INDIA> Part VI> Jaipur

April 14, 2010

It was not easy to leave Amanbagh, but we had to move on.  Our next destination, the royal city of Jaipur, was only a short drive away. However, our driver – insisting that he knew his way around Jaipur- got us lost (again). We did a mega U-turn around the town in search of the hotel. Good thing I was paying attention and spotted the hotel’s sign; otherwise we would probably see all of Jaipur before getting to the hotel.

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We were staying only for a night in Jaipur at another Taj heritage property, the Rambagh Palace. It was once the residence of the last Maharaja of Jaipur, Sawai Man Singh II and his beloved and beautiful third wife, Gayatri Devi. Flamboyant, debonair and elegant, Sawai Man Singh II was an accomplished polo player. His polo team ravaged England in 1993 winning all major tournaments. In fact, his wish was to die, “…in a polo field, in the midst of a chukka, with my friends around me, my polo stick in my hand, and my boots on.” And on June 24, 1970, his wish came true. He died while playing polo in England. Rambagh Palace started as a modest guest house in the early 19th century, later becoming a royal hunting lodge and in 1925 was transformed into a royal palace. In mid-1950s, the royal family felt that the upkeep of the palace and its 47 acres of gardens was too costly and decided to turn it into a luxury hotel in 1957. Rambagh still has the feel of a royal palace. The architecture is a blend of Western, Muslim and Indian styles and the vast grounds shield the palace from the street noise. The hotel offers full amenities, including a spa, indoor and outdoor pools, exercise room, shops and restaurants. The staff are polite and fairly efficient, but the service at the restaurants could be  slow. We did have a great dinner at the main Indian restaurant, Suvarna Mahal where dinner is served in the grand dining hall under the original fresco-ed ceiling, crystal chandeliers and alabaster lamps.

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As we had our own transportation, we hired a guide at the hotel to show us around. It is truly a mistake not to hire guides while visiting India. It is inexpensive and a huge time-saver. For most places, I would hire one at the hotel. We found them to be honest, informative and helpful. Since you can complaint to the hotel if you are dissatisfied; they would do their best to keep you happy. Jaipur is the first planned city in India and one of the fastest growing cities in the world. A wall encircles the 725 km2 old town. The most famous attractions in the old town are the City Palace, Hawa Mahal (can see the exterior only) and the largest medieval observatory in the world, Jantar Mantar. These are all nearby to each other and can be visited on a half day.

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The City Palace complex is very large and contains gardens, courtyards, museums, an armory, Halls of Public and Private Audience, a welcome palace (Mubarak Mahal) and Chandra Mahal or Moon Palace where former royal family still lives. The textile museum housed in Mubarak Mahal is nice and the armory offers an interesting array of beautifully crafted swords and weapons.

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My favorite place here was the magnificently painted doors of Peacock Courtyard with the royal quarters towering above it.

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Hawa (Hava) Mahal meaning Palace of Winds (or Breeze) in Farsi was built in 1799 in the form of crown of Krishna, a Hindu god. It is a five-story structure with 953 lattice-decorated small windows where royal/harem ladies could observe the daily life without being seen. Hawa Mahal is a part of the City Palace but to see the beautiful exterior, we had to drive through the busy streets of old Jaipur.

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Maharaja Sawai (meaning one and a quarter, since he was considered to be more than just a man) Jai Singh’s genius is evident in his construction of his famous and well preserved observatory, Jantar Mantar. He invented most of the 18 structures at display here built between 1728-34.  Some of them are still being used today,  i.e. to forecast when the annual monsoon will arrive and how long it will last.

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Early the next day, we headed for my personal favorite, the Amber Fort, less than an hour drive from Jaipur and where the royal family resided before Jaipur was built and became the capital. Its construction started in late 16th century and was expanded over the next two centuries. With Ma0tha Lake bordering its front, the fort is naturally fortified by Aravalli Hills and is a magnificent example of Hindu and Muslim architecture. Built of white and red sandstone, Amber Fort’s defensive rugged outside is remarkably different than its ornate and lavish interior. You could drive up, walk up or “elephant up” to the Fort. In the interest of time, we chose the first and spent the time saved watching and photographing the majestic painted elephants.

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Amber Fort is divided into four sections accessible through staircases. Entrance gate opens into the main courtyard, Jaleb Chowk, with staircases leading to the royal palace and the Kali Temple. One of the most striking rooms in the palace is the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors). It is said when royal family resided at the palace, a single candle could lit the entire room due to all the tiny and intricate mirrors covering the walls ceiling and columns.

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We were booked on the afternoon flight to Udaipur. We said goodbye to our driver, Rakesh, at the Jaipur’s airport and headed south for the Lake City of Udaipur.

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