We set off by bus for a morning of sightseeing. Our first stop was at the Hawa Mahal or “Palace of the Winds”. It was built In 1799 and the original intention was to allow ladies from the City Palace, presumably from the harem, to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen. Constructed of red and pink sandstone highlighted with white lime the five storied facade contains 953 small windows. The breeze (hawa) that comes through the windows keeps it cool, even in hot months, and gives the palace it’s name. We made a brief photo stop here. It’s certainly very impressive and I can see why it’s known as Jaipur’s signature building. Returning to the bus I saw a snake charmer with cobra!
So why is Jaipur called the Pink City? Well in 1853 when the Prince of Wales came to visit the city most of the old buildings were painted pink to welcome him. The colour has remained pink ever since. Actually it’s closer to a terracotta colour but I guess that “Pink City” sounds better than “Terracotta City”. Our next stop was a few kilometres outside Jaipur at Amber, the former capital of Jaipur state until 1727. We got off the bus and towering ahead of us was the Amber Fort/Palace complex. In front of us was a lake. Unfortunately the view was hazy but we passed by again the following day and had a brief photo stop here to get better pictures. There was an option to ride by elephant up to the fort but Yash did not recommend this describing the elephants as “sad” and the ride up not being within the G Adventures ethos of sustainable tourism. We all chose to walk up which did give numerous opportunities to see the elephants close up and yes they didn’t seem a particularly happy bunch.
Amber was a flourishing city as far back as 967AD. The Fort/Palace complex is famous for its mixture of Hindu and Muslim architecture. It’s vast with very impressive architecture, mosaics, courtyards and gardens. One particular highlight was the Sheesh Mahal containing tiny mirrors which when a single candle is lit can transform it into a “starlit sky”. We explored extensively the central area of the fort only then to discover a much older part at the far end. This area was converted into women’s quarters (the Zenana) by Man Singh to house his 12 wives and concubines.
After leaving the Amber Fort we made a brief photo stop at the Jal Mahal nearby. This “water palace” seems to float on the lake. Built in the mid 18th century by Madho Singh I , it is based on the Lake Palace at Udaipur where the king spent his childhood.
We headed back into Jaipur where the sightseeing continued at the City Palace. Occupying the heart of the city, the City Palace has been home to the rulers of Jaipur since the first half of the 18th century. The Palace complex is a super blend of Rajput and Mughal architecture with open, airy Mughal-style public buildings leading to private apartments. Today the complex is open to the public as the City Palace museum. We first visited a lavishly decorated ground floor room which was used for ceremonial occasions. The room contained portraits of the former rulers of Jaipur. The royal dynasty continues but nowadays their role is largely ceremonial. Heading back out into the courtyard we passed two silver urns. These are listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest silver vessels in the world. They carried sacred Ganges water to London for Madho Singh’s visit in 1901. The seven storey palace is beautiful. It’s predominately yellow colour provides a great contrast with the rest of the pink city.
The tour of the palace ended with an opportunity to haggle with local traders for souvenirs – predominately artwork. I kept my hand firmly in my pocket!
After lunch back in the hotel the afternoon was free. The group split along gender stereotype lines. The girls went shopping and the blokes stayed in the hotel! I spent some time sitting on the hotel terrace in the sunshine watching the world go by below.
In the evening we went to the cinema to see a Bollywood film. This involved another thrilling tuk-tuk ride there and back. The Ray Mandir movie cinema opened in 1976 and is in an art moderne style with a meringue shaped auditorium. We had come to see Jai Ho starring the Bollywood star Salman Khan. He has appeared in several high grossing Bollywood films. It was the first night of Jai Ho in Jaipur and the cinema was packed. I struggled to follow the plot. It was spoken in Hindi and there were no subtitles. The scenes seemed to follow a particular formula that repeated – comedy scene, sad scene, violent scene, romantic scene and occasionally some singing and dancing. Khan played a “Robin Hood” type character who was keen to right wrongs even if this involved using what at times seemed pretty extreme violence. The audience got really involved shouting out when there was about to be an action sequence. It was a great experience to be in such a different type of audience with a real atmosphere in a great movie theatre holding around 1,500 people.