According to the Condé Nast Traveller Reader’s Travel Awards 2016, Jaipur seems to be one of the most favoured tourist destinations of India; and it really breaks my heart to admit that it’s true, because there are so many other worthy competitors and hidden gems cloaked in anonymity in this beautiful country. If you don’t believe me, you definitely need to check out the humongous crowd that crawls through the streets of Jaipur like ants racing for their winter slumberland. The old city seems to be bursting at the seams, trying to control the teeming populace of tourists and locals in its broad alleyways. On top of that, progress demands better connectivity, so a new metro line is being constructed in the pink city that cuts right through the main market near Hawa Mahal. This has resulted in a developmental scar that would take months to heal, if not years.
This was my fourth visit to the City of Forts and I’ve realised that with each visit, the city grows more and more unsuited to my taste. The land of the Rajputs is fast becoming a cliche tourist spot and is definitely a far cry from the world-class destination it is touted to be. As far as its alleged claim of the famous bazaars goes, the competition has stiffened the past couple of years through the bane of globalisation. You can get the same textile, the same jewellery, the same handicraft, the same shoes and even the same pottery at any other city these days, and most of the time at a better bargain.
So what does one really visit Jaipur for? Of course, it’s the history.
The “Bong Connection” of Jaipur:
Surprisingly, the “rich” history of Jaipur is not rooted in the medieval age, unlike other historical cities of Delhi & Benares. In fact, it was only in the early 18th century that the Kachhawa ruler, Maharaja Jaisingh II shifted his capital from Amber to Jaipur – taking infinite pains to build his capital in keeping with the architectural aesthetics of Shilpa Shastra & Vaastu Shastra. In doing so, he took the help of a Brahmin from Bengal, Mr. Vidyadhar Bhattacharya, who helped him plan & design the city in a grid formation. It was, in effect, the first planned city of modern India, a fact which certainly helped augment its royal popularity among the Britishers and other foreigners. In the years that followed, Jaipur grew into a thriving trade and commerce hub, embracing into its bosom the vast coterie of Jains & Marwaris – most of whom formed the wealthy banking & trading community.
Why all the hype?
From its swanky palaces, stunning forts and magical observatory to its sprawling gardens, museums, temples and cramped bazaars, and not to forget, Choki Dhani and the increasingly popular Lit Fest, Jaipur has an endless repertoire of “must visits” for the modern traveller. The city has also been successful in weaving a rich tradition of north Indian classical music as well as the regional folk arts – painting, music, dance & crafts. Thus it comes as no surprise that it is considered the gateway to the royal opulence of Rajasthan. For the first timer in the city, it would indeed be a sumptuous treat to the senses, even a sensory overload to explore the hidden labyrinths of history in its oft-stereotyped cultural heritage. Explore the bustling lanes of Johri Bazaar, get lost in the pink sandstone facades of sprawling architecture, or get away from it all and experience the vibrant colours of an ethnic village in Choki Dhani – the city is blessed with all the conventional ethnic charms that we all so love to romanticize in our blogs.
What to give a miss:
If the culture doesn’t attract you to this city, there is really not much left to be comforted with. The hotels have become rip-roaringly expensive, the food is really not that great anymore (you do get better cuisine in almost every metro cities of India today), and the traffic has become mind boggling. There’s the stink of garbage as soon as you enter the city – and I really don’t understand how Man can be the only animal who trashes and defiles his own nests. There has been so much media coverage over Swachh Bharat Abhiyan that by now you would have expected a tourist place like Jaipur to at least clean up its own streets. Sadly, that is not the case here. But, I have promised to give you five reasons to avoid Jaipur so here they are:
- Traffic: The ongoing metro work has really messed it up for the present. There are no proper signboards to indicate rerouting and the traffic police is not of much help either. Tip – don’t take your own car, and if you do, avoid taking it to the pink city.
- Accommodation: There is really too much hype over and around the word ‘palace’. You search for a decent accomodation, all you get is a shabby downtown “palace” with plumbing problems. Tip – avoid staying in the pink city and search for hotels near the airport. You can give traffic a miss and save on expensive rooms.
- Food: I wouldn’t term Rajasthani cuisine as a gastronome experience. Let’s leave it at that.
- Stinking Garbage: With such massive tourist footfalls each year, I am sure the local government is earning enough revenue to feed an army of elephants. Why not spend a tiny amount of that in the beatification of the city? Hygiene should matter, even for the locals; and though it is a nation-wide issue, if cities like Jaipur lag behind then how are we to bring a change about the rest of the country?
- Shopping: Three words – overhyped, overrated & overpriced. I even saw a few unsuspecting foreigners being ripped off by middlemen. Common & sad, but true.
Nowadays there’s a weird trend catching on within the nation, and people are being penalized for being anti-national if they are caught stating their opinion about the state of the country. But I write what I see, and if this post makes me an anti-national then so be it. We build our own history and it doesn’t just exist in the mazes of beautiful palaces and forts. It endures in the way we treat our people and our home as well. Let’s not forget that.