Amazon, the Teach India Project, and Sawnet.
- The Oxford Book Store in Jagatpura is a great place for kids to pick out their own colourful books on India.
CALL THE SITTER
Jaipur has traditionally been a rather staid city – stuck in its ways, resistant to change and reluctant to grant late alcohol licenses. However, options for a night out are definitely improving, thanks to the more sophisticated demands of the younger population and the influence of the western media. New places are springing up all the time but most of the restaurants and bars worth considering for a Grown-Ups’ Night Out are still to be found in Jaipur’s grandest hotels. No choice but to get dressed up and spoil yourselves. Sigh…
Samode Haveli The decadently ornate dining room at this two hundred year old luxury hotel serves refined Rajasthani cuisine.
Steam at the Rambagh You may have been here by day with the kids, but after dark this stylish lounge bar on wheels becomes one of Jaipur’s finest watering holes.
Bar Palladio (Narain Niwas Palace Hotel, Narain Singh Road) This trendy new bar delivers an extensive cocktail list and a classic Italian menu to an upmarket clientele – rub shoulders with Jaipur’s elite inside the beautifully revamped bar or out on the torch-lit hotel lawns.
The Raj Mandir Cinema (Ashok Nagar) This Art Deco cinema with an Indian twist is the perfect place to see a Bollywood movie: some even have English subtitles. Don’t expect any kind of hushed reverent atmosphere however – this is all about the experience. Your fellow audience members will wander in and out, chatting away noisily on mobile phones, but their collective emotional response will tell you all you need to know about what’s happening on the Big Screen.
Suvarna Mahal / The Rajput Room (Taj Rambagh Palace, Bhawani Singh Road) A first class dining experience serving Indian and Rajasthan specialities and contemporary cuisine in the most opulent of settings.
Kerala Ayurveda Kendra Spa (Bani Park, Jaipur) offer a free pick-up service for their spa. Traditional Ayurvedic herbal massage, facials and a variety of other treatments are well priced and professional, and include a consultation.
WHEN TO GO
The best time to visit Jaipur is between October and March. Remember Rajasthan is a desert state, and while daytimes are usually bright and sunny, the evenings can be as chilly as 4 degrees Celsius. Flip-flops and light clothes (which cover shoulders and knees) are the perfect getting-around attire by day, but bring closed shoes and a selection of jackets or cardigans for night time. April, May and June are the ‘summer season’ when temperatures can soar up to 47 degrees (not for the fainthearted.) July to September represent the rainy monsoon months, with August being the rainiest month of all.
India ‘does’ festivals with such exuberance that visitors cannot fail but to be swept along in its charms. Jaipur, as the capital of Rajasthan, adds even more exuberance and colour to the following events.
- Jaipur Literary Festival at Hotel Diggi Palace: this is the largest free literary festival in the world – a five day event in February which brings together the greatest of writers and thinkers, as well as live music sessions and interactive workshops. There is a dedicated space for children, and in the afternoon jazz bands play behind the ornate fountain – so you can sit out on the grass and take turns to pop in and out of events.
- Jaipur Art Festival at Hotel Diggi Palace: a five-day-long festival in March which showcases live demonstrations by world renowned artists – such as batik, glass painting, Miniature Painting and sand sculptures. Something for the entire family!
- Elephant Festival at the Jaipur Polo Grounds: elephants are the centre of attraction at this spectacular festival which is usually held in March.The huge creatures are specially decorated for the occasion in all their traditional elephant finery, such as tusk rings, ankle bells, colourful body paint and gold embroidered accessories. They even have giant earrings! The Mahouts (grooms) are dressed in their best turbans, and there is a prize for the best decorated elephant and its Mahout. Kids love to see the elephant parade with its drummers, dancers and horse drawn chariots. This is an amazing encounter with Jaipur’s rich cultural history – but please do check its status when planning a trip. Animal rights campaigners had it cancelled last year due to concerns over the chemical paints used on elephants. Hopefully there will be a return to its organic alternative.
- Gangaur Festival: usually held in April, this is one of the state’s most important festivals in honour of the goddess Gauri. A consort of Lord Shiva, this iconic heroine is the mythological role model of married women. Amid much pomp and pageantry, the festival sees women of all ages dressed in their finest clothes to take part in ancient ceremonies that will either protect a husband’s welfare or, if not yet married, hopefully secure one. Bejewelled images of Gauri are processed around the town accompanied by marching bands, elephants, chariots and folk performers – quite a sight. Catch the traditional procession as it leaves from the City Palace or follow its route to the Talkatora.
- Top Tip: Unless your kids are fairly grown up, avoid the more boisterous festivals such as Ganeshe Churti, (the much celebrated birthday of Ganeshe) and Holi (the riotous festival of colour). If your visit to Jaipur does clash with such an event however, you will probably find your hotel has a great rooftop from which to safely soak up the spectacle.
- It’s not recommended to tour the hot, sticky city on foot, but a taxi or auto-rickshaw ride will reward you with some surreal sights. Little noses inevitably press up against windows as you motor through traffic teeming with lofty camel carts, kitschly decorated rickshaws and the odd elephant lumbering alongside.
- Speaking of elephants, great initiatives are now in place in Jaipur (such as trips by Elefantastic: see SEE & DO above) to ensure these magnificent creatures are not exploited as such a wonderfully unique mode of transport. Only two passengers are allowed at a time, with a maximum of four trips a day. Elefantastic not only offers rides to the top of Amber Fort, but your family can also enjoy a lofty and exciting view across the breathtaking monuments and markets of the Old Pink City. You can also take a 1.5-2 hour ride around the surrounding villages of Amber, far from the madding crowd.