Friday, September 1, 2017

First View of Jaipur. City Palace.

Diwan-i-Khas, City Palace.

Original Post Date: June 15, 2017.

We spent our first afternoon in Jaipur exploring City Palace.  After having taken in the grandeur of the place, all I can say is that it deserves a much more elegant name than just City Palace.  Something like Royal Palace of Rajasthan would be more befitting in my humble opinion.  It needs a name that does it justice!  Be sure to check out the official website for more information about the palace.

In any case, we left the apartment and headed back out to the main road where Rohit had parked the car when he first dropped us off.

That's where we stood to flag down a tuk-tuk.  The driver wanted 100 rupees to take us to City Palace which is less than $1.50 USD.  To us, that is so cheap, it's not even worth bargaining so we hopped in.  I had put together a Google map of Jaipur so I had a rough idea of where the palace was located relative to where our apartment was located but of course, I had no idea of the distance.  Not that I was in a rush or anything.  Admittedly, I was having fun just riding in the tuk-tuk!


I took some photos and a video but Chantale....she had a camera in action as well as her small GoPro imitation camera which she had attached to a selfie stick and which she was using to take videos with.  At the rate she's shooting, she's going to end up with a gazillion photos and videos of India by the time she gets home!  In any case, it made me happy to see her having such a good time and she's barely out of the apartment door!


The one thing that struck me immediately....probably because they were constantly whizzing by us, is just how many tuk-tuks and motorcycles there are here.  Not that there aren't any cars but most certainly the smaller vehicles greatly outnumber the larger ones.

The first stretch of our ride took us through the new part of the city.  Looks pretty much just like every other city in this part of the world.  Then, the pink buildings appeared - housing small commercial establishments.  We had crossed over in to the old city.  Jaipur is nicknamed the Pink City.  I told Chantale we have to find out what this area is so we can walk about it later.  I want to get into the 'hood, so to speak.




Our driver deposited us outside an arched gate which was the entrance to the Palace.  Standing in the sun for the first time today, I could immediately the intense heat.  It is going to be sooooo hot walking about the Palace.  I have plenty of water with me as does Chantale.  She also brought along a cooling cloth which she already has wetted and draped around the back of her neck.  Chantale paid the driver and we headed off to explore the Palace.


When Chantale had mentioned to Rohit that we were going to the Palace, he apparently placed a phone call to someone that he knows here.  I let Chantale handle this so as when we arrived at the ticket counter, she mentioned she was here to see.....and I don't remember his name.  Incredibly, we didn't have to pay an entry fee, we just got waved in and told where to go.....in the direction that the guard was pointing his finger in.  Okay, not precise directions but wow!  Rohit does have some pull!

Since we hadn't paid for an entry ticket, we didn't get a map.  I found this one online.

Map of City Palace Jaipur (Image from mapaplan.com)

My first glance at the facade of Mubarak Mahal and I already knew we were going to be seeing some amazing architecture in the minutes to come.  The Palace buildings reflect Rajasthani, Mughal and European influences as they were constructed over a long period of time.

We needed an entry ticket to get inside Mubarak Mahal and since we didn't have one, we had to just admire the building from the outside.



Every now and again, Chantale would stop someone who looked like they worked on the Palace grounds, where we could find our Mystery Man, as I will refer to him from now on since I can't remember his name.  Everyone kept pointing us in the same direction so in that direction we continued walking, making our way towards Rajendara Pol.  Chantale was taking photos from the moment we got out of the tuk-tuk.  For once, I don't think I will be the one lagging behind because I am busy shooting as I now find that I have to wait for her :-) 


Before passing through the entry gate, we made our way to the museum.  Again, no entry ticket so no entry.  Adjacent to the museum was a room filled with artists selling their works of art.  It's also where we found....not our Mystery Man but the brother of our Mystery Man.   Turns out our Mystery Man is also renown Indian artist - he was off somewhere in the Palace ground.  We soon found out that his brother is also very talented.  While we were there just chatting with him, he whipped out an ink pen, dipped into the bottle of ink and drew the profile of an Indian woman.  He then autographed his work and gave it to Chantale.  Several of his works for sale, alongside those of his brother.  They were all very nice works of art but neither Chantale nor I were in the mood to buy anything.  Chantale is more about taking photos and she is not shy about asking people if she can take their photo.  So far, I don't anyone has turned her down.


Back outside, it was time to see what was on the other side of Rajendra Pol.  I had to stop and admire and of course, take a photo of the elephants that flank the gate.  They are carved of marble and simply gorgeous!




Looking back, through Rajendra Pol, at Mubarak Mahal.

Passing through Ranjendra Mahal, we were stepping into a large courtyard.  In the center stands Diwan-i-Khas, a covered pavilion.  I don't know what its purpose was in the days of the Rajput kings.  Today, it was a nice place to step into for a bit of respite from the blazing heat of a summer afternoon in Jaipur.  Man, it's hot here!  Who's crazy idea was it to come to Jaipur in the summer?  :-)


Before heading inside Diwan-i-Khas, I decided to walk around the courtyard to check out some of the other sights.  Chantale and I pretty much stayed together but occasionally, we would wander off in separate directions.  I just would occasionally look around to make sure I could spot the small Chinese woman with a white shirt on and the bright blue cooling cloth around her neck.  She kinda stood out like a sore thumb :-)


From the courtyard, you can see the top few floors of Chandra Mahal.  Earlier, I had seen an image of a room decorated with bright blue wall murals.  That room is in Chandra Mahal.  I knew we had to go.  We just had to figure out how to get in there.  But back to the courtyard and Diwan-i-Khas for now.


Up until recently, I had never given any thought to what subjects I enjoy taking photos of.  I have finally come to the conclusion that love taking photos of buildings and anything that does not move or speak or is meant to be eaten.  I love taking landscape photos though I'm not very good at it.   Buildings I love, especially ones that have a lot of symmetry to them.   As I tell most people, I am not a photographer.  I take photos.  I am a traveler with a camera.  When my camera shows me a nice picture through the view finder, my finger presses the shutter.  That's all there is too it!  So I and my camera were in heaven here!





The clock still works!


The beautiful archways make for such nice frames.




Step inside Diwan-i-Khas and you'll feel like you're stepping inside a palace.   It's ornately painted red and white ceiling and the crystal chandeliers that hung from it were more than enough for me to pause, look up and gasp in awe!  How incredibly beautiful is this?  Seriously.


There was a painting class taking place inside Diwan-i-Khas.  I looked over the shoulders of several of the students to look at their works or art but I refrained from taking any close up shots.  Even though it was blisteringly hot in the courtyard, in the shade of the pavilion and with a few fans to stir the air around,  it was nice here.  The students, all women, seemed to really be enjoying themselves.


In another area of the pavilion, a few vendors had set up to sell their works of art.  There were also a couple of henna artists offering their services.  I've always wanted to do it .....it would be like having a temporary tattoo.  But I have sensitive skin and I'm always worried I will get a rash.  Not a good thing to have to deal with on your first day of a 30 day trip!

We didn't know about the art gallery inside Diwan-i-Khas.  I would've definitely gone to see it because it displays some miniature works of art and I love those.  I also didn't know about the two large silver urns in Diwan-i-Khas.  Apparently, they are the largest pieces of silver art in the world.  I probably walked by them and didn't even give them a second look.  Oh well.  On my next trip back to Jaipur :-)


Keeping track of Chantale.  I think this will be come an every day thing for me :-)

From the courtyard, there is a small door which is very easy to miss it not for the small plaque above it.

Sabha Niwas (Hall of Public Audience) was built during the reign of Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh (1778-1803) which was a period of development of local architectural skills and building crafts.

This magnificent assembly hall was the throne room of the palace, designed for ceremonial assemblies involving the ruling Maharaja, his Thakurs (nobles), court officials and visiting dignitaries.  Here the Jaipur court would receive emissaries from other Indian states and – in later times – British Viceroys and Residents.  Women were usually not included in such assemblies but could observe them, unseen, from the raised gallery concealed behind the carved screen along one side.

Today, the hall is an art gallery.  We entered through the door and walked down a short entryway before entering the main room which is very large and beautifully decorated.  There were two guards, sitting behind a desk, next to a really big floor fan which was oscillating like mad. Even so, it was hot inside the room.

But damn....we needed entry tickets and of course, we didn't have any.  They were curious where we were from and that began the usual tourist chat.  Where are you from?  Is this your first time in India?  How do you like Jaipur?  As we chatted, they somehow got to liking us because they let us inside without the entry ticket.  We weren't allowed to take photos though so the one below is one I found on Wikipedia.

Photo by Redaloes at English Wikipedia - Own work, CC0, Link

The art exhibits are on the periphery of the room.  One of the guards walked us around, pointing out the works of art that he obviously knew something about.  There was pride in his voice and words, especially how beautiful everything was and indeed they were.

On the way out, we got stopped by another guard for another brief chat.  This time, both he and Chantale wanted a photo taken of the two of them so I glad obliged.  I have to say, they have matching smiles!  So far, the people we've crossed paths with in Jaipur have been nothing but warm and friendly. 


I could feel my sweat glands getting ready to pop seeds of sweat on to my skin as we made our way out of Sabha Niwas.  Even with fans circulating the air inside the main room, it was hot there.  But nothing as hot as outside.  There is not a single tree to stand under for shade.  But we were not about to let the heat hold us back so on we went. 


From Sabha Niwas, we headed back out through Rajendra Pol to Mubarak Mahal.  We took shelter on the front stoop of the building, where there was a bit of shade.  I was really curious about getting into that room with the blue murals.  I pulled up the photo and headed inside Mubarak Mahal.  I asked the guard who was sitting behind the desk, stamping entry tickets, where the room was located.  He pointed at Chandra Mahal.  Ah ha! We knew where we had to go!

So back through Rajendra Pol we went.  We headed to a very far corner of the courtyard where a set of large wooden doors was surrounded by scaffolding.  There was another guard standing nearby.  I showed him the photo and he confirmed that the room was indeed inside Chandra Mahal.  He told us to wait and so we did.   He then went off somewhere and when he reappeared, he was walking alongside another man.  That man introduced us as a guide.  To get inside Chandra Mahal would cost us 2500 rupees each.  That's $38 USD which is really pricey but before handing the money over, I asked the guide....one last time, if this was where the blue room was located.  When he responded positively, we went ahead and forked over the money.  We followed the guide through a smaller door that had been cut into the larger one.  As short as we both are, even we had to stoop down to pass through the threshold.  We didn't make it very far before Chantale stopped the first person to take a photo of.  It appeared like he was one of the men working on the renovation of the main entry door.  I warned the guide that this would be the case as we visited the palace so if wanted us to  move on, he would have to say it out loud.


Chandra Mahal is a seven story tall building that is still the private residence of the descendants of the kings of Jaipur.  Only specific rooms on the upper three or four floors are open to the public.  Each floor has a name.  Our guide suggested we start at the top so we took the winding ramp up to the second floor.  This is the view that first greeted me.


I then saw the blue and white murals and I knew this was it!  The room that I was so captivated by in the Google Images I looked at.  We were on the 2nd floor which is known as Sukh Nivas or the Hall of Rest.


Inside, a couple of men were working on repainting the ceiling.  From the outlines that had already been drawn on some of the walls, it looked like the entire room was going through some renovation. 



There were only two rooms in the entire space but oh my God, every inch of space was painted in blue and white.   I read that the rooms were once the dining and drawing rooms of the Maharaja but they seem awfully small for entering guests so perhaps these were rooms that were for the sole use of the royal family.









The balcony overlooked another of the Palace's courtyards - Pritam Niwas Chowk.


We could also catch a glimpse of a tall, ramp like structure in the distance - that's one of the instruments in the collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments that were built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh II and completed in 1734 CE. Jantar Mantar features the world's largest stone sundial, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  I told Chantale that it was on my list of places for us to visit.


We then left the blue room behind and continued up the ramp to the third floor known as Rang Mandir.


Here, another magnificent room awaited us.  The guard let us inside.  Wow!  The walls, ceiling and pillars were all ornately decorated with carved and painted plaster and pieces of mirrored glass.





Depending on the angle the sun was hitting the surface at, it looked like it was shimmering.




Then our guide asked the guard to turn off the electric lights so that the only ambient light was coming from the open door.  The entire room transformed from silver to red.  It was incredible.


Then the guide had the guard close the door and hold up two small candles.


He then told us to look up at the ceiling.  My camera doesn't capture it very well but the entire ceiling was shimmering.  It was like looking up at a sky full of twinkling stars.  How magical this place must have looked every night!


Somewhere between the 3rd and 4th floors is a viewing platform. We spent a few minutes there to take in another view of the palace courtyards.  We could hear the music - people were singing.  We asked the guide about it and he explained but something got lost in translation because we really didn't understand what he was trying to tell us.  We would figure out later :-)


This time I zoomed in on Mubarak Mahal.


The 4th floor is known as Sobha Niwas.  It's home to another over the top decorated room known as the Hall of Beauty.  For some reason, this one made me think of a gilded chalice. This being India and this being a former royal palace, the gold is not just gold paint.....it's gold leaf!




At this point, we were done visiting rooms inside the palace.  It was time to head back down and the guide was hurrying us along as closing time for visitors was quickly approaching.  In fact, the guard manning the door to the Hall of Beauty locked up the doors as we left.


On the ground floor, our guide offered up some drinks for us - I welcomed an ice cold Coke.  While we waited for our drinks to arrive, our guide showed us one of the elegant, formal dining rooms.  This one had photos of the current generation of royalty included the young man who would have been king had kings still ruled over Rajasthan.  I don't remember him telling us whether or not the room is still in use by the family.

We sipped on our drinks, sitting on some comfy chairs, under the shade of a covered portico.  The guide had the servers move the floor fans closer to us.  Much appreciated!  Since we were running out of time, we didn't have a chance to linger.  We sipped as quickly as we could and then had to move on.  We still had one more place to see before our guided visit was over.


We crossed the threshold of yet another gate to enter another courtyard - Pritam Niwas Chowk, the Peacok Courtyard.  The blue room was what caught my eye in Google Images but if I had to pick my favorite place in City Palace, this courtyard would be it.

It has four gates representing the four seasons- spring, summer, autumn and winter with murals depicting dancing peacocks and the blossomed lotus.  The courtyard was built during the reign of Sawai Pratap Singh.

From the doors of each gate, geometric patterns and floral details radiate outward, up to the above chajjas, the overhanging roofs.

All four gates are stunning!

Green Gate introduces spring with hypnotic green waves.



Peacock Gate, with the glorious, multicoloured tails of this magnificent bird, is the autumn or monsoon season.  This was my favorite of the four gates.




Lotus Gate celebrates summer with hundreds of pink petals and unmistakable leaves.




Rose Gate represents winter with delicate blooms.



Paintings and sculptures flank the gates.



If you look closely, you'll see small Hindu idols placed over the lintels. They are the murti which are any form, embodiment or solid object of an image, statue or idol of a deity in Indian culture.  According to some interpretation, these small deities are the real subjects of the courtyard, giving to each door a proper sense. Vishnu is on the Peacock Gate,  Devi on the Lotus Gate, Shiva and his wife Pravati on the Rose Gate, and Ganesh on the Green Gate.

Beautiful murti of Ganesh on the Green Gate.

As we made our way back towards Chandra Mahal, we heard the sound of singing.  We followed our ears to an area of the covered portico, near where we had our drinks.  There, seated in circle was a group of people singing.  I don't remember exactly how the dots got connected but the man in the blue shirt was our Mystery Man!  Big palace, small world :-)


Maybe Rohit had told him that we were two Asian women and when he saw two Asian women, he presumed Rohit meant us.  In any case, he did step aside from the group to chat with us for a few minutes.  Apparently, this is just an informal group that gathers regularly to sing and to play their musical instruments.



City Palace officially closes at 5:30p and it was well past that so our guide was really hustling to get us out.  As I scooted along, I wondered why the singing group was in no rush to leave.  I bet we could've hung around longer had we wanted to.  We might have had to depart with Mystery Man and he might have had to explain why we were there after closing hours but I think we would've gotten away with it had we wanted to.  By now though, we were both really tired.  Jet lag was setting in big time and the sun hadn't even set yet!  We still had dinner to go to.

We exited the same way we came in, passing through Diwan-i-Khas one last time.  A very elegant courtyard.




Entrance to City Palace.

Back out front of the Palace walls, we made our way towards the parked tuk-tuks and found ourselves a driver.  Mrs. Patel had told us to use the Government Press Office as the destination so that's what we told the driver we picked.  At first he wanted 200 rupees to take us but we told him our ride here only cost 100 rupees so he backed down.  Hmmm.....I can see how you have to negotiate with these guys and luckily, neither Chantale nor I are shy about haggling.


Once upon a time, the fare meters used by tuk-tuk drivers.


Come along for the ride!





It probably took us about a half hour to get from our apartment to City Palace so that's how long I estimated it would take us back....perhaps a bit longer when you factor in that it was afternoon rush hour.  Traffic is already congested here, especially in the old city.  Make it rush hour and it's even worse.

Chantale had been taking photos pretty much non stop all day.  At one point, I looked over and at first, I thought she was looking down at something in her lap and so I glanced down.  I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. I looked more closely at her face and realized that she had fallen a sleep.  How on God's green earth can anyone fall asleep riding in a tuk-tuk that is chugging its way through the insane rush hour traffic in Jaipur!  It's not exactly a smooth and quiet ride.  Poor thing, she must be incredibly exhausted and the day is not yet over.



Our tuk-tuk driver's name was Amar Singh.  He was quiet a chatty fella and enjoyed bragging about how clean his tuk-tuk was and how good his driving skills are.  I smiled and just replied back with a few words.  I was too tired to really have a conversation not to mention that you can't really chat when you're in the back of a tuk-tuk going through the noisy streets of Jaipur.

Amar got us back to the Government Press Office.  We recognized the lay of the land so we directed him as to where to drop us off.  Earlier in the day, I had mentioned to Chantale that we should plan on hiring a tuk-tuk driver to take us around while we're in Jaipur. Amar as as good as any other driver so as we paid him, we asked if he would be available to drive us around tomorrow.  As I had expected, he was. Tuk-tuk drivers are plentiful in Jaipur to begin with and this being low season means more are out looking for potential riders.  I told him we wanted to go to Amer (Amber) and Nahargarh Forts and then possibly some places in the city, back near City Palace.  He wanted 800 rupees which is about $12 USD which is incredibly cheap by US standards but is a ridiculous price for India.  I refused so we began haggling.  It offered and stuck at 600 rupees knowing that at the end of the day, I would likely add 200 rupees as a very generous tip thereby giving him the 800 that he originally asked for.  He was a bit reluctant to settle on 600 rupees but he did agree to come pick us up at 10a tomorrow.  Fearful that we might renege on our word to back up with him, he made me promise and so I gave him my word.   I also made him swear he would be here in the morning and he gave me his word.  We'll see him tomorrow.


Now it was time for a bit of rest before dinner.  Our apartment has two rooms.  The front room is a large living room space.  Unfortunately, it is not air conditioned and the two, small wall mounted fans are not powerful enough to keep the room cool.  The moment we entered, it was like walking into a sauna.  Thankfully, the bedroom is air conditioned.  We both made a beeline for the bedroom and I stood directly beneath the AC unit for a few minutes just to cool off.

Poor Chantale is still dealing with issues with her dad and daughter.  Her dad lives in SF so she can only focus on his issues from about 9p to about 9a.  For her daughter's issues, she has to work DC time so that's about a 10 time difference.  Poor thing, she has not yet been able to switch into vacation mode.

When I planned our stay in Jaipur, I put together a Google Map with pins marking restaurants near the apartment.  We're staying in a neighborhood called C-Scheme which seems to be, by Jaipur standards, a fairly upscale neighborhood so there are some pretty good dining options around though not all that many within easy walking distance from our apartment.  Mrs. Patel had recommended two - both were on my map. Additionally, I saw brochures for a few more on the living room coffee table.  Chantale left it up to me to pick a place so I settled on a restaurant called Four Seasons which serves northern Indian cuisine.  We are in north India after all so we should eat the food of the region.

I fired Google Maps and off we went.  The signal, in the alleyway, was not all that good so we took a bit of a roundabout way getting out of the 'hood but once we did get to the main street, it was easy to figure out where Google Maps went wrong and we knew the easier back.  The restaurant was probably only about a 10 minute walk from the apartment so not a big deal.  I know that if the food is good, it's likely we would come back.

The restaurant is located on the groundfloor of a small office building.  It was packed to the brim with diners.....not a single tourist in sight except for the two of us.  Luckily, there was a table available.  Chantale also left it up to me to order the food so I chose thali plates for both of us.  That way, we get to sample things.  While we waited for the thali plates to come, the waiter dropped off a bowl of mango chutney and pickled shallots. I had no idea how to eat these?  Do you munch on them before the meal or do they accompany the meal?  I thought the latter but we did a bit of nibbling just for a taste.


Our thali plate also included a single serving of gulab jamun so we had a complete meal.  It was actually pretty good food and I wouldn't mind coming back here for another meal.  Our dinner only cost us about $7 USD each and we left the table stuffed to the gills!


Back in our room it was time for a shower and sleep.  I was so tired, I knew it was going to be a sound sleep for me.  Poor Chantale, she's so preoccupied with dealing with family issues, I think it's going to be another night of restless sleep for her.  At some point, she's just going to crash and only then, will she get some proper rest.

In any case, I just hope she has enough energy to make it through tomorrow.  Since we don't have a fixed itinerary, we'll just take things at our own pace.

Goodnight from Jaipur!