JAIPUR INSTANT INDIA
You might say it is like viewing a Raj movie in which a young British officer, just out of Sandhurst and on his first posting to Rajputana, is coming to terms
with a world far more exotic and opulent than anything he has known. There are gracious but intimidating Ranas, with polo, hunting and the traditional party complete with nautch, a landscape dotted with invincible forts manned by stolid soldiers; comely belles, elusive behind their purdahs... Yes, Jaipur can be evocative of all this and more; a cross between Far Pavilions and Jungle Book, India as seen through the eyes of a foreigner. Its essence is difficult to capture on a hurried visit and cursory viewing.
An urban center built around the architectural wisdom of a single man, Jaipur is actually a continuum of a larger historic experience. In order to get a proper fix on this city, let’s get into an imaginary helicopter and climb high above it. You look down on an inverted triangle, its apex aligned due south, in the center of which stands the walled “pink city”. Along the northern border runs a long craggy hill which visitors coming in from Delhi approach from the northeast. To the west lie the Amber, Jaigarh and Nahargarh forts, and south of Amber are the Chhatris of the Maharajas. There is, too, the principal reservoir of the city, past the Rani-ki Chhatris (cenotaphs of royal ladies). Picking up our telescope then as we contemplate the city from high up in the Rajasthan sky, we spot a Mughal-style terraced garden locally called Sisodia Rani Bagh, the Ram Niwas garden, the newly built Lakshmi Narain temple, Moti Doongri which recalls faintly a Scottish castle, and the airport.
Jaipur is thus a concentration of half a dozen points of interest, a large spread, with variety enough to keep the visitor busy for a week. For sheer intensity of experience, however, there is nothing to match the pink city itself. “Every human habitation has a soul, which visitors sometimes fail to find,” Delhi university lecturer Radha Mohan told us. “With Jaipur there is no ambiguity, it is found in the old city.”
The old city may be conceived of as comprising nine squares, set in a rectangle aligned east to west. Although each city street is of considerable interest for the mood and the shopping—the cynosure is the palace complex. It is here that any discovery of Jaipur must start.
Jaipur has at least a half dozen excursions that simply cannot be missed. Amber, 11 km from the city, was built by Raja Man Singh in 1592 and improved by Sawai Jai Singh shortly before he built Jaipur. The Diwan-e-aam is more mughal garden than court, and the Diwan-ekhas has elegant latticed galleries for the ladies. Sukh Niwas is a pleasure palace with an ivory inlaid sandalwood door. There, the nearest thing to airconditioning was designed with a channel of cooling water running right through the center of the cleverly contrived air passage. The Jai Mandir is famed for its Sheesh Mahal, the mirror chamber with its superb southern view of the lake below. The Shila Devi temple,marked by silver gates, houses a black marble image of Kali which was imported by Man Singh from Bengal in 1604. This temple has something of a reputation: as late as 1968, we were offered lamb meat as prasad on Dussehra day!
The beautifully carved Jagat Shiromani temple at Amber is found at the base of the hill. Built in the fifteenth century by Sawai Man Singh, the temple commemorates his love for his son Jagat Singh who was murdered by a group of
Mughal generals, jealous of his military success. At the little known Jain Munshi Mandir in the alley past the Jagat temple, the nondescript entrance gives no hint of the treasures within: the gold-painted frescos, the mirror work and the exquisite idol.
Amber is where one is likely to experience a vicious attack by a swarm of city guides. They are carping, strident, exasperating. They have a government approved price list of dollar pegged charges, though if you tell them it’s Rs 20 or nothing, you probably will get yourself a guide. “How many have hired them because they did not have the strength to resist them?” laughs Mohan.
The short road up the hill to Jaigarh lies just south of Amber. Built in 1726 by Jai Singh, this fort was opened to tourists only in the 1980s and is in fine condition. Its principal point of interest is the Jai Vir, India’s largest cannon, indeed, the largest cannon anywhere in the world on wheels. Cast in 1720 on the orders of Sawai Jai Singh IL it has a 20-ft barrel, weighs 50 tons, and used 100 kg of gun powder. It was fired only once, when it perforated the eardrums of all its operators! Jaigarh’s battlements are intact, and those with an interest in matters military mayinspect the ancient defences. The ramparts offer stupendous views of the city to the south.
Nahargarh, just 6.5 km further up the road, has a hilltop location, lots of empty spaces, sparse functional buildings, and an air of dereliction. It is a sobering place, the palaces along the cliff face hanging as if in midair. Its mystique is composed of the beautiful if simple frescoes in the buildings, the artfully built water reservoirs still full of water, and the strategically placed cannons still accompanied by piles of cannon balls and shots. Its buildings were built to be defended to the last man in close combat, long after the walls of the fort were breached. The Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) runs a small cafe here called Durg, good for a drink and a snack.
Some 6 km from the railway station, the Sisodia Rani Bergh was built by Jai Singh in 1710 for the pleasure of the Sisodia princess from Udaipur. It has all the elements of a Mughal garden with terraces, flower beds, water channels and fountains. Right next door, the similar but smaller Vidyadhar Garden was built by Jai Singh in honor of his architect, Vkh-adhar Bhattacharya.
Sanganer is located 16 km south of the city, not far from the airport. Visitors taking an evening flight out ,at the city usually visit the picturesque little town on the last day and fly out without touching base at their hotel again. Once home to some of the strongest and largest craft guilds in the country, it’s still a major center for the dyeing and printing of textiles and for the manufacture of handmade paper. It is the ideal place to buy these handicrafts and blue pottery too, at better prices than in Jaipur city.
Sanganer also has seven exquisite Jain temples. The best is the Svetambar temple whose unassuming access gives no indication of the silver sanctum or the gold frescoed hall. The Digambar temple next door is older and dates back to the tenth century, and features a beautifully carved interior.
Ultimately, if you wish to fill your days with the unending myth”, of life, and seek a happy melange of past and present, Jaipur is your destination of choice.
How and Where
At an altitude of under 300 m at the edge of a desert, Jaipur has now overrun its walled city three times over and is some 15 sq km in size. Temperatures range between 25°C and 45°C in summer and drop to between 3°C and 25°C in winter. Jaipur gets more rain than most places in the Gangetic plains and can be very pleasant in the monsoons when it is unendingly cloudy.
Indian Airlines and Jet Airways ‘noth have daily 45 minutes flights from Delhi. It takes a little over an hour and a half from Mumbai. 1aipur is connected to Jodhpur and Udaipur too by Indian Airlines.
The long haul rail expresses connecting Jaipur to Delhi include the City Express, the Shatabdi, the Jammu Tawi Express, the Delhi Express. The Gangaur Express, Tontier Mail, Paschim Express,
Jaipur is 306 km by road from Delhi. One third of that distance is double tracked (Jaipur-Kotpunnu) along an outstandingly smooth and fast highway. It is a five-hour road journey though the average Mad Max could do it in less. RTDC runs regular deluxe coaches from their office in Bikaner House, off India Gate, in Delhi, apart from the regular roadways buses from ISBT.