Friday, June 29th, 2012. Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.
In and around Jaipur, the two most important sites are the City Palace and Amber Fort. Each of these requires a separate ticket, but each of those tickets also allows you into several other sites. For the Amber ticket, you can pay a little more and get two days of validity, which is what we did, so today we are exploring some forts and minor sites.
Stop number 1, is the Maharaja’s cenotaphs at Gaitor. Unlike the other cenotaphs we have visited, in Jaipur, the men’s and women’s cenotaphs are in completely different grounds. These are the men’s memorial and they include impressive marble carvings.
The last Maharaja of Jaipur died last year and was cremated in a nearby plot. His memorial will be built in about 2 years time.
Stop two is the Jaigarh Fort, above the Amber Palace, which it used to defend, although it contains parts which are much older than Amber. Beyond the usual battlements, palaces, and collections of arms and artwork, there were a few unique things to be seen here.
Principal among these is the world’s largest wheel mounted canon which could fire a cannon ball 22 miles. It was test fired once and then never fired again. Weighing 50 tons and sitting on a carriage of 250 tons, it took four elephants to move.
Elsewhere in the fort we got to see the canon foundry where the weaponry was made. Gunpowder and canons came to India with the Mughals in the early 16th Century, but they protected the technology as secret. It was only after serving and commanding forces in Afghan wars for the Mughals that a Hindu general learned how these were made. In the late 16th century he setup the first native foundry here and they were able to produce their own arms.
The fort is high up on the hills surrounding Amber and Jaipur. What enabled this fortress to exist was a large scale system of canals and water tanks that captured water during monsoons, and could even share it with the TIger fort, some 8KM away. As many as 22,000 people in the Jaigarh fort would survive on the water collected, and the system is still used today by those that live in the fort.
The Nahargarh (Tiger) Fort, further along the ridge, closer to Jaipur is a much smaller fort. It also appeared to be a bit more run down, but as it turned out, may have been the highlight of our day.
As we drove up to the fort, we encountered lots of vehicles and it was clear that a movie was being made. Unlike in the US where if they were to use a location for a movie it would be “bought out” and off limits to the public, here visitors were still allowed. A very large number of people were jammed into the place, between all the extras, the main characters, and all the production crew.
After looking around the fort and watching them do a bit of filming, we were on our way back to the car when we noticed what was obviously a film star hanging out in his chair. We stopped and got chatting to him. He told us that the movie is called “Shere” (Lion) and is about a 1960s Robin Hood like character who stole from gold smugglers and used the money to build schools and temples in his village in Gujarat.
The guy was really nice and not only agreed to let me take a photo of him with the boys, but had his personal assistant take my camera so he could get a picture of all of us. Our driver immediately recognized him as Vivek Oberoi, a well known Bollywood actor. I googled him, and it seems like he is a genuine good guy – known for his philanthropy as well as his acting skills. The guy looks every bit the movie star!
We then did some shopping for fabrics back in town – Jaipur is especially well known for block printing, so we went to one local place, but found their prices very expensive – about 2.5 to 3 times what we had been quoted the previous day. Rather than try to haggle, we just went to another place, where their prices were in line with the first shop we had visited. The owner was a very nice man and we struck up a good conversation. We ended up buying a number of things, mostly as gifts. In addition, Kelly got a kurta (long dress like blouse) and had them made some modifications to it, and Aaron ordered two custom tailored shirts. He picked out the fabric, colors, accent fabrics, style, etc. All of these were delivered to us at our hotel about 6 hours later. Aaron’s shirts each cost less than we’d find at home for something off the rack, even during the best of sales.
When we stopped at the bookstore yesterday, Kelly and I glanced at the Time of India’s list of best restaurants In the country. Many are top dollar joints charging upwards of US$75 per person, but some are local places that have good reputations. One of these in Jaipur is LMB, originally a sweet shop founded in the late 1700s, but now also a hotel and restaurant. The food was fine, but nothing special in my book. Probably he best thing was the juice I had, which was a combination of apple and pineapple.
After lunch we walked through old city bazaar, but didn’t see anything especially interesting for sale. What amused me is seeing people on the streets with what at home would be a typical bathroom scale, selling the service of telling you your weight.
A little outside the city gates we walked to the Albert Hall, which was as close as our driver could park. Since it was included in our ticket, we decided to go in. The foundation stone of the building was laid by Prince Albert of England when we visited a little over 100 years ago. At the time, no one knew what the building would be used for. Eventually it was decided to make it into an industrial arts museum to house a collection of prints, metal ware, fabrics, musical instruments, arms, etc.
Amongst the exhibits were some stick like artifacts that were labeled as “stuff” which I thought was a bit odd. I even looked this up online to see if maybe there was some interesting story about how we got the English word stuff from a particular type of Indian stick that was used to point to different things, but there was no such story.
Eventually it dawned on me what in fact each of these items was – a staff!
It is because of Prince Albert that Jaipur has one of it’s most distinct attributes. Buildings in Jaipur used to be many different colors. With the upcoming visit of Prince Albert, the Maharaja declared that all buildings in the old city were to be painted pink (actually more of yellowy sandstone color), the traditional local color of welcome. Since then there has been an ordinance that all buildings in the old city can only be painted this color, hence Jaipur is known as the Pink City even today.