India: The Pink City of Jaipur

7 to 8 February 2015

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A very cool local bike shop

Rajasthan is culturally and historically rich. It reminds me of Gyeongju South Korea, Central Province Sri Lanka, Kansai Japan …all filled with top-notch priceless sites and attractions all within close proximity to one another. It is an excellent choice to pick Jaipur as the wedding venue since it is part of the Golden Triangle or how I like to call it- the Golden Bow tie.

It was even better that the wedding will last for two day (still short by Indian standards though).  There were breaks in between the various wedding activities which allowed the guests to do some sightseeing. As the capital of the state of Rajasthan, it was founded in 1727 by a Maharaja who moved from Amber due to a growing population. As the first planned city of India, the Maharaja played an active part in designing the layout of the city. Construction of the palaces, square, gates, city walls and roads took 4 years to complete. Jaipur is known as the ‘Pink City’ after it was painted pink to welcome the 1876 visit from the Prince of Wales. Actually, it was originally painted to imitate the red sandstone architecture of the Mughal cities. Pink added greater charm to the city, a place already rich in cultural and architectural wonders. The city grew at the turn of the 1900’s and had around 160,000 people living at the time. It merged with surrounding cities to form modern-day Rajasthan. This state is hands down the MOST culturally rich state in the whole of india. A perfect drug for a nut like me.

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The first day spent in Jaipur was mostly at the wedding venue. I only managed to do some sightseeing on the second day with a travel buddy wonderful Diana (Wendy’s friend). We headed out in the morning and tuk tuk our way around the Pink City with our super cool driver to see some great cultural sites.

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Our wonderful tuk tuk driver

First stop,Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Breeze, built in 1799 by the Maharaja is in fact a women chamber. Five storey-high and red in sandstone, it has over 950 windows which allow the royal ladies to stare outside and not feel so trapped whilst ensuring that onlookers can’t see them. It is called the Palace of Breeze due to its many windows and the breeze that circulates through them.

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Very pretty Mahal
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Old photos taken from the Internet of the streets and Palace of Breeze

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After the Palace of Breeze, we walked to the City Palace and on the way, I was distracted by a sea of colors and sounds. It is quite easy to catch my attention since I’m like a male satin bowerbird easily lured and attracted by bright things. Satin bowerbirds are endemic to Australia and males collect shiny colorful (especially blue) objects to design their nest (bower) so that they can find a mate. Anything that is bright or any sound that has a great beat grabs my attention….

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A local dance? festival? celebration?- anywhos, I joined in the fun

 

I found myself deviating from the initial path to the City Palace and stopping to observe the colorful commotion. I joined in the fun and was greatly welcomed by the local women. After lingering for some time at the bazaar, I went back on track.

Jaipur’s City Palace which includes other building structures is a palace complex and the seat of the Jaipur Maharaja. What used to be the royal residence is now a museum. Greatly preserved and lined with souvenir stands and the odd dancing cobra or two, the palace reminds people of the once empire and its impressive courtyards and gardens. Built between 1729 and 1732, the palace is a fusion of Rajput +  Mughal + European style. As the heart of Jaipur, the palace is surrounded by hilly ranges and thus, closely linked to the history of the city. Although there were wars among the Rajput kings in the region, the Palace did not suffer great damages (thankfully!)

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The gateway which lead visitors to the palace takes you into other smaller Mahals (palaces). The Auspicious Palace contains many saris and shawls worn by the Maharaja with 108 wives. I’d hate to be the wives of those emperors since it’ll be a life of confinement and can you imagine what will happen after the husband dies?- Sati or jauhar (self immolation on the funeral pyre of their husband). The 7 storeyed building is one of the most beautiful structures within the complex. It is known for its unique paintings, mirror works, floral decorations and totally mesmerizing tangible artworks. When I walked into the gate and the ground floor of this Chandra Mahal, I was immediately fixed on the 4 gates. My mind switched to another undying obsession of mine and a catalyst for pushing me to see India – The Fall directed by Tarsem Singh. Ok, here goes my obsession again! Argh!

Another one of my favorite movies
Another one of my favorite movies

So in the Vietnam Chapter, I went on and on about how much I love “The Quiet American” , HCM City plus my obsession with Hotel Continental. I am completely in love with Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall”- such an underrated movie. It was filmed in many countries with India as the main destination- the wonderful gate in Jaipur’s City Palace made an appearance in the earlier bandit scenes (YES, the name of my blog is derived from my love for the 5 bandits in this film—– this will be in another one of my rant posts).

Ok back on track—- the inner courtyard which gives you access to the Mahal are guarded by 4 smaller gates known as Ridhi Sidhi Pol. There is a different theme for each. Four gates for four seasons and Hindu gods. Peacock for autumn and Vishnu, lotus for summer and Shiva-Parvati, green waves for spring and Ganesha and rose for winter and Devi. The colors are bright and so symmetrical which immediately caught my attention and love. I stood there looking at it for ages- marveling at the art, symbols and details behind these gates. I am going to pinch this idea and hopefully make my own doors into the Ridhi Sidhi Pol!

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Wish this could be my door

Before we left to attend the wedding, we paid one last visit to a marble floored chamber which holds huge silver vessels that were especially designed for the Maharaja to carry the water of Ganges to drink on his trip to England in 1901. Overall, it was a jam-packed morning filled with visits to some of the best sites in Jaipur. I couldn’t wait for the wedding! I couldn’t wait to perform and embarrass myself!

14th – 15th February 2016

After my return from Jodhpur, a few more stops awaits me until my final departure. I paid a visit to the Head Office of the car hire company who have been nothing but supportive, reasonable, flexible and professional.  It can be daunting traveling in India especially if you are a female, so it really gave me a peace of mind when throughout the trip, I had a great driver and bodyguard.

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Before leaving Jaipur, I paid a visit to Udayan Care Centre in Jaipur. Meaning “Eternal Sunshine”, it is a NGO with the aim to educate, save and give kids a second chance at life. The 16 orphan girls in Jaipur all shared a similarily unfortunate childhood: orphans, beggars, almost sold into prostitution, beaten by distant relatives, denied the chance to study, forced into child labour etc …… Yet, they are also lucky since they have been admitted into the orphanage where food, accommodation and support is provided.

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All of their lives will be transformed and from our chats, many have dreams to be the doctor, the teacher, the minister of education and engineers. I wish them well! It was super to finally meet them and even better to donate some self-designed curriculums and teaching materials. This is how I do charity: I don’t hand over cash. I give what they need. I give them my time.

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After the orphanage, I paid a visit to my driver’s home. He also run a small photocopying business which is situated right next to his home that he shares with his mother, his older brother, his sister-in-law, his wife and the four darlings. They are your typical Indian family where the men and the mother has the top status in the family and then the three boys. The wives do most of the house chores, stays at home, looks after the children and are always waiting quietly and politely in the background. I greeted them and their children and exchanged gaze. For a brief moment, I wondered about their lives, their dreams and how different it would be if they had a different upbringing.  There I was, centimeters away from two women around my age. I will never know if they are happy with their lives but then who am I to say that they are not?  I do wish them well and I thank them for their killer Masala tea!

Before heading back to Delhi, I went to see Jantar Mantar. This UNESCO site is the largest astronomical observatories built during the mid 1700s. There are 14 major yantras or geometric devices which is used to measure time, predicting eclipses, tracking stars and altitudes etc. Better explanation of the place will be great in the future. Anyways, I wanted to visit the place since it’s the setting of a minor character in the film: “THE FALL.”

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The last stop before leaving =Amber Fort.SONY DSCMassive in size and built in Hindu-Muslim style, one look at the Fort and it will convince you that it has great Feng Shui. Surrounded by mountain ranges and high up whilst facing a large body of water, Amber Fort is impressive and a nice way to end this India trip. Named after the town of Amber, it contains many inner palaces with the Sheesh Mahal being most popular due to its thousand piece of mirror tiles. The gardens are equally as majestic and so too are various gates, those intricate carvings and the various pillars. It was great to meet another traveller during my stroll in the gardens.SONY DSCI asked a South Korean family to take a photo for me then seeing that I’m traveling alone, they asked a young man to accompany me. So Mr Kim is super lovely and before his stressful return to his job back in S.Korea, he wanted to see something completely different and relax. A group of young men was approaching me as I snapped away and Kim was very concerned. He walked towards them and said “What are you doing? Sorry please leave her alone.”  They immediately scattered and left me in peace. He accompanied me throughout the rest of the day and we talked about the history of the Fort, How sweet! It is unfair that guys don’t get such unwanted attention but  he is on his get-away trip before his very stressful job back in S.Korea. He kept me safe and was very wary about unwanted attention that I was getting for being that lone female traveller. We chatted about life, the stress of work and I congratulated him since he got married in June. My well wishes to a lovely individual. It was great to spend the last afternoon talking to a nice person and it’s a shame that we had to leave. This might be the last time that I’ll see him. I’ve meet so many great travellers and individuals around the world and no matter how long they stay in my life, the important yet sad thing is that they’ve stayed….once upon a time.

To all those people that i met during my travels, you will not remember me and we might never meet each other again but I’m still here to send you my well wishes. Fingers crossed that one day…perhaps many years later, we might just bump into one another and chat again!

Goodbye India….hopefully I’ll see you as well

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