City Palace

Lonely Planet review

A complex of courtyards, gardens and buildings, the impressive City Palace is right in the centre of the Old City. The outer wall was built by Jai Singh, but within it the palace has been enlarged and adapted over the centuries. There are palace buildings from different eras, some dating from the early 20th century. Despite the gradual development, the whole is a striking blend of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture.

The Kachhwaha Rajputs were patrons of the arts and took pride in their collection of valuable artefacts. For a long time there was a private museum here, for viewing by visiting dignitaries, and in 1959 this became a public museum under Man Singh II. His successor, Maharaja Bhawani Singh, took a keen interest in its development and enlarged the museum substantially.

The price of admission also gets you in to Jaigarh Fort, a long climb above Amber Fort. This is valid for two days.

Mubarak Mahal

Entering through Virendra Pol, you’ll see the Mubarak Mahal (Welcome Palace), built in the late 19th century for Maharaja Madho Singh II as a reception centre for visiting dignitaries. Its multiarched and colonnaded construction was cooked up in an Islamic, Rajput and European stylistic stew by the architect Sir Swinton Jacob. It now forms part of the Maharaja Sawai Mansingh II Museum , containing a collection of royal costumes and superb shawls, including Kashmiri pashmina . One remarkable exhibit is Sawai Madho Singh I’s capacious clothing. It’s said he was a cuddly 2m tall, 1.2m wide and 250kg. Guides will take great delight in telling you how much he supposedly ate for breakfast and that he had 108 wives. Appropriate for such an excessive figure.

Also on display here is Maharaja Pratap Singh’s more diminutive wedding dress – a red-and-gold piece with a massively pleated skirt dating from 1790. There are also several dresses with exquisite gold embroidery, dating from the 19th century, which were worn by royalty around Diwali.

Rajendra Pol

North of the Mubarak Mahal is the grand Rajendra Pol, flanked by carved elephants with lotus flowers in their mouths – symbolising royalty – that date from 1931. The gate has brass doors and walls embedded with precious and semiprecious stones.

Diwan-i-Khas (Sarvatobhadra)

Set between the Armoury and the Diwan-i-Am art gallery is an open courtyard known in Sanskrit as Sarvatobhadra. At its centre is a pink-and-white, marble-paved gallery that was used as the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), where the maharajas would consult their ministers. Here you can see the two enormous silver vessels.

Diwan-i-Am

Within the lavish Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience) is the art gallery . Its great array of exhibits includes a touching collection of illustrated manuscripts showing everything from scenes of daily life to tales of the gods. The hall still has its beautifully preserved painted ceiling, with its barely faded, original semiprecious-stone colours, and an enormous crystal chandelier.

Exhibits include a copy of the entire Bhagavad Gita handwritten in tiny script, and miniature copies of other holy Hindu scriptures, which were small enough to be easily hidden in the event that Mughal zealot Aurangzeb tried to destroy the sacred texts. There are Persian translations of the Ramayana and Mahabharata; the latter was made especially for Akbar, and has illustrations by the greatest Mughal painters. Some beautiful Sanskrit books are also on display, as are early manuscripts on palm leaf, and particularly fine miniature paintings from the Rajasthani, Mughal and Persian schools depicting religious themes. On the walls are some beautiful carpets, made in Lahore in the 17th century and probably bought to decorate the new fort–palace at Amber.

The Armoury

The Anand Mahal Sileg Khana – the Maharani’s Palace – houses the Armoury, which has one of the best collections of weapons in the country.

Fearsome daggers are arranged over the entrance to say ‘Welcome’. Many of the ceremonial weapons are elegantly engraved and inlaid belying their grisly purpose. They include two-bladed steel daggers that, at the flick of a catch, become scissors inside their victims; walking-stick swords; swords with pistols attached to their blades; and beautiful crystal-, ivory- and silver-handled daggers. Some pieces have a history attached to them, such as a sword inscribed for Shah Jahan, and a sword encrusted with rubies and emeralds that was presented by Queen Victoria to Maharaja Ram Singh, ruler of Jaipur from 1835 to 1880. Gun-lovers fear not, there is a fine array, including a gun the size of a small cannon for use on camel back; and double-barrelled pistols, which held bullets made of lead, dipped in poison and packed with gunpowder.

If weaponry isn’t your bag, however cunningly vicious and finely engraved, the 19th-century mirrored and gold-inlaid ceiling, decorated with a gorgeous floral pattern and women in various moods, is well worth a gaze.

Bagghi-Khana – The Carriage Museum

This museum houses a ramshackle collection of carriages and palanquins, featuring special covered versions for palace women, with the purpose of maintaining purdah (the custom among some Muslims and Hindus of keeping women hidden from men outside their own family). It’s interesting also to see 19th-century European cabs adapted to Indian conditions, such as the small Victoria bagghi (carriage) given to the maharaja by the Prince of Wales in 1876 (the same year Jaipur was painted pink). An unusual piece is the mahadol – a palanquin with a single bamboo bar – usually used by priests and carried by bearers. Also on display here is the Thakurji ka Rath, a chariot used for carrying the state religious icon on special occasions.

Pitam Niwas Chowk & Chandra Mahal

Located towards the palace’s inner courtyard is Pitam Niwas Chowk. Here four glorious gates represent the seasons. The Peacock Gate depicts autumn, with zigzagging patterns and peacock motifs – around the doorway are five beautiful repeated peacock bas reliefs in all their feathered glory. The Lotus Gate , signifying summer, is just as splendid, and is covered in repeated flower and petal patterns. The Green Gate (or Leheriya, literally ‘waves’) representing spring is more subdued, but still beautiful with its simple green design, and winter is embodied by the Rose Gate , again with repeated flower patterns, but less colourful than the autumn or summer gates.

Beyond this chowk (square) is the private palace, the Chandra Mahal, which is still the residence of the descendants of the royal family and where you can take a 45-minute guided tour (₹2500) of select areas. Flying above the building, you can see the one-and-a-quarter flags that signify the presence of the maharaja. If he is away, the queen’s flag will fly in its place.

Govind Devji Temple

This early 18th-century Krishna temple is part of the City Palace complex, though outside the walls. It’s decorated with a mixture of European and Indian designs – the chandeliers are European, the paintings Indian. The ceiling is decorated in gold. A popular place of worship, it’s set in gardens and was situated so that the maharaja could see the deity from his palace. The deity is unveiled seven times daily for aarti (worshipping ritual).