Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Almost Tickled Pink In Jaipur

For a further fix of Rajasthan's colorful history and architecture, we headed north to Jaipur...India's supposed "pink city". You can just imagine how that called to me like a siren's song! I was picturing primrose palaces, tall blush buildings and magenta monuments. After all, this is India, pink is the color that symbolizes hospitality and a Maharaja had painted the town pink to honor a Prince of Wales visit in 1876, then made it mandatory to maintain. I was excited!!!

However, once we arrived and I caught a glimpse of its color, there was a touch of disappointment. The city was a creamy terra cotta, maybe rose at best, and not the fuchsia I was looking for...damn. The funny thing is that I have a MAC blush that's nearly the exact color of Jaipur's city which is called "Desert Rose" so maybe those make-up namers know what they're doing after all.

Nevertheless, Jaipur has a vivid, variegated history of Maharajas and warring Rajput-Mughal kingdoms, and its landscape reflects this in every way. We started off with a walking tour of the not-so-Pink City, and spent a day wandering through its walled bazaars, city palace, harem and more. It definitely has the an old city feel as every place you enter into the bustling central has intact, 20 meter high terra-cotta gates--some arches are wide enough to fit a car while others only fit a pedestrian or autorickshaw. Unfortunately, these entrace gates are massively congested with cars, camels, oxen, autorickshaws, decorated horses, bicyles, bicycle rickshaws and people. Jaipur's traffic was truly astonishing, not to mention the fact you could see the black pollution staining its pink walls gray.

Our walking tour was a treat as we investigated the bazaars at our own pace, deftly avoiding aggressive salesmen, and each tiny set of shops had a theme of goods for sale. The cloth market is wildly colorful as swaths of scarlet, canary, acid green and indigo fabrics waft in the wind, while the silver market has eager vendors who peddle their wares on the street as if to blind you into buying with the shiny reflections. Jaipur is famous for handmade shoes and literally thousands of jeweled, sequined and velvet harem shoes, all with pointy, rolled toes like an elf slipper, spill colorfully out of stalls on to cobbled streets. These shoes or "jootis" are a legacy from the Rajput royalty and embody every exotic notion of the harem and posh palace life. After our travels here, I think 18th century Rajasthan as a Mughal queen would not be a bad stop on the time machine!

Pushing on through the traffic, touts and utter chaos of Jaipur, we stopped to climb around the Hawa Mahal, or 'Palace of the Winds', and adored its splendid, unique design. This was a Zenana (place for courtly women and concubines) and soars five, slim yet somehow bulbous stories of Jaipur pink and cream into the blue sky. Cupolas, arches, turrets and dramatic screen windows covered its crenelated front, which faces onto a main boulevard of old Jaipur, the street where kings and warriors would parade upon return from battle.

The Hawa Mahal allowed women to witness all of this pomp and splendor from behind veiled palace walls yet remain invisible to the outer world as was custom. Each window, cupola or turret has a tiny little door, no bigger than a face, that opens inward so the queen and harem could chastely gaze out. Not wanting to waste a lot of grandeur or comfort on the women, the "Palace of the Winds" is extremely narrow on the upper levels and only a few bodies in width since the women needed only to press up against the veiled opening and look out upon their men. Thus, it has a breezy, almost eerie feel as you explore because it's high above traffic and quiet except for the wind. The views were truly incredible when we pushed our heads out of the small openings or looked through stucco screens: perched on every hill are old forts or palaces and below we saw painted elephants braving the busy streets. Rajasthan has the most unbelievable landscape!

After some bottled water, a banana and bikis (what Indians call biscuits/wafer cookies which are always safe to eat), we continued our tour, passing a minaret to heaven" that was as tall as a light house, a wild, raised sundial with a full set of stairs next to it that helped Jai Singh (first city leader) consult the stars for battle and entered at the City Palace. Along the way we passed livestock of all types eating from piles of trash, witnessed men relieving themselves against walls without hesitation, saw a monkey steal a banana bunch from a fruit seller and watched locals weigh each other on giant scales that puncuated the center of each block. Sadly, this often smelly chaos was not unique to Jaipur. Ahh, Rajasthan and its mighty views!

At Jaipur's City Palace, we were greeted by mightily moustached guards wearing navy Nehru jackets, white puffy jodphur pants and tomato red turbans with a tail that flowed down their backs. They proudly posed with us for ten rupees each, so please check out our photos of their faces and turbans which are so very endemic to Rajasthan!

We learned that many of the Maharajas were quite fat, one of them being a cuddly 2 meters tall, 1.2 meters wide and weighing close to 250 kilos!! You should have seen his clothes in the textile museum--truly magnificent ten-person-tent-sized fabrics. The palace itself is a blend of Mughal and Hindu architecture so there are elegant, scalloped arches butting up to crazy-colored gates adorned with peacocks and elephants. You especially see the Mughal/Persian influence in the decorative screens that hang over entries and shroud windows. They're made from intricately carved, light-colored sandstone or marble, and look so delicate, almost like a hollowed out version of those lacy Italian wafer cookies (pizelle?) at Christmas.

Andy and I loved taking photos of all of the shapes and shadows that fell in the courtyards and explored majestic receiving pavilions tiled, mirrored and chandeliered to capacity. Definitely a decorating style I can appreciate! At sunset, we watched our favorite tomato turbans spread across the palace like polka dots, locking giant doors and drawing heavy gates closed, and exited to brave our way through the Pink City's traffic...looking both ways for cars, camels, cows and more.


Blogger jskalet said...

Tiffany, the way you write allows me to feel the experience. i feel the sensory overload even from here

10:42 PM  

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