While visiting any insanely famous city such as Jaipur, the biggest challenge is to go beyond the tourist trail. The challenge is to get to the real flavors of the city and to experience like a local. Well I have the answer for you and it remains same all across the world.
Walking is the only answer to all your worries regarding knowing a city for real! And even if you are the biggest fan of ‘DIY’, keep this one for the experts and I promise you won’t regret it. So talking of offbeat things to do in Jaipur, the first and foremost should be taking a walking tour.
Come with me on this journey through the bustling streets of Jaipur. It is a collection of the best walking tours available in the Pink city. It is going to be overwhelming, but more than worth it!
Experience Jaipur like a local
The Pink city and its Sacred Geometry
The King thought of building another city once the Amber fort was no longer enough to contain his expanding Kingdom. Also lowlands were a better choice for the availability of water.
Maharaja Jai Singh II, the King we are talking about here, was a man of great knowledge and curiosity. He already had a repertoire of maps, prints and literature from around the world to build one of the best cities of the world.
And thus after detailed study and consultation, Maharaja Jai Singh II started the construction of his new capital – Jaipur. Jai from his own name and Puri means city in Hindi. The name pink city came much later, when the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward the 7th) visited Jaipur. But that’s a story for another time.
Jaipur is one of the earliest planned cities of India, and arguably the first. The main appointed architect was Vidyadhar Bhattacharya, who was well versed into the ancient Indian texts written on Science of Architecture, arts and crafts. And hence comes the Sacred Geometry.
Jaipur is on the Tentative list of being a UNESCO world heritage city because of many reasons (read about one of the most beautiful UNESCO world heritage city in South East Asia here). Some of the many interesting things about its architecture are –
- Presence of the sacred number 9 which is the most sacred number as per ancient spiritual texts. The city is built in 9 blocks. The roads were made 108 feet wide (adding up to number 9). The shops in the city were designed in the multiples of 9 – and the list can go on.
- The direction of the whole city is from East to West – from the rising sun to the setting of it.
- The residence of the King is built in the absolute center of the city, signifying the center of the Universe.
Basically the founding principle of these ancient texts is nothing but how the laws of nature affect human dwellings.
So when you visit Jaipur, be sure it’s a work of art – not just a regular city.
Activities to do in Jaipur
Bazaars, Crafts and Cuisines
Back to the King! And why not, he gave it to us!
Since the King had great taste in all things, he wasn’t compromising with the quality of inhabitants either. Economy being the center for any flourishing society, he invited traders from far and wide – all over the world.
Jaipur being in the Silk route, was a great place to be. On top of it, the King offered huge tax concessions. He even offered free and ready residences to come and settle down.
So Jaipur started teeming with the best crafts and wares from around the world. From Blue pottery that came from Turkey to Carpet weaving that came from the Mughals – Jaipur was a shining diamond amongst all of India, and still is. Both these crafts and many such have survived the tests of time and flourished in Jaipur.
The sense of community was very strong in the city and further strengthened by the apt designing of it.
There were separate colonies and markets for traders of the same ware, for example ‘Maniharon ka raasta’ – street of the Bangle makers, ‘Gheewalon ka raasta’ – street of the clarified butter makers or ‘Thatheron ka raasta’ – the street of utensil makers.
Therefore, in no way the clear demarcation created disharmony amongst communities. Instead it ensured that traditional businesses are preserved and each community is able to give its best to the society.
Even today, the city remains the same and most of these specialized bazaars exists. Go to Johri Bazaar to buy jewelry and at the same time see Gem trading in Jaipur. Go to the Maniharon ka raasta to see how bangles are made and shop to your hearts fullest.
Old city is also the best place to try some of the best Indian street food (if you aren’t set on a whole walk dedicated to food, which is also available).
Even today there are sellers who sit down with a huge cooking pot in which milk is cooked for hours and hours. What is achieved in the end is one the tastiest Indian sweets – ‘rabri’ – a highly condensed form of milk. My favorite version was with icecream and vermicelli – called ‘falooda’.
Try spicy fritters, called ‘pakodas’, world famous Indian ‘Samosa’ – you can actually see how these are made. Both go best with an Indian Masala Chai.
You can taste a variety of pickles – vegetables and fruits cured with and preserved in spices and oils.
However, if you have a delicate stomach which is not used to spices – don’t push it and go for only things that are moderately spicy and nicely cooked. Ask your walk leader for guidance.
Points of interest in Jaipur
Temples and Havelis
Other than the bazaars (markets) and the local cuisine, the city mainly was and is the place of dwelling. The most prominent amongst them are ‘Havelis’.
Havelis housed the families of the traders who the King himself invited from far and wide. Most of these traders were ‘Jains’ which is a community that believes in living sustainably while maximizing the resources and profits.
Therefore, Havelis were self sustaining units having their own provision of water and sanitation. They were also built in accordance to the climate and surroundings. Even today when you go and stand in the middle of one of these havelis, suddenly peace envelops inspite of the clamor outside. Even in scorching sun, you shall feel cool inside the havelis.
Today, the courtyard of these havelis have become the place of trade for local people. For example, the biggest wedding market of Jaipur ‘Katla’ is housed in one such haveli. It was one of the biggest in the city – with 18 courtyards.
With people wanting to live a ‘modern’ life and moving out of the old city to the newly built city outside the walls – very few families still live in the havelis. Also, because of no maintenance, the havelis today are not in their best condition.
Those who are renovated are mostly made into boutique hotels – but almost all of them near to the walls, away from the ever increasing population. Some of the most famous ones are Samode Haveli, Mandawa Haveli and Alsisar Haveli.
Few and far in between, there are people who are trying to keep the heritage and you shall meet them too on your walk.
Mr. Madho Somani is a jeweler and a lover of his heritage – he left his home in the modern city and has renovated a dilapidated haveli in the old city. He calls it home now and offers some very interesting conversation with a cup of hot masala chai. (Read the story of a man in Chiang Rai, Thailand who has kept his heritage alive here)
Temples in the city are mostly private, except the big ones. Reason is, when the Brahmins (people versed in the ancient spiritual texts) came to the city on the invitation of the King – each brought their own statue that they used to worship. These could not have been left behind as infused with the spirit of the deity, and hence every such house has a temple, even today.
So essentially these are family temples, but one can walk in just like in a normal place of worship. Of course respecting the timings, and the code of dressing, and conduct.
Its an interesting way to see local life amidst history, culture and spirituality – all at the same time.
All this, and much more on the walks that you take through this beautiful pink city of Jaipur. Please get in touch with Virasat Experiences for these and many more interesting walks. It is only because of these walks that I can say, I have SEEN Jaipur, and you can too 🙂