Thursday, February 16, 2012

Around the World: Jaipur

February 16, 1992

Claire and I set out after breakfast to explore the interesting sights around Jaipur, also known as the "pink city".  Many of the buildings within the old walled city of Jaipur are constructed from sandstone, giving the structure a distinctive pink hue. One of the most famous buildings is the Hawa Mahal, or "Palace of the Winds".

It was originally built so that ladies of the royal house could watch the day to day events of the city without being seen from the street. When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the city in 1876, the city was given a refreshing coat of pink to welcome the royal couple.

Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds)

Not far from the Palace of the Winds is the enormous City Palace.  Construction started in the early 1700's and additions continue to be added.  Currently, the grounds of City Palace include several palaces, pavilions, gardens and temples.  The pavilion on top of the Peacock Gate entrance offers magnificent views of the city and the surrounding hills.

City Palace

Next to the entrance to the City Palace is the Jantar Mantar Observatory.  The observatory contains fourteen astronomical instruments built by Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur for which the city is named.  Inspired by his passion for astronomy, Jai Singh started construction on the observatory after sending scholars abroad to study at foreign observatories.  Each structure has a specific purpose, whether it's measuring the position of the stars, the declination of planets or calculating eclipses.  The sundial's enormous gnomon casts a shadow that moves 1mm per second and is accurate within 2 seconds in calculating Jaipur local time. That's amazing in itself, and especially in a country where the majority of people speak a language that has the same word for tomorrow and yesterday.

 Jantar Mantar translates literally as "calculating instrument"

Jai Singh used his knowledge of and fascination with astronomy in his plan to lay out the city of Jaipur, combined with the principles of "Shilpa-Shastra", an ancient Hindu guide to art and architecture.  The result is a geometric marvel of city planning, where wide avenues running East-West are regularly intersected by streets that travel North-South. 

Broad, straight streets are great for strolling along while browsing the shop windows, however, Claire and I quickly discovered that some Indian men find it appropriate to sample what they shouldn't be touching.  My rear is certainly getting well inspected.

The first "touch and go" came from a crafty individual who was wise enough not to stick around.  The second guy, however, left his hand unattended long enough for me to grab it.  Bending his wrist back, I shoved him into an empty space among the mob of people traveling the opposite way.  The third guy was just a victim of bad order and he discovered what a full body hip check feels like as he toppled over the metal rail that separates the sidewalk from the road. 

Typical Jaipur traffic.
Photo by Georgia Popplewell

The traffic in Jaipur is the most interesting I've seen in India yet.  Buses, rickshaws, cars, bicycles, and elephants are all perfectly acceptable modes of transportation.  My favourite was the camel-drawn carriage moving along the street at a leisurely pace.  The driver, who really is more of an unwilling passenger, is trying what he can to speed the camel up and having absolutely no success.  Using this sort of vehicle, it is important to understand that the camel goes where it wants, when it wants to and it knows there ain't a dang thing anybody gonna do about it.

Photo by Lee Harrison

A shop in the market had a display of gorgeous marble boxes.  I would have bought one, but the shopkeeper wouldn't budge from his asking price of 900 Rs.  That's $36 and a lot of money to spend on a trinket in India. When I walked out of the store, I came face to face with a bull with very large horns.  It took a step towards me and I backed up into a narrow alley.  It took another step toward me and when I saw an opportunity, I leaped past its head and out of the alley.  Once I found myself behind the bull, Claire and I just kept going. 

Stray cows out for a stroll.
Photo by Manfred Leiter
On the way back to the hostel, we stumble upon a "beer store", which is three guys sitting behind a large cooler under a sort of carport-like shanty.  Claire and I ask if they have beer.  The three men bobble their heads and say a few humorous things to each other in Hindi.  One of them opens the freezer and pulls out a large bottle of what we think could quite possibly be beer.  On the label is a drawing of a man's face that bears a striking resemblance to John Lennon.  We ask for one bottle each and head back to the hotel to sample our liquid treasure.

For the record, I won't be buying any more beer while I'm in India.

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"The more I see the less I know for sure."
~John Lennon