One of India’s hottest tourist destinations, Jaipur is accessible by road, rail and air. We chose to drive down the 212 Km from Delhi and the roads were beautiful. We started on September 3rd morning and driving at a comfortable speed we reached Jaipur in about 4 hrs with a brunch stop at Midway, a rest stop area in Bahror. Before checking in at our hotel, we decided to visit the Amer fort which was on our way, about 15 km from Jaipur.
The Amber palace lies within this fort complex, one of the finest examples of Rajput architecture.
Its construction was started by Raja Man Singh I, army commander of Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1592 and was completed by Mirza Raja Jai Singh and Sawai Jai Singh, over a period of about two centuries. The palace is situated atop a hill, and the walk up is quite tiring though one has the option of driving up through a side road. Beware, there are plenty of touts around who tell you the road is really bad and that they will drive you up in their jeeps for a fee. At the Kali temple, water or whisky is served as “Prasad” (god’s offering). You have to ask for the whisky however. 🙂
The highlight of the Palace is the Sheesh Mahal which has thousands of Belgian convex mirrors that adorn the walls and the ceiling. Opposite this is the Sukh Niwas where a cool breeze blows across channels of water for the purpose of air-conditioning. Here are the private chambers of the queens with windows having latticed screens so that the ladies could watch the proceedings of the royal court in privacy. The Amer Fort is, in roughly equal proportions, a pleasure-palace, a former centre of administration and a military stronghold and is worth seeing.
We proceeded to the hotel, Comfort Inn’s Hotel Hawa Mahal, a comfortable 3 star budget hotel, but given the American partnership, the facilities were very clean and the room was elegantly sufficient. After a quick lunch we proceeded to the Hawa Mahal.
Built in 1799, by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh the ‘Hawa Mahal’, Palace of the Wind, is one of the major landmarks of Jaipur. This five storey building of unusual architecture designed by Lal Chand Usta, is a stunning example of Rajput artistry made of red and pink sandstone, beautifully outlined with white borders and motif’s painted with quick lime. The monument has a spectacular view of the city and the colourful bazaars that surround it.
In the Rajput days it served as a vantage point for the royal women to watch the street life and stately processions without being watched.
The facade has tiny lattice worked (Jali) pink windows, small balconies and arched roofs with hanging cornices, exquisitely modeled and carved. The structure looks two dimensional and the numerous windows provide a natural ventilation system for the chambers inside. The entrance to Hawa Mahal is from the City Palace side, through a stately door which opens into a spacious courtyard. The western wing provides an excellent view of the Jantar Mantar. Today, around the Hawa Mahal lies the Johari Bazaar one of the many colorful bazaars of Jaipur which is where we spent the rest of the evening. All the places of interest shut by 5pm so plan your shopping for early evening. We walked down the colourful bazaar to the endless calls of the salesmen dotting the streets. Be sure to bargain and pick either the mornings or evening to walk down as the sun can be quite exhausting. Getting around Jaipur is best done by autorickshaw, tourist taxis or cycle rickshaws. The main markets and tourist spots are very crowded and its a nightmare weaving past the crazy traffic.
Another great spot to stop at is the Jal Mahal. It was built by Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799 A.D. in the midst of the Man Sagar lake as a pleasure spot. The lake was formed by construcing a dam between the two hills by Sawai Man Singh I. During the winter months one can see a large number of migratory birds at the lake. The Palace itself is not open to the public, but the location is great for an early morning or evening walk.
We ended our eventful day with dinner at Choki Dhani. This ethnic resort village has been designed with a focus on traditional Rajasthani cusine and entertainment. The entry is around Rs 210 which includes food. You can find banjara dancers, street magicians, potters, bullock cart rides, elephant rides, camel rides, horse rides, machans (watch towers) and anything traditional and rustic. A good opening day at Jaipur.
Day 2: Sunday, we were told would be a day only for sightseeing as the bazaars would be closed. Karthik was happy, more work for his camera and less for his wallet. After an exhaustive first day getting out of bed at 8:00 seemed a daunting task. But just the thought of site seeing in the sweltering sun made us get ready in a jiffy and we were one of the early visitors to the Jantar mantar. This is the biggest and most elaborate observatory in India and is truly a scientific wonder.
Jantar-Mantar, or Astronomical Observatory, was built by the astronomer king Sawai Jai Singh II, and is one of the five observatories built by the king. Constructed between 1728 and 1734, the Jantar Mantar is located in the center of Jaipur. The monument was built to understand the movements of the sun and moon and to find answer various other astronomical mysteries.
The observatory in Jaipur follows the one in Smarkand, Uzbekistan. It is a scientific marvel and leaves you spell bound. One of the sun dials has a 2 sec accuracy. All the calculations are done based on Jaipur’s local time and geographical location. There are 2 sundials, 2 complementary instruments to measure the sun sign, instruments to measure the azimuth and elevation of the sun and a whole lot of other wonders. It is best to engage a guide to explain all the details as we found out. Our guide Amit, is a student of French and was part-timing as a guide to further his studies by explaining the instruments to the many French visitors to the site. He spoke to us in English.
After our jaw dropping scientific tour it was time for a peek into the aristocratic lifestyles at the Jaipur City Palace. Situated in the middle of Jaipur, the riches and grandeur of the Rajput dynasty can be sensed right from the entrance.
In the city palace is the graceful seven storeyed ‘Chandra Mahal’, or the Moon Palace, home to the present Maharaja of Jaipur; Bavani Singh, providing a fine view of the gardens and the city. The palace also has three museums, Textiles, armory and art. The armory is the best of the lot. There is also a beautiful courtyard that is adorned by very colorful doors and archways. The entrance fee is quite high, and you have to pay extra for the camera, and you will not even be allowed to take photos in the galleries. But the palace is a beautiful place, and you can always take photos of the world’s largest silver jars.
The architectural and scientific marvels made us devorous so we headed straight for LMB resturaunt for some authentic Rajasthani lunch. Be preapred to wait for some time as this is a very popular place with the tourists. Our next stop was Nahargarh Fort. Sunset at Nahargarh fort is one of the must do things in Jaipur so plan to be at the fort by 4:30.
Perched atop a pricturesque hill, the Nahargarh Fort offers a breathtaking view of the city below.The Nahargarh Fort or Tiger Fort was built by Sawai Raja Jai Singh in 1734. Legend has it that the Fort was named after a prince whose spirit used to haunt the site and hinder the consturction. The fort was named after him to appease him. There are nine residential suites and the rooms are linked by corridors and retain some delicate frescos as well as toilets and kitchen hearths. It was used by members of the royal family for excursion in summers.
Each of the Maharaja’s nine wives was given a two-storey apartment, which were set around three sides of a rectangular courtyard. The maharaja’s personal living wing was built on the fourth side. The architecture was basically Indian with certain European additions like angular windows and western styled toilets. The apartments were arranged in such an order that the king could visit any one queen’s room without the knowledge of the others. For his convenience, each queen had her name inscribed above her door. One of the major attractions of the Nahargarh Fort is the view it offers of the Man Sagar lake and the surrounding area. The surrounding cafes offer a splendid view of the sunset. The thought of the king having nine wives to choose from sent karthik back in time :-). The rest of us were content admiring the frescos and the lovely view.
We completed our aristocratic experience with dinner at the Taj Rambagh. It is one of those regal experiences but be prepared for a fat check at the end.
Day 3: Nearing the end of our weekend, we left Jaipur early so that we could visit another landmark before we returned home. Of Jaipur’s three forts, Jaigarh is perhaps the most enchanting and forbearing. If you are looking for a pretty, comfortable palace then this isn’t it. Jaigarh gives a panoramic view of Jaipur and Amber and served as a hard-core fortress. Jaigarh (`Victory Fort’) was built between the 15th and the 18th century, and stands 15 km from Jaipur, amidst rock-strewn, thorn-scrub covered hills, its forbidding stone ramparts visible from Jaipur itself. A steep road goes up to the main gate, the Dungar Darwaza, from where the view is spell bounding.
Jaigarh, once responsible for the security of both Jaipur and Amer, is a huge moated fort and contains all the accoutrements of a full-fledged citadel. It takes about an hour to two to see & explore the fort. Do not pay for a guide, as all the places to see, have a guide who will explain the different points of interest and the history behind the fort.
The main attraction is the Jaivana, the world’s largest cannon on wheels. Jaivana was constructed in Jaigarh’s foundry in 1720, and its barrel alone weighs close to 50 tons. According to popular belief, Jaivana’s been fired only once and the spot where the cannonball hit, is now a mini lake. One can feel the power just standing by the cannon.
Wander around a bit and you can walk the ramparts and peer down the loopholes for guns and boiling oil, or check out the wide water channels. These were part of a very efficient system for rainwater harvesting, bringing in water from across the hills and into Jaigarh’s 3 underground tanks. The largest of the tanks stored 6,000,000 gallons of water enough to feed 10000 troops for 2 years. It is also believed that a huge treasure was buried under the tank until the government seized it during emergency in the 1970s. A case is till in court, but nothing has surfaced. The fort is now privately owned and the museums offer a brief but grand look in to the mighty power of the Rajput dynasty’s military power.
Outside the fort, we met up with Satyanarain Singh, now 95, but in his hey day the chief cook for the Maharajas of Jaipur. He, now apart from receiving his monthly income from the Ruler, is the chief cook at this tiny restaurant. We took some biryani for our trip back home. A quick stop over at Midway to polish off the sumptuous biryani and by 4 in the evening we were back home. Tired as ever but glad to have seen India as it would have been a few centuries ago.
Author: Shwetha Shrivatsa