I had long dreamt of myself as a Rajput princess draped in ‘bandhej’ and wearing ‘Jadau’ and ‘Meenakari’ jewellery. A trip to Jaipur brought me closer to this dream! The ‘Pink City’ had always been on the list of places that I wanted to see and Jaipur kept up to my expectations. It’s a place I want to visit again and again.
The day started with chai and pheni (a puff pastry) at Shahoo’s, a small shop near the South Gate which is frequented by Bollywood stars and politicians. We then met our guide Mr. Sharma at Sawai Jai Singh Circle and it wasn’t a coincidence that he asked us to meet him there. Sawai Jai Singh II was the one who laid the foundations of Jaipur and shifted the capital of the Kachhwahas from Amber to Jaipur. We then passed by the beautiful Albert Hall (Central Museum) which is an ornate Indo-Saracenic building built to commemorate the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1876 and is now a museum.
Next we went to the Hawa Mahal which was built for the Rajput ladies, who were in purdah, to view the activities of the city. The front facade has innumerable windows with jaalis and is the ideal backdrop for a touristy photo. Many tourist guides will tell you that it’s enough to just pass by but I would suggest that you explore the rear side also. The entry is ticketed. It has five storeys, each decreasing in size as you ascend. Each storey is built according to a different theme. There is glass work really worth seeing on one of the floors. From the top most floor one can get a good view of the other famous landmarks – The City Palace, Jantar Mantar, Ishvar Lat and Nahargarh Fort.
We then hopped into an auto for a quick ride through the narrow streets to the famed City Palace. A palace complex with four large courtyards, the City Palace was the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur and a portion of it still is a residence to the royals. It has an amalgamation of Rajput, Mughal and European architecture and is built with marble and sandstone. The interiors consist of paintings and murals reflecting the culture of Rajasthan. The ‘Mubarak Mahal’, which was once a reception centre, is now a textile museum. My favourite was the ‘Pitam Niwas Chowk’, which is an inner courtyard. It has four entrances representing the four seasons and each doorway is decorated intricately. The ‘Diwan-E-Khas’, which used to be a private hall, now houses two large silver urns which according to the Guinness Book of Records are the world’s largest sterling silver objects.
The Jantar Mantar is a stone’s throw from here. We were left amazed by the ingenious devices built about 200 years back to track planetary positions, predict eclipses and measure time accurately. Our guide was well versed with astronomy and explained the working of each instrument. If you have some basic knowledge of astronomy and geography, this place will amaze you. I strongly recommend that you hire a proper guide so that you can truly appreciate the scientific advances made centuries ago. The Jantar Mantar at Jaipur is the largest and most well preserved of the five astronomical observatories constructed by Sawai Jai Singh II who was himself an astronomer.
After a traditional meal of ‘dal bati churma’, ‘missi roti’, ‘gatte ki sabji’ and thick ‘lassi’we drove to Amber. On the way, we caught a glimpse of the Jal Mahal, which is situated in the middle of the Man Sagar Lake. Throughout the short drive, we saw peacocks prancing around, unfazed by the cars.
Nothing prepares you for the awe-inspiring Amber Fort. Though I have travelled quite a bit, I haven’t come across a fort as marvellous as the one in Amber. The entire town is nestled in the Aravalli Hills and is surrounded by a fort wall. You can either drive up to the fort or ride on an elephant. A major portion of the palace complex was built by Maharaj Man Singh I in 1592. There is a lake at the base of the fort called Moata Lake and there’s garden on a platform which appears to be floating on the lake. The Sheesh Mahal is simply magnificent. It is studded with thousands of mirrors and inspired many movie-sets. The guide told us that at night the mirrored ceiling looks like a sky full of stars in the presence of oil lamps. The interiors are adorned with inlay work, marble lattice work and murals. There are many courtyards, halls and pavilions. We were told that Amber Fort is a deadly maze. One wrong turn and you could be lost for hours! Make sure you hire a guide so that you don’t miss out on the stories behind the monuments.
Perched directly above the Amber Fort is Jaigarh Fort and it is famous for housing the royal treasure which tax-officials could not find even after searching for more than 6 months in 1976! A good example of defence architecture, one can drive into the fort after buying tickets and the main attraction is a cannon named Jaivana which was one of the largest cannons in the world. There are small shops, a museum and two water tanks within the fort. From the top-most point of the fort the views of Jal Mahal, Gaitor and the Aravalli ranges are amazing. It’s a great place to watch the sun set. Though not as marvellous as Amber, Jaigarh Fort is worth a visit if you have time. We then drove to Nahargarh Fort which sits at the edge of the Aravallis, watching over Jaipur City. It is a great place to watch the sun set.
That evening was spent at Rambagh Palace which was built by Ram Singh II as a hunting lodge but was converted into a royal residence by Sawai Man Singh II and his beautiful wife Maharani Gayatri Devi. It is now a grand hotel run by the Taj Group. We were in time for the heritage tour of the property and I have no words to describe the elegance and grandeur of the palace. The best place to end our dreamy day in Jaipur.
My article on my first trip to Rajasthan was published in Metrolife, Deccan Herald on 21st August, 2015. DH Article