THE largest city and capital of the state of Rajasthan in Northen India, it is often referred to as The Pink City and is in itself a Unesco World Heritage Site. Jaipur got its name from its founder Maharaja Jai Singh II and was built in 1727 as India’s first planned city.
In 1876, it was painted terra-cotta pink to welcome Edward, The Prince of Wales. The Palace of The Winds - Hawa Mahal – is a five-story, beehive-like structure that has become symbolic of how colorful and decorative the architecture of this city is. It is the first place our guide Vikram took us to as we began our tour, and much to our amusement, it took a lot of maneuvering through whizzing honking cars, horses, rickshaws, oblivious locals and fellow tourists just to get a decent photo of this palace-by-the-street. Made up of red and pink sandstone lined with white, the walls have 953 overhanging balconies from which fresh air can pass. Back in 1799 when this was built, its many windows served as the only connection the secluded women of the royal household had to the world outside.
Jai Singh II was also an avid astrologer and scientist. Between 1727-1734, he built five astronomical observatories, the largest of which is in Jaipur. The Jantar Mantar was our second Unesco World Heritage site for this leg, and I was so surprised that it was not located up in the mountains, but right smack in the middle of this bustling city. Each of the 19 astronomical instruments were made from stone and marble to achieve accuracy. We walked around this enclosed area-- barely listening to our guide explaining the purposes of the instruments-- because we were in awe of how advanced this whole set up was from almost 300 years ago! The star of Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar is the sundial with a 27-meter-high rod called a gnomon.
Our visit to the Amber or Amer Fort served as our third Unesco Heritage Site, but this place is actually just one of the forts that fall under the Unesco-listed Hill Forts of Rajahstan. The five other forts are the Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh, Ranthambore, Gagron and Jaisalmer. Located in the tiny town of Amer that has an area of just over four square kilometers, this fort understandably dominates this town, all the more so because the wall surrounding it is the third longest wall in the world.
We declined the offer of an elephant ride to go up to the Fort. Even though their long history always had elephants used for labor and transport, I personally found it cruel to ride one, so we opted to drive up to the Sun Gate. Built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh to serve as the main residence of the Rajput Maharajas, I was transported back in time as I entered its gate. Unlike the other forts we previously visited that had strong military vibes, this one was really a very grand and beautiful royal residence. From the gates embellished with intricate mosaics to walls inlaid with mirrors to the placement of sandalwood doors and water channels, the elegance of this place is so remarkable that after the Taj Mahal, this was my next favorite stop on the whole trip. Pictures pale in comparison to the feeling of being in one of its four courtyards, observing everything going on; touching the details of the marble walls, looking down at the serene Maota Lake and even craning my neck to see how far the outer walls reached.
Another attraction, a short walk from the Amer Fort is Panna Meena Ka Kund, a step well even more beautiful than Agrasen ki Baoli in Delhi. We were the only visitors there at that time, so I really just sat by its side, stared, mesmerized at the seemingly diamond-shaped yellow steps going all the way down, eight stories below. I developed a love affair with step wells the moment I laid eyes on one and I am determined to one day seek out Chand Baori of Abhaneri, reputed to be the most beautiful one in all of India.
We concluded our Golden Triangle Tour with a five-hour drive back to Delhi. Five days went by so fast and turned out more amazing than I expected. Our target of nine Unesco World Heritage Sites fulfilled, we left Delhi with grateful hearts. There is much more to this country, to see and to feel, that some of the downsides of being there can somehow be just chalked up to experience.