Jaipur

The Pink City

All bleary eyed, we chugged into Jaipur railway station on the overnight train from Jodhpur.     Even at the ungodly hour of 04:30, the tuk-tuks were on the go and ready to tout!  We were so tired that we did not even bother trying to negotiate.

Oh what bliss to be able to book into our absolutely gorgeous accommodation.  We had been looking forward to our stay in the Pearl Palace Heritage Boutique Guesthouse since the first time we saw it online.   Each of the rooms is decorated in a heritage style, celebrating the gracious lifestyle of India’s Rajput princes.  They contain various treasures and art forms found only in India.  There was so much attention to detail with gorgeous little luxuries such as the newspaper delivered under our door every morning!  Parts of the film ‘The Second Best Marigold Hotel’ were shot on location at the Pearl Palace Heritage.

Jaipur is also known as the Pink City.  In the Rajput culture, the colour pink is associated with hospitality.  Built in 1727 A.D , the ancient heart of the Pink City still beats on in its fairytale palaces,  rugged fortresses perched on barren hills and broad avenues that dot the entire city.  We are sorry that we were not able to spend a few more days here as there was still so much more we wanted to do.

Our first port of call was the Royal Palace.  Built between 1729 and 1732 it incorporates an impressive array of courtyards, buildings and temples.   The outer wall has remained, but within it the palace has been enlarged and adapted over the centuries.  It has a striking blend of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture.

Next we were on the hunt for someone very specific.  A man and his camera.    “Hello! Excuse me! Old camera.” shouts Tikam Chand to get the attention of one of the tourists passing by.  Tikam is the proud owner of an 1860 Carl Zeiss wooden camera.  His grandfather was the Royal Photographer for the Maharaja of Jaipur during the 19th century.  Tikam’s granddad treasured this beauty and since then it has been handed down from generation to generation.    For 200 rupees you can get your own black and white vintage photograph.  How fascinating to watch the developing process and this all in Tikam’s makeshift studio on the sidewalk!

Hawa Mahal is an extraordinary pink sandstone, multi-windowed structure that rises a dizzying five storeys.  It is said to resemble the honeycomb structure of a bee’s nest.  It was constructed in 1799 by the Maharaja to enable ladies of the royal household to watch the life and processions of the city whilst staying unseen from the street and commoner level.   In English the name translates to Palace of the Winds and this name is in reference to the clever cooling system which allows a gentle breeze through the inner rooms even during the intense Rajasthan summers.

A few street scenes from our wanderings.  Such a great vibe, especially at the city gates in anticipation for Diwali.

The Jantar Mantar is an astronomical observation site built in the early 18th century.  The name is derived from jantar (Sanskrit: machine), and mantar (Sanskrit:  calculate) literally meaning ‘calculating instrument.’  It includes a set of some twenty main fixed instruments.  Built from local stone and marble, each instrument carries an astronomical scale, generally marked on the marble inner lining.   Amongst the structures is the world’s largest stone sundial standing at 27 metres tall.  Its shadow moves visibly at 6 cm every minute.

We took a Tuk Tuk ride to the Ganesh temple.  Lord Ganesh is an elephant headed deity and is considered very auspiciousness in the Hindu faith.   Ganesh is the god of wisdom, knowledge, wealth and the remover of obstacles.

No Hindu ceremony is complete without vermilion paste, a mixture of turmeric, camphor and lemon.   The application of vermilion paste on the forehead is known as ‘Tilak’.  According to ancient beliefs, the sixth chakra called “Agna” is present in the area between the eyebrows. This chakra is said to be the seat of concealed wisdom, command and concentration.  The vermillon paste between the eyebrows is said to retain energy in the human body and control the various levels of concentration.

According to tradition, applying tilak is a symbol of honor being extended to the person.  How lovely to be “blessed” by a kind stranger when we visited the Ganesh Temple.

Amer Fort is located in Amer, the former capital of the Rajputs before it moved to Jaipur.  Construction of the fort began in 1592.  Its location and sheer size bears testimony to the power of the Rajputs that flourished in the region from the 8th to the 18th centuries.  Legend has it that there is a partially submerged stone in the lake at the foot of the cliff.  It was believed that if it became fully submerged the state of Amer would perish.

As we wandered down the steps on the way to the exit, we heard the sound of Rajasthani music floating up from the level below. Turning the corner at the bottom of the stairs, our attention was caught by a couple of snake charmers in the corner.  Snake charming is the practice of pretending to hypnotise a snake by playing a pungi. Although snakes are able to sense sound, they lack the outer ear that would enable them to hear the music. They follow the pungi that the snake charmer holds with their heads. The snake considers the person and pungi a threat and responds to it as if it were a predator.   With a rather shaky hand I stretched out to put the tip on the rug keeping a beady eye on the cobra.

The Jal Mahal or Water Palace was never intended to be used as a palace by the Maharaj, but rather as a lodge for himself and his entourage during duck hunting season.  This low-rise symmetrical palace appears to float in the centre of Sagar Lake.  Only the upper level is exposed and there are actually a further four submerged levels. The solid stone walls hold back millions of litres of water and the specially designed lime mortar has prevented water seepage for nearly 300 years.

The trip to the Monkey Temple starts with a steep walk to the top of the hill.  As you can see were accompanied by a few four footed creatures.  It’s not called monkey temple for nothing, but these guys were definitely friendlier than their Shimla counterparts.

We’d heard that sunset was the best time to visit the temple, but we just got such an uneasy feeling form the whole area (probably totally uncalled for, but coming from where we do, I suppose we get used to listening to the inner warning bells.)  So, sadly we never actually got to see the temple, but we did see some interesting sites along the way and we got to enjoy the great views.

We did get a little glimpse of the temple from above.  It’s perched between the cliff faces of a rocky valley.  The complex features a number of pavillions, holy bathing pools, and shrines. The temple houses sacred tanks whose water is claimed to be seven elephants deep.

Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is the biggest and most important Hindu festival in India.   The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and good over evil.  In many parts of India, the festival of Diwali marks the start of a new Hindu year.

For days leading up to the main festivities fireworks are set off, culminating in a spectacular light show.  On the night of Diwali, oil lamps and candles are lit both inside and outside of the home and ritual prayers are performed.  This is followed by a feast and an exchange of gifts.

Being the Festival of Lights, everything in the city was lit up. The buildings were decorated with colourful strings of lights and the markets were buzzing.   Our wonderful tuk tuk driver took us on a tour of the city.  What an incredible vibe!  Back at our guest house there were festivities too.  The front of Pearl Palace was draped with lights and there were Pujas said in the reception area.  We were given special Indian sweets while we watched firecrackers being set off in the road.  Not much sleep that night, but hey, I guess it’s not every day you get to celebrate Diwali in India!

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