Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Enchanting Rajasthan From A Jharoka
We reach Jaipur at 5 a.m. in the morning; the weather is still cold in the north in early March and the people are cozily sleeping all over the floor in the lobby of the railway station  decorated with fine, traditional Rajasthan paintings giving a hint of the treasures ahead! We are happy to find ourselves among trustworthy folks as we are honestly taken to Maharashtra Mandal Guest House, where we will stay for four days, by an auto-rikshaw. We are assured by the driver that, “here the people are simple and straightforward.”
Around 8a.m. we leisurely move towards the Govt. Tourist Office, from where we take a tour of the Pink City, named so since1876 when it was colored terracotta pink to welcome Prince Albert. Moving through squares of the well planned city with life-size marble statues of the erstwhile kings under beautiful stone and marble canopies and then the generally familiar Birla Temple, we go to Jantar-Mantar, a world heritage observatory with huge astronomical devices, amidst big rectangular lawns constructed with local stone and marble. Built by the scholarly Maharaja Jai singh II during 1727-34, these fairly accurate structures for astronomical and cosmological deductions thrill and entertain the visitors.
Jantar-Mantar With Aravallies n Palace Behind
 We wonder as we see Samrat Yantra, the largest sundial in the world, 27 meters tall, giving you time with an accuracy of 2 seconds. We move on to the Jaiprakash Yantra consisting of two sunken hemispheres with spaced marble slabs, divided and sub-divided into minutes and seconds and also bearing inscriptions of the zodiacal signs. In the centre of the pit hangs a small circular plate with the help of wires, which makes a shadow in different sections of the instrument giving various calculations. Then we spend some time at the Narivalya Yantra, another type of sundial, which also depicts the important positions of the sun across the equator. It is fun to move around the vast observatory with lots of school children focused on the instruments and animatedly discussing them.
Hawa Mahal
Our next destination is the City Palace, the residential complex of the present royal family, for which we enter the old walled city of Jaipur, planned and built by Maharaja Jaisingh in 1727, surrounded by three meters thick and six meters high pink wall around with seven ornamental gates which are thoroughfares at present. We enter through the magnificent Ajmeri Gate with fascinating floral motifs and colorful Gandharvas (singers in the court of Gods), Apsaras (beautiful, supernatural female beings) and an icon of Ganesha at the top of the arch. Soon we reach Hawa Mahal, the cute pink five storied structure with more than 950 jharokhas (windows) with complex lattice work, which is 50ft. high and is in the shape of the crown of Lord Krishna; Sawai Pratap Singh, grandson of Maharaja Sawai Jaisingh, built it in 1799 being a staunch devotee of the Lord. From here, the Royal ladies enjoyed the activities in the market centre, and mainly, the royal processions and festivities without being seen themselves, as the exceptionally designed screens provided the luxury of fresh, cool breeze in those days. Today, of course it is a forgotten dream due to the polluting, unruly traffic all the time!
Ajmeri Gate
We enter the City Palace complex, in the heart of the city, the construction of which was initiated by Sawai Jaisingh II, the ruler of Amber. The main entrance, intricately sculpted with beautiful designs and two life-like sculptured marble elephants with howdahs (the decorated seating on their backs), leads us into the complex of several buildings. We don’t spend much time inside the Mubarak Mahal(built as a reception centre in the 19th century), which is a museum of formal Royal costumes; an interesting exhibit here is the  huge sized  set of clothes belonging to Sawai Madhosingh I, who was 1.2 meters broad, and weighed 250 Kg. We come to know that the burly Maharaja had 108 wives! My wife Poonam starts singing in a low voice, Jiska Hubby mota, uska bhi bada naam hai, Bistar pe lita do, gadde ka kya kaam hai! (A lady with a fat Hubby too has a great name; one doesn’t need a mattress, if he is spread on the bed!)
Chandra Mahal with visible Silver Gangajalies
We move on to Chandra Mahal, the main palatial building, most of which is part of the Royal Residence at present. Here too, we move through a museum amidst beautiful paintings, mirror work and floral decor on the walls. Diwan-e-khas, private hall for the audience, with a number of gorgeous crystal chandeliers, has a grand marble floor and has two huge sterling silver vessels 1.6 meters high, with a capacity of 4000litres each and weighing 340 kg. Made from 14000 molten silver coins (they have a mention in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest sterling silver vessels); known as Gangajalies, they carried the water of Ganges for Sawai Madho Singh II, when he went to Englad for the Coronation of Edward VII. Then we come to Diwan-e-Aam or Sabha Nivwas, a dream-like chamber in rich red and gold colors, an art gallery at present with consummate miniature paintings(Rajasthani, Mughal and Persian), Kashmir shawls, carpets and rare hand written ancient manuscripts of  Hindu scriptures( also Bhagavad Gita). The Golden Throne (Takht-e-rawal) the seat of the king is conspicuous amidst the grandeur.
Jaivana Cannon
Our bus moves towards the Jaigarh Fort, a distance of 15 km. from the city. The fort, on one of the peaks of the Aravalli range, known as Cheel ka Teela(Hill of the eagles) stands 400 meters above the Amber Fort, viewing it beautifully. Built specially for the protection of Amber Fort by Jaisingh II in 1726, the fort complex is named after him.
The main attraction of the sprawling fort with gardens is the Jaivana cannon, the largest cannon on wheels, in the world! Cast in 1720, this, over 20ft cannon with floral designs weighs 50 tons; It has a sitting elephant at its 7.2 ft diameter at its firing end, a pair of peacocks in the middle portion and a pair of ducks at the 9.2 ft base! This beautifully crafted mammoth piece of art, practically not used, coming out of one of the most efficient cannon foundries of the world at Jaigarh in those times, definitely deserves curiosity and appreciation of all tourists it gets! No more it is a war machine, compared even with the present small automatic weapons, killing within minutes, dozens of men, women and children in the hands of trigger happy psychopaths!
Amber Fort
Next, we descend to the lively Amber Fort, the cynosure of all eyes in Jaipur. With Lake Maota in front and the pigeons flying allover riotously, the fort makes a striking scene. An aesthetic luxury in red sand stone and marble, it is also known as the Amber Palace, the residence of Rajput Maharajas with their families, and named after Mother Goddess Amba. From Amber to Amer seems to be an illogical variation of the name. Along with Jaigarh Fort, they are considered as a single complex and the royal family members in times of war shifted to the other more secure, formidable Jaigarh fort through a subterranean passage connecting them! We decide to come to the Fort again and spend a whole day there.
Jal Mahal
Finally, we end up on the cool banks of well maintained, pollution free Lake Man Sagar, with the pretty Jal Mahal in the center and the Aravalli Mountains in the back drop; abuzz with people, vendors selling mementos, snacks and ice creams. Late in the evening after returning to our room and refreshing ourselves, we go to a nice restaurant nearby and have a sumptuous dinner of Dal (similar to sambar in south, but with different spices), Baati (balls of wheat floor roasted in charcoal fire, again with ghee on them) and Churma (crushed Baati with sugar and Ghee!), a Rajasthani delicacy, of course rich in Desi Ghee (indigenous clarified butter). We top it up with a Rabdi (a sweet made with rarified milk, slivers of pistachios). We totally and consciously ignore the intake of calories and fat, for a change!
Next morning, on our own, we again reach the 11 km. away Amber Fort. The present fort has been built over the remnants of the earliest version built by Raja Man Singh, the trusted commander-in-chief of Emperor Akbar, in 1592; he was among the Nav Ratnas or the nine gems, or the worthiest nine courtiers of the Royal court, along with Maheshdas Bhatt or Raja Birbal (Title given by the emperor, meaning strong brain), the Wazir-e-Azam of the Emperor! The Emperor, Raja Man Singh and Rana Pratap Singh, though an adversary of the two, influenced the 16th century political, social conditions immensely, influencing the History of India to a great extent, as a consequence.
This fort, which consistently underwent renovations for 150 years, blossomed into a romantic, precious palace cum fort of priceless treasure of art and paintings. We enter the fort through the well planned 18th century Aaram-Bagh(beautiful, refreshing gardens), by the lake Maota, the main source of water for the palace in the olden days, and reach the Suraj Pol (Sun gate) facing the east, via paths of roughly hewn stone slabs, watching elephants treading them down. While climbing, we see the remnants of historic buildings, far away and down in the plains again surrounded by the Arravalies. The huge gate, the main entrance of the fort, takes us into the spacious first main courtyard or Jaleb Chowk, meaning a place for soldiers to assemble in Arabic. 
Remnants seen from the Fort 
Constructed by Sawai Jai Singh (1693-1743), here the commander conducted parades of the soldiers watched by the king; stables and accommodation for soldiers above them is also in the same place. We further climb the steep, commanding stairway to the next level, the main palace premises constituting several structures of aesthetic appeal. We find Diwan-e-Aam in front, a pleasant, airy rectangular hall in red sandstone and marble, where the king gave audience to the people on special occasions. The beautifully carved elephant heads and tender vines at the top of the pillars in Rajput and Mughal architectural style catch our attention as we breathe fresh air through the arches formed by symmetric rows of pillars. We turn around and our eyes are arrested by the spectacle of the enchanting Ganesh Pol, symbolizing the colors, charm and grandeur of Rajasthan!
 We just sit back on the stairs of Diwan-e-Aam relaxed; absorb the soothing, just-done looking, lively paintings with vegetable dyes on the Ganesh Pol and the artistic latticed windows on both sides. It makes me think of the drab Bollywood movie Jodha-Akbar, which succeeds in making the best Indian pair of actors at present, Hritik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai, look most ineffective and boring, being shown on the screen all the time instead of judiciously exploiting the charms of the Fort and other aspects!
We spend a lot of time, marveling at the majestic arch with the unique painting of Lord Ganesh with enthralling paintings of trees and flowers in mesmerizing colors, deserving a top place in the world of history and art.
Grand Ganesh Pol
 Then we enter the dream world of the private palaces welcomed by an aesthetic Mughal style garden with fountains, flanked by Jai Mandir and Sukh Nivas, both on higher platforms. Automatically, we move towards the colorful, glittering Jai Mandir, also known as Sheesh Mahal, again a masterpiece embellished with panels of inlaid glass and the ceiling with hundreds of convex shaped mirrors designed with colored foil and paint, so as to glitter when in use.
A section of Jai Mandir or Sheesh Mahal
A section of Ceiling
 Well, most of the work has deteriorated and the praiseworthy process of restoration and renovation since 1980’s has definitely brought back the charm of the ‘jewel box’, as the Mahal appears! It is a pleasure to spend time here, with lots of energetic tourists, Indian and foreign, and also watching the views of Lake Maota with the huge, rectangular chunk of a symmetric garden, Kesar Kyari and the Aravalli Mountain with a great wall climbing over it! 
Kesar Kyari from Jai Mandir
We are also entertained by the beautifully carved Magic Flower on one of the pillars with a variety of motifs of insets, animals, flowers and corn. Covering it by parts, one could identify the motifs separately to his amusement!
Slowly, strolling by the side of the garden, we come into Sukh Nivas or Sukh Mahal (palace of pleasure) with a facility of flowing water around, to keep cool, the comparatively simpler edifice. The same water is led into the garden for its sustenance. It has an approach of a heavy sandalwood door with ivory inlay work. It has beautiful patterns of sculptured vases on marble and also small, circular, convex mirrors fixed in the ceiling where I try to photograph myself in one of them zooming the lens on it. Of course I have to do lots of acrobatics, bending backwards!
Me in a Cieling Mirror!

Next, we leisurely stroll into the fourth court yard, the colorful Zenana where the wives, concubines and mistresses of the king lived. A number of living rooms for the queens with a huge common corridor, allowed the king to visit any queen without being noticed by the rest. Definitely a sensual affair for all occupants and the indulging king! Well, well….any male’s mind will go into a frenzy with those possibilities, just to come back into the world of sanity, where neither women like to live like that, nor normal men like to treat them that way! The Man Singh Palace, the oldest of the structures, Baradari, the pavilion with pillars and Jas Mandir are part of the complex where the Royalty lived.

While returning we visit the historic Sila Devi Temple with a rich silver leaf embossed door and an impressive Ganesh idol carved out of a single piece of precious coral stone.

Way to Secret Tunnel
 The temple, equally rich inside, has the statue of Goddess Kali flanked by two silver lions. Here the Maharajas from the times of Raja Man Singh, practiced buffalo sacrifice during the Navratri festival and Dussera, which was stopped from 1980. Lastly, we happen to peep into the tunnel connecting the fort with Jai Garh for emergency exits of the Royal families!
Next day morning, our last day in the Pink City, we stroll through the main street, having a breakfast of hot Kachoris and nicely flavored Masala Chai (tea), reach the New Gate area through the spacious Panch Batti square and head towards Albert Hall Museum in the Ram Niwas Gardens.
Panch Batti Square
Albert Hall
 A beautiful building in Indo-Gothic style (a style of architecture developed by British architects, it is the oldest museum in Rajasthan, housing a priceless collection of paintings, carpets, ivory, stone and metal sculptures, exotic crystal works and a variety of artifacts!
Horse-puzzle composed of Human figures 

 It is a treat to the mind and eyes to move in this modern cave of treasures; we spend hours in the museum and it’s beautiful, canopied surroundings and gardens. Definitely, the museum completes our tour of Jaipur on a very happy note!

Enchanting Rajasthan!
                                                                                                                                                                  Raja Ram Atre.