Although the former ruling family still lives in the seven-story Chandra Mahal (Moon Palace) built by Sawai Jai Singh II, most of what you'll experience here is the poorly managed Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum and an overwhelming number of overpriced shops (even here you won't be free of India's omnipresent hustling; most guides are keen observers of the commission system -- you have been warned!). Depending on which entrance you use, the first courtyard is where you'll find Mubarak Mahal (Welcome Palace), a "reception center" constructed by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II, grandfather of the present maharaja. Mubarak houses the textiles and costume section, where regal costumes provide insight into the tremendous wealth and status that the family enjoyed, as well as the extraordinarily high level of craftsmanship available to them over the centuries. These include embroidery so fine it looks like printwork, some of the best bandhani odhnis (tie-dye scarves/veils) to come out of Sanganer, Kashmiri shawls, gossamer muslin from Bangladesh, and silk saris from Varanasi. There's also insight into the lifestyles of Jaipur's royals in the form of a specialized billiards outfit worn by the king. The Armoury, with a selection of exquisitely crafted yet truly vicious-looking daggers and swords, is housed in the adjacent palace -- if Mughal history, with all its valor and intrigue, has caught your imagination, ask one of the red turbaned attendants to point out the items belonging to the emperors Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan. The next courtyard reveals the raised Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), built in sandstone and marble. Look for the sun emblems decorating the walls -- like most Rajput princes, the Kachchwaha clan belonged to the warrior caste, who traced their origins back to the sun. To the west is Pritam Niwas Chowk (Peacock Courtyard), with its four beautifully painted doorways -- from here you can search for signs of life from the royal residence that towers above. Move on to Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience), which houses a simply fantastic collection of miniature paintings, carpets, manuscripts, and photographs. Unfortunately, the entire exhibition is poorly lit, and display cases make browsing very awkward, but do try to look for the self-portraits of eccentric Ram Singh II, who found expression for his vanity in a passion for photography. The Friends of the Museum section is a bazaar selling art and crafts by respected artisans; it's a good place to pick up a quality miniature painting or Kundan jewelry, although prices are blatantly inflated. During our last visit we were also horrified to notice that not a single woman artist was represented.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Highly Recommended 2010