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Jaipur: A City of Culture and History
|by Chandrika Prajapati|
I recently visited India after four years. This visit was the first time that I was able to explore some of India. Though it was short, it was extremely sweet. Three days after my arrival, my excited cousins wanted to take a road trip to Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. We went singing and laughing on the extremely comfortable roads and highways. I hadn't even seen Delhi, the city where I stayed, properly, and had always wanted to go site seeing. So I guess I was the most enthused because this was my first trip to, well, anywhere in India.
The first site we landed upon on our path to the city was the Amber Palace/Fort, which defends the entrance into the city of Jaipur, often referred to as the Pink City. We arrived very early, so we were able to beat the herd of people on their way. This explains why most of my pictures are of this beautiful castle. Established 11 kilometers from Jaipur City, this magnificent fortress has been the citadel of the Kachchawaha dynasty for seven centuries. Some of its past is so old that it is covered in time and cannot be traced. While some of its old structures have disappeared or in ruins, those structures built in the 16th century are in remarkable state of preservation today.
Amber as it exists now was built during the period of Man Singh and Jai Sing 1 and 2. The Fort is approached by a steep ramp and visitors to it enjoy an elephant ride to it or can hike or drive also. The ramp leads to the imposing gates Singh Pol (Singh meaning Lion and Pol meaning Gate). The gateway leads to Jaleb Chawk a huge courtyard where they disembarked or returned from war. The area was also for display of war booties to the citizen and women folk who viewed the procession from jharokas (small grilled windows) of the palaces, the area where citizens hailed the returning war heroes. From the courtyard one is faced with two flights of stairs one leading to the Shilla Mata Temple complex that enshrines the image of Goddess of Power, Kali. The other flight of stairs leads to Ganesh Pol (Ganesh meaning God with Elephant Head of good omen). This is an imposing gate with the image of Ganesh taking a place of pride on the top. The gateway leads to another courtyard the Diwan-i-aam the halls of public audience. The structures here typically blend the Mughal and Rajput architectural styles. Apartments Sukh Niwas and Jai Niwas around Charbagh beautifully laid gardens incredible occurrence for a visitor. The highlights of these structures are its pierced screen windows that allow view to outside from a vantage point. Sheesh Mahal (palace of mirrors) is one of the marvels of the complex. The mirrors are so encrusted on the wall that a small light can illuminate the hall. This palace has been a backdrop for many movie sequences as well.
The sprawling ramparts of Amber are covered with pavilions and gardens that investigate in the medieval lifestyles. The living palaces on the ground floor are replicated on the first floor to allow the residents to be comfortable in different seasons by shifting accordingly. Beyond the rampart the old abode of aristocrats reminds the flavor of the medieval times. Besides the ancient temples and the step-wells have a lot to be probed by the curious.
As we moved onward with our journey, I saw amazing sites, which I couldn't catch with my camera, because we were in the car, or too many people were in the way, or cows were blocking my view. We entered the Pink City, Jaipur, and literally, it is pink city. It was built up with pink stones - the color associated with hospitality in Rajput culture. Built in 1727 A.D. by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, Jaipur displays a remarkable harmony and architectural splendor. The ancient heart of the Pink City still beats in its fairy-tale palaces, rugged fortresses perched on barren hills and broad avenues that dot the entire city. The only planned city of its time, a formidable wall encircles Jaipur.
A young Bengali architect, Vidyadhar Bhattacharya formalized the city's plans in a grid system. The wide straight avenues, roads, streets, lanes and uniform rows of shops on either side of main markets were arranged in nine rectangular city sectors (Chokris), in accordance with the principles of town planning set down in the "Shilpa Shastra" - and epochal treatise on the Hindu architecture. The entire town looks like a giant fort of some sort. It's glory and multitude of beauty is indescribable.
The "Palace of Winds," built in 1799, by Maharaja Pratap Singh, is the most recognizable monument of Jaipur. The palace is a fa'ade, which is fifty feet in height and a mere one-foot in width. The screen allowed the ladies of the palace to have view of the market place below. Hawa Mahal symbolizes Jaipur today. Located on one edge of the City Palace this exquisitely proportioned screen is best viewed from the street outside. The Hawa Mahal is composed of 5 tiers with corridors inside. The outside is lined with pierced windows that allow vertiginous view of the street scene below while it hides a view of the viewer from outside. The Hawa Mahal when viewed from a distance also resembles the Mukut (crown) of Lord Krishna. I was exhausted from the heat when we came to this point of our trip, so the winds we experienced in the middle of the desert on a very hot and sunny day was welcomed with pleasure, yet greatly unbelievable.
In the heart of city lies the royal residence, City Palace. Grey-white marble columns support the carved arches with floral motifs in gold and colored stones. Two carved elephants in marble guard the entrance. The retainers whose families have served generations of rulers serve as guides. The palace houses a museum with a superb collection of Rajasthani costumes and armory of Mughals and Rajputs including swords of different shapes and sizes with chased handles, some of them inlaid with enamel and embellished with jewels and encased in magnificent scabbards. The palace also has an art gallery with an excellent collection of miniature paintings, carpets, royal paraphernalia and rare astronomical works in Arabic, Persian, Latin and Sanskrit, acquired by Sawai Jai Singh - II to study astronomy in detail. The queen apparently still resides in the palace. I didn't learn her name, but she is responsible for the maintenance and labor costs of the palace. So they charge you if you want to bring a camera into the palace. Unfortunately, I paid for the video camera, but was unable to bring my still-shot-camera into its gates, therefore no pictures on this. However, many other pictures that I took during this short trip are here.
Jaipur is not just known for its wondrous structures. Jaipury clothes are popular all over the country, and perhaps the world. The latest fashion in New York, Paris, and Milan are glass embedded handbags, tops, and showpieces, which are all signature items of Jaipur. The women in the city dress in bright blues and radiating reds, with bangles up to the elbows, all of which are dyed with colors from plants, vegetables and fruits. An abundance of semi-precious and precious stones can be found at any corner of the city. The people of the Pink City are famous for their cutting style and homey touch to jewelry and stones. It is a great place to acquire and accessorize all you're wants and desires - a great place to shop till you drop.
Jaipur is a city filled with culture and history. There is so much more than mentioned above to see and feel. I suggest that it is best to visit between the months of October through March, with at least two to three days of visitation period. We only went for one day, so I couldn't see everything. Further, prepare you're feet with cozy sneakers, because the city is best viewed on foot rather than through a medium of a vehicle. Picking up a tour guide is very inexpensive so that is a good idea as well. A desert city filled with greenery, history and a vibrant culture is nothing less than enchanting.
All the shots that I took while visiting Jaipur are here. Did I say that I visited the Qutab Minar also!
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