Rajasthan, literally meaning Land of Kings, was once a collection of states ruled by individual Rajas (Kings). Today it is the largest state in India, and the region's sumptuous past is recalled through the many palaces and forts. Arriving in Jaipur, the state's capital, we noticed that camel carts now accompany those pulled by cows and horses. And the vibrant reds, saffrons, limes, cobalts and golds of the many sarees, punctuate the sandy colours of the desert and the pinky red tone of the Old City's architecture.
Photos by Ben Journee
We visited Amber Fort the afternoon we arrived in Jaipur. Amber (or Amer) was once the capital of the Kachhwaha Maharajas (before Jaipur) and was built by Raja Man Singh I in 1592. The fort resides on top of a hill, and overlooks the small village of Amber and the manmade Maota Lake and gardens.
We followed the route that dignitaries and royal cavalcades (processions on horseback) would once take, entering through the Sun Gate after winding up the wide pathway, into the first main courtyard (called the Jaleb Chowk, which means place for soldiers to assemble). From here, one enters the main palace grounds, which houses the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audiences), through another gate at the top of an impressive staircase.
A focal point of this space is the stunning Ganesh Pol (Ganesh Gate). This is the entrance way into the private palaces of the maharajas, and its intricate design and careful inlay work befits the lifestyle of Mughal royalty. Above this gate is the space called the Suhag Mandir where the women of the royal family would watch functions in the Diwan-i-Am from behind lattice windows, where they could see without being seen, and thereby maintaining purdah (female seclusion and veiling, the term literally means 'curtain').
In the private palaces there is the summer palace, on the second story to catch the breeze, and the winter palace directly below which is covered in mesmerising mirror mosaics.
We passed a group of school children when we were looking around the winter palace. Upon seeing the camera around Ben's neck, they all wanted their photo taken, we certainly didn't mind!
After winding through the hallways and ramps, which are corrugated to act as brakes for the wheeled chairs that royal women (with heavy garments) were pushed around on, you come to the closed off zenana (meaning 'of the women') apartments or harem, where the (many) wives and concubines of the maharaja would spend their time.
Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II became King of Amber at the age of 11 in 1699. Facing the problem of living space in the small town of Amber, Jai Singh founded the new capital of Jaipur, and turned the walls of the planned city pink (to imitate the red sandstone found in Delhi and Agra), a now identifying feature of this city.
When he founded his new city, Jai Singh II also decided on the location for the royal cremation grounds, and we visited the awe-inspiring, miniature Taj Mahal cenotaphs belonging to him and his family. The complex is called Gaitore (believed to be a mispronunciation of the Hindi phrase 'Gaye ka Thor' meaning 'resting place of departed souls'). It was peaceful, with only a handful of other visitors, and such a beautiful place to wander and admire.
Our time in Jaipur was also spent visiting the City Palace, which is still the seat of the royal family, the Jantar Mantar, or royal observatory developed by Jai Singh II who had a sincere, and possibly obsessive, love of astronomy, and the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) that was the harem for the wives and concubines of the maharaja, and originally connected to the main palace complex by underground tunnels.