Rajasthan - a lesson in History, Beauty and Architecture

4th Jul 2017

Madhavendra Bhavan

Photo of Rajasthan - a lesson in History, Beauty and Architecture by Nandini Ramesh

For someone who was averse to studying History all through school years, my recent visit to Jaipur and Udaipur was a pleasant reminder about how interesting History could be! A better late than never sort of realization. Visiting this desert state of India during the off-season was one of the best decisions I have made. Yes, it was hot! But isn't temperature relative?! For a Bangalorean, yes, it felt sweltering. Once I got past that temperature shock and told myself that complaining was strictly not allowed, I began to enjoy my trip!

Photo of Rajasthan - a lesson in History, Beauty and Architecture 1/2 by Nandini Ramesh
Jaipur City Palace

We spent 4 days in Jaipur and 2 days in Udaipur. In both cities, we rented out rooms in home-stays via Airbnb. At Nahar Singh Haveli in Jaipur, it was the comfort of a hotel combined with the personal touch of interacting with the host who is so passionate, knowledgeable and rightly proud about his state! At Udaipur, we experienced a very gracious host in Mrs. Harinder.

Photo of Rajasthan - a lesson in History, Beauty and Architecture 2/2 by Nandini Ramesh

While at Jaipur, we visited Jantar Mantar, City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal, Jaigarh, Nahargarh, Amber Palace, Isar Lat, Bhangarh and Chand Bawri in Abhaneri village. What stood out for me were the visits to Hawa Mahal, Nahargarh and Chand Bawri. Although the internet has detailed information about the significance of each of these places, we did hire the service of a guide in most of these places. With no exception, all guides will take you to the local handicraft emporium which sell artifacts made by local artisans. Heavy on the pockets but worth visiting at least one emporium, even if you do not intend to purchase anything.

Isar Lat - built by Sawai Ishwari Singh

Photo of Jaipur, Rajasthan, India by Nandini Ramesh

High atop the Hawa Mahal - Yes, that is the City Palace.

Photo of Jaipur, Rajasthan, India by Nandini Ramesh

Did you know that there is more to the Hawa Mahal than its facade? At least until this visit, I did not! The whole structure was constructed to represent the crown of Lord Krishna, the favourite God of the Royals of Jaipur. The seemingly single block structure of the facade represents the jewelled front part of the crown while in the rear it has a courtyard where guests of the erstwhile Kings used to be entertained during Holi celebrations. It is complete with a water bath which has now been converted to a fountain display. On three sides, the courtyard is surrounded by corridors/ assembly areas and on the fourth side (rear of the facade), there are rooms with a purpose. The entry to each level is through a special gateway called pol and each level is accessed through a ramp. The main reason for constructing the Hawa Mahal was to allow the Royal ladies to view processions while still maintaining purdah. The entire structure incorporates hundreds of Jharokas which provide superb cross-ventilation and air conditioning. The lowest level is where the Royal ladies of bygone times "window shopped". The upper levels house rooms meant for grooming and private religious ceremonies. The last two levels are open to the sky and are called the Prakash Mahal which was meant for use during winters when light and warmth were scarce. The monument also includes strategically placed surveillance towers. In addition, a secret passageway connects the Hawa Mahal to the residential area of the City Palace. Quite obviously, the passageway is not accessible to the public. All windows placed in the facade wall offer a semi-panoramic view of the street below. Window panes are coloured to allow for play of light as well as to block views of the bygone royal goings-on from prying eyes.

Hawa Mahal facade by day

Photo of Hawa Mahal, Hawa Mahal Road, Badi Choupad, Pink City, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India by Nandini Ramesh

Hawa Mahal facade by night

Photo of Hawa Mahal, Hawa Mahal Road, Badi Choupad, Pink City, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India by Nandini Ramesh

Inside the Nahargarh fort, what captivated me was the Madhavendra Bhavan and the wax museum which is a recent addition to promote tourism. Madhavendra Bhavan was the residential palace of the nine queens of Sawai Madho Singh II. Nine identical, two-storied apartment for each queen in a common complex is indeed romantic. It is difficult not to imagine yourself living that life! The entrance to each apartment is accessible from a common rectangular courtyard. There are four apartments each on the right and left and one straight ahead. The apartment of the King is right above the entrance to the courtyard. Each apartment is complete with a portico, a living room, kitchen and store room, bathroom, bedroom and dressing room. The ground floor houses the Queen during winters while the 1st floor, which incorporates Jharokas, was meant for use during the summers. The portico in the 1st floor also has the facility to harvest rainwater. A short flight of steps leads you to the terrace which offers spectacular views of the city of Jaipur. The doors of the small sitting area in each apartment are aligned in a parallel fashion and must have facilitated communication between queens, who were forbidden from visiting each other. The King had his own passageway thorough which he had access to each of his queens. This he could do in private and avoid unpleasant domestic showdowns! ;) The King's apartment has now been converted to a restaurant. Credit must be given to the architects of yore - mind boggling architecture combined with a functional and simple layout speaks volumes about their impeccable sense of planning!

A queen's apartment - in the foreground, the rainwater harvesting inlet is visible

Photo of Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India by Nandini Ramesh

The wax museum is worth the visit - figures are displayed on platforms that represent the life of each personality and a keen attention to detail is clearly visible. Most statues are realistic and the facial features are extremely accurate. As you move from one figure to another, the settings invoke feelings of patriotism, respect, amusement or awe depending on the personality. There is a balanced representation of prominent figures from pre-independent India, sports, movies and music, scientists, religion as well as sci-fic super heroes. There is a separate section for the Royals of Rajasthan. When you look up at the statue of Maharana Pratap you actually get gooseflesh! The tour ends when you make your way to the podium for Her Highness Rajmata Gayatri Devi. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was indeed a statue. I almost bowed down to the epitome of grace!

India is dotted with ancient step-wells, no doubt. But no number of pictures or descriptions could have prepared me for the spectacular sight of Chand Bawri in Abhaneri district. The thought of a beautiful relationship between geometry and engineering flashed through my mind. The view is breathtaking and is a must-see. Aesthetics combined with functionality - architectural style of the old. No words can describe this experience!

The stage and summer dwelling were later additions

Photo of Chand Bawri, Step Well, Abhaneri, Rajasthan, India by Nandini Ramesh

Chand Bawri - mathematical repititions

Photo of Chand Bawri, Step Well, Abhaneri, Rajasthan, India by Nandini Ramesh

A 7 hour journey via train saw us in Udaipur, aka white city or Venice of the East. The narrow lanes, the view of the water and the ghats, lanes that elevate and dip down, tuk-tuks rushing about, temple towers peeking out from above tinier buildings - all this and more bowled me over. And what's more, I had to remind myself that we were indeed in Udaipur and not in Varanasi!

At Bagore ki haveli

Photo of Udaipur, Rajasthan, India by Nandini Ramesh

We visited Kumbhalgarh, Ranakpur, Bagore ki haveli, Jagdish temple, City Palace, Fateh sagar, Pichola lake, Vintage car museum, Dudh thalai, Karni mata ropeway and Sajjangarh biological park. Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur are day trips from Udaipur and there are numerous taxis available for hire. The rest of the places can be covered in the famous tuk-tuks. These guys have an information card handy and you can either decide to visit all these places or pick the ones that interest you. And yes, do not forget to decide on the price before the ride and do bring out your bargaining skills. A nominal amount is 700 rupees and he will be at your disposal the entire day. If you wish to visit the monsoon palace atop the hill, do rent an Ola cab for about 4 hours. Autos are barred entry into the hill section.

On the way to Kumbhalgarh

Photo of Rajasthan - a lesson in History, Beauty and Architecture by Nandini Ramesh

Do you see the never-ending fort wall?

Photo of Rajasthan - a lesson in History, Beauty and Architecture by Nandini Ramesh

It is but difficult to describe the sense of awe I felt when I laid eyes on the fort of Kumbha, the birth place of Maharana Pratap. The location of the fort, the fortifying wall and its structure, the many many temples within the fortress, deliberate architectural designs - these definitely depict a genius mind at work. The fort wall, 36 km long and in the shape of a ring, is claimed to be the longest wall in the world, second only to the Great Wall of China. The citadels are pot-shaped and used to be coated with a paste which rendered the walls super smooth. This made it impossible for an enemy to scale the fort wall even with the use of monitor lizards. The deadly spikes and hooks on the fort doors would have brought about excruciating death of an elephant ramming against the doors. Cannons placed strategically were used to take the enemy out in case they were able to gain entry into the fort by some miracle. The advantage of the view of the expansive area outside the fort must have offered excellent surveillance opportunities. The fort walls disappear among the vegetation at close range and this must have instantly put an unwanted visitor under disadvantage. If this kind of planning is not the work of a genius, then what is?! Kumbhalgarh is 100km from Udaipur and the drive is through narrow, winding roads in a hilly terrain. The road isn't great in many places and it was literally a roller coaster ride! The lush green hills, patches of neat, green farms, the winding Gomti river and eventually the fort itself more than compensate for the bumpy drive.

The second longest wall in the world

Photo of Kumbhalgarh Fort, Qila Kumbhalgarh, Rajasthan, India by Nandini Ramesh

Boating in the Fateh sagar and Pichola lake are most memorable! We did Fateh sagar under moonlight and Pichola during the late afternoon. The cool breeze that kisses your cheeks make you want to stay on the lake permanently. The views of the different islands are superb and the City Palace standing tall on the banks of the Pichola lake looks majestic indeed. While you are at it, visit the eateries along Fateh sagar. They have road side seating with excellent views of the lake and all stalls serve the same kind of street food. The pav bhaji and cold coffee were delicious.

Udaipur City Palace along the banks of the Pichola Lake

Photo of Fateh Sagar Road, Moti Magri Scheme, Zinc Park, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India by Nandini Ramesh

Likewise, a visit to Udaipur is incomplete without a meal in a rooftop restaurant. If you are willing to shell out a few grands, then Ambrai is the one to go to. If not, a lot of restaurants in the vicinity of the Jagdish temple offer good views of the lake and are quite friendly on your pocket. We visited one of the restaurants (Sun and Moon) by night and the other (Millets of Mewar) by noon and were not disappointed by the food with a view!

View from Millets of Mewar

Photo of Lake Pichola, Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India by Nandini Ramesh

This is one trip that was heavy on things to see and do but also rejuvenating to the mind. Never thought I would feel good to be back home. I can only say that when a vacation makes you want to go back home and begin planning for another one, it has achieved its purpose!

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