Tuesday, May 14, 2013

India - Jaipur, Day Two: Jaigarh Fort, Albert Hall, and a crazy rickshaw ride

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When Rahul the tour guide asked us what we wanted to see, we said we were open to suggestions. We knew we had to see Amer Fort, and Mark wanted to go to the Jantar Mantar observatory in Jaipur’s Old City. I was also interested in seeing the Central Museum at Albert Hall. Rahul gave us his opinion: the best places were Amer Fort, Jaigarh Fort, Albert Hall, and Jantar Mantar, and we should see them in that order.

Why Jaigarh Fort? Because it has the best views, it is in very good condition, and it has the world’s largest cannon. Why Albert Hall? Because it was built to honor the British prince and future king, it is decorated with portraits of all of thirteen Rajput rulers, and it has a real mummy. Why Jantar Mantar? Because it was Jai Singh’s largest and finest observatory, it illustrates that he was a man of science, and it stayed open half an hour later than the other places. So it was settled.
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Jaigarh Fort is perched high on a hill behind Amer Fort, and the two forts are said to be connected by a long passageway. Approaching the fort through the gate, we found ourselves once again driving where others walked. Rahul wanted us to have the opportunity to see the 360 degree views of Jaipur, including Amer, from the towers.
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Unlike other forts, Jaigarh Fort was not a palace; although it contained a residence for the royal family, its was mainly used to house soldiers. Its relative simplicity allows visitors to appreciate the walls, the towers with their charming caps, and the ingenious water catchment system that directed rainwater into a series of tanks, the largest with a capacity of 6 million liters. Only one tank was ever used for water; another held treasure and the third remained empty. 

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This is the world’s largest cannon, forged in the fort’s foundry. The barrel is about 18 feet long, and it takes over 200 pounds of gunpowder to fire a cannonball – which, according to most sources, has only been done once, as a test.

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We walked the walls surrounding the courtyard, and looked at the armory and museum, which had an interesting collection of artifacts including a sedan chair that I would have ridden in atop an elephant, had I been one of the rulers’ wives, or a princess.

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We had our photo taken by Rahul, and it was time to depart for Albert Hall. But first, we had to stop at a row of shops, where we were shown a demonstration of hand block printing, and we were obliged to wander through the jewelry, marble and other gift shops. But we stuck to our vow of not buying anything more after our big purchases in Agra, and all of the shopkeepers were clearly disappointed.

India 479One of my favorite sights in Jaipur was the Jal Mahal, a Water Palace in Man Sagar Lake, which we passed by driving to and from Amer. The palace looks like it is sinking into the lake,which is somewhat true since the water level varies and the building is the victim of subsidence. Once a summer resort and duck hunting base for the royal family, efforts are underway to restore and open the Jal Mahal to tourism.

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I wanted to go to Albert Hall because I was interested in both the architecture of the building, which is combination of English and North Indian festoonments, and the museum, an eclectic collection of weapons, musical instruments, tribal costumes, sculpture, and arts and crafts.

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Despite the fact that time was running short, Rahul took us on a thorough, if speedy, tour of the museum, explaining as he went along. As promised, we saw portraits of all the Rajput kings.

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This was where Rahul’s 40+ years of experience as a our guide really started to be apparent. Several times, when we approached an exhibit where people were lingering, he elbowed his way in saying “Excuse me, excuse me,” and ushered us over as the others obligingly moved aside. Just like driving!! You honk, move in and the others make room.

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Soon it was time to go. It was almost 4:30 p.m. and the Jantar Mantar would be closing at 5:00. We had to go several blocks through Jaipur’s Pink City to get there.

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As we began to make our way through, traffic stopped and it became clear that something was amiss. Rahul was getting excited as he talked to our driver Vikram. Apparently preparations were being made for the festival, which would be held that evening, and the street was closing. You could see, by the painted lines in the street, that we were on the festival parade route.

There was only one way to get to the Jantar Mantar. Rickshaw. Rahul sprang into action, ordering Mark and me out of the Honda and into a rickshaw while he barked directions to the emaciated and very elderly looking driver. Since there was only room for two people, Rahul would follow in a second rickshaw. Vikram knew what to do. He would drive to the Jantar Mantar entrance and be waiting there when we were finished.

It was stop and go, even in a rickshaw. Mark and I both felt terrible, like big fat blobs, while this poor old skinny man labored to get the rickshaw moving, only to have to stop again. Finally – well, never mind. Mark shot this video.

The Jantar Mantar, which means “instrument of calculation,” was named a World Heritage Site in 2010. It looks so modern that it’s hard to conceive that it’s was begun in 1728. We didn’t have much time there, but nevertheless it was well worth the visit. And we wouldn’t have wanted to miss that rickshaw ride…

Vikram was waiting for us when we emerged from the observatory. Rahul left us there; he took a taxi back to Amer, where he lives.

What a long day. We were so happy when we pulled up to the gate and Vikram said, “Welcome to the Raj Palace!”

Next: Some final colorful photos, and a few impressions about India in general, and riding the train.
Thanks for reading!

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