Majestic Palaces, Royal Haveli’s and Massive Forts. We’re living king size in our 3000 kilometre journey in a Range Rover Sport

Jaguar LandRover has been on a roll ever since the TATA group took charge a few years ago and gave JLR a freehand in terms of developing new products. It has been an epic transformation of two of the most prestigious brands in the world of automobiles. Bar the Discovery, every model in the JLR line-up is brand new. It’s not just about reinventing existing models though. With the F-Type, F-Pace, XE, Evoque and all-new Defender, the company is confidently moving into uncharted territory and creating new segments where it is the de facto leader. And it’s doing all of this with the flair and flamboyance and beauty that you would expect from JLR!

All of that flamboyance and flair translates to the products having a special feel to them, having a certain sense of occasion that the Germans can only dream of. Park the XJ next to an A8 or 7 Series, and you’ll know what i’m talking about. That’s the reason why it’s always a challenge to write about and photograph a LandRover or Jag. You’re always looking to push the boundaries and do something special with the car. So when JLR got in touch with us for the Range Rover Sport, we knew we had a task on our hands. We had to find a location that was just as exquisite and just as royal as the car we were going to be driving. Frankly, Jaipur was an obvious choice. No discussions. No deliberation. No two ways about it. Jaipur, it was unanimously agreed, fit the bill with regard to what we were planning to do.

And so, twelve hundred kilometres, twenty hours, middle of the night state highway runs and two days after we set off from Mumbai, here we are in the capital of Rajasthan.

It’s also famously called the Pink City since 1876, because the then king of Jaipur painted the city pink as a gesture of hospitality to welcome Queen Victoria and the Prince of Whales. Apart from being the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur is also the largest city in the state. The foundation of the city dates back to the eighteenth century, with credit to Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, a great warrior and an avid astronomer. It is said that the walled city of Jaipur was designed by him keeping the ancient science of Vaastu in mind. Probably the reason why it was one of the most prosperous regions of the country as you look back through history.

A six o clock alarm wakes me up the next morning, reminding me that the journey has just begun and that it’s time to get to work. Quick shower later, I head out to the car. The sun is about to rise and it’s bitterly cold, probably the coldest hour of the day. I get into the drivers seat, hit the seat memory button and switch the heater on. Squeezing myself out of the ridiculously thick jacket I’m wearing, I settle into a more natural driving position. The Range Rover’s cabin is a pleasant place to be in. All the buttons are large, clearly labeled and laid out.

It’s a brilliantly designed cockpit. Everything looks great and the seats are supremely comfortable, whether you’re seated up front or at the rear. A few things do disappoint though. The quality of the power window switches for one, as well as the usability of the touch screen entertainment system. It’s clearly a generation old. Our unit didn’t come with navigation pre-installed either, presenting a blank screen every time we hit the “NAV” button. Nonetheless, time to get moving. The folks over at Jaipur Photography Club have gladly accepted to do all the camera work for me. I was expecting them to be a bunch of hobby photographers, but they’ve landed at Amer Fort early in the morning with their bulky, full-frame DSLR’s, telescopic lenses and mammoth tripods! Good thing the RR Sport has enough room for all this equipment.

Set in the hills around Jaipur, Amer is a classic example of what happens when Hindu and Mughal architecture come together. Over 400 years old, this fort still stands strong in the lower reaches of the Aravalli’s. Immediately above on the same Aravalli Range is the Jaigarh Fort, and it’s connected to Amer via a subterranean passage. This passage was used in times of war by the royal family and others in the Amer Fort to shift to the more secure Jaigarh Fort.

Looking at Amer from across the Maota Lake, one can’t not be mesmerised by the sheer scale of the thing. With its large ramparts and sprawling cobbled approach routes, the Amer Fort comes across as an imposing structure. Quite contrary to the subtle and peace-invoking Jal Mahal, located just a few kilometres away from Amer. Nestled in a valley in between the walled city of Jaipur and the town of Amer, the Jal Mahal is partially submerged inside the Man Sagar Lake (like the Lake Palace in Udaipur).

Unlike the Lake Palace which has now been converted to a luxury hotel, the Jal Mahal is inaccessible to the general public. If you thought the Jal Mahal was built to be a palace, you’re wrong. It was constructed by King Madho Singh I merely to act as a lodge, a resting place for himself and his entourage during his duck hunting parties! For a long time, the lake was used a dumping ground for the sewage generated from the surrounding areas. This lead to degradation of the lake and the Palace. However, several rounds of renovation have diverted drains, de-silted toxic waste from the lake bed and regenerated the flora and fauna of the lake. Today the lake presents itself as a home for migratory birds during the winter months.

Shoot done, I returned to my resting place for the night, Samode Haveli. Unexpected and charming, the Samode Haveli is a self-contained, intimate, heritage hotel, hidden deep in the folds of the busy streets of old Jaipur.

Located at one end of the walled city, the Haveli emerges, as if from nowhere at the end of a narrow lane – an oasis of serenity in the depths of the lively city. It’s when you’re navigating your way through these narrow lanes do you realise how wide the Range Rover is.

While most other SUV manufacturers are working hard to make their SUV’s feel as much sedan-like as possible, Range Rover has just stuck to what it does best. Big, boisterous and imposing with a high seating position to give you a commanding view of the road around you!

Samode in itself is great though, offering a heritage experience unlike any other place in Jaipur. A special mention must be made of the “Deewans” kept next to the swimming pool. They’re a joy on winter afternoons, offering one a great place to relax and unwind in the soft sunshine.

Now, by no means is the Haveli experience mediocre, but we explored the Samode Palace the next evening and it ups the ante in virtually every way possible. Every nook and corner, every square inch of this place is worth its weight in gold, such is the beauty of the Samode Palace. Even by boutique standards, this hotel takes the meaning of heritage to a whole new level The Sheesh Mahal is beauty exemplified, the three courtyards a peaceful place to just sit down with your thoughts and see the stars change position throughout the night. Even better is the courteousness of the staff, each one greeting you with a polite “Namaste” as they cross your path. It’s true the Palace is situated around 50km away from jaipur, but if you’re heading to this part of the world, you’ll be missing out on something special if you don’t experience this place first hand!

On our way back from Samode, it rained! And the slushy conditions provided a good testing ground for the RR Sport’s Terrain Response System. This 3.0L diesel, 289 bhp, 600Nm HSE variant comes kitted with the 1st generation of the system as standard. You could, as an option, switch to the second generation system, which adds an auto-mode, so the car decides what terrain you’re driving on by itself. Ever since we set off from Mumbai, I’ve been wondering why one would pay roughly double the price of a BMW X5 for the RR Sport. Drive through some mud and that question is answered instantly. It’s not like this car isn’t good enough on tarmac, but it’s bloody brilliant when the running gets mucky and dirty. You can cross deserts in this car, confidently! I’m not so sure you’d want to take that chance in an X5!

On my return trip from Samode, I thought it would be a good idea to enter Jaipur via the Ghat ki Guni Tunnel on its eastern periphery. If you thought Jaipur was all about Havelis and Palaces, you’re wrong. It’s grown over the last decade or so, into a bustling, modern city. Case in point is the spanking new, 2.8km concrete tunnel blasted through the Aravalli’s.

The tunnel connects Eastern Jaipur to the rest of the world, and has recently been thrown open to the general public. It’s a genuine engineering marvel. As I write, there’s also a comprehensive METRO system being built through the city, adding a dash of modern-ness to Jaipur’s heritage personality.

Our last stop on our final day in jaipur was The Hawa Mahal. Situated next to the absolutely gorgeous City Palace of Jaipur, the Hawa Mahal is essentially a high screened wall built so that the women of the royal family could observe the street festivities without themselves being seen by the general public.

Built over 200 years ago bang in the middle of the city, the Hawa Mahal is the most frequented of all monuments in Jaipur as far as tourists are concerned. This area is so crowded during the day, we had to venture out in the middle of the night in the bitter cold to conduct the shoot in peace.

Five days we spent in Jaipur, experiencing the city as any of us would should we visit with a week in hand. And the place left us speechless. Pink in colour and vibrant in nature, the city of Jaipur is one of the most magical cities in India. I’m falling short of words to describe the charm, the spell that the city casts on its many visitors. It’s unique architecture, culture, tradition, arts and jewellery leave a lasting impression on your mind. It is one of the very few cities that, even after modernisation, still holds onto its roots and values. And thats what makes it unique and spectacular, just like the car thats taken us on this journey!