Friday, May 27, 2016

Jaipur, India: A city in the “Pink”

The facade of the Palace of the Winds in Jaipur where the women of the harem could look out to the street  (Taylor)
JAIPUR, INDIA Like most of India, Jaipur is both confounding and mystical. It is a mixture of overwhelming history that gasps for breath under the weight of its massive sea of humanity.

With a population of more than 3-million, Jaipur is the capital and largest city in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Founded in 1727, what is most remarkable about this pre-modern metropolis, other than its impressive fortresses and palaces, is its unusually wide streets (111 feet) which are laid out in six orderly sectors.
Typical street in Jaipur  (Taylor)

Despite that, readers of Conde Nast Traveler consistently rate Jaipur among the Top Ten Destinations to visit in Asia. With no less than ten massive forts and monuments, five temples, three gardens and two UNESCO World Heritage sites, it’s little wonder that Jaipur has earned its ranking.

Jaipur did not just spring up overnight in the 18th century. The city was carefully planned according to Indian Vastu Shastra with streets running East to West and North to South. There are three gates facing East, West and North as well as numerous gates that face to the South.

The Eastern gate is called Sun Pol, the Western gate is the Moon Pol and the Northern gate faces the ancestral capital of Amber.
The amazing astronomical park features the world's largest sundial  (wikipedia)

 In addition to it architectural treasures and monuments, Jaipur has long been a hub for native arts and crafts which make the city a shopper’s paradise. Major crafts include block printing, stone carving, jewelry, miniature paintings, blue pottery, ivory carving and leather-ware among others.

Situated roughly 180 miles from New Delhi and Agra, Jaipur comprises the third leg of India’s Golden Triangle. It is known as the “Pink City” thanks to the color of its distinctive sandstone and the façade of the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, a sprawling royal residence which faces the main street of the city.
Main street in Jaipur  (Taylor)

The original purpose of the five-story exterior of the Hawa Mahal was to allow the royal ladies of the harem to observe everyday life in the street below through the honeycomb of 953 small windows. The latticework was designed to allow cool air to waft through the openings which “air conditioned” the space during the hot Indian summers.

The women of the harem were not allowed to be seen and were strictly required to cover their faces with veils.  

Because the front of the Palace of the Winds is little more than a façade, the entrance to the Hawa Mahal is located on a side road near the rear of the building. In case you haven’t already figured it out, a mahal means “palace” in India.

Arguably the two most memorable sites in Jaipur are the Jantar Mantar with its collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments and the Amber Fort, a massive palace that rests atop the Cheel ka Teela (Hill of Eagles).
The Amber Fort sits high on The Hill of Eagles  (Taylor)
Another palace, Jaigarth Fort, located beside the Amber Fort, is connected to its sister by a subterranean escape passage. As such, the complex is regarded as a single structure, giving the impression that the entire hill is dominated by an opulent architectural masterpiece.
Elephants are a popular way to visit
the Amber Fort  (wikipedia)

Amber Fort is comprised of red sandstone and marble laid out on four levels of which each contains its own courtyard.

The favorite way to visit the fort is by riding an elephant as it lumbers up the hill. Though motion pictures have a way of making transportation aboard the four-legged behemoths appear to be “exotic”, the sheer size of the animals combined with the swaying of the passenger seat is anything but comfortable.
Intricate artwork is a hallmark of many Indian palaces and fortresses, like the Amber Fort  (wikipedia)
India is a country of palaces, but the Jantar Mantar monument is one of a kind in the world. This fabulous collection of amazing astronomical instruments was completed in 1738 and features the world’s largest stone sundial. Built by Rajput King Sawai Jai Singh, the UNESCO World Heritage site incorporates ancient Hindu and Sanskrit texts that create instruments which allow people to observe astronomical positions with the naked eye.
The sundial at Jantar Mantar is accurate within 20 seconds  (Taylor)
Among the most amazing elements of the collection is the accuracy of the stone sundial with which a trained observer can tell the time within 20 seconds of the actual time.

Like most of the Indian palaces, the astronomical devices are also prodigious in their own way.
Carvings feature animals and
Kama Sutra  (Taylor)

Indian temples are usually adorned with sculpted depictions of animals and/or the sexual positions of the Kama Sutra.

Though part of the Golden Triangle, Jaipur may be the least familiar of the trio of destinations when compared to Delhi and Agra with its Taj Mahal. But Jaipur’s vast collection of architectural treasures combined with its rich, colorful history make it a traveler’s delight.