The “pink city” of Jaipur wasn’t always pink. But its citizens have had a penchant for opulence ever since it was built almost 300 years ago by a king fascinated by jewels. Though its blush-hued walls have faded to a more natural dusty peach, local gem cutters, jewellery designers and rug weavers haven’t let Jaipur lose any of its lustre. It’s still one of India’s most popular shopping destinations. Here’s how I spent a weekend falling in love with Jaipur alongside a small group of 10 friendly travellers from around the world and an itinerary planned by Intrepid’s local leader and tour guide.

Day one

The first thing my Intrepid group does after checking in to Arya Niwas hotel is head to the markets. Johri Bazar is one of the oldest markets in Jaipur, lining a main boulevard in the centre of town. The lanes are narrow and crowded with people passing through rows of pink pillars and archways. Red-cushioned stalls spill out of shops. On the edge of an intersection, people thread marigold garlands at a flower market. It’s late on a hot afternoon and the flowers are beginning to wilt, and the workers give everyone a garland to wear.

Hawa Mahal is a five-storey pink and red sandstone extension of the Jaipur Palace commissioned by King Sawai Pratap. The 18th-century building is a honeycomb of portholes with five crowded layers of Jharokhas, small balconies enclosed with intricate latticework. Standing here I feel like I’m in Jaipur’s main artery. Droves of tourists fight for the perfectly centred photo-op while a cameraman and journalist broadcast a heated vox pop next to a spectacularly distracting backdrop. While I’m in the heat of the action, the other travellers in my small Intrepid group keep one another anchored in the chaos of the crowd. Across the road, cafes make the most of their prime position advertising the perfect photo-op for the price of a drink.

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Maddy, our Intrepid local leader, has arranged three Mahindras to drive us to our next destination, a small temple on the hill with a view. We’re winding up Nahargarh Road as early strokes of sunset appear in the afternoon sky, as if the pink city is seeping into it. We pull up at a small temple to watch the sun lower behind the hills. Maddy knows Jaipur better than most and makes sure we arrive before anyone else, securing the group an unobstructed spot from which to view the sunset. We chat over chai and biscuits, turning our marigold garlands into crowns that match the colours on the horizon.

On the way down the hill we pull up next to the Amer Fort to catch a lightshow that takes over the facade with a narration telling a history (in English and Hindi) of Jaipur. It starts within seconds of arriving, as if Maddy has pressed a button in his pocket. Different corners of the fort flicker in an orange glow, as if an army is approaching with torches and swords. The show continues for an hour, but a rooftop dinner awaits our Intrepid group, so we jump back in the car and re trace our steps through Johri Bazaar and beyond.

(By the way, poking your head out of the car roof is as liberating as it looks in music videos. I’m holding on to the top of a Mahindra rooftop while the sun is calling it in, as market lights brighten the avenue and the Palace of Winds breezes by.)

At the top of a winding staircase (or a crammed elevator ride) is rooftop restaurant Dagla. We order Kingfishers and cocktails, ramble about love and dating, and debrief the past days. We’re a few days into our trip now and friendships are blossoming over bhuna mutton curry, malai kofta (crispy paneer dumplings) and Margaritas. Everyone in my Intrepid group is here for the same reason: to explore a beautiful country with new people and welcome every experience and personality that comes.

At this moment, a sly-looking Maddy is plotting something, whispering into a member of staff’s ear. “Look that way,” he instructs the Intrepid group. Then, in another trick of Maddy’s magic timing, a firework erupts in the sky. And then another, and then a whole show that he’s arranged just for us. After what was already a special day, the entire city is beginning to feel like the setting of a rom-com that I want to watch again and again.

Day two

The next day starts in the hotel garden with the winning combination of a book and a buffet breakfast. We take a bus back to Amer Fort where we meet a tour guide who shares stories about the rulers who lived here and their history. The palace was the residence for the Rajput Maharajas and their families. One king, Raja Alan Singh, had 12 wives, each with her own apartment to live and raise a family in. The most striking part is the Jai Mandir (Hall of Victory), with an ornate ceiling and wall inlaid with mirrors and mosaics. Looking up at the roof feels like being inside a jewellery box or mirrorball (even if none of the mirrors are selfie-friendly). There are a few shops at the fort to pick up some gifts and curios, or a cold-brew coffee if that’s what the weather calls for.

From here we visit a gem-cutting workshop and learn about the stones and their meanings. It’s attached to a jewellery store where you can design a custom ring, explore the collection and, if you’re like a Broadsheet photographer, try on an $89,000 necklace so large it might qualify as armour. Maddy takes us to a fabric store nearby for a block-printing demonstration where we get to meet the artisans, followed by another shopping opportunity. Here, every wall is covered in shelves of fabrics. You can get anything you want custom-made and delivered to the hotel that night.

We spend the afternoon relaxing at the hotel and pop down to the garden to visit a henna artist. That night we take the bus to Masala Chowk, a hawker-style food court where Maddy takes the reins and orders a banquet of more curries than I could count, dosa, jalebi and kulhad chai. The kulhad, or tandoori, chai is poured into a flaming terracotta cup. As it sizzles and splutters, the cup is submerged in the overflow of chai, where the earthy flavours of the cup blend with the tea. It’s then poured into fresh (cooler) cups. It’s as dramatic as it is delicious. The meal closes with faluda kulfi, a colourful layered dessert in a milkshake glass filled with coloured vermicelli noodles, kulfi, jellies, ice magic and a corinthian wafer. It’s a dessert salad that works in a very sweet way.

We take the bus home, which returns the next morning to take us to Suroth Mahal, an 800-year-old palace-turned-hotel in Kalauri, Suroth, run by the descendents of the former monarchs. I’m settling into life in Jaipur. It still feels like the setting of a rom-com that I would re-watch at weird hours on Netflix. Perhaps the romance was between Jaipur and I?

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Intrepid Travel. Book your tour through India’s Golden Triangle.