Home India Day 4: Elephants and Camels and Cows, Oh My!

Day 4: Elephants and Camels and Cows, Oh My!

by Maggie Barrett

Apparently, pink is traditionally a color symbolizing welcome and hospitality in the Indian culture. The first thing we learned about Jaipur is that it is nicknamed the Pink City. Why? Because Maharaja Ram Singh, the local ruler at the time (1872), painted the city pink for the visit of the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria. Additionally, a majority of the buildings look pinkish because of the local red sandstone used to build them: yet, according to our guide, when it is not monsoon season the residents repaint a majority of the buildings in old Jaipur pink.

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The history that we learned here was a little harder for me to follow: instead of the Mughal emperors whose names I had gotten accustomed to, there were various “Maharaja,” which means great ruler or king. This was especially confusing to me because there is still a Maharaja of Jaipur today, even though India has been a democratic country since independence. I did some research, and so hopefully it will be easily explained!

Our first stop in Jaipur was to the Amber Fort, built by Raja Man Singh I in 1592. Raja Man Singh I just so happened to know Akbar (hoping you know who he is by now!) so that gives a sort of time context. First, we got to admire Amber Fort from afar…

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Lookin’ regal

…before taking an elephant ride up to the top! This was another part of the tour I had been anxiously awaiting. And the experience did not disappoint: while it was a little more “touristy” than most of the things we had done, it was still really cool. Elephants are a lot taller than I had expected, though the ride was pretty smooth! We were lucky to come during the “off season” for tourism: we didn’t have to wait in any sort of line, though during peak tourist time it’s a 2 hour wait for a ride! (sounds like Disneyworld).

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Once we entered through the gate of the fort and disembarked, our guide gave us the option to stop by the Shiva Mala or Kali Temple to Goddess Durga, a Hindu goddess that protects from evil and removes suffering. After removing our shoes and any leather items, and leaving our cameras and phones outside (with our program guide, don’t worry), we quietly entered. Inside, there was a stone statue of the goddess, and many people praying and making the daily puja, or offering. Seeing the different temples and shrines has been one of my favorite parts thus far: India is home to such a wide variety of religion, and it is interesting to see how the different religions interact.

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The courtyard

The entryway to the fort was the most gorgeous gate. It was made out of carved sandstone and covered in frescos. Called Ganesh Pol, there is a figure of the god Ganesh, the god of good fortune and prosperity, painted right above the door. The paint used is made out of vegetables, fruit, and other plants, and has the most magnificent coloring. A lot of it is original from the 1500s, yet some has been restored in the past few years. There were also a lot of balconies in this particular fort. The pillars appeared to be made out of marble, but our guide confessed to us that they were actually white sandstone, polished with coconut oil to give it the marble-y sheen: incredible!

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View from the balcony

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Faux marble columns

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Ceiling designs inside

There was a huge complex within the fort. A beautiful garden with traditional Mughal designs (though this fort was built by an Indian prince, Mughal architecture had a big influence on all the buildings of this era) was in the center, and on the second story there was a swimming pool! We also saw the hall for the royal ladies (Jaz Mandir), the king’s bedroom, and the Sheesh Mahal (meaning mirrored palace: the queen’s quarters). Like a lot of the other historical sites, these buildings had different areas adapted for different seasons: winter and summer bedrooms, gazebos, etc.

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A beautiful garden

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Where the royal ladies spent the summer months: the perfume bottle designs on the wall is original to the building

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The back of the front gate to the Sheesh Mahal

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A glimpse of the courtyard

There were many inside tunnels connecting all these buildings, with carved sandstone covering the few windows. Our guide explained that these grate-like pieces were in place in order to protect the royal ladies: they could see out, but no one could see in. While they did live a life of obvious wealth and luxury, they did not have much freedom. They were pampered quite a bit and some even had rickshaws to carry them through the tunnels because their clothes were so heavily adorned with jewels that they were unable to walk. Additionally, we saw a large courtyard with twelve doors leading to it. The raja that lived here had 12 wives. Being a smart (and sneaky and clever) man, he had given a separate “apartment” to each of his wives, complete with bedroom, bathroom,  kitchen area, balcony, and entrance to the courtyard. Only he had direct access to each of their apartments!

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The grates

After leaving Amber Fort, we made a few brief stops. First was for a photo op by the Water Palace- Jal Mahal. This was built by Maharaja Jai Singh II (grandson of the raja who built the Amber Fort) in 1734. The depth of the lake varies based on how much rainfall there has been- India in general has not had a very heavy monsoon season yet, so the lake was relatively low when we saw it.

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The water palace

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Camels!

We also visited a textile shop. Jaipur is famous for its textiles and homemade, natural dyes made of vegetables and plants. The man who owned the shop demonstrated to us how it takes patience and practice to be good at making the famous printed textiles: it can take up to nine different stamps and colors to make one design! The elephant he showed us was one of their more simple designs, requiring only four different stamps and inks. Once the designs are printed, they are left outside to dry in the sun for 48 hours; then it is totally permanent!

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The intricate process of textile stamping; four different stamps were used to create this design

We had lunch at a small local restaurant and enjoyed a few local dishes (regretfully I forget the names- but they were good!) as well as a type of bread similar to naan, but made out of corn instead- it was delicious!

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Before visiting the Astrological Garden, we stopped to see Hawa Mahal, or palace of the winds. While it looks like an imposing structure, the walls are actually quite thin; it is more of a façade than anything else! It is part of the City Palace, which we would tour later. The windows are kept tightly shut in the Hawa Mahal, and all buildings in Jaipur, to keep the monkeys out!

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The Astrological Garden, Jantar Mantar, was spectacular. Home to the world’s largest sundial (which gives you the accurate time within two seconds), it was built in the 1720’s by Raja Jai Singh II, the same guy who built the Water Palace. It is a fantastic observatory, with over 14 instruments to not only tell time, but to track constellations, determine sun signs and ascending signs, and much more.

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World’s Largest Sundial

Our guide went into more detail about the sun signs: while there are charts of pre-determined sun sign (same thing as star sign, zodiac signs, etc.), there are slight variations every year, so one’s true sign can only be determined by taking into account one’s precise location and time of birth. The same can be said about one’s ascending sign: it varies by the hour and location, so you can have two people born on the same day, with different ascending signs. The ascending sign is said to have just as much effect on one’s personality as a sun sign; whether or not you believe in this, it’s quite fun to explore! To calculate your true sun sign, you can use this website and to calculate your ascending sign you can use this website. I asked our tour guide what he knew about Gemini, as that is my sign (my true sign- I checked). He said they are very smart and curious, and easily adaptable (known to thrive, even) in new circumstances. Surinder, our program guide, nodded in agreement, which I took as a compliment, especially the “adapting to new experiences.” It was about 97 degrees outside and I looked like a tomato and felt like I was slowly melting and not holding it together or adapting all that well.

Our final stop in Jaipur was actually right nextdoor to Jantar Mantar: the City Palace. We first toured the museum there that is maintained (albeit distantly) by the royal family to this day. This was the first time we had glimpsed actual artifacts from the older decades: seeing clothes and accessories from that time was really neat. The clothes were all extremely ornate; I can’t imagine having to wear something like that every day! We also briefly visited an exhibit of the weaponry used, much of it dating back hundreds of years. Some of the weaponry was so heavy I can’t imagine how it was practical in battle, but it was obviously effective at some time.

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Courtyard with the door for each season

The City Palace, or Udaipur, was built between 1729 and 1732, also by Raja Jai Singh II. Today, the current Maharaja and his family are permitted to reside there. The current Maharaja, however, is only 17, and is off studying in the UK but his family lives there. We were only able to see part of the palace, but my favorite part was a large courtyard with four ornately decorated doors, one for each season. Something I found humorous was a pair of huge silver jugs- the largest silver vessels in the world. Stored in the private audience hall, known as Diwan-I-Khas, the vessels were made by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II (who, if my counting is correct, is the great-great-great-grandson of the man who built City Palace). He kept them filled with water from the Ganges River and refused to drink anything else; he even had the vessels shipped with him when he visited England in 1901. Talk about high maintenance. We exited City palace through Diwan-I-Aam, the public audience hall, back onto the busy streets of Jaipur.

Diwan-I-Khas silver water vessels

A water vessel fit for a king (literally)

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Tomorrow we (finally!) will be headed to Hyderabad. As amazing as traveling has been, it will be nice to finally get settled and organized!

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Since cows are considered holy, they have free reign and can wander (or sleep in) the streets independently

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