Thursday, June 28th, 2012. Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.
Getting an early start to try to beat the heat, we drove into the old city to have a look at the Hawa Mahal or Palace of Winds. Although it looks very substantial, it is only one room deep. The palace was designed to allow the women in the zenana to look out on the goings on below and the design facilitates a cool breeze, hence the name.
We got a great view of the palace by climbing up to the top of the building on the opposite side of the street, which turned out to be owned by a very nice man who was happy to let us use his rooftop to get some nice photos.
Driving out of the city some 11KM, we visited Amber, the former capital before Jaipur was built. Amber is at least 1,000 years old and it is protected by about 22KM of curtain wall, much of which runs over the hilltop ridges. The palace is mostly 3-400 years old and is very well maintained with intricate decorative work, gardens, and military elements.
To reach the palace you can either enter via the royal route through some five different gates from below, which many visitors do on Elephant back, or you can drive up to the fort and enter from the rear which is how the common folk would come in.
The palace is very large and has numerous courtyards with meeting spaces for ministers, foreign visitors, and commonfolk, apartments, women’s quarters and so forth. There is even a 1.5KM tunnel that leads to the Jaigarh fort on the surrounding hill. Perhaps the most opulent part of the palace are the Shish Mahals, or halls of mirrors, which gleam in marble, mirrors, and metal.
One of the gardens (which one can view, but not visit) is situated below the main fort in the midst of the water tank. The patterns in these gardens are repeated in the inlaid stone work found on some of the palace walls.
On our way back into town we stopped at one of the fabric shops and saw how block printing is done and also how they make hand tied carpets. The craftsmanship is evident in these works. Watching the block printers working by hand and neatly aligning each print while working at a high rate of speed was very impressive. Even more so was the hand knotting of the carpeting which was being done by a married couple who seemed to be communicating silently. Despite working at a high rate of speed, a typical hand knotted carpet takes about 2.5 months to make.
Back in the center of town we went to Jantar Mantar, a remarkable astronomical and astrological observatory built by the founder of Jaipur between 1728 and 1734. Numerous sundials and sextants tracked the passage of the sun, moon, and stars with great accuracy.
The Maharaja spoke 17 different languages, including 5 foreign ones and had the works of foreign astronomers translated into Hindi. He built the world’s largest sundial that continues to work and can give the time accurate to 2 seconds.
The founder of Jaipur was Maharaja Jai Singh II and his city dates from 1727. Forging peace with the last great Murghal emperor, Aurangzeb as well as other Indian rulers, he was able to turn his attention to his passion for science and astrology. Jaipur is a planned city with roads running straight and at right angles to each other. Main streets are 33 meters wide (an auspicious number in Hindu mythology) and the city is divide into a 3×3 grid which represents an ancient Hindu map of the universe.
The Maharaja has the title of “Sawain” or one and a quarter, which was granted to him by Emperor Aurangzeb when Jai Singh was just 11 years old, as the Emperor was so impressed with his wisdom and intellect.
Nearby in the old city, our next stop was the City Palace, which replaced Amber as the court of the Jaipuri Maharajas and is as opulent as one might imagine.
Guarding one of the entrances are two large elephant statues carved from single blocks of marble.
Delicate marble carving and painted decorations abound. Elements of Mughal and Hindu design are integrated, e.g. the same courtyard often has single Hindu style columns and double Mughal style columns intermingled. The scalloped arches that today we so associate with India, are in fact another Mughal influence and really point towards a Persian influence.
Unfortunately at this time of year in the peak of the day, the heat can sneak up on you. As the place was bigger than we imagined we really had not brought enough water with us and Kelly began to overheat and feel faint. Luckily she never lost consciousness and a strong electric fan and some cold water helped a bit until we could get her back to the air conditioned car and feed her a banana we had luckily saved from breakfast.
Meanwhile the boys explored the last part of the palace, which included two huge silver urns, the largest sold silver objects ever made. These were commissioned for the Maharaja’s trip to England in the early 1900s and contained sacred water from the Ganges, the only water he would drink.
Kelly improved rapidly so we had lunch at a nice restaurant then went to see the movie Rowdy Rathore.
After a late afternoon nap, our drive Sury took us to dinner at a local Thali restaurant, which looked like a hole in the wall, but served very tasty, very inexpensive food. For two thalis, which we shared, the cost was less than RP190 or about $3.50. We stopped at a local sweet shop and selected a variety of Rajasthani sweets to try back at our hotel. These cost more than dinner, at RP210. The sweets were okay, but nothing remarkable in our book.