Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Jaipur- Welcome to the Land of the Kings

After a stressful, expensive and ridiculously long day of travelling we finally marked the start of our journey through Rajasthan. The initial cancellation of our flight in the morning just after arriving at Kochi airport, we had to stump up double the initial cost to hop on the last 2 seats of the only other plane heading to Jaipur, was hardly an ideal start to month 4. The day went on to include a very tight connection we almost missed and lead to even further delay after spending 7 hours in an uncomfortable and exceedingly boring airport. Thankfully we'd pre arranged a pick up through our guesthouse, run by the lovely Arvind who made us forget the dreadful journey with a lovely room and a warm welcome to Jaipur. If you're in Jaipur and happy to pay a little more than the average cheapie it's a really great and homely place to stay: Explorers Nest.

As morning came it was time to visit the first palace of many in Rajasthan. I'd like to think that through the series of blog posts we post about Rajasthan we manage to provide a small slice of the rich and bloody history of this famous Indian state. Just to provide a foundation; before independence Rajasthan or Rajputana as the British called it comprised of 22 different kingdoms, each with its own fortifications. In terms of wider rule many of these kingdoms were friendly with and tolerated by the Mughal rulers (marriage between Mughal daughters and Rajput Kings was quite common) and subsequently the British Raj although marriage I'm sure was not on the cards. As we have travellled through Rajasthan not only have we learnt about new kingdoms and the great history of this part of India but also the wider puzzle of power in the region and the eventual creation of the state of Rajasthan and modern India.

The palace itself was that of Maharja Sawai Jai Singh II who built the palace as one of the bastions of his rule after founding the city of Jaipur (hence the name), he was ruler of the kingdom of Amber fort that stands 18km from Jaipur, and one we didn't have the time to visit whilst in Jaipur. The city itself is the largest in Rajasthan and an impressive mix of jumbled old bazaars divided in to strict sections producing different goods and outskirts of very smart modern development. The 'pink city' it certainly isn't, only a few streets really show the pink wash one expects from a city labelled as being pink, however the palace complex at the heart of such a busy place felt very much like modern India built amongst the architecture and legacy of its past.

Notice the different colours and architectural styles that mark the several different Maharjas who lived in the palace influence on the expansion of the complex.

The royal palace is not actually that amazing. Whilst a large complex of courtyards and decorated buildings built through different eras of rule is inevitably impressive in its scope and scale architecturally it doesn't have the wow factor of the great forts of the state.

Far more impressive was the Jantar Mantar just across from the palace entrance. This outdoor astrological park was just magnificent, full of huge shapes and domes, curves and axes that meant sweet nothing to us but were ambitiously claiming to be able to locate stars, the sun, days etc.

The centre piece was to our understanding a massive sun dial. In retrospect this probably would've been a good time to get a guide but making your own sense of it is all part of the fun.

In the photo below you get a real feel for the scale of the Palace Complex, this photo was taken from Jantar Mantar looking across to the palace with the Jaipur fort on the hillside in the background.

Just across from here in the palace complex was the ladies part of the palace including the great Hawa Mahal (wind palace) one of the iconic sites of Jaipur.

The many decorated windows let the ladies of the royal enclosure see the bustle of the outside world without ever having to confront it. Sort of similar to the tourists who now flock to the sites on their way to/from the Taj look out through the windows at crazy Jaipur and jump straight back in their coach and on to the next sight. The window side of the Hawa Mahal is just a pretty facade and behind the very flat outside wall is a complex of hallways and rooms for the ladies of the palace to 'enjoy'.

The new lady of the palace!

The museum at the 'Albert Hall' was also great, although packed with Indians taking photos of everything, the vast collection of displays Chinese pottery to reproductions of a mummy to bored Western tourists. It was a pretty standard museum of countless dusty exhibits to be honest but the fantastic building styled on British and Mughal architecture, notice the varied archways, made it a great place to walk around and made even more interesting as it was built for the sole purpose of becoming a museum space. The parties you could have in the courtyard however lead us to some Gatsby esque imaginings.

The modern development of the city also meant it was time to head back in to the air conditioned sanctuary of the cinema to see the hilarious Wolf Of Wall Street, it must be Leo's turn for an Oscar.

The minaret of the palace complex gave amazing views of life in the city below.

Jaipur in General, far from the hell hole we'd been lead to believe by some, it was actually quite a rewarding place to explore. We spent hours bartering over a leather belt and bag and ended up with a great price and our slightly lost back road route to the palace lead to us seeing first hand the differentiated industrial quarters of the old city. From stone masons to tailors, from brass pot makers to the ghee and oil vendors plying their trade in pink and white washed bazaars. Jaipur also didn't feel as touristy as some of the other cities we passed through, you could really feel the beating heart of a working city simply stepping out of the guesthouse door.

 

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