In all your travels, the places that you will see, live and breathe in, you will inevitably come across one city that will feel familiar. The fabric would be new but its weave would be known; the faces might be new but the stories, your own. And you will leave that city with certain images stitched in your memory forever, images that will always remind you of home. Back in 2014, when I first alighted on the platforms of Jaipur, the air was warm with welcome and it has remained unchanged, unfazed through all this time. Every visit to the city has revolved around the familiar welcome in the air and the very same nostalgic good-byes in all the fourteen visits I have made so far.
They will always introduce Jaipur to you as the Pink City, attributing the magnificence to the one colour that was once adopted to welcome the queen of England and has since then been maintained as an identity. And yet, your visits to this glorious city would always be painted in with a multitude of colours. For someone like me, the city surprisingly has colours enough to produce new hues for each new arrival. There is a rich history that defines the streets of the old city; the synchronised shops, busy lanes, a hundred delicacies that tempt you to overfill your tummy, the beautifully carved jaalis (screens), mehrabs, chhatri and such ornamental architectural features on the buildings that pass by are a treat to the eyes. The entrances of quite a few monuments have been adorned with detailed paintings and the speciality is that these have been painted using vegetable and gem colours, leaving them strong and new even after years of use. It is the busy-ness of these streets, the pinkness of the buildings, the variety of things that can be found in the shops that lend character to the old city of Jaipur. To the new city, the character comes from smooth wide roads, plantations by their sides and the circles at traffic junctions that are so huge that almost all of them are used as picnic parks.
One of the most enthralling parts of the city is the Mirza Ismail Road, more popularly known as M.I. Road. I did often find myself simply strolling along and taking in the scents and sights that came to me. It begins with the smell of tender meat cooked in Rajasthani spices on your right, while the mouth watering smells of Dal Bati, Churma and other vegetarian delicacies on the right, both from tiny-greasy shops that serve the most delicious food in the city. Almost always the character suddenly changes and you find yourself standing amidst posh shops with glittery facades, a dozen clothing brands, big hotels and expensive jewellery stores. Walking forth, one comes at the “Panch Batti Chauraha,” named after the five lamps that that adorn the centre of that square. It is here that you can find the famous Raj Mandir Cinema Hall, Niros, Townhouse, Amrapaali Jewellers and the most pointedly, the Arms & Ammunitions store. A few steps forward and one would come to the popular lassiwala, a shop that promptly closes at two in the afternoon but serves the most tempting lassi in the entire city. Mirza Ismail Road goes on for another kilometer-and-half and showcases a variety of restaurants, branded shops, age-old markets and little strutting lanes that lead you to the inner shabby areas of those glitzy exteriors. This epic road takes you to the walled pink city leaving you with a myriad of images, scents and sights fixed in your heart.
The old city is eponymous for housing the Jantar Mantar, the City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Albert Hall and further ahead, Jal Mahal, Gaitore, Nahargarh Fort, Jaigarh Fort and the most widely known, Amer (Amber) Fort. These are monuments which have through time made the city of Jaipur popular through India and the rest of the world alike. And yet, it wouldn’t do justice if I told you that these are all that make up that beautiful city. The true essence of the pink city lies in those pretty pink facades, in the tiny paintings on a million walls, those intricate jalis and jharokhas. It lies in the people and their unmatched hospitality, in the million colours that dazzle in the markets. It lies in the sweets – ghewar, phirni, lassi, choghni and churma, in the kachoris and dal batis, in keema baati, laal maas and shikanjis. Such is the air in the capital of Rajasthan, that no matter how short or long my stay might be, my heart forever remains captured in that city in pink.