Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Jubilant Jaipur: A Blog on our October Trip to the ‘Pink City'

One early morning during the inception of the festive season when all of Delhi slept, we made our way to the railway station with the intention of catching the New Delh-Ajmer Shatabdi Express. The station was bustling with activity even in that early hour, and except for a series of people sleeping on the floor on mats and newspapers, there was hardly any somniferous sign in the vicinity. Passengers waited for the early trains, the customary mechanical female voice narrated the arrival-departure notifications in Hindi and English respectively, while the coolies with brass amulet like badges carried their usual tonnage. The newspapers of the day having freshly arrived at one of the bookstalls, we helped ourselves to a crisp new sheet and a couple of magazines.Our luggage at our heel, we waited for the train to arrive at our platform. 

Presently, the train slithered its way into view. The arrival of a train is always an exciting sight to watch. The beacon of red light and the boom of the engine horn are the first suggestions of its arrival, and then come its massive body and its undulating tail. Even in these modern days when many people prefer air travel over long-distance commute in railroad trains, the appeal of the train as a quintessential mode of transport is far from exhausted. Being an economical and easily accessible means of travelling, apart from that vintage-appeal that it inevitably ensues, many of us desiderate railroad travel to air-travel when time is not an issue.

 Our train commenced on its journey on-time and puffed its way out of the station. For the next few hours, we viewed an ever-changing landscape outside our windows. After the initial quarter of an hour, when we saw backs of houses, dumps of garbage, there burst into view the hillocks, meadows and agricultural fields rich with the fruits of the season. Bathed in the morning light, the green of the fields were soothing to the eye accustomed to the pollution laden scenery of a metropolitan city. 

Presently, when we saw pink-washed buildings and structures, we realized we were nearing the ‘Pink City’. The train reached Jaipur station fifteen minutes later than its scheduled time of arrival and we made our way to our hotel. The taxi cab ride from Jaipur station to our hotel, which was near the Jalmahal, took nearly an hour because of the awful traffic jam caused by the metro rail construction in the city. After a late lunch at the hotel and a spell of much needed siesta, we made our way to the City Palace. The pink city with its pinkish splendor spread its charmingly warm and sunny carpet of welcome for us.

The city of Jaipur is a most perfect confluence point of our eclectic Indian culture. Steeped in romance and marinating in royal heritage, this well-planned, antiquated city, built by Sawai Jai Singh II of the Kachhwaha Rajput clan, is a traveler’s delight. Planned by the Bengali architect Vidyadhar Chakravorty, Jaipur is divided into nine blocks and encircled by a formidable wall. In this walled city, you will find the juxtaposition of the old and the new in a multihued canvas that accommodates the myriad colors of India with rich flamboyance. Here, you will encounter ostentatious palaces, stunning astronomical instruments, royal armory on one hand, and modest shops selling delightful tchotchkes, pagdi-donned commoners, ghagra wearing females on the other. Our three-day holiday in the city offered us a great opportunity to dive into Jaipur’s rich culture and imbibe some of its pink richness.

 City Palace, Jaipur 

 City Palace, Jaipur 

Our first stop on our first day of touring around Jaipur was the royal residence complex or the City Palace. Like the city of Jaipur which offers a concurrence of the old and the new in the same canvas, the City Palace, one of its principle architectures, too is a medley of two different styles of design: Mughal and Rajput. This extensive regal complex is complete with courtyards, gardens, museums, temples, etc. The royal family still resides in a specially allocated portion of the City Palace. A fluttering royal flag abaft the building occupied by the imperial family suggested the presence of the present king in the building. When the king is absent from his royal seat, the flag is not hoisted. 

The entrance tickets of City Palace are modestly priced for Indian residents. Having my graduate student card with me, I successfully availed myself of the discount that you get if you have a valid student identity card with you. Upon entering the royal complex, you find yourself accosting the Mubarak Mahal, or the reception centre. When Sawai Madho Singh built the palace, this area was used as a royal guest house. Now it houses the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum which displays a glorious collection of royal memorabilia, weaponry, paintings and costumes. The most memorable among this memorabilia is the voluminous dress worn by Sawai Madho Singh I. He was a king with unprecedented adipose deposit: he weighed about 250 kg!

Making my way through a group of bewildered onlookers who stood gaping at the king’s mighty dress, I found myself face to face with the royal attire. Since visitors are not allowed to take pictures in the museum, I mentally captured the image of the cloak impleached with gold. In breadth it is so extensive that it could very well clothe a full family of four individuals. As I tried to imagine the king wearing the same costume and standing before me in his full height, I found a few stray drops of perspiration on my forehead and so decided to amuse myself by concentrating on the other finery.

Our next stop at the City Palace was the Diwan-i-Khas, or the hall of the selective audience. Located on a raised platform, the ceiling of this marble paved pavilion is decked with beautiful chandeliers. However, the most exquisite items on display in the Diwan-i-Khas are the two mammoth silver water containers mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records. Sawai Madho Singh II used these gigantic silver vessels to store drinking water from the river Ganga when he went on his trip abroad. 

Diwan-i_Khas at City Palace, Jaipur 

Diwan-i_Khas at City Palace, Jaipur 

Diwan-i_Khas at City Palace, Jaipur 

The Maharani’s Palace or the Sileh Khana is the power-packed chamber of the City Palace, it being, ironically, in my opinion, the abode to some of the most exquisite Rajput weaponry you’d ever see. Upon leaving the Diwan-i-Khas, we headed in that direction of fearsome beatitude. An ostentatious “welcome” sign on the wall made by arranging several daggers and knives overwhelmed me with their presence. The Rajputs were evidently fond of their toys as wherever I looked I accosted glass-case after glass-case of fierce weaponry. Knives, swords, some with engraved, stone studded hilts, some simple in appearance, bucklers and shields, guns and other armory filled every corner of this massive chamber. Being a non-violent individual, I wasn’t at ease in that chamber of arms; nevertheless, I couldn’t but admire the zeal of the Rajputs who must have taken great pains in collecting that massive array of armaments. Be that as it may, I decided to leave the gallery of weaponry and all thoughts of war and death behind when I descended the stairs and headed for the Diwan-i-Am.

The chamber for the general public or Diwan-i-Am is a breathtaking gallery of royal collectibles and curios. From a handwritten copy of the Bahagavad Gita to copies done in miniature form of other noted sacred Hindi texts, the Diwan-i-Am displays it all. The hall itself is a poem done in masonry. It has exquisite chandeliers, marble pillars and many more. You will be drenched with beauty inside this extraordinary hall of ordinary people.  

Upon exiting the Diwan-i-Am, we felt a strong urge to savor some royal tea at the Royal Café in the vicinity. Apart from the fact that the restaurant was inside the City Palace and their crockery had the royal emblem, there was nothing especially royal about the café. The prices of food items in the menu were modest and the quality of the tea they served was good.

Puppet Show at The City Palace, Jaipur

Some gratuitous Rajasthani decor shopping later, we went to see the Hawa Mahal, that exquisite palace of the wind located a few yards away from the City Palace. The Hawa Mahal is the unequivocal crowning jewel of Jaipur. Such is its design, its distinctive architecture, that standing in front of it, even among the jostling peddlers and honking traffic of Jaipur, you will find yourself transported to some romantic land of dreams. Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh who commissioned this building had originally intended it to be a gallery for royal ladies to view the processions of the city. Nowadays you don’t need to belong to the royal family to climb the stairs of this exquisite five-storied marvel and enjoy the ever-changing kaleidoscope of life in the Pink City. 

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur 

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur 

The second day of sightseeing around Jaipur began with a chance of adventure for us. We decided that instead of booking a cab, we would travel by auto rickshaw and take in the flavor of the city, which we did, literally, since pollution is the main ingredient of the Jaipur air.

Our first stop upon leaving our hotel was the Jaigarh Fort. Of the three forts in Jaipur, Jaigarh is now known exclusively as an artillery warehouse. Located at a strategic point, this hill-top fort offers a breathtaking panoramic view of Jaipur. Maharaja Jai Singh II built the fort in the 18th Century with the aid of the architect Vidyadhar Chakravorty. 

Jaigarh Fort

The most exquisite item on display at the Jaigarh Fort is the behemoth Jaivana Cannon cast in 1720. It is a humongous object that speaks of the sheer power of the erstwhile Rajputs. Our guide informed us that the Jaivana was test fired once and the impact of the cannonball was such that a lake had formed in Chaksu, the place where the cannonball had landed. It is mythically held that the range of the cannon is around 40 km. 


The museum at the Jaigarh Fort was fascinating as well, being well equipped with royal photographs and artillery; nevertheless, it was the ancient temple dedicated to Kal Bhairav, the protecting deity of the fort, which interested me most.

From Jaigarh we headed to that famed structure of Jaipur: The Amer Fort. In Jaipur, Amer is the only one where you’ll encounter royal luxury in full. It has an exquisite Sheesh Mahal, fabulous gardens, a beautiful Diwan-i-Am, and is in one word a perfect erstwhile royal seat. Located about 10 km north of Jaipur, Amer was the capital of the Kacchwaha Rajputs for nearly 700 years. The fort was built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh 1, while the subsequent rulers added to its majestic charm. 

Garden at Amer Fort, Jaipur

Sheesh Mahal, Amer Fort, Jaipur

 To reach the fort you can either take a jeep at the car-stand or take an elephant ride. We opted for the former and reached the rear portion of the fort in ten minutes. The lovely sandstone Diwan-i-Am and the twenty-seven pillared scribe-hall or Sattais Kacheri are some of the attractions at the Amer Fort. In fact, every section of this fort, be it the mirrored Sheesh Mahal or the royal bathing hall, or even the faded murals on the interior walls, will overwhelm you with its beauty. A visit to the exquisite royal seat is never complete without a stop at the sarangi player outside the fort. The musician is an undoubted virtuoso and entertains the crowd with the melodious notes from his sarangi. I had listened to him in my previous visit to the Amer fort and enjoyed his music this time too. He wields myriad kinds of music from his Saringi and that day he even played a snippet from “Baby Doll” the latest Bollywood item song.

The Saringi Player at the Amer Fort, Jaipur

 It being four already, we rushed to see the Jantar Mantar, which closes at five in the evening, from the Amer Fort. Jantar Mantat was built during a time when kings received especial epithets for being extraordinarily intelligent. Apparently, the sire who built Jaipur was in the eyes of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb sawa, meaning a quarter, more intelligent that most people. And this extra-intelligence earned him the soubriquet Sawai from Aurangzeb himself.

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

 The Jantar Mantar observatory was built by Sawai Jai Singh II, who was renowned for his astronomical interest. It features an extraordinary array of complex astronomical instruments and is a treat for the eyes. This observatory is the best preserved of the five observatories that the king built in India.

Delicious Rajasthani Thali at LMB, Jaipur

 A long spell of shopping later, we next headed to the famed Lakshmi Mistanna Bhandar, or LMB, as it is called in Jaipur, at the Johri Bazaar for dinner. Being an avid traveler I have been to several restaurants that serve Rajasthani food, but the exquisite Rajasthani thali of LMB beats all my previous Rajasthani food experience by a wide margin. Delicious is an understatement when speaking about the magnificent meal we had that night at the eatery. The food was the cream on top of our perfect Jaipur get-away. The cherry on top of it, however, was experienced by us the following day when we boarded the famous double-decker train from Jaipur to Delhi. The train not only started and reached its destination on time, but also offered us an opportunity to view the landscape outside from an upper level compartment.

Thus our fabulous getaway to Jaipur came to an end and we returned home refreshed and bearing a luggage of new memories to please us in the coming months. 

P.S. A caveat: if traveling by the double-decker train, avoid the lower compartment. You will know why when you see it in person. 

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