Tickled pink

Tickled pink

Tickled pink

From the cannons at Jaigarh Fort, the lattice-shaped windows at Hawa Mahal and the ‘wishing well’ at Jantar Mantar, Melanie P Kumar explores the rosy hues of the city of victory — Jaipur.

While the hopping flight from Bangalore to Jaipur via Ahmedabad is tedious, stepping into the arrival lounge of Jaipur airport is a pleasant surprise. The place is clean, and after having encountered milling crowds at the Bangalore International Airport that morning, it is such a pleasure to walk peacefully with elbow room.

Locating a pre-paid cab is not difficult and the quoted fare is again a surprise, and a relief, compared to the bomb that I had paid to get from my residence to the Bangalore Airport. The cab is a spacious Innova and the three of us travellers sink into its comfortable seats, as we take in our first glimpses of the Pink City. All buildings appear to have the look of palaces, as even the new star hotels seem to prefer the palatial touch.
The newer parts of the city appear neat and clean with reasonably wide roads and flyovers. But the impression changes as we near our destination, the Circuit House, where we are to be lodged as members of a wedding party.

Near the older parts of the city, the landscape seems to change and even our first sighting of the rose-pink Hawa Mahal seems no compensation for the noise and crowds on the market streets. There are all modes of transport from autos to cycle-rickshaws and even the seven-seater patpatis that are a popular mode of transport in Jaipur. The interesting thing about Jaipur markets is that each section deals with a particular set of items, be it copper or iron, leather or glass. A fleeting glimpse from the car holds out the promise of exciting shopping, as the city is renowned for its ethnic fare.

‘Sights’ of heritage

Three to four days is a decent amount of time to be able to cover the sights of Jaipur. But with the desire to include Udaipur in our Rajasthan itinerary, it was a tough decision on what to see and what to leave out. On one of the days, we took the decision to hire a car to go around the city. At times like this, it is advisable to choose the furthermost point first and also one which involves the expending of energy in climbing and walking around.

Our first choice is the Jaigarh Fort, located around 15 km from the main city. It’s a steep climb up a hill called Cheel ka Teela (Hill of Eagles). This imposing structure, also known as the Victory Fort, houses a massive cannon, known as the Jaivan, which is supposed to be the main tourist attraction of the Fort. Built in the well-planned cannon foundry, one of the tourist areas at the fort, the cannon is not as fascinating as the breathtaking view from the top. Built to tighten the security between the Amber and Jaigarh forts, it is fascinating to see miles of pathways, hewn into the rocks, as well as the water bodies of Jaipur and the city itself.

The fort was intended to serve as the centre of artillery production for the Rajputs. But, fortunately for the peace-loving amongst us, there are other exciting sights to explore, like palaces, and a very interesting museum, which displays the portraits of the rulers and other artefacts. There is something for the conservationists too, as the fort harvested rainwater through its many wide water channels and three underground tanks, one of which has the capacity to store 60,00,000 gallons of rainwater. Certainly impressive for a fort that was a part of India’s medieval history!

We walk out from the puppetry area to the slightly off-key notes of the puppeteer, who is trying to make one of his puppets do gravity-defying feats to the lyrics of My name is Sheela! Modern India’s attempts to bridge a gap with its past is encountered by us time and again in this city. But it is not always aesthetic, and quite often, an assault on the senses!

Palace hopping

The Jal Mahal Palace, as the name indicates, is situated in the midst of Man Sagar Lake. This palace, made of sandstone with intricate architecture, has most of its floors under water, with only the top floor visible to the eye. The palace, built by Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799, was used by the royal families as a pleasure spot for royal duck-shooting parties. The palace, ensconced in the water, makes a pretty picture indeed and that is what we end up doing; trying to click the palace from all angles!

The Hawa Mahal or Palace of Winds is one of the images that is synonymous with Jaipur and one will recognise it immediately from its famed Rajputana architecture, which also has a tinge of the Mughal in parts. The 953 small windows or jharokas in the pyramid-shaped structure are decorated with intricate lattice work, which is a feast for the eyes. It is the brilliance of Mughal designing that helps the air to circulate and keeps the palace cool always. The structure is believed to have been constructed for the women of the royal families who were expected to be in purdah. The small jharokas helped these women to look out at processions or whatever was happening on the streets, without being observed. This palace was also constructed during the reign of Sawai Pratap Singh.

The City Palace, located next to the Hawa Mahal, also reveals a blend of the Mughal and Rajputana styles. This palace came up during the reign of Sawai Man Singh. This imposing structure is spread out over a large area comprising courtyards, gardens and buildings.
There are palaces within palaces to witness here and one portion is still in use by the descendants of the royal family. The Maharani’s Palace, intended for the royal queens, has now been converted into a museum exhibiting weapons, which did not really hold our interest. The most exciting part of the City Palace is the seven-storey Chandra Mahal, with a name given to each storey, the topmost one being called the Mukut Mahal. There is a multi-cuisine restaurant located in the midst of the palace, which I am convinced is not a great idea, though we saw a lot of tourists flocking towards it.

Just a stone’s throw from the City Palace is the famed Jantar Mantar, an observatory constructed wholly of stone and marble. The location got its name from the distortion of yantra mantra, which means ‘instruments and formulae’. Built by the scholarly prince, Jai Singh II, in the early part of the 18th century, it definitely ranked as my most favourite place in Jaipur. To think that a ruler in that time and age could put together such a brilliant piece of scientific architecture makes me immensely proud of my Indian heritage.
The site is a testimony to the coming together of cosmology, astronomy and scientific traditions and the mind baulks at the planning that must have gone into its construction. It is little wonder then that this observatory was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in 2010.

While peeping into one of the well-like structures at Jantar Mantar, we suddenly heard the clink of a coin. One of the Indian visitors, standing next to us, had put aside her slippers and with hands folded in prayer had thrown the coin into the well. Peeping in, we saw several more coins inside. We hoped that the prayer was for the preservation of the majestic structure called the Jantar Mantar and all the other beautiful sites that we witnessed in Jaipur.

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