Bursting with ornate palaces and imposing forts, the city of Jaipur has been a commercial and cultural hub in northern India for centuries. The capital of the noble state of Rajasthan, it is one of the world’s most important craft centers, renowned for its block-printed cottons, metalwork, hand-painted clay pottery, and, most spectacularly, fine jewelry. Known as the Pink City thanks to its profusion of salmon-hued façades (painted for a visit from the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, in 1876), Jaipur is a true feast for the senses. As fashion designer Matthew Williamson says, “For any creative person, the colors, aromas, and artisanal work here are a must.”
It’s a magnet for Indians seeking opportunity, too. Between 2000 and 2011, Jaipur’s population shot up more than 25 percent to over three million. “It’s become a big city really quickly,” says Oscar de la Renta Home creative director (and AD contributing style editor) Carolina Irving, who sources embroidery and researches prints there several times a year. “But even with the traffic and madness, it’s still incredibly charming.” And the congestion is being somewhat relieved by a new mass-transit system, unveiled last June. But for all that, “Jaipur has held on to the feeling of old India,” says Raghavendra Rathore, a local fashion and accessories designer. “The hauntingly beautiful sound of the peacocks is one of my most vivid memories as a child, and Jaipur is one of the places where they still roam.”
Peacocks are not the only animals on the loose. Weaving amid the honking traffic of the city center are elephants, monkeys, goats, cows, and camels. It’s dusty and unruly, but there is much beauty in the chaos. “I remember my first visit,” recalls interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard. “It was all so overwhelming until I saw a group of ladies looking pristine and resplendent in pink, green, and gold saris. The intensity of the colors was riveting.”
Historic citadels like the massive Amber Palace, seven miles northeast of Jaipur, and, closer in, the colonnaded Nahargarh Fort are a good reason to venture outside the capital, but royal residences are plentiful in Jaipur’s old town, too—don’t miss the never-ending pink City Palace and the Palace of the Winds, whose latticelike exterior of sandstone and stained glass is one of the area’s most eye-catching icons.
As the city has grown, contemporary spaces have also made an impact. Most prominent is Charles Correa’s 1993 Jawahar Kala Kendra center, a dynamic arts complex. “The coffeehouse there is a real draw,” says Rachel Bracken-Singh, who with her husband, Pritam Singh, runs the block-print clothing and linens company Anokhi, which has a shop in town. “The staff wear uniforms with sashes and hats, and it’s buzzing with locals.” (Bracken-Singh was instrumental in setting up the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing in a gorgeously refurbished estate a 35-minute drive out of town.)
While there is a lot to be said for the charms of heritage hotels such as the drop-dead luxurious Rambagh Palace and the ornate Samode Haveli, an increasing number of places offer a compelling balance of old and new, notably the recently opened Suján Rajmahal Palace. In the renovated 1729 structure, designer Adil Ahmad contrasts maximalist ornamentation—a riot of bright wall coverings, antique chandeliers—with elegant, clean-lined furniture. A highlight is its in-house restaurant, 51 Shades of Pink, “a most extraordinary concoction of wildly colored pink wallpaper and giant peonies,” Bullard says.