Mention Jaipur, the Pink city and what immediately comes to mind is the Hawa Mahal and the Literature festival held annually in Diggi Palace where authors/poets from all over the world congregate /participate. But on our recent visit I realized the city has much more to offer and the direct flight from Chennai by Air Costa, introduced in October 2013 enables one to reach the place in a little over two hours.
As we were emerging from the Sanganeer Airport , the sight of beautiful ladies, all dressed in pink saris resplendent with Jaipur gems and jewelery greeted us and even as we wondered the reason for their presence, the scene outside lined with richly decked horse carriages was enough to guess a wedding party was expected to arrive any moment.
While on our way to the hotel, our cabbie informed us that a high profile couple were getting engaged that evening where a number of film personalities were expected to attend. Abhijeet Panwar, our guide was a dashing young man who knew the city like the back of his hand and his ability to communicate in English was excellent. The first on our itinerary was a visit to Amber Fort, a 11 km drive from the city with a photo stop at the famous Hawa Mahal, an icon of the Pink city. This five storeyed stunning semi octagonal monument built in pink sand stone in 1799 by poet King Sawai Pratap Singh for the royal ladies to witness various cultural activities through the windows resembles Lord Krishna’s crown. The view from the front appeared like an enlarged picture post card to me.
Alighting at the car park for our visit to Amber Fort We were tempted to take an elephant ride when we saw pachyderms with elderly couples on their backs plodding up the ramparts road to reach the Amber Palace However when we found the animal stopped in between the steep climb, it gave us goose pimples but our fears were laid at rest with the mahout’s reassurance that it was only a ‘toilet stop’ the elephant chose to take and we were in safe hands and had no reason to doubt his ability or that of his faithful elephant.
We breathed a sigh of relief when the honey coloured Amber palace came into view. It rambles over a rugged hill reflecting in the Maota lake below. On the highest ridge overlooking the valley we could have a distant view of Jaigarh Fort which was built 400 metres above with an express purpose of strengthening the defence of Amber. Our tour of the palace started with the Dil-e-Aaram Garden which is laid out in the traditional Moghul style .The complex of halls, palaces pavilions gardens and temples was built by Raja Man Singh, the Rajput commander of Akbar’s army, Mirza Raja Jai Singh and Sawai Jai Singh ,over a period of about two centuries. The Diwan-I-Aam (hall of Public Audience) has latticed galleries and double row of columns each having a capital in the shape of elephants on the top. The king would sit in the centre on a charpoy and regularly give audience to the public. From here we took the flight of stairs which directly lead to the Shila Mata temple which had huge doors made of silver. It is said the Maharaja Man Singh prayed to the goddess for victory during a particular battle .The goddess is believed to have come in his dream and said if he won the battle, he should retrieve her image which was lying at the bottom of the sea and the Maharaja fulfilled her wish after winning the battle.(the image of the patron goddess was brought from Jessore by Raja Man Singh to be installed here, informed our guide. ) To the south of Hall of public audience is an imposing gateway, The Ganesh Pole which has a beautiful carved statue of Lord Ganesha. On top of the gate is Suhag Mandir its windows have marble grills, from where the ladies of the royal family used to watch proceedings at the Diwan-I-Aam.
The Diwan-I-Khas or Hall of Private Audience is decorated with beautiful mirror work with intricate carvings on the walls and ceiling. We found it also had miniature murals made of coloured glass (this reminded us of the stained glass windows of cathedrals in Europe we had seen) depicting Radha and Krishna. The Sukh Nivas or the Hall of Pleasure is right opposite this ,its special feature is the airconditioning effect created by the cool breeze blowing across the channels of waters , informed Abhijeet. Adjacent to Sukh Nivas is the Jai Mandir or the Hall of Victory which displays a superb blend of Hindu Muslim architecture.The piece de resistance here is the Sheesh Mahal or the Hall of Mirrors completely encrusted with minute mirrors of various colours. On close observation we found the dezign in each window is different. When you light a candle inside this Mahal and close the doors and windows, you feel stars are twinkling in the sky, we were told.
From here we proceeded to the CityPalace which again has a rare combination of Moghul and Rajasthani architecture. Though my legs were protesting and refusing to cooperate after nearly a three hour tour of the Amber Palace, I decided not to miss the opportunity of seeing this another Gem of Jaipur depicting the pomp and splendour of the bygone era still in evidence with exhibits and interior dezigns coupled with richly decorated doors and gateways guarded by sentinels decked in full royal livery. A visit to Maharaja Madho Singh 11 museum is a must for a tourist to see the array of royal costumes, shawls, embroidery work, Benaras silk saris, kamarbands, musical instruments like the giant sized tanbura and a set of clothes of Sawai Madho Singh 1 who was just over seven feet tall and four feet wide weighing 250 kilo grams like a goliath. It was amusing to look at the abnormal width of his pyjamas displayed among his other costumes worn when he was a child.
Outside the Hall of Private Audience situated nearby are two silver urns known as Gangajalis which were used by Sawai Madho Singh to carry pure ganga jal with him during his trip to England in 1902 to attend the coronation of King Edward 7. Each urn has a capacity of 8,182 litres, weighs about 345 kilo grams with a height of five feet three inches and a circumference of 14 feet, 10 inches. They are listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the biggest silver vessels in the world.
On our return we had another photo stop at the Jal Mahal palace considered an architectural beauty built in the Rajput and Moghul styles of architecture (common in Rajasthan) providing a picturesque view of the lake. The palace, built in red sandstone is a five storied building out of which four floors remain under water when the lake is full and the top floor is exposed. We could only have a distant view of its grandeur.
A visit to Jaipur is not complete without shopping for gems the city is famous for and the best place to pick them up is from whole sale shops rather than from retail outlets.
n.meera raghavendra rao