The 11th World Wilderness Congress (WILD11) will be hosted by one of India’s most enthralling, colorful cities – Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan and the most recent addition to the UNESCO World Heritage site list. This bustling historical hub dates back to the 1700s, when architect Vidyadhar Bhattacharya planned the city on the principles of Vastu Shastra (vāstu śāstra), a traditional Hindu system of architecture that literally translates to “science of architecture’. Jaipur was dubbed the “Pink City” by Maharaja Ram Singh, who had the entire city painted pink (thought to be the colour of hospitality) in anticipation of the arrival of the Prince of Wales who set out to explore India in the late 1800s!
Jaipur’s countless breathtaking mahals (palaces), forts, museums and temples are sights to behold. From Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds), a summer retreat built by a poet king in 1799 to Jantar Mantar, the largest astronomical observatory built in the early 18th century, Jaipur is replete with intricate historical structures and architectural wonders.
The rulers of the city had a penchant for art and they generously supported artisans who specialized in traditional skills that were then passed on through the generations, as craftspeople from all over India and overseas were invited by rulers over the centuries to display their finest work. This is the origin of the handicrafts, textile works, sculptures, pottery and jewelry so freely on display and available in Jaipur. The city is particularly well known for its “blue pottery”, ceramics bursting with colourful floral depictions – mainly mustard yellow and a vibrant blue. Jaipur’s markets are filled with exquisite goods and vibrant antiques, harkening back to a by-gone era.
Jaipur is an amalgam of living and non-living heritage, with forts, palaces, markets and step-wells that had their origins in the royal patronage lavished on artisans centuries ago. To the south of Jaipur lies the majestic Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, once a hunting preserve of the Maharajas of Jaipur. One of the world’s most frequented wildlife destinations, this is just one of several wildernesses accessible from the city, which lies just south of India’s national capital, New Delhi. Less than 40 years ago, Ranthambhore had been written off as a lost wilderness, overrun by cattle and marginal and failed farms. But a dedicated set of wildlife protectors, led by the late Fateh Singh Rathore, worked under the Project Tiger umbrella to rewild this wilderness to its current, biodiverse state, against all odds.
To the east of Jaipur is Agra, home to the world-famous Taj Mahal a monument that draws lovers from across the globe. The Agra Fort, a Mughal stronghold in the 1600s, and the tomb of the monarch Akbar the Great are also monuments capable of transporting visitors back in time. The three cities – Jaipur, Delhi and Agra – together comprise a circuit referred to as ‘The Golden Triangle’ so beloved by visitors who inevitably promise to return. Crowning the center of Jaipur is the relatively new Jhalana Reserve, a miraculous dry deciduous haven where leopards and hyaena sightings are uncommonly common. With an area of just 24 sq. kms, but connected to surrounding wildernesses, Jhalana supports over 20 of these normally shy and solitary felines, in addition to a rich array of avian life. When you visit Jaipur you will witness a culture that gracefully merges the ancient with the modern in timeless tribute to the beauty of life and all its creation.