Worried about more police brutality, we ensured our morning cycle rickshaw went in the right direction down one-way streets, this time with a strapping teenager behind the handlebars. Our destination: Jantar Mantar, the UNESCO-listed World Heritage astronomical site next to the City Palace.
Built by Jaipur Maharajah, Jai Sawai Singh II between 1727 and 1733 it is the Largest Stone Astronomical Observatory in the World. It consists of many large, marble instruments that wouldn’t look out of place in Tate Modern. Liz reckoned she knew where Anish Kapoor got his ideas from when she looked at them.
Most were designed to work out the position of various heavenly bodies. They were tested recently and found to be extremely accurate. The huge 50m high sundial, an Escher-style staircase that leads up to nowhere, is accurate to within a couple of seconds, apparently.
Some people were having the full guided tour which went into detail about how each instrument works, but as Liz had drifted off the last time she had this same tour, and I was more interested in the shapes, we decided just to wander. Aside from the clever technical precision of these items the garden in which they are laid is a tranquil haven, away from the constant hooting of traffic outside. I had great fun with my camera playing with symmetry and abstract compositions. For a full tour of Jantar Mantar, take a peek at this little slideshow:
Living Amongst The Crumbling Façades
We left the mathematical haven of Jantar Mantar and headed round the outside of the City Palace to a square on the east side. It was an eye-opener, with many families living amongst the alcoves of the crumbling façades of important-looking pink buildings. Children ran around half naked whilst women washed clothes in filthy water. One young mum obligingly posed for a photograph after I agreed to pay her, but she did not look pleased. Whoever said Indians happily get on with their lives whatever their status in life was gravely misinformed. I think it was me.
A man, who was well dressed, followed us around and giving a half-commentary on the squalor. He also made suggestions as to what I should give each person, which I ignored; it dawned on me he was some kind of slave pimp, living off the misfortune of these poor souls. The only happy thing to report is that Liz said there appeared to be less begging and homelessness than she remembered from her previous visit, 30 years ago.
Greeted By Mountains
We took a packed and smelly minibus up to Amber Fort, some eight kilometres north of Jaipur, much to the amusement of mothers shopping and smirking school children. After leaving the suburbs we trundled past the Jal Mahal Palace, a beautiful structure in the middle of the man-made Man Sagar Lake, just outside the capital. It wasn’t listed in Lonely Planet, which I find strange since it is such a photogenic building in ethereal surroundings. Liz has subsequently found that Phase I of the three phase renovation operation is complete, with the lake and palace fully restored. Phases II and II are yet to get underway because, typically in India, no-one can agree who owns what and whether the renovation is legal. I guess not enough brown paper envelopes were shared around. Whatever the outcome, as soon as it is open go and see it. When the other phases are completed it will be surrounded by a resort hotel, shops, cinema, strip club, casino and God knows what else.
Jal Mahal Palace. One day it might be open to the public… if the lawyers can agree.
As the bus raced round bends we were greeted by mountains, each range with a battlement built along its contour. These continued until the conductor indicated we had arrived, so we jumped off, right in front of a magnificent fort made of sandstone and marble. The mountain it was built into was steep, giving the fort an appearance of grandeur and impenetrability. Behind it was the even larger Jaighar Fort.
After our now customary sweet tea at one of the rickety cafés near the entrance, we zig-zagged our way up to the fort into the first open courtyard where we bought our ticket.
Jaipur’s Amber Fort
The fort, which was more of a working palace, was completely stunning. If you should ever find yourself in Jaipur please make sure you dedicate a whole morning or afternoon to discover this stupendous building. With it’s Turkish hammam, beautiful inlaid Summer Palace, gold-spired domes, intricately painted ceilings and many, many acres of latticework marble corridors, it is a sensational place to lose oneself.
We didn’t want to clutter up the page with too many photographs of the Amber Fort as we didn’t write much about it. However the slideshow is worth a look, just to see the contours, patterns and detail of the stonework.
We returned to Jaipur town and decided to check out a bar the Lonely Planet recommended. At 250 rupees a beer we left, laughing at the ridiculous prices and cursing the LP for, once again, getting it wrong. It seems the LP is spot on when it comes to sights and maps, but for restaurants and bars I reckon they’re either getting back handers or the successful establishments are taking the piss. 250 rupees, I ask you, that’s London prices! No wonder the bar was empty.
In that part of Jaipur we found some very poor kids hanging around, harassing passers-by. They were proper street urchins with their hair so matted they looked like they were wearing wigs. Their dark skin could not disguise the years of grime collected in the tiny creases of their smiles as they harangued us. A few of them ran their hands up and down our legs, as if searching us. They had no intention of picking our pockets but they were quite persistent and one has to wonder how much is just the habit of begging and how much is driven by pure hunger. In one small shop-front terrace we saw a woman asleep on her front, as if dead. She had her arm around her eldest child, a girl of about four, also with the appearance of rigor mortis. Her youngest child, a boy of about two years old, lay above her head, wearing just a dirty woollen jumper. He was on his front, with his dirty little bottom pointing skywards. Sights like these make me really appreciate my good fortune.
On our way back to the hotel we stumbled across more homeless people, this time a group of older sage-like gentlemen in long beards and raggedy clothes. Their home? The street outside a temple.
We rounded the evening off by hitting a local bar, which we left an hour later stinking of fags (remember that?) and with a couple of new Hindi words under our belt. We watched some TV channel that was profiling some of the best Bollywood scenes from the past 20 years. That too was an education in Indian culture.