Continuing with my ongoing journey of exploring this beautiful country of ours -India, and moving forward from where I left this majestic state of Rajasthan (earlier trip being to Neemrana Fort Palace), this time around enticed enough by a long weekend from the 25th of December to the 27th of December we(our family) decided to visit the city of forts n palaces- Jaipur. We drove across the Delhi- Jaipur highway, the journey usually takes about 4 1/2-5 hrs but due to flyover construction work at Bairoad and Kotputli, it took us around 7 hrs to reach our hotel in Jaipur. All the fellow travelers are thus cautioned to try and leave as early as possible, by 6 am or so, as opposed to 8am (when we started), to cover this stretch of 280 km, so as to avoid traffic congestions at the two locations mentioned above. One is welcomed into the city by its splendid arched huge pink gates. Its believed earlier Jaipur was confined to the inner stretches and restricted to these massive “city gates” .
We checked into our hotel- The Golden Tulip Hotel, had some refreshments, and headed to Chowki Dhani.
Inspite of having heard a lot about this resplendent place, which has been the mirror of Rajasthani culture since 1989, we could not make our way to the entry of the village due to the overwhelming crowd of people, who had come from across the country, and most particularly Delhi to enjoy their Christmas weekend and savour some authentic Rajasthani delicacies. Started as part of ambience for a restaurant, over the years it has evolved as a tasteful and authentic symbol of ethnic village life of Rajasthan. Spread over 10 acres of beautifully landscaped area for a rustic look, it is dotted with machaans & platforms where different folk artists perform concurrently. A village fair is created every evening as an ongoing celebration of the rich & vibrant cultural heritage of Rajasthan. Any how, guess our first day was pretty dampener to our spirits. So without losing heart and looking forward to a wonderful day ahead, we headed to a Rajasthani restaurant to feast on some rajasthani dishes like Laal Maas, Gatte ki sabji, Dal Batti and Churma. The ambience of the restaurant was really welcoming with hospitable staff, folk daces, puppet shows and a bonfire to impede the mercury from dipping any further.
The next morning we got up early to a mouth watering buffet breakfast at the hotel and proceeded straight to the most famous and awe inspiring “Amer Fort”.
This old capital of the Kachhwahas stands atop a range of craggy hills. The fort is remarkable as much for the majestic grandeur of its surroundings as for its sturdy battlements and beautiful palaces. It is a fine blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture.
The solemn dignity of its red sandstone and white marble pavilions, when reflected in the lake at the foot hill, is a sight to behold. The original palace was built by Raja Man Singh, the additional extensions were built by Maharaja Mirja Raja Jai Singh and Sawai Jai Singh II the last Maharaja of Amer, who built a new city called Jaipur, where he shifted his capital in 1727.
The palace complex is lavishly ornamented and displays the riches of Amer. The Suraj Pole or the main entrance of the fort is embellished with fine paintings, made by the artists of the era, the colours used were prepared from natural flowers, fruits and vegetables, and boast of undying vitality and freshness inspite of passage of thousands of years. One is welcomed by ornamented splendid elephants, its believed elephants a are a symbol of “prosperity”, Its said a particular scene from the movie “Jodha Akbar”, where Aishwarya Rai enters Akbar’s palace on elephant was shooted here. Moving on one can witness the finesse of the artisans of that period. Diwan-e-Am or the Hall of Public Audience is a beautifully proportioned hall open on three sides and stands on two rows of ornamented pillars, Diwan e-Khas or the Hall of Private audience has delicate mosaic work in glass, it were the special guests of king and queen who were entertained here. This was the private chamber of the king and queen. Then comes the Sheesh Mahal, the chamber of mirrors.
It is sure to take ones breath away. The mirror work is just astounding, again the story goes, whenever the king wanted to make his queen feel very special and bring down the “stars from the heaven” to her chamber, the entrances of the Sheesh Mahal were blocked with black satin cloth, and innumerous ’diyas’ were lit, the reflection of the diyas on the mirrors of the Sheesh Mahal transformed the room into a galaxy of stars. Thus the song ‘jab pyaar kiya to darna kya’ from the movie “Mughal-e-azam” was shot here. Moving ahead further is the Sukh mandir which is guarded by sandalwood doors inlaid with ivory. Throughout the massive fort finely carved lattice windows, exquisitely painted doorways, halls and finely sculptured pillars crave for attention. The old city of Amer was the seat of power and bustling with life and prosperity.
The next place on our itenary was of “Jaigarh”, the security juncture of Amer Palace, standing on a hilltop, overlooking the palaces and city of Amer. The world’s biggest cannon on wheels- the Jai Ban is positioned here, built during reign of Maharaja Sawai Jaisingh.
It has a twenty feet long barrel and pumped in the cannon for a single shot. The cannon is around 200 tonnes in weight and requires four elephants to change directions. Its believed the cannon was never really used, however was once test tried and it created a huge depression on the ground at about 35 kms distance from the fort! One can see the amalgamation of Hindu and Mughal architecture on the main body of the cannon.
Till date, Jaigarh is visited by the current king and the cannon is worshipped on the first day of Dussheshra since it’s a tradition observed by the Kshatriyas to worship their ‘shastra’ or weapons. One of the most intriguing sights was a maze of cannal meant for water harvesting, being used even now to carry rain water to forts and palaces, since it was/is a Herculean task to transport water from the city to the higher mountain reaches with rugged terrain. Next on our journey was Nahargarh Fort, cresting a hill about 600 ft. above the city, the fort was built in 1734.
The walls of the fort run along the ridge and within are architectural beauties like Hawa Mandir and Madhvendra Bhawan.
While our way down to the city, 6 kms on the way to Amer, we witnessed one of a marvel of its kind, The Jal Mahal, a small palace set in the middle of Man Sagar Lake.
It is said since in those days there were no technological advancements like airconditioners, the kings and their families used to shift their base to Jai Mahal. The ground floor of the palace in inside water, which keeps the temperatures from soaring and maintains a cool ambience inside, while other two floors stand tall over the lake. Jaipur is always epitomized by the majestic Hawa Mahal, and thus we had to stop at this grandeur too.
Built in 1799, by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, this is the most recognizable monument of Jaipur. The 5 storied stunning semi-octagonal monument having 152 windows with over hanging latticed balconies is a fine piece of Rajput architecture.
Originally designed for the royal ladies to watch and enjoy the processions and other activities, on the street below. Now it houses a well laid out museum and is open to public to make themselves feel as special as the queens and her cavalcade felt!
Now it was time enough for us to bite our teeth into some Rajasthani food and embark on my best pastime “shopping”. The items to look for are “bandini” and “block print” fabrics viz, sarees, salwaar kameez, kutas, skirts and dupattas, a speciality of rajasthani people, “rajasthani juttis”, which are available in white camel leather and are painted in your colour choice in front of you, so you have a nice customized “jutti”, the other things to look forward are ‘rajashthani katputlis’ or the puppets, wooden musicians, hand woven bed covers et al!
Other places to visit, which we could not manage due to lack of time, are:
JANTAR MANTAR (Observatory) – built in 18th century by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the huge masonary instruments were used to study the movement of constellations and stars in the sky. Enormous sun-dial still provides accurate time.
CITY PALACE AND S.M.S. II MUSEUM – situated in the heart of the old City, it occupies about one seventh of the old city area. The palace is a blend of Rajput and Mughal architecture, it houses a seven storeyed Chandra Mahal in the centre, which affords a fine view of the gardens and the city. Diwan-E-Am (Hall of public audience) has intricate decorations and collection of manuscripts, Diwan-E-Khas (Hall of private audience) has a marble pawed gallery Mubarak Mahal has a rich collection of costumes and textiles. There is a Clock Tower near Mubarak Mahal. Sileh Khana has a collection of armory and weapons.
LAXMI NARAYAN TEMPLE – is situated just below the Moti Doongari, known for the intricate marble carvings in white marble, popularly known as Birla Temple
GAYATRI DEVI PALACE
GALTA – (10 kms.) This holy pilgrimage centre has a temple dedicated to the Sun God (Which is the only one of its kind in this part of the country) and natural spring. It crests the ridge over a picturesque gorge and provides an impressive view of the city. As the legend goes, sage Galav performed a difficult penance here.
MOTIDOONGARI – perched on a hill top on the southern horizon. It is a replica of a Scottish castle.
MAHARANI K! CHHATRI – The funeral place for the royal ladies, marked by some wonderfully carved cenotaphs.
SISODIA RANI GARDEN – (5 kms.) on the road to Agra, the magnificent palace garden was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1710 for his queen.
VIDHYADHAR GARDEN – (5 kms.) on the way to Agra, built by Viyadhar, the chief architect and town planner of Jaipur. This beautiful terraced garden has several galleries and pavilions decorated with exquisite murals, depicting Lord Krishna.
KANAK VRINDAVAN – (6.5 Kms on the way to Amer) This newly restored temple and garden, near Jal Mahal, has beautiful gardens and is popular picnic place. This is also beautiful location for film shooting.
This city is stunningly colourful, vibrant and dazzling, everything starting from the architechure(hand painted monuments, aesthetic and precise workmanship), buildings(pink stone washed-which gives Jaipur the name of “Pink City”), clothes(two major small scale industries being Bandini and Block printing with use of natural colours) to foods(must tries include onion kachoris, kesar lassi, churma and badam halwa) is so alluring that it will truly make one yearn for more everytime one visits this magnificent city of the Rajput Kings!