Rajasthan is India’s largest state, and Jaipur is its capital.  It is called the Pink City because its buildings are constructed of pink stucco and forts of red sandstone.  The 9 block grid was laid out in 1727 on Hindu principles, with unusually broad avenues for its time.

Now, 2.5 million people live here.

We first entered the city at night, and predictably, the first place we were taken was shopping in the bazaar.  Raj, our driver, maintains this is the best shopping in India.  We enjoyed watching him buy cheap screened colorful twin bedspreads for his 3 children.  Each shop is set back from a well-kept arcade sheltering a raised sidewalk, and families sat on narrow padded benches buying saris (it’s wedding season here).  We were shown silk scarves and bought 2.

This morning, our guide Anapurna brought us up the thorny, sere hills to the Amber Fort, perched high on a mountain 11 km outside of Jaipur.

It was originally built by the Kachhwaha Rajputs, who were rewarded for their allegiance to Mughal court in defending them in skirmishes. Using booty from wars, they began construction in 1592.  It is a perfect defensible site, made stronger by Great Wall of China style defense works on surrounding hills.

After waiting in line 40 min. we got on board an elephant sidesaddle in a sort of padded metal cage and wound our way up the hill.  The elephants are painted with pink and green designs and lurch back and forth enough to make you feel you are going to fall off or crash into the next elephant.  Gail touched his bristly stubble and was surprised at the texture.  They eat sugar cane and love naan bread with butter for snacks!

Feeling highly relieved to get off, we visited the red sandstone Maharajah’s Hall of Public Audience, with white marble columns hidden in the middle.  The Summer, Winter and Spring Palaces surround a garden irrigated by rain water collected in cisterns.  Their capacity was sufficient for 10,000 people for 3 years.  The water was cleaned by a system of filters, screens and bowls made of clay under the palace.  The Hall of Victory’s mirrored surfaces are being restored.

In the Hall of Pleasure, a slanted board fed water to a channel that cooled the room. It was then channeled to water the plants in the sunken garden.  In the Summer Palace, reed curtains were wet down, and the wind passing through them cooled the terraces.

The technologies used 350 years ago have been abandoned.  But we marveled at the use of shiny white plaster to brighten dark corridors, the advanced sunken (Jacuzzi) marble bathing octagon high above Lake Maota, the clever working of marble to permit ladies to sit above the courtyard and see but not been seen…this place was, and is, an engineering triumph.  It is also beautiful, with its Persian influenced flower paintings on gates, and its intricate mosaics and mirrors.

After a delicious lunch of local desert specialties, we spent several hours…shopping, what else!

We were shown wood-block printing.  Designs were carved into teak and a long piece of cotton cloth was laid out on a table.  The worker chose the background color, dipped the wood block in that color and went down the row.  In the wood block there was a little symbol to let him know where to place the next design so it would line up correctly.

The vegetable dyes became set after 2 days of sun exposure, transforming from dark to brilliant.  Green color comes from mango leaves and spinach, black from iron oxide, blue from indigo, etc.

Although the Maharajahs no longer rule, they are rich and live in palaces in the city.  The complex contains a museum with royal costumes and polo outfits (the game was invented here).  Near the inner courtyard are the Peacock, Lotus, Green and Rose gates symbolizing the four seasons.  It’s overlooked by the towering yellow Chandral Mahal where the family lives.  Salmon-colored arcaded pavilions with glass chandeliers, silver thrones and giant water vessels, fine paintings all speak of lives of unimaginable excess.

The coolest site was the Observatory, built by Jai Singh in 1728.

It’s like a giant outdoor playground for astronomers.  The largest is the 27m (90 ft.) high sundial with a staircase to the top.  Its arm is set at 27 degrees n. latitude.  The shadow cast moves up to 12 ft. per hour.  There are 12 zodiac instruments and others calculate declination (angular distance of heavenly bodies from celestial equator), and altitude and azimuth of celestial bodies, determination of equinoxes and location of the Pole Star.

We photographed the one-room deep Palace of the Winds, a pink sandstone building of 5 ethereal stories, which allowed royal ladies to watch the city life below.

When the British were rulers here, the photos show a clean uncrowded city.  However, Jaipur suffers from the same squalor we have seen everywhere in India.  Efforts to restore the red historical facades won’t mean anything unless everyone pitches in to clean up the garbage in front of their own shops.

Claudia and Gail

Be Sociable, Share!