Situated 190 miles (300km) southwest of Delhi, Jaipur is an essential stop on any tour of Rajasthan. The old, walled section of the city is known as the Pink City: it was painted red (a lucky colour in Hindu culture) to welcome England's Prince Alfred in 1853, and the fading old buildings still retain traces of this hue. Jaipur is one of India's newer cities, founded in 1727, and was the creation of Jai Singh II, the Maharaja of the Kuchwaha Rajputs, who decided when Mogul power was on the decline to move from his outmoded hillside fortress at Amber to establish a new capital on the plains further south.
The Pink City was built in only eight years. Much of it was designed by Jai himself, including the City Palace and the Jantar Mantar, a fascinating astronomical observatory with massive instruments used to predict the monsoon and to identify the movements of the stars. Most impressive is a 27 metre-high sundial that is accurate to within two minutes. All seven gates into the old city remain, one of which leads into Johari Bazaar, the famously frenetic jewellers' market, boasting the best selection of precious stones in India.
Jaipur is now a thriving commercial city, home to about two million people. Although some visitors are put off by the over-zealous traders and the insane traffic, most are enthralled and enchanted by this welcoming, exciting city. There is no better place in India to shop than in Rajasthan's capital; it is possible to find anything and everything in its shop-lined streets, from jewellery and silks to perfumes and stationery. Travellers should just be prepared to bargain hard for a good deal.