Monday, 02-03-2015. Day 194. (Part Two).
This update brought to you by the letter J.
After coming down from the Amber Palace, we headed straight into the heart of Jaipur where we suddenly stopped at a spot and our guide said, "Get out here and make nice picture." So we got out and took a picture of this building that our guide called the "Honeycomb Palace." The streets here were really busy, so we got back into the car and started off. When we asked him what that was, he replied with, "The Honeycomb Palace" (remember, this guy was not a the best guide we'd ever had). But we found out later it was the ...
The Hawa Mahal, more commonly known as the Wind Palace, is connected to the City Palace and was built so royal ladies could watch the festivities on the streets below without showing their faces. Which of course brings us to ...
The City Palace
Our guide, who seemed most excited about the City Palace, told us we had two options when visiting. We could pay 250 rupees each and see just the regular public side or we could pay 2,500 rupees each to see the side of the castle where the royal family still lived. We opted for the former.
But who is this royal family? Are they direct descendents of the Rajput Maharajahs like Rajah Man Singh? Or from another royal line entirely? Maybe there was some interesting history to be imparted here, but we didn't get it. In fact, there's not too much I can tell you about this place other than one courtyard we visited has some really nice doors.
There were also a lot of small galleries inside the palace, but photography was not allowed in any of them (and there were plenty of burly guards in place to ensure compliance). The one thing that was memorable here was a pair of the maharajah's pajamas—I have no idea which maharajah he was, but he was a pretty rotund gentleman.
After a brief stop at some sort of handicraft mall inside the City Palace, we walked across the street to the nearby Jantar Mantar, which was one of the coolest things we'd seen in India.
Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of five ancient observatories built throughout the Rajasthan area in the mid to late 18th century by Rajput Majarajah Jai Singh II, a contemporary of Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal Emperor (who was the son of Shan Jahan, the man who built the Taj Mahal). Jai Singh II was obsessed with astronomy and he managed, amid a very tumultuous period in Indian history, to build these impressive collections of concrete instruments that were used to accurately measure celestial goings on.
Laghu Samrat Yantra
A small sundial that accurately reports Jaipur time to within 20 seconds. But even as accurate as it is, it isn't set to India Standard Time. Like China, the entire country of India is all on the same time, which is UTC +5:30 (by comparison, Pacific Standard Time is UTC -8:00). Why the :30 offset? I have no idea, but it was sort of weird.
It seems that Jai Singh II was obsessed with accuracy as much as astronomy, because he built an even larger sundial on the site that stands more than 27 meters tall and ranks among the world's largest sundials. It's supposedly accurate to two seconds.
This map of the universe made up of two complementary spheres was used to find the positions of all the heavenly bodies, according to the nearby engraved plaque. According to our guide, it was used in conjunction with the 12 Rashivalayas (below), but I couldn't find any supporting information about that.
Jaya Prakash Yantra
These twin half-spheres are allegedly a refined version of the Kapali Yantra (above), so also used to find the positions of all the heavenly bodies—and it maps the Sun's position in the sky.
There are 12 of these devices, one for each of zodiac sign and each can be used to measure celestial latitude and longitude of celestial objects.
These twin open cylindrical towers were used to measure the azimuth and altitude of the Sun and the heavenly bodies. They were covered with very fine gradations along the edges of vertical and horizontal marble slabs. There was also an iron rod in the center of one of the cylinders to act as a measuring device.
The whole thing was pretty impressive. And if building five different observatories spread out over hundreds of miles during a time of political strife wasn't enough, Jai Sing II was also the gent who was responsible for building the entire city of Jaipur.
After a lunch at some very touristy (but not bad) place, our guide told us he was going to take us to visit a place where they cut the gems. We knew what that really meant and told him we weren't really interested in that, but what we'd rather do is take in one of Jaipur's marketplaces.
But apparently he didn't have any interest in our plan. So he told Rakesh (our driver) that he was bored. Meaning, he wouldn't get a cut for taking us to a shop, so he wasn't interested in taking us through a market. So he said goodbye and Rakesh dropped us off at one end of the market and told us to walk down the street; he'd meet us at the arch at the other end.
At first it we were a little nervous. This was the first time we'd been on our own since we landed in India, the area was pretty busy, and we were the only tourist-looking types around. But, like so many things that seem overwhelming at first, it wasn't too bad. It also wasn't quite what we were expecting. We thought there would be more of a bazaar-type set-up, but it was a long string of narrow shops along a busy street, not too dissimilar from a long strip mall. There were all sorts of things on sale—food, jewelry, scarfs, shawls, and pretty much anything else people had tried to sell us over the past few days—but the most noticeable were all the powders that people would be throwing at each other for the Holi celebration in a few days. The girls even bought some jewelry (and negotiated).
At the end of the street we met up with Rakesh and he asked us if we wouldn't reconsider going to the gem cutters. It seemed there was no escaping it, so we agreed. On the way, he took us by Jaipur's Albert Hall Museum.
Jaipur is known as the pink city. This is because in 1876 the whole city was painted pink to greet Edward the Prince of Wales. While he was there, the foundation for the Albert Hall Museum was laid (Edward also went by the name Albert), and ever since there's been an Albert Hall in Jaipur. We didn't go inside though.
Selling Opportunity Number Five: Gem Cutters
This one started much the same way as all the others, with the most basic of demonstrations, before we were shuttled into the shop and shown the gems. It must have been pretty obvious we weren't interested in buying because the guy didn't push too hard. He was pretty nice, though, and answered all of Jackie's questions about gems.
So the girls don't want to ride elephants, but they make no such distinction for camels. So Rakesh arranged for a camel ride for us. It was a short ride, only about 15 minutes, but Frankie loved it, and Jackie, although a little nervous about it at the beginning, ended up loving it, too.
On the way back the gent leading my camel looks up at me and says, "Tip for the camel driver sir?" I nodded and said, "Of course." I'd planned on tipping the guys (hey, this was India after all), but I sure couldn't do it from the top of a camel—and I only had 100 rupees in my wallet. I had intended to give them each 50, so when I dismounted I asked Rakesh if he had 50 rupees I could borrow (bad form, I know), but he didn't. So I gave them 100 to split between the three of them, which seemed to enrage these guys.
After we escaped irate camel drivers, we headed out to dinner, but not before stopping off at the tailor's to pick up the shirts Jackie and Samantha had commissioned. Apparently this "We'll deliver them you your hotel in two hours" business isn't quite the solid promise it's cracked up to be. Go figure.
- UNESCO World Heritage sites visited 1 (24 cumulative)
- Dead cows: 1
- Groups of strangers who wanted photos with us: 3