In the footsteps of the kings – the capital of Rajhastan

Posted: January 21, 2011 in India
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I’d been looking forward to hitting Rajhastan ever since we arrived in India following Muneeza’s glowing endorsement of the land of Kings. Rajhastan is home to the Rajputs, warrior clans who claim to come from the sun, moon and fire. The Rajputs have a history of infighting which led to them becoming loosly controlled by the enduring Mughal empire from the 16th Century onwards. There are parallels between this warrior clan and other cultures led by a strict code of honour, such as in Japan. Rajput warriors would fight against any odds and, when all hope had dissolved, would carry out jauhar (ritual mass suicide). During the reign of the British Raj, the Rajputs allied with the British. However, the British profligancy and indulgence was contagious and many of the maharajas took to travelling the world, dining out on their titles. Following Independence India’s ruling Congress Party forged a deal with them, furnishing them with titles, property and handsome allowances. However, when Indira Ghandi rose to prominence in the 1970s she abolished the hereditary rights. Amen!

Walking tour of Jaipur

Jaipur, the City of Victory, is the capital of Rajhastan. Founded by the great warrior-astronomer Maharaja Jai Singh II, you can still see the old city walls amidst the sprawling modern town.  We arrived Monday 17th in the morning and checked into the ever so friendly Karni Niwas close to the station. Suitably refreshed we hit the roads to soak up the sights. As Muneeza had been to Jaipur before, it was a time to test her memory.

We entered the old city via Ajmer Gate. The old gates have retained their majesty and are imposing pink sandstone structures that loom over the modern market streets. Around the gate there is a constant bustle and heady din of competing noises.

From the gate we headed north on Kishanpol Bazaar towards Iswari Minar Swarag Sal, a towering minaret erected by Jai Singh’s son. The views of the city from the top are awesome and afford unrivaled vistas of the hilltop fort of Nahargarh. We were given a guided tour/commentary by the sweetest old man who insisted on giving us his very own David Bailey tourist photo session. With a breath of fresh air he didn’t ask for any tip but of course we happily gave him one (and the tip!).

From the Iswari we walked eat towards the picture postcard facade of the Hawa Mahal, Jaipur’s most distinctive landmark. It is a 5 story honeycombed pink sandstone building constructed in 1799 to allow the ladies of the court to watch life and processions from its myriad of windows. The architecture is wonderful and it’s a great place to pass time on a lazy sunny afternoon.

We next wandered gently through the bazaars to the Jantar Mantar, an observatory begun by Jai Singh in 1728. Alas we arrived after it had closed for the day, so I came back on my own the next morning as my jani rested in bed with a still troubled belly. As described by the Lonely Planet, it indeed looks like a bizarre collection of sculptures but on closer inspection in contains an incredible array of sophisticated recording and measuring instruments, way ahead of their time. The centrepiece, a huge sun dial, is still allegedly accurate to within 2 seconds. The explanations of the instruments left me cold as I’m no prize winning astronomer (“say it isn’t so”, I hear you cry) but the experience was enjoyable.

We’d heard from other tourist peeps that Jaipur wasn’t a nice place, too dirty, noisy and hectic. However, I’d have to say my experience was the opposite. I really liked it. Yes it is noisy and crowded but this is India, home to the world’s fastest growing population that is due to overtake China by 2030. Jaipur is the capital of one of the main states, what else should you expect? Despite the crowding, the town is steeped in history and fascinating buildings and has a very friendly ambience.

And on to the next stop – Udaipur bound

Our sejourn in Jaipur was a short one and we booked tickets for the afternoon train to Udaipur on Tuesday 18th. Much to our joy and surprise, the train once more left on time and we waved farwell to Jaipur.

love jamer & muneeza x

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