Thursday, May 06, 2010

24 by City - Jaipur

It is best to start the day with the Jantar Mantar, the largest of five astronomical observatories built by Maharaja Jai Singh during the 18th Century. It is a complex of architectural structures that are also yantras or jantras (instruments) of astronomy. They were used by astrologers to deduce the most auspicious time for embarking on major events. Don't miss the Jai Prakash that measures the movement of the sun and stars. A tourist guide will be useful here to help make sense of the structures. 

As with most palaces in India, this one too has a 'Diwani-i-aam' (Hall of Public Audience) and a 'Diwan-i-khaas' (Hall of Private Audience). There are many halls and structures within the precincts and most are open to public. Not only does the museum house some fine artillery and treasures, but the structures themselves are decorated with exquisite frescoes. Don't miss the Peacock Gate and the two large silver receptacles that were used to carry water from the river Ganga for Maharaja Madho Singh II when he travelled to England in 1902 to attend the coronation of King Edward VII. 

This is a five-storeyed structure that is an extension of the City Palace. Built in 1799, the facade of the Hawa Mahal is a honeycomb of jharokhas (decorated windows) providing views of the street below and even the city. As the purdah was strictly followed in the royal family, these jharokhas were the windows to the world for the women of the palace. The name, Hawa Mahal literally means 'Palace of the Winds' and it lives up to its name, channeling cool winds that are a respite from the ferocity of the desert sun in the summer. 

The Jal Mahal (literally 'Water Palace') is situated in the middle of a man-made lake called Maan Sagar. One of the highlights of this palace is that when the lake is filled with water during and just after the monsoon, it can only be accessed by boat or a causeway. This is en route to the Amer Fort. 

The fort is called Amer colloquially but it is also spelt as Amber. It is a sprawling property on a hillside in the outskirts of Jaipur. This would be a good place to live out a Maharaja fantasy by indulging in an elephant-back ride up to the fort. Although the exterior is quite simple, the various halls and palaces inside are stunning. The intricate carvings, miniature paintings, the Ganesh Pol (gate) and the Hall of Mirrors are a must-do. There is a Sound-and-Light show (son et lumière) that takes place here every evening that attempts to capture the splendour of the fort in its heyday. Do check the timing of the show depending on time of year. 

The Jaigarh Fort atop the hill from Amer was conceived purely as a military structure to guard Amer when it was the capital of the kingdom of Jaipur. Jaigarh is much simpler in architecture to Amer but offers fantastic views of the city. There is a museum with artefacts and artillery here as well as an interesting rainwater harvesting system. Jaivaan/Jaibaan, touted to be the biggest cannon in the world is worth a dekko here. 

Colour abounds in Jaipur and there is a multitude of vibrant souvenirs to buy. Pick up puppets, lac bangles, embroidered footwear in camel leather, jewellery, wood or stone carving, metal craft and a plethora of fabric items from block printed razais (quilts) to bandhani(tie-and-dye) attire. Of particular interest is the blue pottery of Jaipur that equals Portuguese Azulejo in its craftsmanship. NOTE: Be wary of people who offer to help with your shopping - they could well be earning a hefty commission from stores. Also, bargaining is expected here - start bargaining from 40% of the quoted price. 

For a Rajasthani cultural experience that includes folk arts, handicrafts and food, do visit Chokhi Dhani, a cultural village that includes a resort. Also, depending on the time of year, there are many festivals that are celebrated in jaipur with great pomp. Check local listings for melas (fairs). 

Rajasthani cuisine - both vegetarian and non-vegetarian - is suffused with flavour and spice. Laal Maas (red-coloured meat dish) is not only red in appearance, but also on occasion, quite fiery. Dal-Bati-Churma is an acquired taste. A ball of bati (steamed wheatflour) is crushed and mixed with churma (sweet powder) and a dollop of ghee (clarified butter). A roti is accompanied by this powder and a serving of dal (steamed lentils). Apart from Rajasthani food, you will find the ubiquitous Indian food outlets, an abundance of sandwich stalls and shops selling sweets. 


Tourist Hotel (Govt. Hostel) M.I.Road
Tel.: 0141-5110598, 5110595-7 Ext.(203)
Platform No.1.Railway Station
Tel.: 0141-2315714, 2200778/1364
Sanganer Airport, Tel.: 0141-2722647
Tourist Office, Near Elephant Stand, Amer
Tel.: 0141-2530264
Central Bus Stand, Dlx. Platform No.3
Tel.: 0141-5064102

(an edited version appeared in the April 2010 Issue of Culturama, formerly At A Glance.)

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