Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Day in Jaipur

I am writing this post from a Starbucks in Shoreline, Washington.  I found that at the end of the tour my heart was too full, and my mind too busy, to try to wrangle thoughts into words.

The last full tour day was spent within the city of Jaipur, known as The Pink City, the capital of the state of Rajasthan.  The story has it that when the Prince of Wales visited Jaipur in 1876, the maharajah had the whole city painted pink to welcome him.  The city is still very pink, although mostly due to the red stone used in the buildings of the old city.  You drive through the old city gates and are immediately wrapped in beautiful red (pink) buildings stretching along both sides of the streets.  The bottom floors are filled with shops selling brilliantly colored fabrics, shoes, apothecary goods, anything you can think of.  The upper levels of the buildings are residences, and many feature detailed facades.  Unlike many other buildings I saw--in Chandni Chowk, for example--these buildings are in nearly universally good repair, at least from the outside.

The most famous facade in the city is known as the Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Wind.  It is several stories tall and reminds me of a cross section of a beautifully layered wedding cake.  It projects out from the buildings on either side, with red arches lined with white stone and elaborate windows and window screens.  Despite its impressive appearance, the Hawa Mahal is very narrow  It was built so that the ladies of the court could observe the happenings in the marketplace without being seen by outsiders.

Our first stop of the morning was at Jantar Mantar, a complex observatory built by Raja Jai Singh in 1728.  Something that must be understood about India is that astrology plays a major part in daily life.  Astrologers are consulted for all major undertakings--marriages, business deals, breaking ground on new construction--the list goes on.  The Jantar Mantar includes many different types of astrological and astronomical instruments.  There are two sundials, one of which is the biggest in the world--I could only get half of it to fit in my camera.  They are incredibly accurate although, due to IST (Indian Standard Time) and something else that I can't recall, it is off by 38 minutes, so if you do the math, you will have the correct time.  The smaller sundial includes markings allowing accuracy to the minute (if memory serves correctly), while the larger is even more accurate.

There are also astrolabes and concave marble bowls with diagrams of the heavens which have a small metal disk that shines on where a day and time fits into the cosmos.  (I was there during Pisces).  Several of these have both the prototypes and the final version.  It is astonishing to think that this degree of astronomical accuracy was available in 1728.

The next stop was the City Palace, the royal residence, a part of which is still the home of the royal family and not open to the public.  As I have come to expect of India, the architecture is astounding.  Jaipur had a strong relationship with the Mughal emperors, due to the marriage of one of its daughters to Emperor Akbar.  The City Palace exhibits both Rajput and Mughal architectural aspects.

There are displays of textiles, with embroidery I cannot even fathom making with a machine, all of which were, of course, made by hand.  Also, weaponry and two giant silver jars, called gangajali, which were made to carry water from the Ganges river when the maharajah went to England, so that he would not pollute himself by drinking anything else.

A highlight of the City Palace are the four "season" doors, spectacularly painted and carved.  Particularly impressive is the peacock door, with lifelike peacocks protruding from the curved roof.

The last sightseeing stop was The Albert Hall Museum.  This is a very British building, designed by Samuel Swinton Jacob, and it includes a large selection of artifacts.  One thing that caught my attention was a grand piano (closed) in an early room.  I took its picture, partly because I missed playing, and partly because it felt oddly out of place.

I was particularly impressed with several paintings in the Persian style, and enjoyed seeing the many other displays.  I will admit, though, that I was starting to get a little overwhelmed by the onslaught of things, and I also had my one slightly uncomfortable moment of the trip.  Hitesh had sent me off to view more of the interior of the museum and was waiting to meet me.  In that period of time, I encountered two men who followed me through the rooms, "Madam?  Madam?  Madam?" and touching me on the shoulder.  I couldn't figure out what they wanted, and wasn't very comfortable with the attention, so I made a quick exit to find Hitesh, though by the time I did, the men had left.  Still, I was pretty much done at that point.

Some time during this day, I also got to learn about carpet making and block printing, and spent some time doing a bit of shopping.

I was returned to my room for a break before dinner, which was at a restaurant in the city.  This was the only time that I was out of my hotel during the evening hours.  It's a different feel on the roads and in the city.  We stopped for a while on the road to allow a religious procession with a brass band and illuminated lamps to pass by.

The food was delicious, but at the end of the evening it would be time to say farewell to Hitesh.  I had come to consider him a friend and it was difficult to say goodbye.  It reminded me a lot of leaving summer camp and saying farewell to my cabinmates and counselors.  I will never forget my brother in India.

I spent the evening obsessively making certain everything was packed, that I had all my carry-on liquids in their single one-quart bag, and that I was otherwise prepared for the long trip home.

I'll have one more post to go--a bit on the trip home and some wrap-up on my thoughts and feelings surrounding the whole experience.  It's hard to believe that it's really over.

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