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Jaipur: India’s newest ‘it’ city is pink

Jaipur has been known for its joie de vivre and unique brand of decadence but a new set of luxury consumers is rediscovering its secrets

The Hawa Mahal (iStockphoto)

By Sujata Assomull

LAST PUBLISHED 13.04.2024  |  05:00 PM IST

Jaipur is on a lot of people’s minds. Designer brands Anita Dongre, Ralph Lauren and Lovebirds have hosted their fashion events in the capital city of Rajasthan over the last few months. Singer Dua Lipa made it her destination to welcome 2024. As I was boarding the flight for my latest trip to Jaipur (the third since the start of the year) in March, I couldn’t help but notice that many of Delhi and Mumbai’s fashionable set were also heading to Jaipur for Holi, a festival celebrated with much pomp and circumstance there.

Mozes Singh, fimmaker and author of the coffee table book Jaipur Splendour, was one of them. “People have been visiting and living in Jaipur for ages because it has a hypnotic pull. It’s only now, because of social media, that the awareness about Jaipur has become so widespread," says Singh. “But Jaipur was born cool."

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When the late Jacqueline Kennedy, the former first lady of the US, came to Jaipur in 1962 (her guide was the royal Gayatri Devi, who was regarded globally for her sense of style), she famously said of her trip, “It’s been a dream."

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Founded around 300 years ago by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Amber, Jaipur, or the Pink City, has always been known for its culture, joie de vivre and unique brand of decadence.

Part of the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur “golden triangle", it has attracted tourists and enthusiasts alike for its iconic landmarks, from the City Palace and Hawa Mahal to Jantar Mantar and the Amber Fort. What’s more, the city is home to artisans who are masters of the tie-and-dye technique, colourful pottery, handblock and dabu printing traditions, and jewellery making.

At present, the city of 4.3 million people seems to be undergoing a renaissance. As Singh says, “The best things are happening in Jaipur, from events to parties and everything in between."

OLD MEETS NEW

Jaipur’s movement towards becoming a hot spot, especially for the fashion world, started around 2022, when it adorned the cover of Vogue Arabia magazine. The images harked back to the iconic 1956 Norman Parkinson shoot for British Vogue, shot outside of Jaipur’s City Palace.

Some of this new interest has to do with the royal brother-sister duo of Sawai Padmanabh Singh and Gauravi Kumari. He would have been an official maharaja, and she a princess had former prime minister Indira Gandhi not stripped the royalty of their titles in the 1970s.

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Both the Gen Zers have injected a sense of modernity and newness into the historical city. The polo-playing prince has walked the Milan fashion week ramp for Dolce & Gabbana and Gauravi Kumari is currently among India’s most in-demand magazine cover girls.

The siblings seem to be aiming to put Jaipur on the map—whether it’s working with image consultants to attract the right international attention for the city, or opening retail stores such as PDKF (Princess Diya Kumari Foundation) Store, which aims to highlight the city’s craft heritage while empowering female artisans. They seem to have understood that Jaipur’s old-meets-new world allure is just what the world is craving.

Among Jaipur’s cool tribe is Kuwait-born designer-chef Tahir Sultan, who calls Jaipur “the Marrakesh of India." “It is full of possibilities and offers endless opportunities for reinvention and growth," he says.

He moved from Delhi to Jaipur, a city he had been visiting since the late 90s, a time when it was charming but undeveloped “with the airport being nothing more than a tiny tin shed." He recalls returning many years later to a party in Jaipur, and realising the city had changed. “Suddenly, there was a new palpable cool vibe," he says. Today, Sultan, known for his specialised catering business, serving his spin on Levantine Persian food, runs Maakan, a concept store for artefacts, objets d’art and clothes designed by him. It also serves as a gallery space for artists across the world to connect with interior designers, as Jaipur has become known as a design destination. Sultan plans to open a café soon.

“What I love most about Jaipur is the pace is slower but not less dynamic than, say, an metro city," he says. “Being here has allowed me the freedom to explore various crafts and, like a child, go off on tangents in different realms of design which I fancy."

It was the unique mix of craft and architecture that prompted fashion brand Lovebirds to host a show at the centuries-old Jaigarh Fort in Jaipur last month. Gursi Singh, the brand’s co-founder and creative director, met the duo behind the revamp of the City Palace’s heritage museum shop—Gauravi Kumari and French jewellery designer Claire Deroo—and immediately knew a collaboration made sense for his contemporary Indian brand, known for its easy, effortless aesthetic and design.

Gursi Singh says: “Jaipur has been on our list since we visited the city last year while working on our spring-summer 2024 edit. We were aware of how the city is brimming with craft, colour and culture, but what drew our attention was the heritage architecture."

The Makaan

Ground Reality

Beyond the beautiful architecture, craft, art, bustling bazaars and textiles, there’s another side of Jaipur that needs immediate attention.

Many residents say it’s a city of imbalances and vulnerable to stereotyping, something that can be extended to other tourist destinations as well. For instance, despite a thriving crafts market, many artisans in Jaipur are not compensated fairly. Plus, the city infrastructure needs much improvement.

Jaipur’s special brand of cool mixed with culture and artistry means that, for many, it is a natural jetsetter’s paradise. It will become cooler if all the artisans are duly paid.

 

The new city guide

Planning a quick trip? Here are some places to put on your to-do list

WHERE TO STAY

The Johri: A boutique property in the Walled City, this restored, 19th-century haveli reflects the spirit of modern Jaipur in its interiors and its food.

WHERE TO SHOP

Makaan: Best known for one- of-a-kind pieces of décor, furni- ture and design pieces.

Tallin Jewels: Handmade jewellery inspired by Jaipur, with a global outlook. The store, in the famous Johri Bazaar, offers colourful heirloom pieces, made using corals, tourmalines, emeralds and rubies, that can be worn every day. Make an appointment before visiting.

 

Tallin Jewels in the famous Johri Bazaar

WHERE TO EAT

Jaipur Modern Kitchen: Look out for the Quinoa Menu at this farm-to-table concept restaurant. It’s a good lunch spot. Also stop by the Jaipur Modern store, which is next to the restaurant, and famous for its collection of home furnish- ings and clothes.

WHERE TO VISIT

Museum of Meenakari Heritage: Sunita Shekhawat celebrated 25 years in the jewel- lery business by opening the Museum of Meenakari Heritage that documents the art of ‘meenakari’, an enamelling process that holds deep historical significance in India

 

Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mindful fashion advocate.

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