As we entered the streets of Jaipur, our driver, who had a tendency to turn guide abruptly, announced, “Welcome to Jaipur, pink city. All buildings here are pink.” We were passing through the bazaar area, where buildings were every colour but pink.
After we checked in at our hotel and rested a bit, we decided to go out for a drive in the evening, as recommended by our Jaipur guide, to see the lights that had been put up for Diwali and visit Birla Mandir.
We drove past the Legislative Assembly and other Government buildings where the lights had not still been removed after the Diwali celebrations. The Birla Mandir looked pretty adorned in the Diwali lights. We prayed and went around the beautiful shrine for Krishna and Radha and received some sweet candy, as prasadham, from the priest.
In the morning, we drove over to Amer Fort, the UNESCO world heritage site which was the former capital of the Kachchawa clan. The construction of the fort had been started in 1592 by Raja Man Singh, whose sister is said to have married Emperor Akbar and who himself was a Commanding General in the Emperor’s army. The fort construction was completed by Sawai Jai Singh I, who then decided to shift his capital and proceeded to build his new Jaipur in pink and relocated there in 1727.
The Amer Fort was on top of a hill in the Aravalli range. It was very hot outside as we drove past the narrow, ancient streets, where life still continued in the form of odds and ends shops squeezed along the streets. The guide pointed out differences among the ruins we passed on our way up the hill. He said they were layers from different period of rule in the region. Some of the oldest ruins were considered to be the ruins of structures built more than 1000 years ago by an ancient tribal clan, Meena tribes, who had been considered to be descendants of Rama of the legendary epic Ramayana. They were driven out by the Kachchawa clan who were subsequently ousted by the Rajputs, who established their rule in Amber for 150 years, building and expanding Amer fort, before moving their capital to Jaipur.
Entering the courtyard of the fort through the Chandrapol, or moon gate, we passed the elephant stand that has been in use since the ruling days of the Jaipur Maharajahs. The courtyard was also used as a training place for the Rajput armies and servants. Now, the elephants were used to bring in tourists into the courtyard and out through the Suraj pol, the sun gate. A girl approached us and asked if would like to have some henna done on our hands. The usual postcard sellers offered postcards for sale. A snake charmer sat languidly at the foot of the steps to the palace.
We walked up the steep incline and went through a narrow stairway, past a temple, and into a passage which led to a courtyard. This courtyard had the hall of public audience. Windows of the zenana overlooked this public courtyard, which allowed the royal ladies who were interested in the state happenings to listen to the ongoing political discourses or public grievances, without being seen.
Through the beautiful Ganpathi Gate, we passed into a grand but small entertaining place, inlaid with beautiful mirror and marble work, for the royal dignitaries who were wined, dined and entertained there. After I took this shot of Ganpathi Gate, my film roll finished (it was in the days before I got my digital camera) and I realized that I had left my new film rolls behind in the bag in the car. So, I wasn’t able to take photos for the rest of our Amer Fort tour.
There were so many dark tunnels and narrow passages that we passed through. One odd aspect was that the floor was not even and paths not really made for walking as they had inlaid iron bars as if it was a medieval rail road. Perhaps, they had used trolleys to push things around. Going through one of these passages, we entered the private quarters of the Maharajah – his zenana. He had twelve main wives and each of his wives were given a separate set of identical rooms. The zenana was designed such that three rooms were on each side of the square courtyard, with a raised platform in the middle. The rooms for the numerous concubines, who did not have the same status as the Queens, were on the first floor.
Our guide told us that, unlike in the Mughal rule, Rajput women had a slightly better status though the veiling culture existed here as well. Especially in the time of war, the Maharajah would have to consult his queens separately and get their permission for them to release armies from their respective birthplaces to support the King in his war. Thus, the Rajput Queens had some power and the marriages were more political marriages, as the more wives the King had, the more powerful was his combined army.
At the top of the fort, there was an open air dancing place, for performances during summer nights. Above the fort we were at, we saw another fort. Our guide explained that Amer Fort was divided into the Upper and Lower Fort. The Lower Fort was the main place of residence for the ruling family but in times of security threats, they removed themselves through secret passages to the Upper Fort, where they waited out the war. The entire fort was itself surrounded by walls that spread across the Aravalli range. Watch towers installed at different places transmitted danger signals by the lighting of fire and beating of drums.
We entered another section of the fort to the area of the summer and winter palaces. The summer palace was interesting. It had the natural version of an air conditioning system. The walls were thick and in between the walls, there were hollow places in some areas where pots of water were kept to cool the rooms. There were also stream channels where the water was allowed to flow through the walls and across parts of the room and into the gardens. The combined effect of the water behind the walls and the flowing water would have cooled the rooms.
Returning from Amer Fort and moving towards the City Palace, we passed a couple of interesting sites. One was Jal Mahal, the water palace used by the royals during the summer time. Now, it was a dilapidated palace amidst a stinking lake. The guide said that the government was considering a project to renovate the area. I just managed to take a quick photo from the road before fleeing the overpowering stench.
We also passed some nice monuments and when we inquired about them, the guide disparagingly replied, “Oh, they are just the cenotaphs of the queens.” I would have liked to have heard more about the queens.
At the city palace, we first went to Jantar Mantar, the first of the five observatories built by Sawai Jai Singh, who was also a keen astronomist. There were several instruments and one of the ones that stand out in my mind is the sun-dial clock, which uses the sun to calculate the time, by the shadow that a nail cast on the concave marble arc, which had been constructed based on Jaipur’s actual inclination towards the north pole. We calculated the time and found it to be precisely 10.47, which was the local Jaipur time. It was fun trying out calculations on the different instruments. It is advisable however to visit Jantar Mantar a bit earlier in the day as the place seemed to attract all the heat and focus it on the instruments which were outdoors. We felt we were in peril of getting a sun-stroke so decided to move indoors to the city palace museum.
The museum basically showcased the clothes worn by different Maharajahs and Maharanis at different periods for different occasions (coronation, wedding, playing polo etc). Going out of the museum and entering through another gate, we came to the courtyard where the hall of public audience was located. It was a well-maintained hall with two famous pots at the entrance.
One of the Maharajahs had a habit of practicing yoga and praying with the water of Ganges river each morning and when he was invited for the wedding of King Edward VII, he had two huge pots made and taken with him to England. The pots were filled with the water of Ganges, which he deemed sufficient for the duration of his voyage. The pots made it into the Guinness book, for being the biggest pots and they now stand at either side of the entrance to the hall of public audience.
Jaipur is a fascinating city, with a rich history, and certainly the place to go on one’s first visit to Rajasthan. There is an annual international literary festival held in Jaipur, which I hope to visit the next time I travel to that state.
Have you visited Jaipur? What are your impressions of the fascinating city?