Going back in time to the royal richness and gala grandiose – this was the only thing on my mind as I packed my bags for the Pink City of Rajasthan. Prior nightmares of fat history textbooks now seemed to dance in a more alluring manner before my eyes, for I could not wait to witness the live manifestation of all that I had read in those pages. A 3 day escape to royal heritage was the perfect break from contemporary lives and I took off to another time!
As I alighted, a mixed air of royal richness and modern chaos seemed to give the city a different buzz! Destination Uno was to be the City Palace right in the heart of the city, the cab veered off and I embarked on my architectural trail.
Constructed by Maharaja Sawai JaiSingh 2, the City Palace complex consisting of various “Mahals” welcomed me with an ornate grace. Murals and marble lattices of the Mughal Era came to life before my eyes as I entered through the richly adorned gate to many of the palaces – Chandra Mahal, Mubarak Mahal and the Diwan-I-Khas the private congregation hall of the emperor. A unique feature was the mixed influence of Mughal, Rajput as well as European architecture. Realms of informational reads revealed that this was the result of the fusion-based “Shilpa Shastras” of architecture, the principles and rules for forming statues, icons, murals etc. I gaped at the beautiful workmanship and admired the masterpieces in the museum-converted Chandra Mahal and was astonished to know that a portion of the palace continued to be a residence even till date! Interesting indeed!
My next stop was the much-talked about “Hawa Mahal” or “Palace of Winds” constructed by Sawai Pratap Singh, on Johri Bazaar Street. My curiosity was piqued as I was eager to know what was all the “air” or “hawa” about this famous monument! Indeed it was a masterpiece par excellence. 953 windows spread across 5 stories, designed to help the royal ladies enjoy the bazaar hustle bustle without being visible themselves, a requirement for ladies to adhere to the “Purdah” system. Decked up with red and pink sandstone, a brisk walk through the pretty palace perches accounted for a “windy” experience!
The afternoon saw me heading towards the elephant-ride routes to Amer Fort. Built by Raja Man Singh, it emanated a heady charm of yesteryears. I walked up the entrance slopes alongside the mighty elephant up to the first entrance gate, the Suraj Pol or Sun Gate. The crystalline waters of the beautiful Maotha lake sparkled in the afternoon sunlight. Opulence was the theme as I arrived at Sheesh Mahal, a palace adorned with mirrors of all sizes, shapes and colours beautifully crafted to excellence. One majestic gate led to the other as I witnessed each of the four courtyards and subsequently the Diwan-E-Aam the public hearing court of the Maharaja followed by the Sukh Mahal. A strange sense of happiness, something akin to the bygone era soaked me in a fuzzy warmth, even as the chilly winds of late afternoon whispered tales from the past.
Late evening called for sunset reflections in the waters of Jal Mahal. The ripples dancing with the sun rays seemed to pose playful tricks to the eyes as the mighty monument shimmered in the golden rays of the wilting sun. The day ended with a generous helping of traditional Thali- ‘Dal baati churma’ to satiate the palates after satiating the history buff in me!
I got up to the chilly fresh morning with a view to head further away from the city – the distant palaces it would be for today! The winding roads of Nahargarh took me through the wilderness of the outskirts as iridescent peacocks dotted the countryside, indeed a natural treat to the eyes! Built as a summer retreat for royalty by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh 2, it comprises various palaces and temples and is connected to Jaigarh fort. We headed to Jaigarh, all set to witness the memoirs of battles- for Jaigarh houses the biggest canon on wheels on display in full glory, a canon that was never used in war but only test fired once! This fort seemed to be the epitome of stealth and warfare tactics, being connected by secret passages to Amer and was the centre of security during times of war. It holds the badge of never having been conquered in battle in the history of its lifetime!
The day ended with a glimpse into the brilliance of our ancestors- a journey to well preserved sciences at Jantar Mantar, one of the largest observatories ever built! As I observed one instrument, each more magnificent that the previous, I could not help but gape at the scientific prowess on display. Right from the world’s largest sun dial called the “'Samrat Yantra'” to astrological enigmas, this marvel built by proficient astronomer himself, Maharaja Jai Singh II is a living example of the interstellar reach of our past people. Truly a wonder in itself!
The sun mellowed and after the heavy-duty information from past relics, I decided to engage in some light shopping moments – from colourful jootis or traditional sandals to famous Jaipur quilts – the buzzing bazaars had them all! The two-day escape to history thus proved to me an eye-opener to the treasures of architecture from our rich past. I returned a more informed and appreciative of those big fat books we were subjected to!