I longed to visit Jaipur more than I wanted to see the Taj Mahal in Agra. There's something about the old historical town that fascinates me, not just because it is endearingly known as The Pink City. Well, I wouldn't deny that anything in pink could easily captivate my interest, but it is Jaipur's regal splendor that lured me to come.
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan. Found in its heart is the first planned city of India founded by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1727. The old city of Jaipur was built in perfect symmetry, secured with a massive fortification wall and seven gates. It was in 1876 that the whole city was painted in terracotta as a part of the warm welcome given to Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales. The color which symbolizes hospitality was maintained, hence Jaipur was called The Pink City.
The color of Jaipur is not the "pink" that I know. For me, it is more on the "rust" shade and a hint of coral. But I do agree that the distinct color denotes congeniality. I felt so at home the moment we entered the majestic Ajmeri Gate. Then, a bunch of school girls riding a tuktuk smiled and waved at us; a scene that touched my heart as I have never felt that warmth in Delhi. We made a quick stop in Hawa Mahal, Jaipur's most popular landmark, and quickly went on with our journey as it wasn't supposed to be our first destination. We headed to the exit gate en route to Amber Fort with a promise that we'd go back to see more of it in the afternoon.
|Hawa Mahal: Jaipur's iconic structure|
11 kilometers away from the capital of Rajasthan is Amber Fort. The astonishing fort on a hill overlooking Maota Lake was built in the 16th century by Raja Man Singh 1. The palace complex, made of pink and yellow sand stones and white marble, has four magnificent courtyards where the Rajput Maharajas lived.
A part of our tour package is an elephant ride from the fort entrance to the main courtyard. The traditional royal ride took us to a scenic trail, offering a glimpse of Rajasthan's glorious past. I could have pretended to be the queen of an empire, but I was more concerned on the elephant's welfare and that we are too heavy to carry. I've been informed that each elephant only does 5 trips per day and carries only two passengers per trip. It is a regulation imposed by the government, so most elephants are done with their 5 trips at 11 in the morning and are already taking their rest.
|Amber Fort: a palace complex on top of the rugged hills of Amer|
|traditional royal ride from the entrance of the fort to the main courtyard|
|fun way to start the Amber Fort tour: jump shot in the courtyard :)|
Entrance tickets are not included in our Golden Triangle package, hence we purchased our palace tickets at the booth across the Sun Gate. Visitors can also request for a tour guide, however additional fee will be charged. For us who want to explore on our own, we purchased the regular 200 rupees ticket for foreigners. Then, off we went searching for the hidden palace courtyards.
|Diwa-i-Am: public audience hall where the King heard and received petitions|
|a view of Maota lake and Saffron gardens from Amber Fort|
Amber Fort is marvelous in every sense. Although no one was there to explain the architecture and tell us the history, we can tell how grand Rajathan's past is just by glancing at the detailed mosaics and sculptures. Every inch of the walls and the ceilings are intricately embellished; some painted with vegetable dye, some decorated with mirrors and glass panels.
Since we had a long list of places to visit on that day, we went to the exit gate after two hours of admiring Amber Fort's grandeur. It was high noon and everything around the fortress looked stunning. So, I silently said my goodbyes while I imagined what it would look like on the golden hour. It's going to be more regal and romantic I guess!
|Ganesh Pol: an elegant gate painted with vegetable dye|
|walls and ceiling of Sheesh Mahal: Palace of Mirrors|
|the central garden of Amber Palace and a view of Jaigarh Fort on the peak of the hill|
On our way back to the city, our tour van stopped along the bank of Man Sagar Lake. From there, we viewed Jaipur's Water Palace or the Jal Mahal. The palace that peacefully sits in the middle of the lake served as a summer hideaway for the royalties. During the old days, only the King and his special guests can access the place. Now, it has been restored by the government for tourism purposes, but only those who have special permits are allowed to go in.
|Jal Mahal: The Water Palace in the middle of Man Sagar Lake|
After a quick stop at Man Sagar Lake, we traveled back to the walled Pink City to visit more historical sites. Next on our travel list was the Jantar Mantar. Entry fee was at 200 rupees per adult. It was then that we realized we should have bought the composite ticket in Amber Fort. The composite ticket is good for five monuments (Albert Hall, Hawa Mahal, Amber Fort, Nahargarh Fort, Jantar Mantar) and only costs 350 rupees per adult.
Jantar Mantar is an astronomical observatory built in the 18th century. Considered as one of the largest in the world, Jantar Mantar has large geometric devices for measurement of time, tracking of stars and observing the planets.
|Jantar Mantar: the astronomical observatory in Jaipur|
|a place for the astrology enthusiasts|
Adjacent to Jantar Mantar is Jaipur's City Palace. It is a huge complex of palaces, temples and courtyards. Just like what we did in Amber Fort, we paid the regular fee of 300 rupees per adult and opted not to hire a guide. Since the complex is massive, we felt a little lost at first, yet still managed to explore every nook and cranny. Our favorite spot is at Pritam Niwas Chowk where the magnificent gates that symbolizes the four seasons are located. Some of buildings like the Mubarak Mahal and Maharani Palace have been turned into museums and art galleries, while a part of Chandra Mahal is still a royal residence.
Displayed inside the museums are weapons, manuscripts, textiles and costumes of the Maharajas. Photography is not allowed in the galleries, so I got no visuals to share. In case you're wondering if it's worth the visit, I think it is! City Palace is great for those who are inclined to art and culture. Outside the palace gates are puppet shows and cobra charmers, hence you'll also get a good laugh and a good scare after the serious cultural tour.
|Chandra Mahal: a museum and a residence of the royal family|
|at the Rose Gate of Pritam Niwas Chowk: this gate represents Winter|
|Left: the Peacock Gate representing Autumn / Right: the Lotus Gate representing Summer|
Before we called it a day, we went back to where our Jaipur Tour started. Hawa Mahal means Palace of the Winds or Palace of the Breeze. It is called as such because of the cool breeze that passes through the small windows of the facade. The impressive structure with 953 lattice windows was built for the royal ladies. It was where they observed the festivities without being seen. It is the first attraction that comes into my mind whenever I hear the word Jaipur... because Hawa Mahal is grand and it is "Jaipur Pink"!
|Hawa Mahal along the narrow streets of The Pink City|
Things to remember while in Jaipur:
* Do purchase the composite ticket if you intend to visit all monuments in one day.
* Start your tour as early as 9am. Most monuments are closed by 6pm.
* Prepare small bills for tipping. Based on our experience, we were requested to give a tip during our elephant ride and when we asked the well-dressed City Palace guards for a photo.
* Here's a constant reminder from our driver: Do not entertain the people offering tour services outside the attractions. You might end up being scammed. If you need a guide inside a monument, inform the ticket officer and you'll get an official guide at a standard rate.
* Jaipur is intricate and beautiful, so take your time! Marvel at every rich details, sit in the courtyards and silently admire the opulence.
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