Tourists and locals alike know Jaipur – the capital city of Rajasthan – for its vibrant art and culture. But for those who want to learn about Jaipur’s Walled City, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, a walk has been especially curated by two city-based architects, Chandni Chowdhary and Ankit Gupta.
Under the initiative ‘Jaipur Uncharted’, the two-hour walk takes the participants through the Walled City, which was established by Sawai Jai Singh II in 1724 and remains India’s first planned city.
“We started the heritage walk to acquaint locals as well as tourists with Jaipur’s history and speciality; why it has been made a world heritage site,” says Chowdhary, a heritage and conservation consultant with the Jaipur Municipal Corporation.
Jaipur Virasat Foundation teamed up with Jaipur Uncharted to restart this walk, which had been discontinued last year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The response was overwhelmingly positive as the waitlist expanded to over 60 people after registrations were closed. "Despite having lived in the city for 20 years, I learned many new things about Jaipur in this walk. It was an eye-opener," says Amitash, a walk participant.
The city of nine grids
One of the earliest planned cities of modern times, Jaipur is considered a fine example of planned architecture.
The grid pattern is also seen in the bazaars, which open onto chaupars or squares as well as the streets which cut each other at right angles.
“Jaipur’s Walled City has two distinct architectural styles. The 18th-century style is typified by Rajput architecture dominated by chhatris (dome-shaped pavilions) and arches. The architecture in the 19th century blended Rajput and European styles and is seen in the Town Hall building, the Mubarak Mahal, Albert Hall and the Maharaja Library,” she says.
The Walled City is dotted with scores of beautifully designed buildings and bazaars, all painted in the pink colour that has given Jaipur the moniker of ‘Pink City.
“The material used in the construction of the buildings was sourced locally and is mainly random rubble masonry with a finishing of lime plaster,” says Chowdhary.
Of chariots, temples & soldiers
Titled ‘Walled City of Jaipur - A walk through the Royal Precinct’, the walk has a two-km route. The starting point is the Govind Devji Temple, the seat of the aaradhya or patron deity of Jaipur, maintained by the erstwhile royal family even today.
The next stopover is at the Jaleb Chowk. Jaleb is the Persian word for soldier and this space was used as a parade ground for drills and exercises for the royal army.
It then moves to the Sireh Deohri Darwaza on the eastern side of the chowk.
The buffer between the two gates houses the sheds, which house the 'Indra Vimaan' - a chariot pulled by elephants. From the Sireh Deorhi Darwaza, the group moves on to the loftily sited Kalki Mandir, dedicated to the tenth incarnation of Vishnu. It is the only one in the world consecrated in the name of Kalki.
From the temple, the next stop is Sawai Man Singh Town Hall. This used to be the state assembly till 2001 when it shifted to its new premises. “The Town Hall is a fantastic example of how contemporary European trends had begun to influence the vernacular design vocabulary of Jaipur and the amalgamation of both,” says Chowdhary.
The world-famous Hawa Mahal is an ode to Jaipur being known as Lord Krishna’s city because the design of the monument is in the shape of Krishna’s mukut or crown, says Gupta.
The next stop is Badi Chaupad which is sited on a ridge that runs east-west across the entire city. A seven-storey deep step well once existed at the site, providing water to the area. The walk then goes through the Tripolia Gate – the ceremonial entrance to the City Palace Complex and ends at the Chandni Chowk, where walkers dig into the sumptuous chaat and snacks that the city is so well known for.
(Urvashi Dev Rawal is a Jaipur-based journalist specialising in development, gender, and political reporting)