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Monday, Feb 16, 2004

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Regale in royalty

Anupama R.

Welcome to Jaipur, where the camel cart and swank car obey traffic lights, where the dhabas and McDonald's both draw hungry crowds and where the old and the new co-exist, outside glossy tourist journals.


The magnificent Amer Fort in Jaipur;

Why Jaipur, of all places, asked a friend when one proudly announced the holiday destination.

For if a holiday was meant to relax, rejuvenate and calm one down, Jaipur is the last place anyone should visit. The city, also popularly known as "the pink city" will shake any holidayer out of his/her lethargy with its share of mad traffic, noisy shop vendors, inviting food stalls and colourful markets.

Jaipur was founded in 1727 by the leader of the Kachhawaha clan, Sawai Jai Singh who is remembered throughout the world for his passion for astronomy. The capital was originally at Amer or Amber but he decided to build a greater city and Jaipur was born.

Jaipur is huge, and perhaps, a view from an aeroplane offers the best perspective of the city's breathtaking sprawl. Gleaming like a jewel in the night, the city is a dazzling display of pink and white lights. But this was just the beginning of what it had to offer us over the next few days.

Though routine and well-tried on the tourist itinerary, it is difficult not to begin one's holiday with the customary visit to the City Palace and Hawa Mahal. The latter is an architectural wonder that seems to be fighting a losing battle against time and short-sighted tourists who insist on scribbling names and messages on its historic walls.


A view from the Fort.

The City Palace houses the Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh Museum. The textile gallery is possibly its most unique feature as it is a valuable source of information on the period the textiles belonged to. Most fascinating is the display of brocade garments of the royal family of Jaipur. A popular tourist attraction is the oversized outer garment, the atamsukh of Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh I (1750-68), who, as the guides will tell you, "was seven ft tall and four ft in circumference!"

The Museum is also a treasure trove of antique horse carriages, valuable paintings and more importantly, two silver urns. These jars have found a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest single pieces of silver (height 1.6 metres or five ft three inches, circumference 4.5 metres or 14 ft 10 inches, with a capacity of 9,000 litres or 1,980 gallons each). Popular belief is that Sawai Madho Singh II (1881-1922) had them made to carry holy water from the Ganges when he visited England!

After a reasonable dose of history, it was time to experience another important attraction the city is famous for — shopping. Jaipur is a shopper's dream come true when it comes to textiles, jewellery, pottery, shoes, and the like. The old city with its charming, noisy, crowded, Bapu Bazaar, Johri Bazaar and many others is the best place for good bargains. One can find the choicest costume jewellery, traditional Rajasthani joothis and saris with intricate bandini and tie-and-die motifs.

The Amer Fort, built by Raja Man Singh makes for a splendid sight, with its colourful architecture. It is a classic fusion of Mughal and Hindu architecture, built in red sandstone and white marble. One can approach the fort on foot, by car or jeep or on an elephant back. Predictably, the elephant ride is preferred by most tourists, and we were no exception.

The architecture of the Amber fort, like that of other Rajput palaces, features narrow passages and staircases, ramps within the fortifications and high walls that cannot be easily scaled, and windows at only the highest levels. Inside the fort complex are the `Diwan-E-Khas', the `Sheesh Mahal' and the `Jai Mandir' with exquisite mirror work, the `Diwan-E-Aam', the `Sukh Niwas', the Shila Mata Temple and Kali temple and the well laid-out garden, the `Kesar Kyari'.

The fort is perhaps, best loved for the `Sheesh Mahal' or the Mirror Palace — an exquisite example of craftsmanship in mirror work. The ceiling and the walls are studded with pieces of mirror that shine brilliantly in the faintest shaft of light.

Through with the well-trodden tourist track in Jaipur, it was now time to check out the less popular parts of the city. We found that Jaipur has its share of some unique and little known places far away from the media craze that usually surrounds the Hawa Mahal, the City Palace, the Jantar Mantar and the Amer Fort.

Among the quieter, must-see places, there is none more serene and peaceful than the much-neglected Ramachandra Temple, situated on the eastern side of the Sireh Deori Bazaar, in the old city.

The temple was built under the patronage of Maiji Sahiba Sri Chandrawatiji, the mother of Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II, in 1854. It is a courtyard temple with a shrine originally containing the image of Ramachandra, but its central position now features murtis of Krishna and Radha. Since 1865 the complex has also housed a Sanskrit college.

The temple has three courtyards. The grand steps in the first courtyard lead towards it. The second courtyard serves as an open space for cultural performances, and accommodates large congregations during festivals.

The eastern range of this courtyard has three lofty arches that lead to the third and final courtyard. This is the garbha griha, a covered courtyard, with a room for the deity, pradakshina patha around it and an equally sized mukha mandapa in front of it.

The building is united by motifs that remain consistent throughout. The temple has beautifully laid araish panels, a decorative lime plaster wall covering similar to marble, with rich coloured borders and floral motifs. In fact, araish is a recurring characteristic of Rajasthani architecture.

The temple has few visitors owing perhaps to the fact that it remains closed on Sundays and other national holidays as it is Government run. This we found out was a blessing in disguise for the entire place is characterised by a soothing silence — an advantage few cities have these days.

One other place that shares this advantage is the Nahargarh Fort, beyond the hills of Jaigarh, about six km away from the heart of the city. A long-winding road and a few hairpin curves later, one reaches the Fort, as imposing as a watchful sentinel guarding the city.

The fort is the first of the three built by the kings of Jaipur and affords a stunning view of Jaipur right down below to the Man Sagar Lake. Its stolid and ancient structure give the impression of timeless beauty surviving amidst urban chaos.

The best time to visit the fort is at night, as that's when the city below gleams in the halo of bright street lamps. As not many tourists throng the Nahargarh fort, it is a favourite weekend destination for locals who come here to party.

As they say, all good things must always come to an end. So did the holiday in Jaipur, the city of colour, where the camel cart and the imported car obey traffic lights, where the dhabas and McDonald's both draw hungry crowds and where the old and the new co-exist, and not just in glossy tourist manuals.

Fact file

How to get there: Jaipur is well-connected by road, rail and air to the main cities in India. Both Indian Airlines and Jet Airways have daily flights to the city.

Where to stay: Visitors to Jaipur can chose from luxurious palace hotels and deluxe modern hotels to modest three-star ones, economical lodges, guest houses and tourist hostels run by government agencies. Each segment offers a variety of accommodation and price options to suit all budgets. The Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation can also arrange for home stays for those visitors who would like to stay with local families.

When to visit: The best time to visit Jaipur is between September and March.

Pictures by the author

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The secret of happiness...
Jogging for better vision
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Swim with the whale sharks
Regale in royalty
Preserving the past
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