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India – Day 2 – Tour of Jaipur

Our guide and driver met us at 9 am for an 8 hour tour of Jaipur and Amber. Our guide had never met our driver and had lived in Jaipur for 20 years. However they realized they were both free up in Simla (in Kashmir) and were amused by the connection.
Our first destination was the Amber Fort. This fort is primarily constructed of sandstone.It sits on top of a short mountain, about half as tall as the Santa Monica range in Los Angeles. Therefore the way to reach the fortified place is to hire a World War II era Jeep. Think M.A.S.H.
The Amber fortified palace is constructed in the Mughal style that blends Persian and Indian aesthetics. It was built in the 16th century.  The palace has several sections. The public court sits about 30 feet above a parade ground. The public court is a columned and covered structure. The king would sit on a Divan with nobles to conduct the business of ruling. His subjects would sit outside of this structure. The columns betray one difference between Jai Singj and his Muslim, Mughal emperor. The columns are topped with elephant heads and miniature elephants supporting the roof of the court. This animal ornamentation would not be permitted in a Muslim construction.
Day 2 - Jaipur - Amber Fort from afar
We next left the court to enter the palace and sole domain of the king. Within his inner chambers is a “hall of mirrors” constructed out of Makrana marble and highly polished court mirrors. The king would entertain other kings an VIPs in this private chamber. Our guide encouraged us to imagine the  scene at night with the mirrors capturing and reflecting the light of torches under a crisp night sky.
detail of hall of mirrors

detail of hall of mirrors

The views from several points around the fort and palace were quite spectacular. Along the ridge of the mountain range runs a several kilometers long wall that is 20 to 50 feet tall.
The experience reminded me of touring the Alhambra in Granada and the Red Fort in Agra.
We next went to an artisan workshop to see a textile technique for which Rajastani is famous but to which I was unaware – block printing. The technique involves hand stamping bolts of cloth with carven wooden blocks. Blocks are 6×6 to 10×10 inches in dimension, there fore care must be taken to align each print with those made earlier. Patterns can range from 2 to 9 colors, with each color using its own stamp.
We were in luck as the current King, Padmanabh Singh, a 17 year old who was coronated 5 years ago was in town whereas he normally resides in England. Our guide pointed out that the Indian flag is only flown above the palace when he is in residence.
Part of this palace has been opened to the public. This palace was constructed in the 18th century. It was interesting to see how the court was set up similarly to the older court at the Amber Palace.
Rajastani’s are rightfully proud of the Makrana marble I mentioned earlier. This marble is the only non-porous marbles of the worlds great marble quarries. This means it does not wear or discolor as other marbles. The marble also captures light and glows or of cut thin enough becomes translucent. This is the marble used to build the Taj Mahal. I also read that it was used in the White House.
The reason I am going on about the marble is that I purchased a small sculpture of an elephant made of this marble. The royal family supports traditional artisans by providing a small shop wear skilled craftsman work and sell goods to tourist. The majority of artisans are miniature painter, but he assortment of marble elephants is what caught my attention. We had seen fine marble sculptures of elephants guarding the palace that were about 3 feet high. My elephant is about 2 inches high.
 Day 2 - Jaipur my favorite Markana sculpture an elephant
Jai Singh had more surprises waiting for us. He was known as an astronomer warrior. He built large astronomical instruments out of doors. There are multiple sun dials the largest of which has an apex over 50 feet above the ground. He built these instruments on a scale not seen before that increases the resolution and precision of the devices.
Jai Singh's invention

Jai Singh’s invention

 Day 2 - Jaipur - World's largest sun-dialWorld’s Largest Sun Dial (Above)
At this point the heat finally caught up with us. It had been 105oF but we’d mostly been going on and out of the shade. The observatory was open to the sun and Erim and I decided to have lunch.
After lunch we turned our attention to contemporary diversions primarily shopping in the posh C. Scheme. We checked visited Gem Palace, Jaipur Moderm and Anoki. We had read about these shops in our travel guid Love Jaipur.
Gem Palace was the most established of the business. The brother’s who run the gem shop come from a family of jewelers that have worked in Jaipur since the city was founded. In addition to a sparkly collection of gems and jewelry, they have a collection of antique cars, a collection of trophies from winning antique car shows, and operate out of a hoveli house which is a traditional Rajastani house designed to let breezes in but dust and sand out.
 Day 2 - Jaipur - Erin get's a fancy present
The next two destinations could both easily exist in the Abbott Kinney shopping district of Venice, Los Angeles, California.Jaipur Modern offers hip clothing, hand bags, jewelry, and a small selection of housewares (primarily pillows). Erin bought a few gifts here.Anoki was opened by a designer who wanted to ensure that block printing remains relevant and a source of employment for those families traditionally creating these patterns and textiles. The shop is a boutique abounding in color and complex patterns. I found a shirt I fell in love with and Erin found several tops. I’m seriously thinking about importing these for Abboty Kinney.
We were tuckered. We asked our guide for a dinner recommendation to try another night of Rajastani food. He suggested Spice Court near our hotel. I then asked him what place has the best lamb. He said that Jaipur was to big a city to say best. I tried another angle and asked “if you could only eat lamb one more time in your life, where would you go. Without hesitation to this request he replied “Jammie’s Kitchen”. We checked TripAdvisor when we got back to our hotel. Spice Court was ranked #96 among restaurants and Jammie’s Kitchen was ranked #19. It wAs clear we were going to Jammie’s.
I had expected Jammie’s to be local, working class, with pots of lamb curried huddled over ranges. Instead everything about the restaurant was quite chic. We ordered Laal Maas which we’d had the night before and Laal Junglee which is a traditional preparation when soldiers were on the march. We also ordered a shahi paneer, and a dal with black gram. It was the best Indian food Erin and I have ever had.  Jammie came by and remarked that must be too hot for you (as the order had been taken back to the kitchen withou notification that we were westerners). We assured him it was fine and favorable.
 Day 2 - Jaipur - Spicy Rajahastrian food at Jammie's Kitchen
However later that night as I lay in bed I felt my digestive system revolting against the intense spice and quantity of butter. I held everything down but was noticeably weakened. I’ve been recovering from something the past two days. All of our guides tell me it’s true heat. They could be right. Though I was pretty confident about my constitution 105oF is nothing to mess with.
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Categories: India, Jaipur

India – Day 1 – Afternoon Arrival in Jaipur

We hit the road after our brief morning in Delhi. Our coach was a comfortable Toyota mini-van and we’d spend about 16 hours in over four days as we traveled from Delhi to Jaipur, from Jaipur to Agra and Agra back to Delhi.
I had a lot of misconceptions when I first learned about Jaipur, The Pink City, back in 2005. First I imagined it was primarily a historical city. Shortly before flying to India I realized Jaipur has a population of 3 million, so it’s larger than most U.S. cities. I had also mistakenly thought the old city was constructed completely of sandstone thus earning Jaipur the title of The Pink City. Instead the structures are made of wood and plaster and painted a distinct pink.  I thought the city was built in the Before Common Era, instead it was built in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II.
What was striking about our entry through the streets of Jaipur was how active stalls were immediately adjacent to building of grandeur stature such as the Veiled Balconies, the palace, and the mosque. The vibrancy of life on the street in the form of vendors, men sitting in chairs, families walking on the side of the street, cows in the street, auto rickshaws, scooters, and bicycles were all a little over whelming. Our driver confidently navigated us to our hotel the Jai Mahal.
The Jai Majal is a former palace which has been extended and converted into a hotel by the Taj Hotels group. What I liked most about the property was the courtyard defined by sandstone lattices and structures. There is a patio to sit at looking over the grounds where Erin and I first sat out to watch the sunset. We had a low key night after our full day. We watched a 30 minute performance of traditional dance and then had dinner in the hotel restaurant Cinnamon.
Cinnamon is ranked in the top 20 restraints in Jaipur by Trip Advisor. We were able to try several Rajastani dishes that were new to us.  Laal Maas, a curried lamb, corn meal roti, and a dal with lentils and gram.
It was fascinating to arrive in Jaipur. When I had first learned of the Pink City in 2005 I mistakenly thought it had been founded a thousand years earlier and that all of the buildings were sandstone. You first pass through Amer before arriving in Jaipur. You descend from the mountains into Jaipur with several large sights on the way, the Amer fort, the Amer wall, and the lake palace.
Categories: India, Jaipur