The story of Jaipur city begins with the magnificent medieval fort of Amber, just outside its city limits. Amber and the royal city of Jaipur built in the eighteenth century are a wonderful introduction to the desert kingdoms of Rajasthan. Lured by the romance and charm of these cities, many will yearn to see the more distant castles and palaces of Bundi, Bikaner, and Jaisalmer. They all have a special beauty concealed within their landscape (for they have been created out of local stone) and majestically embrace the hillside, jealously protecting their sand-dunes and barren dominion. They forts are so well camouflaged that their tall towers are barely visible from afar and their serene appearance gives no hint of the splendour and wealth to be found within the palace walls.
A lovely wooded road runs north of Jaipur (11 kilometers away), winding around the low hills and suddenly, quite unexpectedly, the fortified palace of Amber looms into view. It stands on a high terraced plateau at the foot of the south-west face of the Jaigarh Fort hill overlooking the Maota lake. The location is superb, surrounded as it is by low hills covered only with scrub and bushes, their ragged crests silhouetted against a never-ending line of fort walls and watch-towers. The history of this site goes back several centuries. It was inhabited by the Susawat Minas and then in AD 1106 the Kachhwaha clan occupied this territory when they moved away from central India.
The Kachhwaha claim their descent from Kush, the second son of Ram, the hero king of the epic poem Ramayana. Their divine descent is traced from the solar race or surya vamsha, and its fiery insignia appears on their banners and royal decrees.
The clan grew in strength and increased heir territorial control, and when Babur, the first of the Mughal rulers, staked his claim to the throne of Delhi the fortunes of the Kachhwahas changed dramatically. Bihari Mal, or Bihar Mal, made an alliance with Babur in 1527 and was appointed a mansabdar (a title which denoted a feudal relationship in which he could govern the territory and in turn offer a specified number of horses and horsemen for the emperors service whenever required). His daughter, Jodha-bai, was given to Akbar in marriage, and after the birth of an heir, Jahangir, the Hindu wife exercised great influence over the emperor. His son Bhagwan Das (Bhagwant Das) was selected as a high ranking commander in Akbar's imperial army. Bhagwan Das's adopted son Man Singh I became Akbar's most trusted friend and general in the army (with successful campaigns in Bihar and Bengal), and was also given the premier title of Raja or King. It was this powerful Man Singh I and his successors (like Jai Singh I) who built the palace and fort of Amber.
Amber (pronounced ambear) is divided from the name of the goddess Amba and was at one time called Ambavati. It remained the seat of power for the Kachhwaha family from the twelfth century till 1728 when the city of Jaipur was built. At the foot of the fort, on the northern side, is the Maota Lake with a garden (best seen from the palace windows from above) called Dil-e-Aram (which brings restful tranquility to the heart), which has two pretty pavilions, and the Archaeological Museum. Beside it is a car park where elephants can be hired to take you up a serpentine road to the palace apartments the royal way.
At the top an arched gateway, Suraj Pol, the sun gate, leads into the Jaleb Chowk. On all sides of the square are shops selling colorful moundfuls of snacks and (tacky) souvenirs. On the west side, opposite the Suraj Pol, is the Chand Pol or the moon gate which leads to a number of ancient temples and palaces. On the south-western side is a steep fight of stairs that leads to the Shri Shila Devi Temple or Kali Mata Mandir, containing an idol of the goddess brought to Amber from Bengal by Man Singh I after his campaign there in 1604. The shrine is still a popular place of worship.
The temple is looked after by a family of priests from Bengal, and it is from this illustrious family that the architect of the city of Jaipur was born centuries later. The temple is in worship and the deity is still held in great esteem by the royal family of Jaipur. There are several accounts of worship in the temple. The most intriguing one comes to us from Bishop Heber who visited Amber palace in 1825 and saw goat sacrifice in the temple:
The guide told us on our way back that the tradition was that, in ancient times, a man was sacrificed here every day; that the custom was laid aside till Jye Singh had a frightful dream, in which the destroying power appeared to him and asked him why her image was suffered to be dry? The Raja, afraid to disobey, was reluctant to fulfill the tradition to its ancient extent of horror, took council and substituted a goat for the human victim...
Beside the temple staircase is the Singh Pol or the lion gateway (the direct entrance is cleverly staggered) which leads to the first courtyard. At the north-eastern end of the open courtyard is the beautiful Diwan-e-Am built in a style (dangerously) similar to the halls of public audience of the Mughal forts at Agra and Delhi. This rectangular hall, built by Jai Singh I has a vaulted roof supported by a row of marble pillars and is enclosed on all sides by verandas of sandstone pillars with elephant brackets.
The elegance of the Diwan-e-Am structure is said to have evoked a jealous reaction from Emperor Jahangir, and to appease him the pillars were later covered with coats of stucco plaster. In 1637, a decree was issued by Shah Jahan ordering Jai Singh to halt his marble palace constructions at Amber because marble-cutters were required urgently for work at the tomb (now called the Taj Mahal) and at the imperial fort at Agra!
The flat open roof of the Diwan-e-Am was called Sharad Punam-ki-Chandni (the light of the autumn full moon), and it is said that the king with his royal companions spent their evenings (here and in other areas of the palace) under a sky swept clean after the monsoon rains, bathed in autumn moonlight which is more brilliant and luminous than at any other time of year.
To the south side of the courtyard is the impressive Ganesh Pol (with a painted image of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu deity). This arched and playfully decorated gateway was built by Jai Singh II and leads to the private royal apartments. A long passageway opens on to a lovely walled-in private garden with fountains and pretty water channels (get the guard to demonstrate how the water trickles delicately over the carved waterways). On the eastern side is the Jai Mandir (not to be called the Diwan-e-Khas for fear of directly competing with their Mughal overlords). The main hall is in white marble (obviously built before the imperial decree) with decorative ceilings, alabaster, and glass-work. To the side is the delightful Shish Mahal, the palace of mirrors. A well-hidden narrow staircase leads up to the top floor. The finally carved stone windows provide a splendid view of the lake and the ornamental garden below (also based on the Mughal tradition. One must believe that the Rajputs of Amber / Jaipur were not merely Mughal clones but that mutual imitation was the best form of flattery!) One of the many pleasures of wandering through this palace are the many unexpected view of the surrounding hillside, the Jaigarh Fort, and the peaceful valley below.
Jaigarh Fort is accessible by a road leading a few kilometers off the main highway to Jaipur. It is an enjoyable place to visit. There are cannons (in working condition?) and a little museum of artifacts that tell the story of the fort and its vast, well-protected treasury.
This capital of the present state of Rajasthan gets its name from its illustrious founder Jai Singh II, a direct descendent of Jai Singh I and Man Singh I of Amber. It is said that the Mughal emperor gave him the title of Sawai Maharaja, literally meaning one and a quarter, or more poetically a term used to denote that he was more (valuable) than one. The new city was founded in November 1726 by Sawai Jai Singh II. It was designed as a spacious residential and commercial center, a model of its time, by a brilliant Bengali architect Vidhya Bhattacharaya.
The city was designed on a system of grids, and even today the squares and market complexes are lined with jewellery shops and wholesale stores, each one often confined to specific areas determined by their trade and produce. Important local families were invited to the new city to build their city palaces there. Jaipur boasts of hundreds of lovely havelis and palace apartments that line the broad avenues and tiny side streets, each one constructed in a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal style.
The most photographed building in Jaipur must be the Hawa Mahal (the palace of the wind) which is tall, oddly-shaped structure. It is designed one room deep but raised on five storeys so that the angled and lacy lattice windows may capture the slightest wisp of breeze. The building was added to the palace complex in 1799 by Pratap Singh for the ladies of the royal family to watch processions and festivities on the street below without being seen themselves.
The color pink which now appears on most of the facades of the main streets of Jaipur was added to welcome the Prince of Wales in 1876. Today it is still the Pink City and the customary coat of 'welcoming pink' paint is enforced by law.
The city has a geometric grid plan divided into mine sections, of which the royal quarters occupy two sections on the western side. The intersecting streets are broad, and from early photographs it is clear that, at the time it was built, there was enough room for the buggy carts and house-drawn carriages but not for the pell-mell of the motley traffic of today, where the camel cart completes for space with the outsized limousine.
The city is located in a cradle (431 meters above sea level) of hills and aligned to two hilltop shrines. Along the hill ranges one can see the protective fortification walls and forts, while the immediate city is secured by seven monumental gateways.
A series of gateways and courtyards bring you to a complex of office buildings and temporary stalls. The first apartment encountered is the Mubarak Mahal, the welcome which stands at the center of a courtyard. It is a two-storey building in marble inspired by the Diwan-e-Khas of Akbar's Fatehpur Sikri. The little showpiece gem was constructed by Madho Singh II in 1900 as a guest-house and is now the Royal Wardrobe Museum. The collection is well worth seen to capture a glimpse of the fine muslins, prints, and silk brocades that once were produced in this region, and even though the exhibits are a bit dusty it does suggest that matching contrasting colors was the fashion of the time. Amidst the clothes and textiles on display are some rare and beautiful pieces of glassware and an assortment of huqqa stands.
To the north-western corner of the courtyard is the Sileh Khana which now contains an extraordinary display of traditional armoury. The highly decorated halls on the first floor (with pretty painted ceilings), once for dance or music, now display some deadly weapons: daggers, swords, and other means contraptions. There are some very ornate ceremonial daggers with carved jade handles and some very imaginative ammunition cases.
From the Mubarak Mahal courtyard you can see the flag of the Jaipur royal family flying if the (former) Maharaja is at home. A large gateway to the north of this courtyard, with huge wooden and brass doors, leads into another court with the elevated pillared Diwan-e-Khas. The open arched plan of the hall of private audience is yet another example of how the styles patronized by the royalty of Rajasthan and by the Mughal emperors was a synthesis created by borrowed elements from both. While the Diwan-e-Khas here is similar to the ones in the Mughal capitals of Delhi and Agra, the design has its roots in the flat-roofed pavilions of a period that predates the Mughals. Within the hall are two large silver water jars (earning their entry in the Guinness Book of Records by virtue of being the largest single silver objects in the world). They were used to carry holy ganga jal (water from the river Gnaga) for daily prayers and purification when the Madho Singh II went to Britain to attend the coronation of Edward VII in 1902.
To the right of this courtyard and in a very different style is the Diwan-e-Am which has been converted into a museum that displays carpets from the royal household, priceless manuscripts, paintings, portraits of the family of Jaipur, and assortment of howdahs and carriages for elephant and camel-back rides.
On the opposite side of the courtyard is a passage which leads to the ladies quarter and further. The surviving Maharaja of the royal Jaipur family still resides in a portion of the palace and has been estimated to be one of the wealthiest men in India.
Though the architecture of the City Palace is not of an exceptionally high standard, it is the Jantar Mantar, the observatory built by the founder of Jaipur, that is truly remarkable and unusual. Jai Singh II had a passion for astronomy and scientific inventions. Dissatisfied with contemporary mental astrolabes he worked a way of marking permanent structures to measure time, the position of the stars and planets. He built four other open-air observatories in sacred centers of learning: Varanasi, Ujjain, Mathura, and for the imperial city of Delhi. The Samrat Yantra (supreme instrument) is a gigantic sundial that measures the shadowy path of the sun. The Jai Prakash Yantras bear the name of their inventor who devised the concept of two huge hemispherical sunken bowls across which wires were attached to record the sun's journey through the sky. In a sense this observatory reflects the ideas of Jai Singh II and are the essence of the city of Jaipur that he built. A novel idea, of something that was in many ways ahead of its time, with an air of innovative charm and experimentation. Some of the results are satisfying while others now appear whimsical or quaint.
What In The Neighbourhood
The golden triangle trip encompasses Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. From Jaipur there are some interesting short trips that you can take. Samode is 42 kilometers from Jaipur and has recently been introduced on the tourist map to popularize the fort built by Jai Singh's minister. Nestled between the hills, part of the old fort has been converted into a hotel and there are some lovely rooms decorated with murals and mirror-work. Sanganer is a (dirty) little village (16 kilometers from Jaipur) which the center of the block printing industry of the region. Here cotton cloth is still printed by hand using wooden blocks, a different block for each color, making the craft both exacting and very beautiful. While much of the wide variety of Rajasthan textiles are available from shops in Jaipur, the block printing process is worth seeing for those interested in such crafts and ancient techniques. Most of the artists in the village are used to visitors and their questions. Jaipur has streets full of shops which sell textiles, jewellery (silver, gold, and stonework, for it was an ancient gem-cutting center), and handicrafts (leather shoes, toys, puppets, and enamelware).
How To Get There
Jaipur is connected by road and rail, and is just a half hour flight from Delhi. There are regular flights to and from Calcutta, Varanasi, Delhi, Jodhpur, Udaipur, and Bombay. Jaipur is 261 kilometers from Delhi and 237 from Agra by road. There are conducted tours by bus and car around the city and to Amber (11 kilometers away). Amber can be visited on a day trip from Jaipur. Lots of hotels and a few palaces converted into guesthouses or expensive hotels are available in Jaipur.