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Jaipur

There is a Rajasthani proverb that asks, "Je na dekhyo Jaipario, To kal men akar kya kario?" ("What have I accomplished in my life, if I have not seen Jaipur?").

Flanked on three sides by the rugged Aravali Hills, and celebrated for the striking, if somewhat run-down, pinkish buildings in the old part of the city, Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and these days a big city, modernizing very fast, and a good starting point for a trip through the region. It's a spirited place: a jumble of colorful Jaipuri natives attired in traditional clothes—ghagharas (skirts), complex turbans, and sturdy jutis (pointed shoes)—sidewalk shops overflowing with pottery and dyed or sequined fabric, and streets packed with camel carts, cycle-rickshaws, and wandering cows. The salmon-color Old City is where you'll spend most of your time: most of the sights you'll want to see are here, and it's full of appealing bazaars with colorful textiles and trinkets—look for lac (resin) bangles, steel utensils, and copper ornaments—and mehendi (henna) artists as well umpteen places to have snacks or tall glasses of lassi. Mirza Ismail (or M.I. Road as it's popularly known) is the main drag. It's a bit touristy and rather hectic in the Old City, so be prepared to deal with noise, chaos, a lot of touts and bargain hard if you want to purchase something at one of the bazaars.

Jaipur was named after Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, an avid scientist, architect, and astronomer who founded the city in 1727 when he moved down from Amber, the ancient rockbound stronghold of his ancestors. It's known for being one of the first planned cities in the world. The city is rectangular in shape, and divided into nine blocks based on the principles of the ancient architectural treatise Shilp Shastra. Every aspect of Jaipur—streets, sidewalks, building height, and number and division of blocks—was based on geometric harmony, environmental and climatic considerations, and the intended use of each zone and endures today, although the mad confusion tends to distort the planning of the city’s forefathers. Part of the city is still enclosed in 20-foot-high fortified walls, which have eight gates.

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