November 29, 2010
Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, is the capital and largest city in Rajasthan. The original old city was meant to hold a few thousand people and now holds over 1 million while the entire city of Jaipur holds over 3.2 million people. In 1853 the Prince of Wales visited the city and to honor him the city painted all of the buildings pink a symbolic gesture of welcome. There are many sights to see in the city and I would suggest at least two days to take them all in. I was with the tour group On the Go Tours during my visit to Jaipur as part of my Golden Triangle tour. I have never been a fan of group tours, but since I was traveling alone I decided to go with them for safety reasons. I wasn’t thrilled by the experience in New Delhi or Agra, but in Jaipur I was downright upset over the touring experience. There is so much to see in Jaipur and we only had one day to take it all in. For a good list of all the city sites with a brief description I suggest checking out this website here.
Instead of trying to see as many sights as possible we wasted a lot of time in the city going to bad demonstrations of jewelry and handicraft making and then were brought to a showroom to buy expensive items. For anyone who has traveled with a tour group you have probably experienced this before. Even just walking in some bazaars in places like Istanbul, Athens, or Venice you can experience the run through. You are taken on a tour where you watch how the products are made then ushered into the back where they promise the “best deal in town” and show you many pricey items you most likely don’t want, but your tour guide gets a nice little kick back for taking you there. Now if you do want to buy $50,000 necklaces, marble tables, or a silk rug it is actually a good deal because it can be fun to learn how these things are made and because of the top notch quality of the items the prices are very competitive. However, if you are not looking to make a big purchase all you are left with is small trinkets that you could buy knock offs of on the street of lesser quality materials for much cheaper prices. If I have plenty of time in a city I don’t mind going to one of these places, but on a very rushed tour of 3 different cities On the Go Tours brought us to 3 different workshops- marble in Agra and handicrafts and jewelry in Jaipur. I had asked if we had time to go to the Monkey Temple in Jaipur and was told absolutely not because we were on a tight schedule. However, we did have time to waste two hours shopping at these warehouses where almost no one bought anything.
After the morning wasted at the factories we did get in a little sightseeing starting at the Hawa Mahal, also known as the Palace of Winds. The palace was built in 1799 and is a beautiful example of traditional Rajput architecture. The facade is pink with delicately carved windows- 953 of them. The building is actually little more than a façade and is actually only one room deep on the inside. Women of the royal household would sit inside and watch everyday life pass them by through the windows.
After the Hawa Mahal we drove a little outside of the city to the beautiful Amber Fort. The palace was built under the reign of Raja Man Singh in 1592. The fort is very beautiful with amazing detail mosaic, lattice, and marble inlay work. The palace is also famous for the elephant rides, which you can take from the bottom of the palace up to the top. Elephant tourism has a long complicated history in the East and is notorious for the mistreatment of the animals. The Elephant Village where the Mahouts (the elephants caretakers) live with the elephants was just redone in May in the attempts to have more humane conditions for the animals. This Elephant Village is actually where I was planning to volunteer for two weeks, but after witnessing the still very poor conditions of the elephants I chose to leave early. The elephants are beautiful to see and it is exciting and fun to ride them. The Mahouts are extremely poor and struggling so I am not encouraging a blanket ban on riding the elephants, but it is important to be aware of the reality of the situation. If you see a mahout using a bull hook speak up about it or refuse to tip. As I have said many times before in this blog money is power and every time you spend it or withhold it you are voting to change the system.
After the Amber Fort I visited Jantar Mantar an observatory built in 1728 by Savaii Singh. The observatory is one of five that he built all around India and houses 13 different instruments to calculate the movements of the celestial bodies many of which are still considered be top of the line in accuracy. It is fun to walk around and see the different instruments, which are all very large and beautiful.
Located right next door to Jantar Mantar is the Jaipur City Palace. The city palace was built around the same time as the observatory in 1729. Parts of it are open to the public and parts are closed as members of the royal family still live there today and they were actually there the day I visited which was evident by the raised flag of the tallest tower. The palace itself is very beautiful and there is a museum, which you can walk through to learn more about the history. However, the museum was very crowded and not air conditioned so I zipped through it very quickly.
A fun thing to do at the palace is visit the artisans’ bazaar set up inside a large hall. The maharajas of India are famous for supporting the arts throughout history and the modern royal family carries on the tradition by letting a select group of talented artisans display work for sale there. This includes everything from handicrafts to jewelry and scarves to paintings. You can see demonstrated here the ancient art of miniature painting, which is not actually tiny paintings, but extremely detailed paintings created using a brush with one single strand of hair. It is an ancient and hard to learn talent that is incredibly beautiful when well mastered. The artist at the palace creates miniature paintings on regular canvases and for a more unique souvenir he paints on old court documents from the maharaja’s court in Jaipur from the 1920’s-40’s. Each document has various court cases written on it in Hindi and the official maharaja’s stamp on the top.