JAIPUR, RAJASTAN, INDIA - AMBER & JAIPUR CITY. Tuesday 27 March, 2012.
We were met outside the main hotel (palace) entrance at 8.00 am by our guide Raj. Our first stop was our hotel! Apparently it is quite a landmark in the city and Raj spent a few minutes telling us about the history of the place. It was owned by a noble familiy who were a notch down from the Maharaja. The families of nobles helped the Maharaja maintain order in his kingdom and were very wealthy in their own right.
Next we drove through the 'Pink City' stopping at Howa Mahal or the Palace of Winds where we stopped to take some photos but didn't go inside. This building was built to allow the women inside to watch the processions going on in the streets without being seen and is really a facade and not a palace - so there is nothing worth seeing inside anyway. We were taken there first as this building is best seen in the early morning when it glows a fantastic pink colour. In the old city the buildings are painted a rich pink colour which is the reason why Jaipur is
also known as the Pink City.
We passed through the city and drove north to the Amber Palace which is located in the town of Amber which was the former capital before Jaipur. There was a major religious festival going on so it was very busy and the main courtyard was full of covered walkways to shade the devotees who were queuing to enter the Shri Sila Devi Temple located inside the palace grounds.
Adjacent to the temple a steep flight of steps leads to the Lion Gate which forms the entrance to the main palace. We entered the second courtyard and to our right were some beautiful gardens studded with fountains (which were switched off). Opposite the garden was the Sukh Mahal, a pavillion with marble rooms and water channels to provide a kind of ancient air conditioning. The next stop was the Sheesh Mahal which was stunning. This building houses the Maharaja's quarters and is decorated with mirrors and coloured glass. The next courtyard lay at the heart of the Palace of Man Singh I. From here we could see the Jaigarh Fort standing on the hill behind the palace. The fort is connected to the
palace by tunnels and trenches.
We drove back down the hill and made our way to the temporary elephant ride location. The rides normally take the passengers up to the palace gates but, because of the festival, had been relocated to go along the moatside. We climbed up the mounting scaffold and our elephant number 71, who was called Lucky, came alongside so that we could get into the howdah. We went for a walk, for about 20 minutes, along the shady tree lined moat up to the palace wall, and then turned around and came back. We enjoyed the ride but found the constant hastle from the mahoot and his 'brother' for tips and extra money a bit of a yawn.
We then drove back into the city of Jaipur, stopping on the way to admire the lakeside palace, and were dropped by Mr Barun at the City Palace. The royal family still occupies parts of the palace which are closed to the public. The rest of the place is a series of museums housed in various palace buildings. We visited the Mubarak Mahal which was a reception hall and now houses the museum's textile collection of
fancy fabrics that graced the royal wardrobe. Another building housed the armoury which contained some gruesome weapons as well as some ornately decorated ceremonial pieces. The main attraction was the Diwan-i-Khas or Hall of Private Audience which lies at the centre of the palace's second main courtyard. The courtyard is accessed via a gateway flanked by a pair of stone elephants. The open sided hall is on a raised platform and is a deep salmon pink colour. This was the place where important decisions of state were taken by the Maharaja and his advisors.
The walls were hung with portraits of all the Maharajas and the original inlaid thrones were still in place. There were two thrones, not for the Maharaja and his wife though. The second one was for any visiting heads of state or VIPs. As mentioned earlier, the women had to stay out of sight. Another pavilion contains two silver gangajalis (urns) which were used when Madho Singh II attended King Edward VII's coronation in London in 1901. Madho (very appropriate name) didn't fancy our western water so had these urns filled with water from the River Ganges and took them with him to London. The
urns are listed in the Guinness BOR as the largest crafted silver objects in the world. We exited into the Peacock Courtyard which is adorned with four beautifully painted gates representing the four seasons. We left the palace and crossed the road and walked the short distance to our next stop - the Jantar Mantar.
The Jantar Mantar is a large grassy enclosure known locally as The Observatory. It contains eighteen huge stone astronomical measuring devices construced in the late 1720s early 1730s on the orders of Jai Singh who had a passion for the stars and time. The Jantar Mantar is one of 5 observatories created by the star-crazed Maharaja across Northern India. Raj was very knowledgeable about the instruments which are able to identify the position and movement of the stars and planets, tell the time and even predict the intensity of the monsoon. The most impressive of the 18 structures is the 27 metre long Samrat Yantra Sundial which can calculate the time to within two seconds!!!
Raj then took us for a rip off lunch and then we went to see some fabric printing for which Jaipur is apparently famous. We were given the
hard sell but managed to resist. M did manage to purchase a small stamp with an elephant on it for 100 rupees (£1.20) from one of the guys who gave us the demo on how it was done.
We returned to the hotel and had a swim before dinner and the show.
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