Tourism grande

If you like palaces, forts, bazaars, elephant rides, and generally wish to turn back time, head to Jaipur

A woman walks past the Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, November 14, 2011

The Hawa Mahal stands tall over a busy shopping area of Jaipur © AFP

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A very young city by Indian standards, Jaipur today is an upcoming metropolis that still retains its colourful spirit and traditional regality. The city, initially planned on the principles of Vastushastra - the ancient scripts on architecture and town planning - is today spread across 120sq kms. With the upcoming Jaipur Metro, the international airport, the Delhi-Jaipur flyover and industrial hubs all around, the city is growing every minute.

The backdrop of the rugged Nahargarh, Jaigarh and Moti Dungari Forts, the mystic charm of Amber, the serenity of Galtaji temple, the eccentricity of Hawa Mahal, the mindboggling astrophysics of Jantar Mantar, the opulence of various palaces, the bustle of its unending markets, the richness of its cuisine, all make Jaipur a perfect destination for domestic and foreign tourists.

It's also a favourite hunting ground for shopaholics, with its cotton and silk saris, suits and turbans in eye-catching tie-and-dye and stunning block prints, gems embedded in silver and gold, handmade paper, replicas of antiques, hand-woven Mughal carpets, blue pottery, bangles in lac, glass and metal and camel-hide foot wear - just to name a few.

Elephants and horses have historically been an integral part of ceremonies, and today you can get a look and feel of them at polo matches, festival processions and the Amber Fort climb. The more adventurous visitors can also go for short rides in the surrounding countryside.

Rajasthani and Hindi are the most common languages spoken in Jaipur, but you shouldn't have much trouble getting around speaking English.

Weather

Jaipur has a dry arid climate both in summer and winter, with a short spell of monsoon rains in July and August. In April-May the temperature can even go up to 47°C. Wear cotton and pray for relief.

Getting around

While tuk-tuks are very common in the outer areas, in the old city you can take cycle-rickshaws, which give you the ease of parking outside and avoiding long walks. Taxis are available on hire from every hotel, or you can call up Metro Cabs (Tel 91-141-4244444) and My Cabs (Tel 91-141-5000000. Expect to pay roughly Rs 15 per km. Additional charges apply for a full day's use and night charges.

Where to stay

Being one of the most popular tourist destinations of the country, Jaipur has a wide variety of hotels to choose from - luxurious palaces, corporate hotels, heritage havelis, budget guest houses and some excellent homestays.

High-end Rambagh Palace (from Rs 40,000), a former royal guest house and hunting lodge, is today one of the most luxurious palace hotels, run by the Taj Group, and is right opposite the Sawai Man Singh Stadium. Oberoi Raj Vilas (from Rs 40,000) is also priced similarly. Jai Mahal Palace (from Rs 17,000) was the former residence of the prime minister of Jaipur. Trident Jaipur (from Rs 13,000), located on the Amer route, has the perfect setting across Jal Mahal. Le Meridien (from Rs 10,000) is located about 30kms outside, on the highway, while Chokhi Dhani (from Rs 12000) - about 12km outside the city, on Tonk Road - is famous for its traditional-theme dinners, and has an interesting resort set like a village, but with all the amenities. Rajputana Sheraton (from Rs 11,000) is conveniently located near the station. For a traditional Rajasthani experience try the centrally located Samode Haveli (from Rs 14,000). If you're looking for serious opulence, spend a night at what is said to be the most expensive accommodation in India - Raj Palace, where a suite will cost you about Rs 82,500, though there are rooms available from Rs 30,000 too.

Mid-level Heritage hotel Mandawa Haveli (from Rs 3500) has unique motif work and rooms of Shekhawati influence. Alsisar Haveli (Rs 5300), Naila Bagh (from Rs 3000), a beautiful heritage property more than 100 years old, is run by a family of art lovers. Diggi Palace (from Rs 4000) is now famous for hosting the Jaipur Literary Fest every year. Park Inn, a commercial business hotel, Shahpura House, Madhuban - all in Bani Park - and Royal Orchid Hotel are priced at about Rs 4500. Narain Niwas Palace (from Rs 5000) is close to Rambagh Palace and the stadium.

Budget Arya Niwas (from Rs 1400) is a spic and span self-serving budget hotel that's very popular with foreign tourists. Its sister concern, Jai Niwas, priced the same, has a nice garden in front and is located just off the busy Mirza Ismail Road. Pick the top terrace-view rooms at Rawla Mrignayani (from Rs 1200 ), a beautiful small heritage property in the walled city run by a simple, charming family. Santha Bagh (from Rs 2500), another family-run hotel, has sprawling gardens. Fort Chandragupt (from Rs 1500) is located near the bus station and Umaid Bhawan (from Rs 1600) is another hotel in Bani Park.

Home-stays and theme hotels Tree House Resort (from Rs 13,000) is an eco-friendly resort about 40 kms outside Jaipur, with tree houses perched atop Keekar trees, and boasting of five-star amenities. You could also try one of these family-run guest houses: Barwara Kothi (from Rs 4000) - which has seven beautiful rooms and huge gardens, Dera Rawatsar (from Rs 2500) and Loharu House (from Rs 4000) - a regal home run by the erstwhile royal family of Loharu.

Where to eat

High-end You can try the regal Suvarna Mahal in Rambagh Palace, famous for its traditional delicacies like kebabs marinated in yoghurt and saffron or Laal Maas (a lamb delicacy of Rajasthan). Or there's the Peshawari cuisine of Bukhara at ITC Rajputana Sheraton - try the Dal Bukhara and Mutton Burrah. The Kebab Shop at Raj Palace serves traditional rural delicacies. Have the Mughlai cuisine of Baluchi at LaLit - the Hindustaan rotiyaan is their signature dish, though, you ought to try the Paan Kulfi too. Dragon House at Country Inns and Suites is popular for its Chinese, Thai and seafood.

Mid-level The most popular restaurants are in and around MI Road. Niros is one of the oldest fine-dining restaurants in Jaipur, and serves mouth-watering butter chicken and amazing ice creams. Try the pineapple raita at Copper Chimney which serves north Indian delicacies. Handi is extremely popular with the locals for its marinated mutton and chicken dishes cooked in earthen pots. Go for the minced meat preparation and batti and soyta (Rajasthani dishes) at Spice Court on Jacob Road.

A woman shops for lac bangles, Jaipur, November 14, 2011

A woman shops for lac bangles © AFP

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Budget Thali House, near the bus station, serves tasty Rajasthani and Punjabi thalis. If you want south Indian food, head to Dasaprakash on MI Road. For north Indian vegetarian food, you could try Surya Mahal on MI Road or Rawat Mishtan Bhandar, on Station Road, famous for its kachoris and north Indian meals.

Where to party

Orca, on Tonk Road, has a wide variety of wines, beers and eclectic music. Back to Basics, in Country Inns and Suites, is a favourite with travellers and locals alike for an evening of dancing. Chokhi Dhani, the theme village, is a popular place for parties among domestic tourists.

Must-dos

Walk in the bazaars of Jaipur. Take a stroll through Moorti lane, the bangle street, Katla bazaar, the jewellers' market and the and Hawa Mahal shopping area.

Take an elephant ride to Amber Fort, or walk through the old part of Amer, visiting the Meera temple and intriguing abandoned streets. Also, take a tour of the Jantar Mantar, with an astrologer as your guide. An early morning visit to the Galtaji temple will be an overwhelming experience.

You could take day trips or overnight ones outside Jaipur to villages in Shekhawati, Pushkar, near Ajmer, Kota-Bundi, or the rural palaces - Tordi Garh, Sawarda, Samode, Chomu, Kanota, Pachewargarh - in the vicinity of Jaipur.

All information is accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication, but please make sure and confirm it independently as required. All prices are in Indian rupees. Hotel prices are for double rooms. Prices are indicative and subject to change