Remember those old portraits with the Maharajah dressed in a turban, dripping with jewels, and reclining on cushions watching dancing girls - well you can see where it happened at the city palace.
The Maharajah of Jaipur, Jai Singh, still lives there and his servants and retainers are still visible and move around the palace dressed in orange turbans and white costumes. For a while you can forget the chaos of Jaipur outside and lose yourself in a world of exotic architecture and ancient rituals.
To get perspective its better to get some history of the area. Jaipur is not an old city, it was built in 1727 on the orders of the great Maharajah Jai Singh who moved it away from the cramped conditions up at Amber. The city palace was the heart of the fiefdom and the all-powerful Jai Singh designed most of the city from scratch although it didn''t take on its salmon-pink colour until a visit by Prince Albert in 1856.
During the Raj era it got on very well with the British and formed a buffer state between them in Delhi and the Mewar Rajputs down in Udaipur. When independence came they joined with Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur to form Rajputana, which eventually became Rajasthan. Nowadays the Maharajah still maintains his fabulous wealth and respect, and his palace is open to the public as the Sawai Man Singh Museum.
It is easily reachable on foot from anywhere in central Jaipur as it forms the heart of the old city. The palace itself takes up around five blocks and incorporates the Hawa Mahal and the Jantar Mantar observatory. Auto-rickshaw drivers know the palace well and a fare shouldn''t cost more then 30 rupees. They congregate outside the entrance and may be very vocal on trying to get your fare when you exit. There are also beggarwomen and child hawkers waiting for visitors but the tourist police keep an eye on them.
The first place you enter is the epic Tripolia Gate(see picture) this takes you through to the inner courtyard. This first courtyard contains the Mubarak Mahal, an elegant ivory palace which housed the women of the court, generally the power behind the throne,the Queen Mother.
Then it is through the Sarbata Chandra Chowk which was flanked by elephant statues to the great courtyard. Bright pink walls soared above me leading to cool marble corridors. And in the centre was the Diwan-I-Khas - the hall of public audience. This pavilion was made of gleaming white marble and was where the Maharajah would greet visitors. Musicians would play nearby, and ladies of the court would look on wearing colourful saris. The columns, crystal chandeliers and great water jars were still evident.
The great water jars were used to hold water from the Ganges for when Jai Singh visited England. He didn''t trust the foreign water, which I think is rather a sweet reversal of the English visiting India today.
If you follow the corridors behind the Diwan-I-Khas (which are adorned with exquisite miniatures) you come to the old audience chamber. The dusty exhibts consisted of guns, swords, elephant howdahs, jewels and the largest crystal chandaliers I have seen in my life. With the old servants carefully moving around the palace it was possible to imagine what life was/is for the Maharajah's of Jaipur. The palace is a piece of exotic history that is still living today...and well worth a visit.