The year 2019 saw the old walled city of Jaipur earn the title of a UNESCO World Heritage City. We didn’t need any more convincing to start the new year with a lens on the regal destination and its royal family. By Rashima Nagpal

PRODUCER AINDRILA MITRA
PHOTOGRAPHER TARUN KHIWAL
ASSISTANT PHOTOGRAPHERS NITHIN JOSEPH & ABHISHEK VERMA PRODUCTION ASSISTANT NANDINI SHUKLA
LOCATION CITY PALACE, JAIPUR

The mere mention of Jaipur conjures up the images of magnificent forts, grand palaces, and bustling pink streets in my head.

Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh
Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh at Chhavi Niwas, City Palace, Jaipur.

This may partly be due to my impressions of the city from my first visit over five years ago. Every time I have revisited Jaipur since, new elements have snuck into the image like previously lost pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. A view of the sunrise from atop the Nahargarh Fort, the sweeping promenade along Jal Mahal, the folk music in the corridors of Amer Fort, the picturesque Diggi Palace, the myriad colours of Bapu Bazaar, the hot kachoris near Raj Mandir—it’s a mishmash of sights and sounds and smells found nowhere else in India, or the world. The last two visits have firmly established City Palace, Jaipur in this forever evolving picture—and rightly so. The palace is the heart of Jaipur, one that has been beating since the 1720s.

Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh
A dark layer of cobalt oxide lends the blue in blue pottery.

I spy peacocks and pigeons tiptoeing in the royal gardens of the City Palace. We last shot
here in 2018, with the charming Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh posing in the historic sections of the palace. A little over a year later, the 21-year-old king is much more at ease as he welcomes us into his childhood home. In fact, life inside the private section of the City Palace is more casual than you’d imagine it to be. Guarding the khaasa gate of the private section for 34 years now, Rampal has been around since the time of Sawai Bhawani Singh, the last official Maharaja of Jaipur. With broad shoulders and a humble smile hiding under his big moustache, he tells me that he admires the youthful spontaneity of his new king. In a passing conversation about the changing times, he also regales me with tales of personalities like the late Princess Diana and Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, who have stayed in the palace. “I wouldn’t have met the people I have if it wasn’t for this job,” he says, with evident pride.

Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh
One can learn the process of block printing at the Anokhi Musuem in Jaipur.

The City Palace is part of the walled city of Jaipur, which includes the city’s oldest parts—Chandpole, Surajpole, Ajmeri Gate, and Hawa Mahal. Unlike other royal cities in the region that were built on hilly terrain, Jaipur was established on the plains and built according to a grid plan interpreted in the light of Vedic architecture. The streets feature continuous colonnades that intersect, creating large public squares called chaupars. If you observe the markets, stalls, residences, and temples built along the main streets, you’ll notice similarities in their facades. All this and more contribute to its status of a UNESCO- recognised city. Besides succeeding in its original vision as a commercial capital, the city has also emerged as an architectural marvel over the years.

Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh
Intricate Zari embroidery.

A striking blend of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture, the City Palace is a complex of courtyards, gardens, and buildings. Blending seamlessly with the old city, the magnificent palace was originally built by Sawai Jai Singh in the 1720s and was enlarged and adapted over the centuries by his successors. While the king himself planned and built the outer walls, the grid-like urban layout of the city and its structures are credited to architects Vidyadhar Bhattacharya and Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob, who were guided by the keen architectural insight of Sawai Jai Singh himself. Being a traditionalist with a keen eye for Western finesse and modernisation, he employed a blend of both the ideologies, and the two architects skilfully incorporated a fusion of Rajput, Mughal, and European styles. It is a well-known fact that the City Palace doubles up as a museum and thus allows one and all to take a tour of its grandeur on a daily basis. In its latest offering, the palace gives you the chance of staying in its Gudliya Suite, a restored chamber that can be exclusively booked on Airbnb. In turn, the royal family will direct the resultant revenue and exposure towards the artisans of the Princess Diya Kumari Foundation.

Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh
The history of Jaipur’s famous bandhani print dates back to 4000 BC.

Another significant aspect that brought Jaipur the title of a UNESCO World Heritage City is its rich repository of art and craft. In the labyrinthine lanes of this ancient city, thrive traditions as old as the city itself. The blue pottery that you may have acquired from your local market, the meenakari bangles you treasure, the tarkashi antiques you love to hoard, and the rugs that add finesse to your home are all crafts that have flourished in the capital of Rajasthan.

Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh
Padmanabh Singh with the women who work for Princess Diya Kumari Foundation, at Badal Mahal.

How did they all come to be here? When Jaipur was founded, craftsmen from all over the country were invited to come and make their home in this new city. Royal patronage, lucrative offers, and the allure of living in a beautiful city led many artisans and craftsmen to the walled city of Jaipur. By the beginning of the 19th century, the city was well established as a thriving art centre. In keeping with the traditions of his forefathers, Sawai Ram Singh II set up the state’s foremost art school (better known as the Rajasthan School of Art). This set the precedent for Jaipur’s current art and crafts culture.

Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh

Blue pottery may be Turko-Persian in origin. But Sanganer, a town 16 kilometres south of Jaipur, is now famous as the best market for these eye-catching artefacts. Similarly, Sawai Madhopur is popular as a women-led handicraft village. Aptly, this is where the primary centres of Princess Diya Kumari’s eponymous foundation are based. To understand the fine process of inlay work, you may raid the street with the magical name, Khazane Walon ka Rasta. And for an immersive experience of block printing, the Anokhi Museum near Hawa Mahal is the ideal base.

Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh
The Maharaja strikes a pose at Sukh Niwas, the royal dining room at City Palace, Jaipur.

They say people make places. I find this to be true more often than not. And in Jaipur, you will see that it is profoundly evident. The kaarigars in the old city and the guardsmen of the palace, the ones donning proud turbans and the sari-clad, the royals and their globetrotting guests—the mysterious appeal of the Pink City lies not in its historic walls but in the people who have built them and those who continue to preserve them.

Related: These Jaipur City Palace Images Will Make You Fall In Love With The City…