Thursday, February 18, 2010

Downtown Jaipur

On February 18th we headed for downtown Jaipur by auto-rickshaw. The usual chaos was in force on the roads. After Chandigarh the chaos seemed surprising all over again.

Rod proved to be quite an attraction in the auto-rickshaw; people were constantly staring or making double-takes.

Our first target was the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds). This is a rather unusual structure; it essentially builds up a relatively narrow, high, facade that has just enough room for fairly narrow rooms from which ladies could gaze out without being seen. Behind the facade is a much lower, plainer, palace. The view from the front is rather impressive.

After admiring the front we wanted to actually go in. This was somewhat less obvious than we had hoped. Luckily there are a number of Indian tourist police - primarily present to protect tourists from locals enthused about foreign money - and one was able to direct us down an alley that really didn't seem quite on par with the facade.

This took us through to a curious little area where monkeys periodically came to eat flowers off the petal-strewn stairs that lead to somewhere that is not the Hawa Mahal.

Nearby we found the actual entrance and purchased our entry fee. They charged Rod 50 INR and Pavan 10 INR. Foreigner entry fees are rather popular in India. At least these were more reasonable than the fee to visit the Taj Mahal (see post).

Inside the Hawa Mahal is basically a courtyard and a few rooms for support staff sitting behind the street-facing facade.

Inside the facade there are some nice rooms with an excellent view out and a fabulous airy feel. The breezes on the second story and higher make it a wonderful place to be out of the sun for a few minutes.

After the Hawa Mahal we headed out in search of the City Palace.  This is the politest salesman in Jaipur.

Along the way we passed through several sets of pretty cool gates that are about as wide as an automobile, making finding a time to dash through slightly stressful.

The City Palace doesn't really have things that blow you away individually but the combined effect is quite impressive. First we saw the Mubarek Mahal.

The Chandra Mahal flies the flag of the royal family. The flag is one-and-a-quarter flags in reference to the title Sawai (literaly one-and-a-quarter) claimed by the Maharajas (wikipedia has more on why).

The Diwan-I-Khas, which we somehow didn't get many pictures of, contains two huge silver urns. Apparently  these were built to carry water of the Ganges along with a Maharaja on a trip to England to avoid sins involving English water.

Inside a small courtyard known as the Pitam Niwas Chowk are a number of remarkably ornate gates, one for each season. The peacock gate is probably the highlight.

After the City Palace we headed for Jantar Mantar. Described as similar to stepping into a real life Alice-in-Wonderland scene, this is a large area full of bizarre and wonderful astronomical instruments. Right away how can you not be blown away at the Laghu Samrat Yantra, a sundial that can give the time to an accuracy of 20 seconds (more detail in placard).

Nearby a mysterious bowl of star-mappery.

If one found the Laghu Samrat Yantra the least bit impressive then you have to be blown away by the Vrihat Samrat Yantra, a sundial accurate to two seconds.

And of course why use one giant dial when you could have a phased sundial array (made up name!).

After the Jantar Mantar we figured we would grab an auto-rickshaw to go see the sun gods temple, which we read was overrun by monkeys. Naturally the auto-rickshaw people near Jantar Mantar all wanted ludicrous rates so it took us a good bit of debate to get a reasonable fare and that was still double what Lonely Planet figured we should aim to pay. Ah well. Right at the entrance was a lamppost that looked cool and served to mark a local monkey bathing pond. Look closely; how many monkeys are in this picture?

To reach the temple a short walk was required. This walk was rich in monkeys and people eager to sell things, guide services, or merely to beg.

 On passing the top of the first little hill we saw there was a way down into a kind of small valley with some nifty looking building so we headed down along the richly monkeyed road. It was rather hot; a salesman with water bottles could have named their price.

At the bottom was a plethora of monkeys!

One clever chap had acquired some fabric and put on a pretty good show with it.

We purchased some food and had a go at monkey feeding. Some of the monkeys were skittish, others were pretty darn bold.

Pretty nice monkey playground really!

The sun was beginning to dip so we headed back with some monkeys to check out the sun gods temple.

After a short look we headed down through the animals.

On the way down we encountered a fairly determined woman who wanted some of Pavan's money. She had a typical snake basket and on seeing Pavan cringe away began advancing on her holding out the snake basket. Not cool at all. Luckily we were able to run her off. Even the locals didn't seem to approve; several local chaps told her off in stern sounding tones.

At the bottom the first patch of auto-rickshaw drivers generously offered to take us back for merely five times what we'd paid to get there. Rod expressed concern at being cheated; one of the drivers expressed his opinion he could out-curse Rod and we departed before things really went downhill. A short distance outside we got a ride for a much more reasonable rate.

We stopped to eat and on a whim decided to try Indian McDonalds. Mmm, McAloo (potato) Tikki and Chicken Maharaja Mac. The really sad thing is that in North America McDonalds serves crap that tastes bad. In India they serve food that could be good - like seasoned potatoes - and then deep fry it and wrap it in a white flour bun. Hard to believe this garbage can compete against real Indian food which is way better and, in India, way cheaper.

Nearby the Raj Mandir was lit up for the night.

And with that it was time to go back to the hotel for the evening. We called one of the drivers we had used during the day who we liked (many of them give cards in case you would like to hire them for a day) and engaged him for the following day to see some of the slightly less accessible stuff. In retrospect we should have done this even for the downtown stuff; the convenience alone would have been worth it.

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