“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” – Anna Quindlen
The first leg of our India tour was a trip around the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Jaipur and Agra) by car. We spent two nights in Jaipur and it was the only place we visited in India where we wished that we had an extra day or two. The city was very manageable and the shopping looked terrific, but we were on the “we have 14 days to see six cities, so hurry up, snap that picture and let’s move it” tour of India. Le sigh.
The first day we visited the Amber Palace which is a stunning, sprawling fort complex built of yellow and pink sandstone. A wall extends in both directions from the main palace undulating over the hills and serving as a place for soldiers to keep watch. It looked a whole lot like the Indian version of the Great Wall reaching out over the hills as far as you could see and father still. Because of the placement of the fort atop a small hill and the wall surrounding the countryside, the Amber Palace was well protected.
It was fascinating to take a walk through history and see how the Maharajahs and Maharinis lived. You all know how much I love crap like that. I could do it ALL day. The baths were magnificent, there was a cooling mechanism where servants would wave huge feathered fans over a waterfall within the palace circulating cooled air to the Royal Family, and the zenana – women’s quarters – were interestingly built to allow the women to see what was going on in the courtyards, yet not be seen themselves.
There has been so much pillaging of this palace, but many of the precious jewels remain because they were embedded too far into the sandstone to remove. There is also a throne room in the third courtyard where the ceiling is the only the only gold left in the palace because it is too high to reach. Interestingly unlike Topkapi Palace in Turkey where the courtyards all lead in toward the center, in the Amber Palace, they all lead up, so the fourth courtyard rests high above the first.
On the way back to the hotel, we were able to see the Water Palace situated in the middle of a man- made lake. The Palace was built first and then the lake was filled in around it. Unfortunately, it is crumbling to the point that it is not safe to visit although restoration is beginning on it.
The next morning, we visited the Jantar Mantar. Now, I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person, but this damn place made me feel like an idiot.
Science, I do not get you. I respect you. But I do not get you.
Jantar Mantar is an astrological complex for studying the constellations and the cosmos completed in 1738. It includes 19 jaw-dropping architectural instruments built of stone, marble and brass. These instruments measure the passage of time, the movement of the planets, the latitude and longitude of celestial bodies and includes an astrolabe that calculates the Hindu calendar each year. Mason and Ian were completely blissed out. Freaking science nerds. Our guide explained to us how each instrument worked and though I understood it at the time, there is no way I could have turned around and explained it to someone else. I could, however, admire the beauty and ingenuity of the instruments and be appropriately impressed.
From there, we visited the Hawa Mahal or Palace of Winds. It was built in 1799 in the form of the crown of Krishna (Krishna is an incarnation of one of the three main Hindu gods) to be a summer palace for the women of the court to escape to and has 953 windows to accommodate them being able to observe the hustle and bustle of the street below. This palace was our favorite. The main gate is carved with the three major Hindu deities and their wives and is just incredibly beautiful.
Now one would think that if we saw an Earth Palace (the Amber Fort), a Water Palace and a Palace of Wind that there would be a Fire Palace somewhere, yes? No. No. And I am still feeling a little lost and bitter about it.
Our last stop in Jaipur was the Monkey Temple. I am not sure why we agreed to this. I don’t particularly like moneys, but it happened. Hanuman is the Monkey God in the Hindu faith and plays prominently in the Ramayana sacred text. We were told to leave our phones and anything in our pockets in the car because the monkeys are grabby little critters – they actually ended up stealing the flowers from around our necks after our blessing. The ruins we walked through to get to the shrine were beautiful and we saw several people bathing in the sacred pool that flowed from the mountain. We wandered to the very top to visit the shrine. Ian and Lily opted out, but Mason and I went inside and received a blessing from the priest. After leaving an offering of much more than we were told was typical (and being told it was not enough, could we leave more? Damn you, India, you sure know how to ruin a moment), we headed back to the car.
An older gentleman was standing at the gate pointing to the hills with his cane and talking excitedly. We, of course, had no idea what was going on, but our guide stopped, looked up and then got really excited also. He drew our attention to the top of the hill where a tiger crouched. Apparently, it is rare – like maybe once or twice in a lifetime – to see a tiger in the wild. He had his phone out snapping pictures just as crazily as we were. It was such a cool moment and he said we were very lucky to have seen it.
We enjoyed Jaipur, although being shuttled around by a driver and a guide was a little uncomfortable for us. We just prefer to do things on our own. But we were glad to see some India that was not Delhi, our hotel was nice and the doorman was dressed up in a traditional Rajasthan costume and was charming, and although we were still counting down the days until we flew to Bangkok and Lily and I were still getting gawked at, we were temporarily feeling better about things.