Rajasthan boasts of two heritage monuments that originally served drastically different purposes. While the Amer Fort was constructed to keep possible invaders at bay, the Hawa Mahal was merely the window to the world, of queens and princesses, that allowed them to witness festivities on the street while obeying the archaic practice of purdah.
But now, both these places lay deserted and reduced to tourist attractions. While they fetched the state truckloads of money, the local citizens had been taking them for granted — until six months ago. Two restaurants completely changed how the locals perceived two of their greatest archaeological strengths — from random objects of indifference, Hawa Mahal and the Amer Fort assumed immense significance by becoming the favourite backdrop of visitors in dozens of selfies and hundreds of cover pictures.
The residents of the havelis in front of both these architectural marvels converted the open parts of their residences into quaint cafes despite a lack of experience in hotel management, merely to cash in on the strategic location of their ancestral places and the impeccable backdrop the neighbouring spectacles provide. This is what I term 'jharokha tourism'.
A jharokha is an overhanging enclosed balcony used in Rajasthani architecture, which is largely inspired from the Indian-Islamic school of architecture. It is basically an ornate window or small balcony that either allowed the queens to observe the vicinity or the kings to deliver their state of the union address. However, jharokha tourism is the one which encashes on these Rajasthani architectural marvels by providing a perfect frame that captures them in their full glory.
Many would wonder why such a lucrative idea did not cross the mind of the friendly neighbours until six months ago. Mohit, the owner of Windview Cafe in front of Hawa Mahal, tells me that the seed of this idea was planted years ago. "Initially this spot was reserved only for film shootings. These film people had made a makeshift cafe on the adjacent plot to shoot a scene in Shudh Desi Romance. It was then that the idea struck and I decided to open a cafe."
However, owing to the jigsaw architecture of the walled city of Jaipur, Mohit owned only a jewellery shop on the ground floor. He had no access to the rooftop, owned by his neighbour who had charge of the shared rooftop of three adjacent plots. "I asked him to rent out a part of the rooftop to me so that I could expand my jewellery shop to another floor. Little did he know that I would open a cafe as soon as we would sign a five-year agreement," Mohit chuckles.
This was how the Windview Cafe shaped up and became an ideal spot for photography and other leisurely pleasures for both foreign tourists and local residents. Since the cafe has a slightly diagonal positioning vis-a-vis the Hawa Mahal, it also caters to the rule of thirds requirement of a good picture. One can marvel at the intricate filigree work and latticework of the 953 windows of the Hawa Mahal while sipping cold coffee under the shade of an umbrella (which is often at the mercy of mischievous monkeys) in the scorching Jaipur heat.
While there are no charges for photography, there is little variety in the menu. Eighty per cent of their food items are outsourced and the fresh preparations are quite limited. But Mohit does not consider that a priority as his USP lies in the setting, not so much what lies on the ceramic plate. "We tell all our guests the best time to visit the cafe is either in the morning or in evenings after seven when the Hawa Mahal is lit up," he says.
Interestingly, his landlord has also opened a rival cafe behind theirs which boasts of an additional attraction of tattooing and fresh food preparation. But it rarely matches up to the footfall of the Windview Cafe. No jalebis for guessing why!
Another cafe that offers eye-popping views, is The Stag Cafe in front of the Amer Fort. While the fort is situated on Cheel ka Teela (hill of the eagle) at an elevated height, the cafe is situated at a lower height on the rooftop of a haveli. The best time to visit this cafe is evening as well, particularly during the light and sound show at the Amer Fort which can be enjoyed free of cost.
Unlike the Windview Cafe, this restro lounge offers freshly prepared items (though they may not be the best to taste when compared to other food joints of the city). There is also room for hookah and candlelit dinners making the cafe the go-to place for both couples and wolf packs who wish to indulge in a long drive on a fair day.
But the USP, yet again, is the location. It is not just the grandeur of the Amer Fort and the surrounding Maota Lake that add to the appeal but also the hills that loom large behind the cafe and lend an air of adventure to the getaway. I visited the place on a full moon night which provided luminosity as well as adrenaline rush to my experience.
"My friends used to hang out at my place when they visited Amer. They always complained that they did not have a cool cafe to go to. That is when the bell struck and I decided to convert a part of my ancestral property into a restro lounge. I am an engineer and my partner is an MBA. We have no experience in hotel management but we are learning day by day," says Amar (name changed on request), the owner of The Stag Cafe.
He also explained the rationale behind naming this cafe after an animal. "It has got nothing to do with stag entry. Even families are more than welcome here. Actually, when we were doing up this place, a lot of animals from the hills used to visit us, probably to wish us well," says Amar, following up his words with a guffaw.
"I remember that a few workers had withdrawn from the project when they spotted a leopard staring at them from a few meters away. So it was only befitting that we name the cafe after an animal," he says.
It has been just six months that the Windview Cafe and the Stag Cafe have begun operating. But they have become a hot property on social media after hundreds of visitors posted pictures at these cafes, with the Hawa Mahal and the Amer Fort in the backdrop, along with the caption: 'Aao Kabhi Haveli Pe', the late Amrish Puri's dialogue from Rakesh Roshan's 1995 action thriller Koyla, that has become a meme-worthy one liner now.
But this trend has only proved that there is ample scope in the Pink City for avenues of hotel management as long as the prospective hoteliers do not mind giving the locals a gentle reminder of how spectacular and archaeologically rich their hometown is.
Updated Date: Jun 26, 2017 10:26:51 IST