A Local’s Guide to Jaipur’s Royal Past and Glittering Future

Jaipur, the centuries-old home of Rajasthan’s royal family, is beginning to embrace the cutting edge. Samir Andrea Kasliwal, an heir to the 166-year-old Gem Palace, explains.

A Local’s Guide to Jaipur’s Royal Past and Glittering Future

As a ninth-generation heir to Jaipur’s Gem Palace, Samir Andrea Kasliwal is responsible for maintaining ties with the royal family—and with a more contemporary clientele (hi, Oprah).

Photo by Sara Hylton

People are a little confused when they meet me, because I have an Indian name but my accent is Italian. My father is from Jaipur, but I was born in Bologna, where my mother is from. In 2010, I moved to Jaipur. There aren’t many half-Italian half-Indians in India; I think I know all of them by now.

My family’s business, the Gem Palace, is located on Mirza Ismail Road (people here call it M.I. Road), in central Jaipur. Our family has owned the jewelry store for nine generations—and the decor hasn’t changed since it opened in 1852. People are amazed when I show them Jackie Kennedy’s signature in our guest book. But that’s nothing compared to the jewelry we make. Much of it features different motifs that are characteristic of Indian designs: elephants, peacocks, lotus flowers. The gems are the real standouts—everything from 20-carat Colombian emeralds and strands of natural pearls to diamonds from the legendary Golconda mines near Hyderabad.

I spent a lot of my childhood in the store, though I really started adapting to the local culture when I moved here to be more involved in the business. Jaipur is more conservative than Delhi or Mumbai, mainly because of the city’s history as the seat of Rajasthan’s royal family. People here are very attached to traditions and heritage.

But over the past decade, the capital has become much more cosmopolitan. Jaipur International Airport is being renovated and will have direct flights to and from London. Already we have nonstop flights to Dubai and Bangkok. People who visited Jaipur just 10 years ago are shocked to see how rapidly it has transformed into a metropolis with an interesting skyline. There are more cool places now, run by a young creative crowd that’s able to look beyond the borders of India. They’ve had a huge influence on the shopping scene as well as on the food scene, which is improving every day.

Jaipur has always needed more places where people can spend recreational time. This is what restaurants like Baradari and boutiques like Parampara Jaipur are aiming to provide—the restaurant is located on the premises of the City Palace, while the boutique is a gallery-shop that showcases art, fashion, and photography. These are places where, yes, you can shop and eat, but where you’ll also find good music and green space.

The royal family of Jaipur is the most prominent custodian of the cultural, artistic, and architectural heritage of the city, but we’re all—old residents and new—working together to promote the city. I have friends who, whenever they come to Jaipur, change their return ticket once, then twice, because they want to stay longer. And it’s because of the vibe we’ve created. The city is the capital of fun right now.

Where to explore in Jaipur
1. Baradari
“In Hindi, baradari means a pavilion with 12 doors. It’s a fitting name for this restaurant located inside City Palace, which has a series of alcoves with access to a pavilion. The restaurant serves a combination of Indian and Italian food. My absolute favorite starter is the onion and mozzarella kachori, a popular Indian snack with an Italian twist.” Jaleb Chowk, near Gate No. 2, City Palace


A waiter holds a plate of vegetarian fare at Meraaki Kitchen.

Photo by Sara Hylton

2. Meraaki Kitchen
“One of the co-owners was a finalist on India’s MasterChef television show. They serve all vegetarian food. I’m non-veg, but I love this place. The building is unlike anything else you’ll see in India; it looks like a chalet with a pastel color palette and extravagant lighting. Besides the vegetarian sushi, I love the reinterpretations of Indian street food such as the chaki phulka [a type of roti] tacos, and sliders of pani puri [a doughy shell stuffed with potatoes and spices].” 3. 1135 AD
“This beautiful restaurant on top of Amer Fort—a UNESCO World Heritage site—is ideal for a candlelit dinner with friends. There is also a private terrace upstairs with a table for two; from there, you can enjoy a view of Jaigarh Fort, one of the three forts of Jaipur. They specialize in traditional Rajasthani food, and the must-try is the thali, which consists of eight different specialties such as laal maas, a lamb curry, presented in small bowls on a huge silver platter.” Jaleb Chowk, Level 2, near Sheela Mata Temple, Amer Fort


High-end clientele frequent The Gem Palace for its beautiful wares.

Photo by Sara Hylton

4. The Gem Palace
“Our store is a shop, but it’s also a meeting place for friends to come together for our famous espresso, which I bring back from my trips to Italy. On a typical day, I’m either creating designs based on the gemstones I have available or I’m entertaining clients. You never know who’s going to walk in. It could be Kendall Jenner or Oprah or Hillary Clinton.” 5. Parampara Jaipur
“My friend Virginia Borrero de Castro recently opened this clothing and accessories boutique. She’s a Colombian designer who mainly works with handloomed fabrics and embroidered textiles, with the aim of supporting local artisans from India. She stocks the store with her De Castro Moda brand as well as pieces from designers around the world.” Mani Mahal, Panch Batti, M.I. Road


The Jantar Mantar observatory serves as inspiration for Kasliwal’s designs.

Photo by Sara Hylton

6. Jantar Mantar
“I love going to this 18th-century observatory to study the way the light hits the buildings. It’s an extraordinary source of inspiration when I’m working on the cut of a stone and want to maximize light reflection. The geometric shapes of Jantar Mantar find their way into my designs, especially in the jaali filigree work—intricate gold and silver designs—on the back of our jewelry.”


Live like a royal at the Sujan Rajmahal Palace, now a boutique hotel.

Photo by Sara Hylton

7. Suján Rajmahal Palace
“This was a guesthouse belonging to the royal family of Jaipur before it was converted a few years ago into a boutique hotel with just 14 guest rooms. The family still owns the hotel, but now it’s now run by the Suján hospitality group. The terrace is the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon tea in a Wes Anderson–type atmosphere. The use of boiserie—ornate wood paneling—and wallpapers tailor made for the property is extraordinary. And the service is outstanding.” 8. Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum
“The museum, which is part of the City Palace, was founded by the royal family of Jaipur. It has textiles, weapons, ceremonial areas, and private gardens, which are part of the royal residence at City Palace and require a separate ticket. The gardens occupy many acres, with lawns, trees, and long, narrow fountains. Last year, the museum opened a new wing that features paintings by royal court artists as well as photographs, mostly by Maharaja Ram Singh II [nicknamed ‘the photographer prince’], and it’s a true highlight.”

9. Andraab
“Andraab specializes in excellent Kashmiri shawls. Every piece is completely handwoven and hand-embroidered by artisans in Kashmir. There’s a story behind every design—the Mughal Love pattern, for example, includes birds in a nod to a 17th-century emperor and naturalist.”


A customizable piece from Trunks Company

Photo by Sara Hylton

10. Trunks Company
“The first time I saw one of their leather trunks, I wanted one. The company makes every sort of trunk you can think of, and they can customize them according to your needs. I ordered a midsize trunk, in black leather with burgundy suede lining, for my watches.” 11. Central Park
“The park borders Rambagh Palace, the former residence of the maharajah. At 5 a.m. each day, the atmosphere is already vibrant: The locals are out doing various physical and recreational activities or meditating. During polo season [beginning in January], teams from all over the world come here to play.” Prithviraj Road and Sawai Mansingh Road


Guests at Dera Amer can walk with elephants, accompanied by a naturalist.

Photo by Sara Hylton

12. Dera Amer
“This camp on the outskirts of Jaipur was founded to support organic farming and forest and elephant conservation. There are also luxury tents on the premises—you could definitely call it glamping. When I stay there, I love joining the bird-watching sessions at 6 a.m., which are personally guided by the owner, Udaijit. There are many bird species in this part of Rajasthan, and he is a true expert. I also enjoy the barbecue they set up in front of the tents, as well as the bonfire in winter.” >>Next: What It’s Like to Tour Jaipur With One of India’s First Female Rickshaw Drivers

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