Sunday, May 27, 2007

Jaipur: Some Wonderful Sights

While the old town of
Jaipur may be pink and parts are in decay, there are some wonderful amber buildings outside the town.
One very impressive complex is the Amber Fort, which started construction in the late 16th century, and served for a number of years as the ancient capital. You can walk to the fort, or take an elephant, but we went up in our car. This time, we had a guide and needed one, since the fort is an incredible maze of structures, with some wonderful viewpoints looking out over settlements more than 1000 years old.

The decoration on many of the palace buildings was quite impressive, especially since the guide insisted that some of the frescoes hadn’t been restored and were over three hundred years old. He also taught Sally how to distinguish the Hindu and Moghul arches, with reference to the design of her hands! As we viewed the Maharajas' apartments, we got a glimpse into the lives of these men and their courts. They enjoyed unfathomable extravagances. Many spaces within their living areas had the ceiling inlaid with mirrors, so that when the room was candle lit at night, it would seem like they were under the stars.

Another impressive sight was the City Palace that was built and expanded by a series of Maharajas. As one wanders through, they can learn even more about the lives of the Maharajahs, including Sawai Madho Singh. This fellow, like some other Rajasthan men, was over 2 metres tall. However, he also weighed 250 kg. and had 108 wives. After hearing all morning about their indulgences, it is not hard to understand why the government removed the Maharajahs' powers after independence. However, some continue to enjoy extraordinary wealth, and get to play polo with Prince Charles. Unfortunately, one very impressive Maharajah died of a heart attack while playing polo. As these photos will hopefully show, they had nice digs.

Near the palace is Jantar Mantar, an observatory which began construction in the 18th century. It looks like the set of a science fiction movie, and is most impressive in terms of how precisely the various constructed devices could tell the date and time from the sun, hundreds of years ago. Different structures are designed for each sign of the zodiac, and our guide explained how important astrology still is today for many people. For example, before couples are married, the families bring in the astrologer to read the charts of the bride and groom. He measures their compatibility using a complex numerical system. If they are not sufficiently compatible, the marriage will be called off.

Based on what we were told, Sally and I should never have got married!

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