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India: Rajasthan: Chittorgarh, Devigarh, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Kumbhalgarh, Ranakpur, Ranthambore, Udaipur
Jaipur, Rajasthan, India: Soaked in royalty
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
A mere mention of the word Rajasthan conjures up images of kings and kingdoms, elaborate architecture, chivalry, bright colours, folklore and festivities. Jaipur, the Capital City has a story of its own. Even the hotel I stayed in had one.
On a hot summer afternoon I reached Jaipur from Ranthambore. I was booked at the Taj Jai Mahal Palace – home of an army General – and hunting grounds of the royal family of Jaipur. The ruler of Jaipur, Jai Singh, left behind two sons Ishwari Singh and Madho Singh. The sons were at loggerheads for the Jaipur throne. Eventually, in 1747, Ishwari Singh won the battle against the might of Madho Singh with the help of Hargovind Natani, a tradesman. Delighted by Natani’s heroics, Ishwari Singh presented him with a palace that was called Natani-Ka-Bagh, meaning Garden of Natani.
However, within 3 years Madho Singh struck back with full might and with the help of the Marathas he took back the throne. Ishwari Singh committed suicide and Natani was replaced by Rajput General. Natani-Ka-Bagh was reverted to the state. Gone was the glory. Not a soul lived in the palatial home for decades. After a long span of 124 years, a British Doctor, Thomas Holbein Hendley came to reside here. Hedley was an able doctor, learned scholar and lover of arts. In the 22 years that he lived in the home he authored many books, wrote many medical papers and also submitted weather reports from an observatory that was built in 1881 and still stands today in one of the corners of the hotel.
After years of dormant existence, The Taj Group of Hotels took over the management rights and converted the erstwhile Natani-Ka-Bagh into what is known today as Jai Mahal Palace.
I was to be in Jaipur for the rest of the evening and 2 more days. Off which, a day was kept aside to visit Salasar – a Hindu pilgrims destination. Salasar is about 180 kms from Jaipur on the Bikaner road. The town is named after the deity of Lord Hanuman (God with a monkey head) and is also known as Shri Salasar Balaji. Devote Hindus from all around the country throng the place. Tuesdays and Saturdays are at their peak with pilgrims. The two days are preferred days to worship Lord Hanuman. I paid my respects to Shri Salasar Balaji the next day of my arrival.
On the evening of my arrival I decided to smell the city. My dear friend Nandkishore who lives in Jaipur was kind enough to lend me his car and the driver. The gesture helped me to move around at the desired pace to cover maximum ground. Of course, private taxis are available in plenty if so desired. Talking of transportation, auto rickshaw and cycle rickshaw are quite popular too. They are ideal for short runs and for travels within the city walls. They are the locals’ favourite.
Jaipur was founded in the year 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jaisingh II, the ruler of Amer which was 11 kms away. Scarcity of water and the growing population forced the Maharaja to look elsewhere for his capital. A believer of Astronomy, Mathematics and Astrophysics, the Maharaja consulted experts in the field to plan the city and the buildings within. The city was built using the science of Indian architecture.
Jaipur is indeed India’s first planned city. Entire city is fortified and access is only through 7 gates. The walls and the gates are still intact, albeit the city has grown many times over making it essential for the residents to move out and away from the walls. The predominant colour used for the buildings is pink (not the pink that we know of but a little rustic). That’s the reason why, Jaipur is known as the Pink City.
Whilst in Jaipur, a tourist with some shopping inclination would certainly consider looking at Jaipur’s very own – sarees, gems & jewelry, marble artifacts and craft. M I Road & Johari Bazaar are a must visit. And that’s what I did that evening. Though for me it was more of looking around and less of shopping.
The next morning we left for Shri Salasar Balaji. By the time we returned it was dinner time. And what better place than to visit a local joint named Sharma Dhaba. Located about 10 kms from the city centre on the Bikaner road itself. Do give it a try if you are in the mood of stuffing yourself with some fantastic vegetarian north Indian cuisine. There nans (Indian oven baked bread) smothered with butter are frightfully delicious. After the meal, I deserved a good night’s sleep. My comfortable room at the Jai Mahal Palace ensured just that. The next morning I would leave early to visit the famous sights of Jaipur.
After a hearty breakfast at 8AM, I set out on the road towards New Delhi. 11 kms away would be the 3 forts namely Amer, Nahargarh and Jaigarh. On the way I would make a brief stop at Jal Mahal which stands proudly amidst a man-made lake on the outskirts of Jaipur.
Jal Mahal, literally meaning Water Palace was the summer abode of the Royal Family. Built using sandstone on the lines of Rajput and Mughal architecture, this 5-story edifice stands in the middle of the Man Sagar Lake. The Aravali hills on the 3 sides and the Man Sagar Dam traps rain water to fill up the lake. When the lake is full, up to 4 storey of the palace are submerged in water. When the water’s up, the access to the palace is only by boats. In the good old days the lake attracted hundreds of species of birds. The lake was used by the Royal Family for duck-shooting too.
5 kms further up stands the majestic Amer Fort. The name of the town and therefore the fort has been quite distorted over a period. The locals called it Ambar (after the Goddess Amba), the Britishers called it Amber (that was largely the colour of the fort), finally boiling down to Amer.
Amer was the original citadel of the Kachhawa clan of Amer until the Capital was shifted to the present day Jaipur. The construction of the fort was progressively completed over the span of 150 years. It was started by Raja Man Singh in 1592 and brought to its present form by his decedent Jai Singh I. White and red sandstone was used in the building the fort on the lines of Rajput and Mughal architecture. Strongly fortified exteriors and elaborately decorated interiors are the highlights of the fort.
Visitors have the option of taking the elephant ride up the ramparts and into the fort through the massive Surajpol gate that opens into the courtyard known as Jaleb Chowk. This is the very square where the returning army was paraded through. The cost for the elephant ride is Rs 950. Since I had a car with me, I used the road to reach up to the parking lot almost near to the other entrance. A little walk got me beneath the Nagarkhana (Hall of the Drums) overlooking the courtyard.
From the courtyard steps leads into the palace area. There’s also an option to enter the palace through the Kali temple. In the earlier days, animal sacrifices were made to please Goddess Kali. The temple is famous for its large lions carved in silver and an image of Lord Ganesha (the elephant headed God) from a single coral. Visitors to the temple need to remove all leatherwear before entering in. The entry to the palace attracts a fee of Rs 25. I recommend hiring the services of a guide. Rs 100 for the guide should do the trick. There’s no fee for the use of camera.
The palace has areas that have been elaborately built to suit the fancies and the comforts of the kings and the queens that lived within. Specially designed rooms to keep cool in summers and warm in winters; dance floors on terraces for moonlit nights; series of servant quarters to look after the queens and the mistresses; spacious gardens and pools to name but a few. The highlight of the palace is indeed the Sheesh Mahal – rooms with intricate mirror work on walls and ceilings. It is believed that the rooms could be well lit by just a single candle – thanks to the light that got reflected.
The king had 12 queens and over 350 mistresses. Rooms for the 12 queens were designed to give the king a secret access to the desired room. The remainder of the queens would have no idea as to where the king would be spending the night! The kings usually married from age 12 all the way up to 60. Most of the marriages were actually political alliances to fulfill certain needs of the kingdoms. To site a few examples, Ishwari Singh of Jaipur married the Princess of Mewar to combine the armed forces of the two kingdoms. Likewise Emperor Akbar married Jodhabai from Jaipur whereby the alliance assured Jaipur that it would spare the wrath of the Mughals!
From Amer Fort I drove to Nahargarh which was 18 kms away and located on the edge of the Aravali hills. Entry to the fort was just Rs 10 and there was no restriction for taking pictures. The location offered a spectacular view of Jaipur City. In fact, a restaurant up here is pretty popular joint for the locals in the evenings. The fort was built in 1734 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. Along with Jaigarh, this fort made for a perfect defense ring for the Capital. Most of the structures atop are in a state of ruin save for the Madhevendra Palace – a 2 storey structure enclosing 9 residences for the 9 queens. Each block has been individually named consisting of living room, bedroom, kitchen and toilet blocks. Intricate carvings, paintings and motifs on the walls and ceilings add to the beauty of the structure which has been designed with Indian and Mughal architectural concepts.
On my way back from Nahargarh Fort, a little detour, took me to the gates of Jaigarh Fort. While you have the option to park your vehicles outside of the fort premises, it’s a good idea to buy a car pass that costs only Rs 50 but allows you entry in the fort. That way, the large campus can be easily accessed. Entry fee is Rs 25 and camera fee is Rs 50. I would also suggest availing the services of a guide. Rs 50 should do the trick.
Jaigarh Fort had a major role to play in the defense mechanism of Jaipur. Highlight is the visit to the world’s largest cannon on wheels. Weighing over 50 tons, the cannon had the capacity to raze down a large area 35 kms away! The massive cannon was built piece by piece. Elephants were used to carry the parts to the highest point on the fort. It is believed that the cannon was fired only once for trial. The destruction it created was enough a warning for the enemies to keep away from invading Jaipur.
Jaigarh Fort’s rain water harvesting system is a great work of engineering. 3 massive water tanks collect water from strategically located canals in the hills. The capacity of the largest tank is over 6 million gallons of water – sufficient for an army of 2000 to survive for 10 years. If time permits you could visit the museum that showcases the times including a large cannon ball.
I drove back to the city centre to the City Palace. Fee for entry and camera is Rs 40 and Rs 50 respectively. While you can’t take pictures of the 3 museums within, the various courtyard and the audience halls provide ample of opportunities. One corner of the city palace has the residence of the royal family. Look up to the flag. If you notice a small flag flying over and above the large one, it will indicate that the king is in Jaipur. The tradition still continues.
The City Palace is a fine example of elaborate Indian and Mughal architecture. Intricate carvings, paintings and motifs adorn the walls and the ceilings. The 3 museums showcase the Darbar Hall, Costumes and Weapons. There’s also an enclosure that display a collection of horse-driven carriages. The City Palace is a must visit.
Neighbouring the City Palace is Jantar Mantar. During his reign, Maharaja Jai Singh built 5 astronomical observatories – one each at Jaipur, Delhi, Ujjain, Mathura and Varanasi. The one in Jaipur, earlier known as Yantra Mantra (Yantra stands for Instruments; Mantra stands for Noting) is the largest stone observatory in the world. It has 14 types of instruments to measure time, prediction of eclipses, movement of celestial bodies and other astronomical events. The accuracy, even today, amazes the learned with modern instruments. Highlight of the observatory is the massive sun dial that shows Jaipur local time with an accuracy of 2 seconds! Entry fee is Rs 50. The services of a guide are highly recommended and will cost you Rs 200.
It was 4 PM. Time for me to wrap up my visits and head back to the hotel. After a little rest I was ready to witness folk dances and a puppet show that are organized every evening on the sprawling lawns.
It was end of my trip. But Rajasthan is always “Khamma Ghani” – most welcome, locally put.
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