Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Sights of Jaipur

Amer Fort.
(Photo by Kuldeepsingh Mahawar. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

It seems like I've been planning this trip forever but it's really only just been a few months but in a very short while, we'll be our way to India and Nepal.

Our first destination in India will be Jaipur and Chantale and I will be there; we'll meet up with Ayşe in Delhi a few days later.  The parents of a friend of Chantale's daughter have kindly offered to pick us up from the airport and take us to our Airbnb apartment.  I don't expect them to take us around so we'll have to figure that part out.  There are plenty of options to consider.

As always, I had to do some research on the main sightseeing spots in Jaipur.  We don't have a lot of time and given the extremely uncomfortably (super hot and humid) weather conditions, I don't know how much sightseeing we'll actually be able to do.

We might just begin our visit to Jaipur at the Albert Hall Museum, an elegant museum built in 1887 that showcases Indian art, arms, jewels, furniture, artifacts and more.  It is the state museum of Rajasthan.  We arrive into Jaipur in the late morning and my plan is to immediately go for lunch.  We can then come to the museum to get a bit of a history lesson before venturing out to see the sights.

Here are some of the other places I want to hit up when we're in Jaipur.

City Palace.
Photo by Antoine Taveneaux.
(Licensed under  Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported via Wikimedia Commons.)
City Palace which includes the Chandra Mahal and Mubarak Mahal palaces and other buildings, is a palace complex that was the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur, the head of the Kachwaha Rajput clan.  The palace was built between 1729 and 1732, initially by Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber. He planned and built the outer walls, and later additions were made by successive rulers continuing up to the 20th century.

The seven story tall Chandra Mahal or Chandra Niwas is the most commanding building in the City Palace complex.  At present, most of this palace remains as a residence of the descendants of the former rulers of Jaipur.  Only the ground floor is open to visitors where there is museum displaying carpets, manuscripts and other items that belonged to the royal family

Mubarak Mahal, meaning the 'Auspicious Palace', was built with a fusion of the Islamic, Rajput and European architectural styles in the late 19th century by Maharaja Madho Singh II as reception centre.  Today, it is a museum housing a fine collection of textiles.

Hawa Mahal.
(Photo by A.Savin.  Licensed under FAL.)
Hawa Mahal which translates in English to "Palace of Winds" or "Palace of the Breeze") was so named because it was essentially a high screen wall built so the women of the royal household could observe street festivals while unseen from the outside. Constructed of red and pink sandstone, the palace sits on the edge of the City Palace, and extends to the zenana, or women's chambers.

The structure was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh and designed by Lal Chand Ustad in the form of the crown of Krishna, the Hindu god. Its unique five-store exterior is akin to the honeycomb of a
beehive with its 953 small windows called jharokhas decorated with intricate latticework. The original intention of the lattice was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen, since they had to obey strict "purdah" (face cover). The lattice also allows cool air from the Venturi effect (doctor breeze) through the intricate pattern, air conditioning the whole area during the high temperatures in summers.

Amer Fort.  Also known as Amber Fort, is a fort located high on hill near the town of Amer, overlooking Maota Lake.

The fort is originally believed to have been built by Raja Man Singh, the Kachwaha King of Amer, in 967 CE.  Amer Fort, as it stands now, was built over the remnants of that earlier structure.  The fort was fully expanded by his descendant, Jai Singh I in the 17th century and was subsequently restored by successive rulers until the Kachwahas shifted their capital to Jaipur during the time of Sawai Jai Singh II, in 1727.

The fort, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 (along with five other forts of Rajasthan, group Hill Forts of Rajasthan), is known for its large ramparts and series of gates and cobbled paths and artistic Hindu style elements.

Sheesh Mahal.
(Photo by Ronakshah1990. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Constructed of red sandstone and marble, the attractive, opulent palace is laid out on four levels, each with a courtyard. It consists of the Diwan-i-Aam, or "Hall of Public Audience", the Diwan-i-Khas, or "Hall of Private Audience", the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace), or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over a water cascade within the palace.

Jantar Mantar.
Photo by Ajit Kumar Majhi.
(Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Jantar Mantar is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments, built in 1734 CE by Sawai Jai Singh II who was the founder of Jaipur.  Located near City Palace and Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mahal features masonry, stone and brass instruments that were built using astronomy and instrument design principles of ancient Hindu Sanskrit texts. The instruments allow the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye.

Jantar Mantar is also home to the world's largest stone sundial, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.









View of Jaipur from Nahargarh Fort.
Photo by Sanyam Bahga.
(Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Nahargarh Fort stands on the edge of the Aravalli Hills,  offering sweeping views of Jaipur.

Along with Amer Fort and Jaigarh Fort, Nahargarh once formed a strong defense ring for the city.

Built mainly in 1734 by King Sawai Jai Singh II, the fort was constructed as a place of retreat on the summit of the ridge above the city. Walls extended over the surrounding hills, forming fortifications that connected this fort to Jaigarh, the fort above the old capital of Amer. Though the fort never came under attack during the course of its history, it did see some historical events, notably the treaties with the Maratha forces who warred with Jaipur in the 18th century. During the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the Europeans of the region, including the British Resident's wife, were moved to Nahargarh fort by the King of Jaipur, Sawai Ram Singh, for their protection

Jaigarh Fort  is situated on the promontory called the Cheel ka Teela (Hill of Eagles) of the Aravalli range.  It overlooks Amer Fort and Maota Lake.  Jairgarh Fort was built by Jai Singh II in 1726 to protect Amer Fort and its palace complex and was named after him.

The fort also features an armory and a museum.  Jaigarh Fort and Amer Fort are connected by subterranean passages and considered as one complex. If those passages are still open to visitors, that would be great for us.

Panorama from Jaigarh Fort
Panoramic view from Jaigarh Fort. Use the scroll bars to pan to see the entire photo.
(Photo by Star Dust H. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Galta ji.
Photo by China Crisis.
(Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
Galta ji.  Jaipur's not all about forts and palaces although I know that wandering around them will keep us fully occupied.   I think we need to squeeze in some temple visits as well.  To make it easy on us, we can visit the Galta ji complex (also known as Khole Ke Hanuman ji), an ancient Hindu pilgrimage site in the town of Khania-Balaji, about 10 km away from Jaipur.

The complex consists of a series of temples built into a narrow crevice in the ring of hills that surrounds Jaipur. A natural spring emerges high on the hill and flows downward, filling a series of sacred kunds (water tanks) in which pilgrims bathe. The visitor or pilgrim ascends the crevasse, continuing past the highest water pool to a hilltop temple from which a magnificent view of Jaipur and its fortifications spreads out across the valley floor.

The Sun Temple (Surya Mandir) is situated on a rocky outcrop on the edge of the Aravalli Hills and is part of the larger Galta ji complex.  It is one of the lesser known tourist sights of Jaipur which means smaller crowds, if any.  It's a bit of walk up a hill, from Galta ji, to reach the Sun Temple but by all accounts, the best time to be there is as sunset because it offers a wonderful view of Jaipur, bathed in the light of the setting sun. Chantale loves taking photos at sunrise and sunset so we may have to plan a late afternoon visit to Galta ji.

The walk up to the temple takes 15 minutes from Surajpol Bazaar and this is the location where most taxi/rickshaw drop passengers off. Half way up the hill the path splits, right to the Sun Temple and left to Galta ji.
Important Advice.  I came across this important nugget of advice - Start your sight seeing by 10 in the morning as all the major spots get closed by 4:30PM and each spot takes a lot of time especially the Forts.

Last but not least, if we tire of sightseeing, there is plenty of shopping that is available. I'm not much of a shopper but I know Chantale is.  I found this webpage listing 8 of the best shopping places in the city.

Getting Around. I put together a map of the places in Jaipur that we should try to see while we are there.  Many of the places are located within close proximity of each other - either walking distance or a short taxi, Uber ride or autorickshaw aka tuk tuk will do.  One web site I read recommended flagging down a lean-limbed cycle-rickshaw rider. Though it can be uncomfortable watching someone pedaling hard to transport you, this is how they make a living plus it will also be our small contribution to the environment.


For the places that are a bit futher away e.g., Amer Fort and Galta ji, the general consensus of all the web postings I have read is to take an autorickshaw.  One poster categorized the autorickshaw drivers in Rajasthan as the pushiest and recommended using fixed-rate prepaid autorickshaw stands instead.  The plan would be to hire the autorickshaw for an entire day including a trip to either Amer Fort or Galta ji.

Prepaid autos are available at the Jaipur railway station which is located very close to our apartment.  We'll have to check for the current daily hire rates.  We'll also have to be firm with regards to stopping at shops as autorickshaw drivers will often want to stop at the shops that they receive commissions from, especially those located on the way to Amer Fort.  I would rather tip the driver a bit more than waste my time in a shop especially considering how little time we have in Jaipur.  Same will be true of places to eat.   I just hope we get a decent, honest driver.  Considering we will be in Jaipur during the low season, perhaps we'll have better bargaining power.  My plan is to start with autorickshaw on our first day and if that doesn't work, we can go with taxi or Uber.  With regards to Uber, I did read to be careful that you might be in a place that you don't get a good signal and so getting a ride could be problematic. We may stick to Uber when we're in the downtown area.
  
Scam Advice
I have fallen to scams.  The first was the spice scam in Sri Lanka where I ended up buying spices I really didn't want though I did not pay much for them and in end, I did end up using them.  I was also victim to the spit stain scam in Santiago where petty thieves throw a stain liquid at you to try and distract you while they rob you.  Thanks to some sharp eyed locals, the scammers were not successful.  So, I am now very attuned to scams.  I read that inn Jaipur, autorickshaw drivers have been known to work together with the gem scammers. If you hire an autorickshaw for the day, he may suggest that you *go for a beer* afterwards, at which point you will be introduced to the point man on the scam attempt, usually a very charismatic person who will then try to sell you the gems.  So note to Chantale and I, decline all invitations by rickshaw drivers to have drink or even a meal at the end of our day!

Useful Info
Two bits of information that are useful to know if you are planning on visiting Jaipur. 
  • You can buy what is essentially a Jaipur tourist pass that covers the fees to several sites.  Definitely something worth checking out.   http://www.hawa-mahal.com/tourist-composite-ticket/)
  •  The opening and closing hours for the major tourist sites so you can plan your days accordingly.  http://www.jaipurtravel.com/tourist_places.htm 
  • Refer to http://www.jaipurtravel.com/jaipur_local_tours.htm for information on local tours and hiring guides.
I am so excited to go back to India and though it will be fun to revisit Delhi and Agra, I am most thrilled about going to Jaipur, a city I have long wanted to visit!