Monday, 23 January 2012

Rajasthan - India's incredible state?

Not sure the double meaning was intentional

We flew to Udaipur, in Rajasthan, from Mumbai and spent two nights there. Rajasthan means the 'land of kings' and I don't know about you, but to me the name instantly conjures up visions of maharajas

Although Udaipur is a fairly touristy destination, its setting (around a lake and surrounded by hills) and smallish population (less than 500 000 people) meant that it was one of my favourite destinations in India.

We were in a lovely haveli-style hotel too, which made us feel rather like maharajas ourselves! (A haveli is a traditional Rajasthani residence, often ornately decorated). 

stairway in our hotel

The main attraction in Udaipur is probably the City Palace, which is Rajasthan's largest. 

Construction began in the 16th century, and the palace is composed of a series of courtyards, terraces, corridors and gardens

view over Udaipur from City Palace

Very difficult to get a picture of the whole palace is its facade is 250 metres long and  30 metres high!

The emblem of Udai Singh, the maharaja who built the palace, was the sun, and it's a recurrent theme in the decoration.

In Mor Chowk (Peacock Courtyard):

peacocks are the favourite Rajasthani bird 

The palace stands on the edge of Lake Pichola, which is an artificial fresh water lake. Our guidebooks warned us it might be dry  - as apparently this has often been the case in previous years - but apparently there's been enough rain recently.

Lake Pichola from the City Palace

There are several islands in the lake and on one of them stands the famous Taj Lake Palace Hotel, often voted the best and/or most romantic hotel in India. It was originally a palace built in the 18th century.

Taj Lake Palace Hotel on Jagniwas island

Other things to see in Udaipur include the Jagdish temple, built in 1651, and the Bagore-ki-Haveli which is a haveli built by a Prime Minister and now transformed into a museum.

brass statue at Jagdish temple

On our second day we went to see the Saheliyon-ki-Bari which is an 18th century ornamental garden laid out for a princess's attendants. It is next to another of Udaipur's four lakes, Fateh Sagar Lake.

in Saheliyon-ki-Bari.

Afterwards we were able to visit something which is not on most tourist circuits - the Royal Cenotaph.

A cenotaph is  normally an empty tomb or monument for someone whose remains are elsewhere.

four-face statues

makes me think of Escher

Many of these kings' wives and concubines committed - or had to commit - sati (immolation of a recent widow) when the king was cremated.

 Our last stop in Udaipur was at the market.

selling tea

making and selling baskets



We then flew from Udaipur to Jaipur commonly known as the 'Pink City'. This is because in 1876 the Maharaja Ram Singh had the entire  Old City painted pink (traditionally a colour associated with hospitality) to welcome the then Prince of Wales.

one of Jaipur's old city gates


The Hawa Mahal or 'Palace of the Winds' is probably one of Jaipur's best known buildings.

Hawa Mahal, streetside.

It was built in 1799 by the Maharaja to allow court ladies to watch city life.

Hawa Mahal from the inside.

From the Hawa Mahal we had a view to the nearby Jantar Mantar observatory, and that was what we visited next.

This observatory was one of the reasons for which we chose to visit Jaipur as my husband was very interested to see it. Literally its name means 'calculation instrument'.

one of the 12 instruments of the Rasivalaya - to measure
the celestial latitude and longitude of the 12 celestial bodies

It was built by Maharaja Jai Singh II, a lover of astronomy, between 1727-1734 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Samrat Yantra - the world's largest sundial

He also built four more observatories in Delhi, Varanasi, Mathura and Ujjain but the one in Jaipur is the largest, best preserved and only one in working order. (We stopped by the observatory in Delhi on the next leg of our trip and effectively found it to be disappointing compared to this one).

one of the two circular plates of the Narivalaya - a sundial

The Yantra Raj - for observing altitudes to
find time & positions of the heavenly bodies

The Kapali Yantra - representation of half the celestial sphere.
Used to find all the positions of the heavenly bodies.

one of two hemispherical bowl structures of the Jai Prakash Jantar -
to find out the positions of the celestial bodies during days & nights

Afterwards we visited the City Palace of Jaipur which is nearby.

In the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience) are two enormous silver urns, the largest sterling silver objects in the world. They were used by the Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II to take take holy Ganges water to England in 1901.

one of the silver vessels, with a capacity of 400 l & weighing 340 kg

Once again we saw peacocks, the one below was one several decorating the Autumn, or Peacock, Gate in the Pitam Niwas Chowk - one of the inner courtyards which has four gates, each dedicated to a season and a Hindu god.

the autumn gate is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu

the lotus, or summer, gate in the Pitam Niwas Chowk,
dedicated to Shiva

Near the City Palace we saw this colourfully decorated temple:

The next day we went about 10 km north-east of Jaipur to Amber, passing by (but not stopping at) Jal Mahal palace in the middle of Man Sagar Lake.

Jal Mahal Palace

Amber is a fort-palace built in the late 16th century using sandstone and marble.

in the Jaleb Chowk or main courtyard

looking down to Maota Lake and garden

Ganesh Pol gives access to the private quarters of the Maharajas

the fort is surrounded by a 9 km-long wall

Afterwards we visited Jaigarh Fort which is a short steep walk uphill from Amber, and is apparently connected to the latter by a underground tunnel.

view of Amber from Jaigarh

It was built in 1726 to protect Amber fort and palace and is situated on a hill called the Cheel ka Teela (Hill of Eagles).

Jaivana cannon, constructed in 1720 and 6 metres long

After three nights spent in Jaipur we took a bus to Delhi for the next part of our trip!

Suggested reading:

A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur by Gayatri Devi. Memoirs of the last Maharani of Jaipur, a daughter and widow of Maharajas. Raised in a sumptuous palace staffed with 500 servants, she shot her first panther when she was twelve. She appeared on the lists of the world's most beautiful women. She describes her carefree tomboy childhood; her secret six-year courtship with the dashing, internationally renowned polo player, Jai the Maharaja of Jaipur; and her marriage and entrance into the City Palace of the 'pink city' where she had to adjust to unfamiliar customs and life with his two wives. 


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