Saturday, April 16, 2011

Jaipur’s palaces and forts will enthrall you

The old state assembly, inside the Pink City.
Jaipur is the city of palaces and forts of the Rajputs and is an ideal destination for anyone wishing to delve into the medieval history of India. Jaipur was formed by Raja Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber, in 1727, and besides being a city of palaces and forts, it was also the hub of Rajput activity in the medieval period.

How to get there

If you want to visit Jaipur, the ideal way to do so is via Delhi (the distance between the two cities is only 260 kms). The 18th Century Rajasthan city is a five to six hour journey from Delhi (by bus or train).

You may want to go to Jaipur from Mumbai but a better option would be a flight or a train rather than a bus (as the distance is almost 1,200 kms).

You can walk it to the Amber Fort.

Inside the Amber Fort.

Garden surrounding the Sheesh Mahal, inside the Amber Fort.

Inside the Sheesh Mahal (glass palace), the Amber Fort.

The Jaivana cannon inside the Jaigarh Fort, arguably the largest in Asia. 

Inside the Jaigarh Fort.

The Jaigarh Fort.
The best time for visiting Jaipur is between September and December or from February to March. After December, it gets unbearably cold (with temperatures plummeting to nearly 0 Degree Celsius) and a visit after March will leave you simmering (at over 46 Degrees Celsius).
From Delhi, the air-conditioned Volvo buses of Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation depart from Bikaner House in central Delhi (near India Gate). 
Entrance to the Nahargarh Fort.

Inside the Nahargarh Fort.

Inside the Nahargarh Fort.
A corridor inside the Nahargarh Fort.

A view of Jaipur city from the Nahargarh Fort.
The fare by Volvo bus to Jaipur is about Rs 750 for adults and half that amount for children up to 11 years (rates are as on March 2011) and the journey is amazingly comfortable. 
You can also opt for private bus operators from Red Fort (in Delhi) but be warned that this is not a good option as private buses tend to halt intermittently (to pick up and drop transit passengers) and a five-hour journey could turn out to be an eight-hour gruelling experience.
Also, there are many trains that ply on the Delhi-Jaipur route such as the Rajdhani and Ajmer Shatabdi, among others. (A detailed list of trains and availability can be viewed on the IRCTC website). If you’re in a terrible hurry, then you can hop on to a flight for a 25-minute journey.
There is one lesson you can learn as a tourist to Indian cities. While visiting any hotspot in India, there are chances that you might get fleeced.
A taxi ride for Rs 100 may come for double that amount, goods may be overpriced or the nondescript rickshaw-wallah may land you in a shady hotel for a fair price just to get his daily commission.
Jaipur could be conquered in two days but doing it in one day will need a good bit of agility. The following are some of the notable places you may want to visit:
The Hawa Mahal (palace of winds) is part of the Pink City.

The Jal Mahal (water palace) stands amid a poluted lake. 

The Albert Hall Museum.

Armoury on display inside the museum.

A bow and arrows on display inside the museum.
Amber Fort (also dubbed Amer Fort): The breathtaking Amber Fort was the ancient bastion of the ruling Kachhawa clan. It is surrounded by the Maota Lake. 
You can take your taxi right up to the fort, located on a steep hill 13 km from Jaipur.  
The fort, which reflects a harmonious blend of Rajput and Mughal architecture, was also used to insulate its occupants from an enemy attack. It is a gigantic structure from outside and you will be awe struck at first sight and even the interiors are imposing, surrounded by large couryards and a beautiful garden outside the Sheesh Mahal.
The Sheesh Mahal (mansion of glasses) inside is the most striking feature of the fort. It dazzles brilliantly in the sunlight, making it seem like a ball of energy.

The Birla Temple in Jaipur is made of white marble.

Inside the Birla Temple.
And like other forts, you have the usual Diwan-e-Aam (an assembly of commoners) and Diwan-e-Khas (an assembly of the distinguished).
At Amber, you can get student guides for Rs 30-50 and some of them claim to be government approved ones and demand Rs 100. Of course, the final deal will depend on your bargaining power.
Be prepared to pay for parking and even going to the loo could have you shell out Rs 5. So, you will have to incur some unplanned expenses while visiting any tourist hotspot in India. Remember.
If you do not wish to take your car up to the fort, you can opt for a 30-minute walk to the Amber Fort or an elephant ride for Rs 250. Again the amount you dish out will depend entirely on the deal you strike.
Jaigarh Fort: It clearly lacked charisma of the Amber Fort. The Jaigarh Fort is 15 km from Jaipur and was used to bolster the defence mechanism and be a substitute to the Amber Fort in case of an enemy attack.
The fort houses what tourist guides claim to be Asia’s largest cannon christened Jaivana, built in the Jaigarh Fort around 1720.  

The Rambagh Palace Hotel.
Nahargarh Fort: Nestled among the Aravalli Hills, it was built in 1734 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh. It had nine apartments to house the maharaja’s nine queens. The fort was extended in the 1870s.
It was believed that the Nahargarh Fort got its name from prince Nahar, whose apparition haunted the fort and tried to thwart its extension. The fort was also used as a strong defence along with Amber and Jaigarh.

Among other places of visit is the Jal Mahal (water palace), located in the Man Sagar Lake, which is in a sorry state of affairs, owing to lack of proper cleaning of the lake. It was the pleasure palace of kings. Four floors of the palace are submerged under water.

Then there is the Hawa Mahal (palace of winds), built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799. This palace of winds was built for women, who observed the purdah system (of not showing their faces to strangers) stringently.

Inside the Jantar Mantar.

Inside the Jantar Mantar.
From this palace, the women observed various festivals and entertainment on the streets. The mahal has over 900 windows. There is also the Birla Temple, built by the Birla Group. It is made of pure white marble.  
The City Palace in Jaipur.
You can also shop for merchandise inside Pink City or visit the Albert Hall Museum to see the armoury and defence gear the Rajputs used during their battle and also some mind blowing stone idols of Vishnu and other gods.
The museum also depicts the lifestyle of tribals such as Meenas, Bhopas, Bhils, Gadoliya and Lohars. Then there is Jantar Mantar, which was built around 1730 by Maharaja Jai Singh II. The observatory comprises 14 geometric devices for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking star location as the earth orbits around the sun.  

The City Palace is beside the Jantar Mantar. It was the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur, head of the Kachwaha Rajput clan. The Chandra Mahal inside the palace houses a royal residence which has been turned into a museum. 
 And don’t miss the Rambagh Palace Hotel (if you can afford it!). Built in 1835 for the queen’s favourite handmaiden Kesar Badaran, it was made into a royal guesthouse and hunting lodge.
In 1925, Rambagh became a palace and turned residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur. It is now a heritage five-star deluxe hotel of the Taj group and could lighten your pockets by Rs 50,000 for a night’s stay.

A shop inside Jaigarh Fort. Shopping can be real fun in Jaipur. 
Jaipur is a shopper’s paradise and Kishnapol Bazar, Haldiyon ka Rasta, MI Road, Jauhari Bazar, Bapu Bazar, Nehru Bazar and Mahiharon ka Rasta are some of the places where you can shop for items such as handicraft, gems and jewellery, antiques, carpets and textiles, among others.
Jaipur, the city of palaces and forts, will surely enthrall you! 

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