I honestly enjoyed every new place I explored in India as part of my Tailor Made Journey with luxury tour operator and trip partner Abercrombie & Kent. However, looking back at the trip there is one city that I enjoyed just a little bit more than others, the colorful and exciting city of Jaipur. The capital of the state of Rajasthan in Northern India, Jaipur is a relatively young city by global standards, founded in the 18th century by the regional ruler. Maharaja Jai Singh II moved his capital from a mountain stronghold to this new city, which he had built along strict architectural and design plans. That original city still remains as Jaipur’s old town, also called the Pink City thanks to the colorful hue of the buildings throughout the district. First painted to welcome the Prince of Wales in 1876, it is now the legendary trademark of Jaipur. With a unique blend of culture, history and natural beauty, I was excited to experience the best that the city and region has to offer.
The Pink City
The old town of Jaipur wasn’t just where my Abercrombie & Kent guide and I started the day, it’s where most tourists to this popular spot along the Golden Triangle begin. It’s here where the city’s most famous and important landmarks still stand, including the massive City Palace and the remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jantar Mantar. This site fascinated me perhaps the most, due not only to its size but its purpose. The Jantar Mantar is a collection of 19 larger than life astronomical instruments built in the early 1700s, including the world’s largest stone sundial. These surprisingly precise instruments were built in order to best calculate the movement of the earth and the heavens, so that advisors to the ruler could provide the most accurate astrological advice possible. It’s a remarkable achievement, even more so that it remains intact today, practically adjacent to the equally fascinating City Palace. Originally the home of the ruling elite, today it is mostly a museum, although the modern descendants of the Maharajas still live in one of the wings. After touring the public spaces of the palace, my guide and I went to the private rooms, exploring more of the incredibly decorated palace and enjoying many private moments in what truly is a world treasure of art and architecture.
There’s a lot more to the Pink City than the remnants of feudal times though, including doing nothing more than exploring the old town. Throughout my time in India I was fascinated by local businesses, most of which seem very narrowly focused on just one or two commodities. As an example, on one street 5 businesses stood side by side, all selling the exact same thing – cooking oil. This was repeated with any number of foods and household items, a curious way to do business but one that obviously works well. The Pink City is one of India’s most popular tourist stops for a reason, and I honestly didn’t want to leave once the tour was over. However, staying at the finest luxury hotel in the city certainly eased that transition.
Taj Rambagh Palace
I travel with Abercrombie & Kent for any number of reasons, one of which is that I know they only work with the best hotels and resorts in the world. In Jaipur, this meant a luxurious suite in a real royal residence, the Taj Rambagh Palace. Originally built by the Maharaja in 1835, the Rambagh Palace remained the home of the family until 1957 and has been a remarkable luxury hotel ever since. The hotel has embraced this royal heritage in every way, from the initial welcome to the rooms and public areas, it all creates a certain feeling of refinement and exclusivity. There’s a lot to love about this sprawling estate from the royal welcome, to the luxurious rooms and suites to the expansive public areas that beg for doing little more than lounging and enjoying the day. One of my favorite experiences was a very unique dinner though enjoyed in an old train car. The Steam Lounge is inside a converted antique steam train car and promises a fun night out unlike anything else you’ve experienced. While I may have gone there originally for the kitsch, I quickly learned that the food was worth staying for; a fun and informal way to enjoy a night out.
Impromptu Food Tour
No matter where in the world you travel with Abercrombie & Kent, there are certain commonalities, including guides and advisors who refuse to use the word, “No.” Their ability to facilitate anything is frankly remarkable, and was in full display during my time in Jaipur. After leaving the Pink City that first day, I said to no one in particular how I wished I could’ve tried some of the many street food dishes we had walked by. The aromas were intoxicating and given my love of local comfort food, I was eager to try some of the more popular items. The next afternoon I was surprised with that random wish, an impromptu food tour of the Pink City led by my guide and new friend. We wandered from one place to the next, my guide patiently answering my barrage of questions and purchasing samples of a variety of different items, just so I could try them. From chai to lassi, samosas and koftas, we finished the afternoon full but happy from an immersive culinary experience into the best of Rajasthani snacks.
Spending a Day in the Country
While Jaipur was fun, so was a day trip out to another popular landmark, the Amer or Amber Fort, the former hilltop palace complex of the ruling elite before they moved to Jaipur. Once the capital of the powerful princes of Jaipur, the beautifully fortified palace sits high above the surrounding valley, an ideal place to spot would-be invaders. Regional powers lived on this mountaintop for centuries before this magnificent fort was built in the late 16th century, expanded over time by successive rulers. Wandering through the many rooms and courtyards, it’s easy to imagine what life was like for the ruling class here in Amer. From the exquisite designs and embellishments to feats of engineering that kept the palace cool in the hot summer months, it’s as impressive a construction as I’ve seen anywhere in the world. But of course I was constantly drawn to the views from high on top of the fort, gazing across the lake and valley far off into the distance, wondering what others who came before me thought about while standing on that same exact spot. Looking back at my trip through India with Abercrombie & Kent, there were many highlights but my time in and around Jaipur may have been my favorite part of the adventure.