Palaces of Jaipur

Today I had a wonderful auto-rickshaw tour of Jaipur concentrating on some of those things that I missed last time around. Well, at least thought that I’d missed because I realised when I reached the fabelled Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds), just before opening so as to avoid the crowds, that I had actually been taken there on my first visit to India by the less than enthusiastic fifteen year old son of my host. Just how we failed to see the lovely decorative niches from which high born 18th century ladies used to watch the processions passing along the street below or to walk around the corner to see the magnificent facade is something of a puzzle but at least I have been able to return.

Huge annual variations in temperature and humidity take an intense toll on historic buildings across India and so I wasn’t particularly surprised to find a restoration project underway although when I walked around the corner this time and discovered the second most photographed sight in India covered in scaffolding I had to suppress a little chuckle. Some things are just not meant to be. The poet-king Sawai Pratap Singh may have felt that he was being extraordinarily beneficent when he constructed this airy palace for the ladies of the court but as I peeped out through one of the myriad little shutters I couldn’t help imagining the tedium of their lives.

Nearby is the Jantra Mantra (observatory), one of India’s World Heritage sites and this was my next stop. The Maharaja Jai Singh II was more interested in astronomy than poetry and had a set of larger than life-sized measuring instruments constructed for the precise reading of the heavens. Amongst their functions are the ability to measure time, predict eclipses and track the location of the stars. The great size of such structures was thought to increase their accuracy but building errors leading to subsidence meant that, before too long, hand held instruments again came to be preferred. If it had not been for the passion of Assistant State Engineer, Major Arthur Garret, who carried out extensive restorations in the 19th century, it is unlikely that this fascinating, other-worldly edifice would still exist.

Next stop was the Chandra Mahal (City Palace): home for 300 years to the royal family of Amber and Jaipur and current repository of many souvenirs of their great wealth and influence. For instead of wielding absolute power over his subjects and surviving by a complex series of deals with first the Muhguls and later the British, the current Maharaja is chiefly concerned with restoration, conservation and charitable works. I get a bit confused by all the Islamic influences in the artwork and the profusion of Singhs (nowadays associated with the Sikh religion) in the titles but the rulers of Rajasthan maintained their Hindu religion in the face of all outside pressures.

Ascetic, however, they were not and amongst the treasures on display are the gargantuan pantaloons of Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh I, said to have been seven foot tall and to have weighed nearly 500 pounds. I may have missed breakfast in order to have started this tour early enough but listening to one of the guides reciting this gentleman’s morning consumption of sweetmeats was enough to put me off food for the rest of the day. Surprisingly enough, the official guidebook refers to him as “a well-built man”. In the weaponry department it is possible to see the deadly Rajput scissor action daggers, spring loaded to open up inside the victim with predictable results; the guide book describes their fine quality Jauhar steel construction. And, of course, no such palace would be complete without rows of faded photographs of visiting British dignitaries wearing dress uniforms and pompous expressions.

Before quitting for the day I made it out to photograph the Jal Mahal (Water Palace) a few k from the city centre. It sits at the centre of a lake which was dry on my last visit and has recently been given a complete makeover although not yet open to the public. I also had an elephant encounter but tomorrow is another early start so I’m afraid the pictures will have to wait.

Gallery now uploaded:

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