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Jaipur, the Jewel of Rajasthan

TRAVEL NOTES WITH MEREDITHE STUART-SMITH

Meredithe in the Chhavi Niwas, City Palace

Our designer and founder recently visited India's incredible Pink City, the capital of Rajasthan. From the majestic City Palace via the stately Amer Fort to the unique, creative, independent hand-printing studios, here are her top picks.

A royal guard in the Chhavi Niwas, City Palace

What were your first impressions?

I was absolutely overwhelmed by the beauty of the place and people – how intensely decorated everything was, from the trucks on the road to the tunnels on the highways. Everything is meticulously and lovingly painted – the floor-to-ceiling hand-painted tiles are just incredible. I was completely mesmerised by the beautiful colour, everywhere. Pink is associated with hospitality, and the city was shrouded in pink by Maharaja Man Singh II in preparation for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1876.

A warm welcome at the Villa Palladio

Grant Gibson at the City Palace

Tell us what inspired you to visit Jaipur?

The colour, pattern, and vibrancy of India have always appealed to me. I came across the wonderful interior designer Grant Gibson on Instagram. At some point, I saw he led trips for design-oriented people to India with a focus on Jaipur. The trips looked fantastic; well-organised and filled with design inspiration and cultural visits. As we work closely with a factory in India, I was interested in learning more about the innovative manufacturing there.

Most memorable moments?

The trip to the splendid City Palace, particularly Chhavi Niwas, the incredibly ornate blue and white room decorated with pillars and arches, will be with me forever. As well as the beauty of Hawal Mahal (also known as the Palace of Winds), a magnificent five-storey building resembling the honeycomb of a beehive with incredible lattice work. Built in red sandstone, it glows a glorious pink in the sunlight.

Meredithe and the tour group at the City Palace

The drivers of The Pink City Rickshaw Company

Grant organised an initial tour in little pink carts provided by The Pink City Rickshaw Company, all driven by female drivers, a social enterprise employing disadvantaged women. It was an amazing way to get an overview of the city and visit the various bazaars, the beauty, and the magical dance that happens in the midst of what looks like chaos to an outsider. The roads are filled with carts, rickshaws, bicycles with three people, motorbikes with a family of four piled on, cows all along the sides of the road, and the occasional painted elephant and mahout.

What did you learn about the craftsmanship and artistic traditions?

Jaipur has a long history of weaving, hand looming, carpet making, enamel work, and jewellery. Traditional crafts are cherished in India, and young people are very keen to hold on to them. Block printing, in general, is preferred to anything digital. We visited a few workshops run by couples in their twenties, supplying Western markets, determined to keep the tradition of the craft of block printing or hand painting alive and thriving, which was heartening to see.

Block printing workshop

Bar Palladio Jaipur (left) and Meredithe at City Palace (right)

Your absolute must-visit place in Jaipur?

The City Palace, Amer Fort, the palace temple, and the vegetable/flower market. The Samode Haveli, a traditional Indian mansion surrounded by a beautiful garden, is an wonderful choice for lunch or dinner. The Villa Palladio has elegant interiors and a fabulous bar.

Decoration on the wall of the Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah

Any unexpected hidden gems?

We visited Brigitte Singh's amazing design studio in a bougainvillaea-covered haveli. Specialising in woodblock printing, it was some of the most beautiful work I saw in Jaipur. It's no wonder her hand-printed textiles are on view at the V&A museum in London. The sunrise trip to the Taj Mahal knocked my socks off! A real surprise was a trip to what Grant calls The Little Taj, the Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah, built in 1628, it’s often seen as the first version of the Taj Halal, which was finished 20 years later in 1648.

The group that travelled with Grant in the Chhavi Niwas, City Palace

Jaipur is a designer's dream! Tell us about the other creative people you travelled with?

Travelling with Grant was an extraordinary experience. Everything was incredibly well organised and thought through. He also customised the days for each designer's needs. I was able to visit workshops that could help us delve into new products for Meri Meri. I spent most of my time travelling with two wonderful interior designers, Kristina Phillips and Annie Downing. I learned an enormous amount from my time with them. It was also interesting to see what they were looking at for their customers and how to develop their own products.

Did Jaipur inspire any new ideas for Meri Meri designs?

I was hugely inspired by the mix of colours, the hand painting, and decorations everywhere. This will filter into the sort of patterns we develop for our products. Our new collection with Molly Mahon highlights the art of block printing. Molly has been inspired by the Indian craft of block printing, and it’s been a pleasure to work with her on such a creative, beautiful collection.

Our new block print-inspired collection with Molly Mahon

Your top Jaipur travel tip?

Bring an open heart and an extra suitcase!

Meredithe stayed at 47 Jobner Bagh, a unique boutique guesthouse and traveled to India with Interior Designer and Bespoke Travel Guide, Grant Gibson, who provides a design lover’s paradise, the ultimate in shopping, design sourcing, and sightseeing. Not just a tour, but a once-in-a-lifetime private experience. Read here for more information.

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