Thursday, February 11, 2016

Pink City

Jaisalmer Delhi express reaches Jaipur by 5 in the morning. Even if it is late at Jodhpur Junction by an hour. Maybe we were too fascinated by the consummation of train 14660 (ours) by 14662 (Malani express) to think about how trains can run fast and catch up on lost time. It works like this. Our train reaches platform 2 of Jodhpur Junction by around 11. We can then get down and go to platform 1 to have tea and refreshments. That is when you can realize your worst fear of seeing your train move forward with your luggage but without you. Soon, our train comes to our platform, in reverse, as if it remembered you and came back to pick you up. But it has actually come to pick up the coaches from Malani express which has been waiting there. And since this has to happen necessarily, railways will reschedule the departure for you to have your tea without worries even if the arrival was late.

So, how do you wake up on time even though your alarms were scheduled an hour late? Enter North Indian aunties. They talk lovingly to each other at decibels higher than our alarms. And fortunately we had a double family next to our berths. They woke their children up and explained how Jaipur is coming up in half an hour and all I had to do was wake up and listen.

First thing you notice when you are on the roads of Jaipur is how wide, clean, and organized (straight) they are. We would later hear in the lights and sound show at the Amber fort that Jaipur is the first planned city in India, as we guessed.

At Jaipur, we stayed at the guest house of my friend's uncle's institution. We got some more sleep, then got up, dressed like summer, and set out in the car that was arranged for us. 

We were traveling through Jawaharlal Nehru Marg  when I found out all interesting things on either side of the road with the maps.me app on my phone. Most interesting of these was the ruins of a fort just over the white Birla Mandir. This fort apparently has a temple which opens only once in an year and that's the only time public can go there. Actually, good for the fort because it looked dilapidated.

Then, Sawai Mansingh (SMS) Medical College, the government medical college of Jaipur that is the counterpart of our college in Mysore, by appearance, location, importance, and even the fact that the hospital and college are on either side of the road like in MMC. Must be endearing, there is a small crowd of MMC undergraduates doing post graduation here, including one of our Malayali seniors who came to meet us when we were shopping in the Jaipur market later that night.

The only association I had with Jaipur apart from it being the capital of Rajasthan and being called the Pink City was that Hawa Mahal is an important attraction here. But apparently Hawa Mahal is just the windows of an otherwise unremarkable building. And we literally didn't even step out of the car to take photos.

But right behind Hawa Mahal are the interesting places we spent time till lunch. (One good thing to note here is that there is a composite ticket for many places available and there is even a student discount if you carry your identity card.) First, the City Palace. At the entrance to this place was sitting a snake charmer and his two hypnotized cobras posing for photos with foreigners. The gate he was sitting in front of was so elaborate we took some photos there, even including the police officer who was standing guard. The City Palace is a fairly large place and we saw the numbering of audio guide spots in the wrong order so there is a definite chance we missed seeing many things. But we definitely saw many interesting leftovers of the royal past. Two giant vessels with tiny wheels, used for carrying water while the king was traveling, made out of melted silver coins. Among other armory, a special kind of dagger you can play with wearing it like Wolverine claws and when you pull on the bar with your curled fingers, the covering sheath of it would slide away to both sides pushing out the knife within. Totally oversized clothes of kings, pyjamas that could accommodate an elephant (probably belonging to Madhosingh who was that large according to sources). Pashmina carpets. Huge chandeliers above the hall where royal proceedings used to happen - surrounded by the portraits and brief history of all the kings that ruled there and the wall paintings of Krishna. (The wikipedia article on the palace describes even more things which I should have read when it mattered)

Right outside is Jantar Mantar - the collection of astronomical instruments that are large enough to climb on. We went in the reverse order as usual, and without a guide, so we didn't have to learn any broken science that the guides were feeding the foreigners. Most of the instruments I could figure out did one of the two things - tell time, find the declination or azimuth of an astronomical structure. The largest sundial gave the most accurate timing (local time off by up to two seconds) because that's the way shadows work. We were not allowed to go near the markings of the large sundial and so we couldn't read the small markings. The large markings were visible from far away yet we couldn't find out the time correctly. It was around 1 when we were there but the shadow had crossed more than 2 markings. The local time could definitely not be off by more than half an hour from IST. Something was wrong, yet we took some photos climbing on the walls opposite and still being unable to get the whole dial inside frame. There were smaller dials facing different directions next to the large dial. These would be useful in different seasons when Sun moves around. After passing through many more instruments clueless we reached the dial which was shaped cylindrical with two flat ends facing North and South and sloped in the angle of the slope of the Earth's equator. This dial had the 24 hour markings in addition to the markings that didn't add up earlier. That is when the search pages started loading and I confirmed my hunch that the unit of time for the users of these instruments was gatis and palas, and not hours. One day would be divided into ghatis and then into palas and so on. And that would explain everything.

Having figured it out we came outside, had mutka kulfis, and went towards our next destination - forts. On the way we saw from the road the Jal Mahal which is a palace in the middle of a lake. Didn't see any boats to reach there, though.

The Jaigarh fort and the Amber fort are adjacent to each other. In fact, the right way to visit them both would be to reach one and travel through the ancient path into the other. There were military personnel on the way and there seems to be some kind of Indian Air Force activity happening here. 

We reached Jaigarh fort first. Jaivana, the largest cannon in the world was right in front of us and we thought that was all there is to this fort. We walked around looking at holes in the ground figuring out which of them are tunnels and which are water ways. There were also holes in the walls in the characteristic shape of fort wall holes with large opening inside and small opening outside. And there were monkeys and pigeons everywhere. We were hungry and there was a restaurant inside the fort which didn't exactly look attractive. So we decided to go back down the hill but I curiously went to the other end of the courtyard and saw a board showing directions to a lot of places inside the fort. We had missed almost the entirety of the fort. The King's palace, the Queen's place, the giant courtyard where the soldiers would line up, the large water tank. The dining rooms where there were fully dressed up mannequins dining rubber chappathis, green grass in green gardens. 

As soon as we entered a guard there self appointed himself as our guide insisting that he be not paid if we aren't happy - an offer that is difficult to refuse. He led us into the above places and more. The Jaigarh fort is located higher on the hill than the Amber fort. Jaigarh fort housed soldiers while Amber fort housed the King and Queen. When the King is with the soldiers preparing for war, the Queen might decide to pay a visit. Then, she is transported in pallaquin from Amber fort to Jaigarh fort. At the entrance of the Jaigarh fort from that side is an elaborate Bhool Bulaiya (maze) of pathways which is designed to confuse enemies. We saw the path to Amber fort, the gardens and courtyards inside it, and identified even some locations where Jodha Akbar was shot from the balconies (or watch houses) of the Jaigarh fort.

The balconies also gave a splendid view of Jaipur city between the hills surrounding it. And the water system that was in place for the forts. There was a small lake at the base of the hill. Rainwater would be collected in this river which is then carried up by elephants into water tanks high above. The tanks have outlets connected to the irrigation system and the gardens below are watered with the same. 

There was a gallery in the central courtyard of Jaigarh fort with photographs of the army and Kings in various moments of twentieth century. Turns out, even after independence, the kings had formidable power for a while. On the opposite side there was a gallery of armors in which the most interesting exhibit was a "time bomb" which looked more like a large cracker with a long safe thread to burn.

Next we went to Amber fort, having in mind some spots discovered earlier in the aerial view. We had some nice tea at the entrance of this fort. There were writings about the structures in the front yard and we didn't take a guide. The large front courtyard was where the public could come to meet the king. Around the courtyard there were toilets (which were vertical holes on the ground), massage parlors, baths, and balconies. The paths everywhere were highly interconnected - you could directly go to many rooms from wherever you were standing. 

Amber fort might be the more beautiful of the two. Fountains dripping water in front of a palace full of mirrors, pigeons taking bath in them. Gardens, facing a marble stage where dance and entertainment could take place. Better view points and more photogenic spots, especially when you climb up on either sides to the roof. All you have to be careful is not to tear your jeans by running faster than the high steps allow you to.

At the exit there are gift shops some playing nice Rajasthani music. There are also independent vendors who sell expensive, so called hand drawn, paintings (the same paintings which we found out in the hands of another vendor later after lights and sound show), cheap fancy earrings, key chains, and bangles.

We were hungry by then and went down to the city below to have some nice cheap kulchas and pachoris. We were eating right outside the lower gate of the Amber fort from which we could go to the lights and sound show. There are two shows everyday - English first, Hindi next. We chose English but we were running through the long stony route to reach the spot on time. The show hadn't begun but we didn't take tickets from the counter below, rather choosing to pay the ticket checker directly since he said that will be better than going down and taking the tickets now that the show was about to start. But this might have cost us dearly as we paid ₹200 per head whereas wikitravel says there's discount for Indians and students. What made me not doubt the cost was the website which showed the costs and a phone call to the enquiry desk which both said the fee was ₹200. 

Anyhow, the lights and the sounds were all realistic. Different parts of the forts would be lit in different colors and the lights would dance in perfect synchronization with the sounds - of battles, feuds, celebrations, marriages, Kings, soldiers, horses, swords, just, unjust - of history. At the end of it I was cold because of the night and calm because of the happy ending after all the tumult. There was a road till the place from the other side and we didn't have to run to the place on the way there, we were told by that same ticket collector. On the way out, we went to the toilet where, unusually, the gents had a queue and the ladies didn't. Then we got into our car right there, no walking, no running.

We had some time left to go shopping in Jaipur market. Jaipur must be famous for cotton saris because we bought some 5 saris among ourselves. Our train was early morning next day so we hit the sacks early after packing all new things.

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