Bring an empty suitcase to Rajasthan’s famed pink city, because you’re going to want to buy everything in this creative hub.
“JAIPUR IS SLOW LIFE!” my taxi driver declares. All around us, cars, pedicabs, bicycles and cattle are stuck in hardcore commuter gridlock. Horns screech, elephants trumpet, and pedestrians tumble in and out of the disorderly scrum. Young boys jog in between the cars and oxcarts hawking fresh coconuts, marigold garlands, and saris. A horse cart waits patiently next to us, the turbaned driver casting a betel- stained grin. My driver responds by pressing on the horn for an unnecessarily long time. Slow life? Sure, in the literal sense. But it definitely doesn’t seem relaxing.
After a few days in the Rajasthani capital, however, my taxi driver’s declaration begins to make sense. In spite of the log-jammed roads and dizzy markets, folks here take their time. Like the horse-cart driver who smiles in traffic, shopkeepers linger over tea and conversation, and skilled artisans work slowly and deliberately to create swoon-worthy architecture, textiles, art and jewelry that stand the tests of time. This is no accident.
Back in 1726, Maharaja Jai Singh, the city’s namesake, summoned skilled craftsmen—bricklayers, stone masons, marble cutters, metal smiths, potters, weavers— from the farthest reaches of the Subcontinent to build a new capital from the ground up. City planners followed architectural blueprints detailed in Vastu Shastra, a part of the Vedas, or Hinduism’s religious texts. Think of it as Vedic feng shui. Balanced aesthetics and details of extraordinarily exquisite filigree, inlay and gilt are the cornerstones of the city’s iconic structures: the old city wall, the City Palace, Jal Mahal (or Water Palace, on Man Sagar Lake), and the pink Hawa Mahal, (Wind Palace), for example.
Jai Singh launched one of modern India’s first intentional artisan communities. Deep inside the dusty warrens of the walled old city, artisans— or karigbars— turn out extraordinary objects much like they have for the past three centuries. Craftsmen chisel marble, cut gems and hand-embroider garments with solid-gold thread with casual expertise. The level of detail is staggering. More than once on my visit, I was given a magnifying glass to properly appreciate gold inlaid with precious gems, highly technical weaving techniques, and pichwai or gota embroidery, which resembles a painted tapestry.
Modern designers—native and foreign-born—still flock to Jaipur. Tapping indigenous artisans’ know-how, the new kids are repurposing folksy styles into edgy, appealing fashion, furniture and practically anything else. The contemporary craft movement, in turn, gives a lifeline to the karighars in their continual defense against machine- made wares. We can all thank the Maharaja for inuring his subjects with an abiding appreciation for hand-hewn beauty and intricacy—an ethos of living and enjoying creative pursuits that continues to underscore the city’s character. Here, the slow life is the good life.
Zip around the Pink City’s eclectic enclaves—a seamless blend of ancient and avant-garde, bustling and sleepy—via autorickshaw or Uber.
The Pink City got its rosy paint job in 1876, and the original walled core still blushes with glorious palaces, forts and temples. The old markets are full of treasure; it’s worth elbowing you way through the mayhem to get your piece of Jaipur’s magic.
The posh district’s graceful tree-lined streets and colonial and Mid-century bungalows appeal to dignitaries and design-types.
Teeming with youthful energy, this burb mixes cool cafes and crafty threads with the ubiquitous sidewalk ch ai wallah, or tea seller.
Endless rows of multi-generation jewelry shops, snack stalls and sari boutiques make this iconic street a one-stop shopping (and eating) hub.
The up-and-coming district’s low rents and broad avenues lure fresh start-ups looking for space to flex their creative muscles.
Not a neighborhood per se, the pretty shopping complex’s bougainvillea-covered courtyards are home to trendy ateliers peddling contemporary and vintage crafts.