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Friday, January 8, 2016

12/13: Jaipur: A City of Forts

We had made arrangements the night before through the hotel to hire a taxi driver for 1600 rupees ($24) to take us to 3 forts located outside the city. When he picked us up at 10, we drove through the city and realized how lucky we had been the previous day to have taken the time to meander through so much of downtown Jaipur and do some shopping as today, a Sunday, the streets looked empty as almost all the stores were closed.
There was a massive Metro construction project going on in downtown Jaipur which greatly impacted traffic. Our driver told us that the metro should be completed in another year.
We just loved the style and color of the architecture as we drove through the city. The Seven Palace above and the Town Hall below.
We learned from our driver as we drove past the Tripolia Gate that only the Maharaja could enter through the gate. The Maharaja is currently only a figurehead in Jaipur, we learned. The last one died in 2011 leaving a daughter who had a son who is now 17 and at school in England; the boy’s father worked for the Maharaja.
As we drove to Amer Fort, our driver explained that Jaipur is also famous for its marble, but unlike Agra’s beautiful inlaid marble, Jaipur is known for its huge marble statues. We drove past a number of statuary businesses.

Our driver mentioned that Jaipur is famous for cutting and polishing gemstones. The Kashmir region of India used to be known for its beautiful carpets but since that area is now more known for its terrorists, the region’s carpet makers have moved to Jaipur. The city is also well known for its tie dyed and block print fabrics as well as its ‘blue pottery.’ Of course our driver told us all this just in case we wanted to stop by any gem, carpet, fabric or pottery stores!
As we left Jaipur, the driver had suggested he call a friend of his who could give us a guided tour of Amer Fort. (Amer means amber.) We thought that would be helpful and we picked up the guide, Ahmed, as we entered the village.

The wall above, part of Jaigarh Fort, was used as security for Amer Fort. The king’s soldiers lived at Jaigarh Fort.
There are 365 Hindu temples located in the immediate vicinity of Amer Fort which was built some 1,000 years ago. Ahmed mentioned though that there were only about 1,000 villagers surrounding Amer Fort. 
 We asked him why there were so many temples considering the population had been so small. He commented that the reason was that the people didn’t want to walk far to pray at the temple. The cost of maintaining the temples now falls to the Indian government.
Harvesting the water in this 15 foot deep cistern was critical because water was so scarce. The rainwater though was not for drinking but used instead for washing. 

One of  the 7 watch towers protecting Amer Fort.

Photos from Amer Fort:
We had a long hike up to the fort's main gate also known as Moon Gate which was located at the western entrance to Amer Fort. The main gate was the one used for the general public. 

The Chand Pol or Moon Gate was the main gate for the commoners. The gate's upper story, called the Naubatkhana, housed the kettle drums and other musical instruments. Naubat was a type of music which had its own specific protocol that had to be strictly followed when played as the listeners were expected to be silent. It is believed that the tradition of playing the Naubat dates back to the time of Alexander the Great.
The other entrance was the Sun Gate located on the eastern side of the fort. Above, the former horse stables in the entrance area.

There was a long line of people standing in line to enter the Siladeri Temple at 11. Ahmed told us that a goat is sacrificed daily at the temple but information I read later stated that the practice was banned in 1980 by the state government. We saw what was purported to be the biggest piece of coral anywhere in the world on top of the Ganeshi statue above the temple's silver doorway. Ahmed  told us Hindus always worship at Lord Ganeshi before starting anything new.

All shoes and belts, ie. all leather items, had to be left outside in accordance with the Hindu faith. As people entered the temple, they rang a bell located in the middle of the entrance way to the shrine. Once inside, men clad in red tunics collected boxes of pastries, coconuts and garlands of flowers brought by the faithful and laid them on the shrine. I was very touched when one of the religious men put a garland of marigolds around my head. Unfortunately no photos were permitted either inside or outside the temple.
The same marble was used to build the Taj Mahal in Agra.

The king’s Assembly Hall, also known as the Diwan-i-Am, was a mixture of Mughul and Islamic architectural styles, our guide explained, pointing out the gate and arch respectively. Notice the garland of marigolds I had been given.

The screened area above was the kitchen; beside it below were the living quarters belonging to the royal chef.

We admired the striking white marble pillars and red sandstone architectural style of the Diwan.
The garden above was built by one of the ancient kings who attempted to grow saffron in it; even though the saffron failed to grow because of Jaipur's extreme heat, the garden is still called the Saffron Garden.
The fort's front entrance was now only used by elephants carrying tourists and by the fort's workers, Ahmed told us. Formerly it had been used by government ministers, he explained.

The Haman or Turkish Bath was also known as the first jacuzzi; hot and cold water were piped in separately from the spigots in the second photo below and then mixed together for the royal bath. Steam rose, hitting the roof, below, causing rain to fall, Ahmed explained.

Lovely fresco paintings in the temple; liquid gold was used to decorate the ceiling.
The 400 year old tribal art was made exclusively from natural colors derived from vegetables and had not been retouched in all that time, Ahmed said. He mentioned that descendants from the same tribal families are doing the same painting and using the same processes as their forebears. Their work is tax free and is subsidized by the government and only sold in an artists’ cooperative near the fort and is much better quality, he said, than what is sold in the tourist centers around Jaipur. You think that meant we would later happen to stop off at said artists' cooperative? You're right!
 The gold colored paint though was only visible from certain angles.

The Diwan-i-Khasi or the living area of the Royal Family was also known as the Silver Palace. When the oil lamps burned at night, the area looked like the stars and moon above, our guide told us. The silver tiles came from Belgium, the white is limestone and the glass work was created by Iranian artists.

More photos of the spectacular Diwan-i-Khasi or Silver Palace:

Ahmed told us that the central area above which had been used for dances had to be closed to the public because tourists had damaged its interior. What a shame as it was so beautiful.
Ahmed took this 'framed' photo of us from an angle as we looked in at a certain spot – he obviously had a lot of experience taking many tourists through the fort to know of such a perfect spot!

Ahmed pointed out the hidden animals that had been carved out of this single slab of marble, above, but we had difficulty ‘seeing’ the scorpion and honeybee til Ahmed showed us. He said it was a famous tribal design.
The ceiling’s design, above, is also replicated in a local carpet design. The carpets were changed daily to reflect the different colors from the mirrors, Ahmed said.

Some of the 100 latrines found throughout the palace! These were supplied with both hot and cold water and were probably used by the Ruler and the Royal Family. Lit torches provided light at night.
Above and below: The meeting area for the ruler's 12 queens – it was the only area they could congregate in one place. The first queen was the highest and had the most power.

Steven with our great guide, Ahmed. He commented that the same astrologer helped plan the Royal Palace in Jaipur as well as the Fort and that Amer was so incredibly well planned and engineered that there have never been any natural disasters there.
My first time seeing snake charmers!

Tunnels are found quite commonly in the palaces and forts of the medieval period. They were used to conceal movement or to allow escape during a siege. The tunnels here connected Amer Fort to nearby Jaigarh Fort and was accessible from several locations within Amer Fort.

These massive iron vessels were used for cooking food; that way the cooks made sure the food was iron fortified.
Iron safe box was used to store weapons.
It was easy to understand why Amer Fort has been described as the most beautiful preserved fort ever as it was just stunning. We met our driver back in the parking lot at 12:30 who then drove us to the National Handicrafts Village Corporation – surprise, surprise! We said goodbye then to Ahmed who had been a wonderful guide. His fee was 200 rupees for his 90 minute tour but we tipped him an extra 100 rupees as he had been so good.

Before we walked through the store, we watched while a block print fabric elephant design was made especially for us. The block print was made from teak wood; the yellow color came from sunflowers, the green from mango leaves and the blue from turmeric. The fellow told us that an expert can put in 7 different colors of stamps on top of the print. He put the elephant print he made for us in a small container of water with one quarter teaspoon of a powder that set the colors and turned the background red immediately. It partially dried while we walked around the store and admired its large collection of  artwork, carpets, textiles and jewelry. It was a cheap stop for us there as there was nothing that really caught our fancy! 
Our driver drove us the brief distance to Nahargarh Fort next through a series of hairpin turns. We were relieved to know that the road had just been paved as it would have been an uncomfortable ride otherwise.

Photos from Nahargarh Fort:

The Madhavendra Palace, the main palace of the kings who lived in Nahargarh Fort, was divided into nine apartments. Each apartment was a 2 story building and contained a lobby, bedroom, toilet, store and kitchen and was designed according to the needs of the royal family. The palace was a lovely combination of Indian and European architecture.
Seeing this caused me to chuckle! Thought you might too, Janina!

Monkeys resting in the shade at Madavendra Palace!

Lovely views from atop the palace. The 16 km long protective wall was built in the sixteenth century.

Also a beautiful view from the ‘No Charge Toilet.’ It was the first time I’d ever seen a squat toilet that had a tank so you could flush it – I know, I know, TMI!
En route to Jaigarh Fort, we passed the amazing Water Palace. The Maharaja had no electricity so the palace was built, in 1799, half under water to escape the summer’s scorching 48 degree Celsius heat.
Above, part of the Wildlife Sanctuary that separated Nahargarh and Jaigarh Forts where we went next.

Photos from Jaigarh Fort:
Jaigarh Fort is one of the few military structures of medieval India preserved almost intact that contain palaces, gardens, open and covered reservoirs, a granary, an armory, cannon foundry, several temples, a tall tower and a giant mounted cannon!
We felt like we had been transported to the desert landscape of the American southwest seeing the terrain here.

Cannon Jaivana: One of the largest canons in the world.

The 5 colored flag of the royal family in Jaipur.

We walked through the Armory and saw display after display of canons and swords; some of the former dated back to 1599.

This cannon was built in 1724 in Jaigarh.

The doormat to 800 year old Rama and Vishnu in the shrine above and below.

Holy water poured on Hindu devotees' hands before entering the small shrine.

The Lalit Mandir or Summer Palace was a seventeenth century 'double story' building and consisted of a large courtyard with 12 pillars in the Central Hall. The upper story had bedrooms and verandas with attached balconies. The bedrooms had the stone screen with the intricate stone work that allowed cool breezes to enter and which we had seen elsewhere in India.
The Dining Hall used for men only.
The Royal Ladies' Hall. The women's traditional costumes used to be skirts and blouses that were worn with a multi covered scarf. While dining, servants were present and provided 'services' to the royal ladies who ate both vegetarian and non vegetarian food.

The Canon Foundry Steps.
It had been so busy in the forts and palaces as so many tourists come to visit them from Delhi on the weekend. Our driver estimated that there were an astounding 90% fewer foreign tourists visiting Jaipur the past 2 years but luckily for him Indian tourism has gone up in that same period.

We had enjoyed a full day seeing forts but were quite happy to be dropped off at our hotel at 5:30 after stopping at one of the Blue Pottery shops Jaipur is known for. I did buy a pretty bowl there to remind us of our stay in Jaipur.

Posted on 1/8/16 from our home in Littleton, Colorado.

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