We celebrated the 4th with American flare on NH 11, being driven from Jaipur to Agra. We purchased some fireworks in Jaipur during the day, but didn’t have a clue where we would be able to set them off. Along the road we came across an Indian wedding party that was also lighting off fireworks so we joined them to create a great show! A word of caution, Indian fireworks are a bit unpredictable.
One of the sites in Jaipur that came highly recommended was Chokhi Dhani. Located 12 miles outside of the city, Chokhi Dhani (“Fine Hamlet” in Rajasthani dialect) is an ethnic resort. One can watch live folk dances; listen to folk music; enjoy elephant, camel, and bullock cart rides; and eat traditional food. The resort gives you a glimpse of culture from different parts of Rajasthan if you can’t see all of Rajasthan yourself.
The highlights for us included camel rides and palm readings. For Rs. 20 Kunal learned that he is going to do “very well” between the ages of 30 and 40, but will have digestive problems.
We were only in Jaipur for 24 hours, but with a month of site-seeing experience under our belts, we laid out an aggressive schedule for our time here.
After touring the forts in the morning, we stopped to ponder the Jal Mahal (Water Palace) pictured below. Jal Mahal is a Rajput style architecture palace sitting in the center of the Man Sagar Lake. The most interesting details of this site revolve around the lake rather than the palace. In 1596, a water shortage caused a severe famine, motivating the ruler to construct a dam around a natural depression that only filled with water during the monsoon season.
Next we headed for the center of town to see the very unique Hawa Mahal (Palace of Breeze). Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Singh as part of the City Palace, it was an extension of the Zenana (women) chamber. Its purpose was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen. It is easiest to think of this construction as a screen, five stories high with over 950 windows!
From Hawa Mahal, it’s only a short walk to another unique tourist attraction: Jantar Mantar. Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar is the largest of five astronomical observatories built by Maharaja Jai Singh (the founder of Jaipur) between 1727 and 1734. The observatory has fourteen major geometric devices (or yantra in Hindi) for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking stars in their orbits, ascertaining the declinations of planets, and determining the celestial altitudes. Below I try to explain to Cory how I think one of the instruments tracks a celestial orbit.
We went to Jaipur without a plan for where we would be sleeping. However, Kunal did bring with him the phone number of a friend of a friend who we were told could help us find lodging in the pink city. We arrived in the afternoon at the Hotel Bissau Palace and were given an incredible suite, complete with armaments.
BissauPalaceis an elegant, traditional hotel built in 1919 with, as the website describes it, “an atmosphere pregnant with intrigue, excitement, and tragedy.”
The armaments–of which there are many–come from the personal effects of the Shyam Singh, a Thakur of Bissau. He was a brilliant general and tactician who hired French mercenaries to aid in his fight against the British and the Jaipur State. The hotel has “turreted ramparts enclosing a world of wealth.” There is also an excellent pool for escaping the afternoon heat. We highly recommend it!
Having traveled to the four major metropolitan areas of India, Cory and I felt confident that we were not going to be too surprised by Jaipur, a city that was a four-hour drive from New Delhi. However, within an hour of arriving in the state of Rajasthan, we were taken back by the geography and architecture of the forts which left us asking ourselves, “how many more layers to this country can there be!?”
Our first major site was the Amber Fort (pronounced Amer), located 11km outside of downtown Jaipur. This massive fort-palace complex built in hybrid Hindu-Muslim style dates back to Raja Man Singh and was the royal palace of the Kachwahas from c. 1600 to 1727. The name has nothing to do with the rather pretty pastel yellow color; instead, the fort is named after the town of Amber, in turn named after the goddess Amba.
If you look up from the Amber Fort you see the Jaigarh Fort, towering above it on the mountain ridge. This fort was never conquered in battle and was considered the strongest of the three forts in the area. The main attraction here is the world’s largest cannon (shown in the pictures below), which was test-fired only once. According to legend, despite using only the half the designated amount of gunpowder, the cannonball flew 35 km!
Finally, continuing down the same ridge where the Jaigarh Fort is located, we found the Nahargarh Fort. Although it is the smallest of the three forts, it had great views of Man Sagar Lake and the vast sprawl of Jaipur.