A designer palace, hidden bazaar and jewellery scam: Uncovering the secrets of Jaipur, India’s Pink City

A designer palace, hidden bazaar and jewellery scam: Uncovering the secrets of Jaipur, India’s Pink City

As an excitable, lone traveller, I backpacked around India 10 years ago and was befriended on my arrival in Jaipur by a couple of similarly aged locals. Keen, they said, to practise their English, they showed me the sights before taking me to a remote location for what turned out to be a non-existent party. Stranded in an empty mansion somewhere in the countryside and surrounded by companions who had suddenly become sinister, I was ‘encouraged’ to deliver a consignment of jewels to London. I would learn later that a common scam at the time supposedly saw groomed travellers agree to take the gems to a fabricated colleague coincidentally based in their home country, but only after these con artists had rinsed the visitors’ bank accounts to secure a ‘deposit’ against the worthless stones’ supposed high value.


Luckily I didn’t get so deeply embroiled in the conceit. After providing some vague assurances that I could assist after having a night’s rest, I escaped the phantom party and left the city early the next morning (though even then I was apprehended near my hotel by never-before-seen companions of the previous night’s crew, menacingly keen to know where I thought I was going). Happy though I was to move on, I was always a bit disappointed that my trip to Jaipur was so prematurely curtailed; when planning a recent trip to nearby Udaipur, I thought it would be remiss not to make a return visit — a decade later, considerably greyer and slightly less naive, I’d no concerns that I might again be apprehended.

There’s certainly good reason to visit the so-called Pink City. An hour’s flight from Delhi, a link in the well-trodden Golden Triangle tourist route that also incorporates Agra’s Taj Mahal, and the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur makes an obvious addition to any inaugural India itinerary and can be relied upon to reveal new treasures to repeat visitors — its lures are legion. Embedded with and surrounded by palaces and forts, its star attractions are colossal and magnificent; its vast assembly of bazaars, local craftsmen, artisans and (legitimate) jewellers make it one of India’s most popular shopping destinations; a credible selection of characterful luxury hotels provide welcome respite from the ceaselessly busy (and in summer infernally hot) city centre.

One of Jaipur’s many street markets CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

My own base was Suján Rajmahal Palace, a former royal residence that in 2015 opened as an intimate 13-bedroom hotel. While many of India’s palaces have been converted into hotels, few cater as handsomely to aesthetes as this property. A magnet for design lovers, every room and suite is entirely unique, each given a different hue and character by one of the 46 bold and individual wallpapers spread throughout.

Suján Rajmahal Palace

Providing a visual jolt to the jetlagged, the 51 Shades of Pink breakfast room is drenched in vivid blots of rose and fuchsia as an unsubtle nod to Jaipur’s alias and a less obvious homage to the palette depicted in a 1952 Vogue spread showing the locality — the interior would seem completely artificial and intolerably tacky if in a new-build in Vegas, but in a mottled old Rajasthani palace it just works. Lit a soft gold by heavy chandeliers, with its ceiling depicting a rainbow of tropical flowers all in full bloom and its many plump couches and armchairs draped in cobalt and emerald, the parlour is a lush, shadowy retreat packed with cosy reading nooks. The vast private gardens come into their own at dusk, when the heat of the day has subsided and the property’s grounds are lit by hundreds of candles.

51 Shades of Pink

I spent more time than I had anticipated at the property. Swimming in the outdoor pool at midday; lingering later on the terrace for the hotel’s complimentary afternoon tea; and trying its restaurants (each beautifully styled but the international dishes I tried were disappointing and the prices — near London levels — often strongly out of step with other excellent eateries throughout the city) all provided welcome respite from what is an intensely busy, interminably noisy and inevitably stressful city.

The hotel’s Kennedy Suite

Arranged via my tour operator Ampersand Travel, a private tour guide did an invaluable job of showcasing Jaipur’s highlights as comfortably as possible, his perpetually fascinating commentary providing a welcome distraction from the city’s insistent cacophony of blaring car horns.

Hawa Mahal, or the Palace of Winds CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

We of course visited the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of Winds, a five-storey sandstone edifice into which are carved 356 petit windows — each provided an obscured viewing platform from which the women of the royal family could discreetly observe life on the street below. Adjacent, the vast City Palace complex serves as a compendium of Jaipur’s regal heritage, with a museum that recounts the city’s former kings and queens, a present-day royal residence on site and remarkable examples of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture and design on display throughout — its most beautiful decorative element of all, I thought, is a brilliantly painted doorway encircled by peacocks, their halos of turquoise feathers fully unfurled. About 30 minutes from the city, the 16th-century Amber (or Amer) Fort is hewn from red sandstone and marble and is incontestably one of Rajasthan’s most impressive historic monuments.

Morning light strikes the Amber Fort CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

But it was our ambles through the city’s side streets that proved most interesting. With some 2,000 temples spread throughout Jaipur, intimate places of worship and shrines were everywhere; an amble down an innocuous alleyway led to a former mansion now converted into a vast wedding bazaar, its 200 or so shops seemingly all overflowing with bejewelled saris. Food stalls perforated every street and with my guide to hand, I was able to try the city’s best samosas (fresh as could be, exceptionally cheap and impossible to locate without a resident’s assistance), pick up provisions from the ‘pickle man’ who sells 60 to 70 chutneys (sweet mango, jackfruit and ginger varieties among them), and sample the disc-shaped ghevar cake then being made to celebrate a local festival. (For cooling G&Ts after sunset, a recommendation for Bar Palladio proved another winner — inspired by Harry’s Bar in Venice and impeccably finished in a stark white and deep royal blue, it is one of the loveliest drinking dens in Rajasthan.)

The sun rises over Jaipur’s Jai Mahal fort CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

And there were everywhere jewels to be seen too. With some 3,000 factories for stone cutting and polishing in the region, Jaipur is said to be the world’s biggest centre for jewellery processing and some 45 per cent of the city’s population is involved with the jewellery or fabric trade. Though I was disinclined to delve into that area personally, there too there’s much to discover — just be sure to ask for your concierge or guide’s advice on what’s kosher.

Ampersand Travel (+44 (0)20 7819 9770) offers four nights B&B accommodation at Jaipur’s Suján Rajmahal Palace starting from £1,990 per person, based on two sharing. The rate includes international and domestic flights, private transfers and a privately guided city tour.