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The forbidding exterior of this enormous carbuncle on a hillside just beyond town hides a more delicate series of pleasure palaces in mixed Hindu and Moghul styles, whose sandalwood doors are inlaid with ivory patterns, and whose walls are covered in chips of glass and mirror to resemble glittering Persian carpets. A 12-section harem quarter, rather Spartan and claustrophobic, raises questions about marital harmony amongst maharanis. Ramparts command views over old Amber and surrounding fortifications that straggle over brown hillsides. An impressive sound-and-light show relating melodramatic Rajput history should lure you back in the evening. See amberfort.org
As tourist wildebeests migrate through Amber Fort's corridors, down below in the old town – original Jaipur – you'll find some lovely sights entirely overlooked except by those fortunate enough to be on a thoughtful tour. My Luxury Gold guide Vineet shows us quiet back streets where children play, a startling step well like a Mayan pyramid turned inside out, and peaceful Ambikeswar Temple, dedicated to Shiva. Jagat Shiromani Temple is the highlight, gorgeously writhing with bare-bosomed goddesses and studded with elephant statues, where the only disturbance is a caretaker in a pink sari, sweeping with a twig broom.
This five-storey building, curved so it could dispense with serious foundations (and resemble Hindu god Krishna's crown), was constructed so that the women of the City Palace could watch street processions while remaining in purdah. Never has an instrument of women's repression looked so striking. The pink sandstone facade of the "palace of winds" is peppered with hundreds of balconies, niches and windows adorned with ornamental trelliswork, and is especially glorious in early-evening light, when it glows like a giant honeycomb. The interior, though, is best in the morning, when sun shines through its stained glass. See hawa-mahal.com
The maharaja's digs take up a sixth of Jaipur's pink-washed old town in a series of courtyards encrusted with nearly 300 years of architecture, including a sandstone and marble audience hall. It's the museums that are best, showcasing illuminated manuscripts, gigantic Moghul carpets, miniatures and stunning royal knick-knackery. The textile and costume section is especially good, with pink costumes in the typical zari (gold thread) and gota (silver thread) embroidery styles that demonstrate that Rajasthanis aren't shy about making a splash. On a Luxury Gold tour, an exclusive sound-and-light show is followed by dinner at the palace's Baradari Restaurant. See royaljaipur.in
You know you're in India when a dewlapped, dung-splattered cow plods along an arcaded shopping street beneath lurid hanging textiles, momentarily shouldering tolerant shoppers aside. Prepare for a hearty dose of colourful chaotic, noisy India. You can buy handicrafts, perfumes and embroidered camel-leather slippers in this old-town market, but locals come for the bangles, textiles, clothes, cushion covers and bedspreads. Batik, tie-dye and block printed Rajasthani fabrics in an eyeball-aching array of colours are the best buy. Sharpen your bargaining skills. The absence of traffic is a relief along this pedestrianised strip, although touts are ever persistent. See tourism.rajasthan.gov.in
I defy you not to be intrigued by this 18th-century royal astronomical observatory whose various outsize devices chart the movement and position of stars and planets and can tell the time to within two seconds of accuracy. It's science harnessed to the need of Hindu astrologers to plot auspicious days for weddings and business transactions. The instruments could be artworks too, with their zigzags, curves and interesting patterns of light and shade. An impressive and unusual place in which an intelligible guide is a must – just another good reason to be on a tour. See jantarmantar.org
Brian Johnston was a guest of Luxury Gold Vacations.