Jaipur – The city I live in

Namaste – The ITC Hotels Magazine, February, 2016

There are many Jaipurs within Jaipur – the city you see mapped on the political map of Rajasthan is not the city I live in. I live in my Jaipur. If I were to map my city –a Jaipur that means to me something more than mere roads and buildings — it would be a haphazard meandering between the old and the new. My city would be about the herringbone pattern on the Rajput style chhatris (cupolas), symbolic of water. My city would be about the finials that run along the city walls as a leitmotif border inspired from cloves – a spice that was scarce at the time and valuable. Just above the border are small arches shaped like green cardamom. I find that fascinating and never tire of looking at them. My city would be about leheriya saris and turbans, which allude to water. Rain is rare, so we celebrate it in our own way, with traditional bandhej and leheriya (tie and dye techniques) in reds, indigo, oranges, greens, turquoise, magenta—vibrant colours that add relief to the brownness of the dry, rugged terrain.


I’ve lived here for nearly fifty years, but Moti Doongri, the royal family’s summer castle, still stuns me. Moving towards the walled city, Choti Chaupar has a small flower market, from where you can see the temples and havelis (mansions) in all four corners of the square. Nathani ki haveli is a multi-courtyard mansion, a standing example of the aesthetic orientation of the city. A few moments spent at either Badi Chaupar or Choti Chaupar make you feel as if you are swirling in a vortex, a logic-defying centrifugal force spinning you around to absorb the flashes of colours: traffic that is made up of rickshaws, camel carts, cars, pedestrians coming at you all at once, hawkers calls, turbans piled up on a veranda, and the tranquil faces of a flower vendor stringing roses into a garland while sitting behind piles of marigold and mogra.


Despite Jaipur growing into a sprawling ugly map of modern structures, the city’s cultural identity is still embedded in its living, historic core with its thriving bazaars and landmark monuments. Shikha Jain writes in one of her articles, “Jai Singh’s vision was translated into a city plan that integrated traditional planning guidelines with contemporary Mughal architectural vocabulary and showcased a political will to define new concepts for a trade city that subsequently became a model for town planning. The city was built with extraordinary foresight. It is probably the only 18th century historic city in India where the bazaars can still cope with the present day pressures of vehicular traffic.”


When work gets to me and life’s cacophony reaches a crescendo, I turn to Mansa Devi ka Mandir, just short of Amer Fort, for some peace and quiet. It isn’t a wondrously beautiful temple but there is a palpable sense of worship that energizes me, giving me strength to go on. The Jagat Shiromani temple in Amer is yet another haven. Built between 1599 and 1608, in memory of Queen Kanakwati’s son, Jagat Singh, its appeal, for me, lies in its architectural splendour, rich carving and pervading silence. Lord Krishna’s statue here, according to popular belief, is the same one that Mira worshipped in Mewar over 600 years ago.


Located on an important route, Jaipur was visualized as a centre for trade and commerce, and a large number of artists, craftsmen and merchants from different parts of the country were invited to settle here by Sawai Jai Singh II. They were given specific areas within the walled city and these areas still exist, like Thatheron ka rasta and Maniharon ka rasta. If you go to Maniharon ka rasta just around early afternoon, watch how the sun manages to slip into this narrow lane and playfully bounce off into miniature rainbows from lac glass bangles.


Walking down Johri Bazaar is a childhood ritual that involves dodging pedestrian traffic and stopping for a glass of neera (water from the bark of a coconut tree), after a visit to the Hanuman ji temple; my father took us there every Tuesday. I love walking into Haldiyon ka rasta to pick up freshly baked nankhatai. The Sambharpheeniwala is also in the same lane and it’s magical to see pheeni being made when the cold winter nights set in.


A drive after dinner involves the mandatory go to Statue Circle. Statue Circle was our hub, our adda (hangout) when we were growing up. It was a family picnic spot – that taste of mom’s aloopuri and achaar never leaves me. That’s how we played – a chatai, chai in a flask, balls to throw to one another. The vicinity has changed, but Statue remains what it always meant for us. My children tease me but I go back, steadfast in my love.


Nowadays it has also become a meeting ground for demonstrations and silent protestors who congregate to excite public opinion towards their social or political agenda. The Central Park next to it is the green lung for our city and colludes with the Rambagh Golf Course and the polo ground. It’s a little crowded now, if you are a serious walker or runner, but gives you some ace photographic moments.

I don’t traverse the walled city very often, but the food trails that I go on to accompany interested visitors, galvanise me. Each time I see something new, each time the city makes me feel like a stranger and draws me back into its fold—there is always a promise to discover and explore further. In not knowing it, Jaipur challenges you, in going back to know it better, there is a learning and a loving. Jaipur does not leave you content—it leaves you hungry for more. I am still on that road; and there are many roads, many corners to turn into.


About a year and a half ago, while researching an article on traditional food in Jaipur, I had met up with Vinod Joshi, a social anthropologist. He gave me leads for the best halwai for gunjis, the sweet that is offered at the Shiladevi temple in Amer Fort. But along with this came a chance, “just come and see the tamasha performance outside Ambikeshwar temple in Amer”. I went, and saw the most breathtakingly beautiful 1100-year old Shiv temple. I love the drive to Amer, past the hills that surround Jaipur and ramble around in the labyrinth of lanes inside Amer where every turn seems to lead you to a treasure. The Anokhi Textile Museum is one such point.


On yet another walk through the walled city, we stopped to have moong dal pakoris at Jagannath Sharma pakodiwala’s shop in Tripolia Bazaar, when Vinodji said, “I’ll show a picture from the past”. We turned a corner into a courtyard with an old banyan tree, a well and to the left, the Brijbehari temple from the late eighteenth century. The poetic frescoes in the temple courtyard depicted scenes from Lord Krishna’s life, and were aesthetically and spiritually stirring. What caught my eye were carved and painted peacocks atop the main entrance of the garbagriha (sanctum sanctorum), proud blue breasted sentinels standing witness to epochs gone by.


Not too many areas of the modern city really appeal, to me beyond Statue Circle and the Rambagh Palace. Watching the sun go down from the lawns of this majestic palace, with Moti Doongri in the background is a picture-postcard moment for me. If you are someone who likes to search cities, Jaipur is the place to come to.





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