Sightseeing in Jaipur
Amber Fort and Palace
Amer was the capital of Rajastan from the 11th to the 16th century. Nowadays, it is a small provincial town with the fort serving as the main attraction. The fort, that takes its name from a corrupted form of the city's name, sits strategically on a hilltop, 11 kilometres north of Jaipur, on the road leading to Delhi. Back in the 11th century, the Kachwaha clan of the Rajputs from northern India, (raja-putra in Sanskit means “son of a king”) settled in Amer, and ruled from here until the foundation of Jaipur in 1727. The palace fort was built in 1592, under Maharaja Man Singh. At that time, the Kachwaha clan established close political and family relations with the Mughal Emperors, which helped its members to gain riches and influence. The Amber Fort is an expression of the power and wealth of the Kachwaha clan. Inside the fort are the palaces, pavilions and gardens a testimony to the Maharaja’s exuberant life-style. Of particular interest amongst all the structures on the site of the Amber Fort are the Sheesh Mahal, Diwan-i-Am, and Sukh Mahal. The Sheesh Mahal, or the Mirror Palace, used to be Maharaja’s living quarters for the winter season. Its rooms are decorated with mirror and marble mosaics. Originally, there were gems as well, which were plundered by later invading armies. The marble colours and the sparkling reflections of the mirror produce a luminous, almost magical ambience. Diwan-i-Am was a hall for public audiences built in the 17th century. The hall is proportionally designed and has pink sandstone columns that open the reception area from three sides. Another curious attraction inside the Amber Fort is Sukh Mahal, or the Pleasure Palace. It has doors carved out of ivory and sandal wood, with cascades of artificial waterfalls and fountains flowing over the white marble. Next to the Fort, is the Maota Lake. This is where elephants from a nearby sanctuary take a bath. There are elephant rides on offer and it might be a good idea to get one in case you want to participate in the elephant care-taking activities, and enter the Amber Fort in style. It also saves you from the hustle of walking uphill, among all the waiting vendors of local souvenirs. The walk to the fort takes only 10 minutes; however, the elephant rides are highly recommended and popular amongst the tourists.
City Palace Complex
The City Palace Complex is the symbolic heart of Jaipur, a place where the city’s history comes to life. Visitors to the City Palace are welcomed by numerous guards wearing traditional outfits with flowing red turbans, many of whom are old retainers of the former Maharaja.
The City Palace represents a miniature 18th century metropolis. The outer walls and major structures were built during the reign of Maharaja Jai Singh. Many other buildings and facilities were added during the 200 years of the city’s history. The City Palace occupied one-seventh of the original Jaipur area. The architectural style is renowned as a fusion of Rajput and Moghul styles that highlights the friendly connections between the two powers.
The first structure a visitor sees entering the City Palace Complex is the dazzling white Mubarak Mahal, or the palace of welcome. It was built in 1900 as a reception venue for special visitors. Now, this building is part of the City Palace museum that exhibits the Rajputs’ textile collection. Another museum building is the Maharani’s Palace. Once it was the residence of the royal queens, now it displays a large armoury collection with some exhibits dating back to the 15th century. On the right of the Maharani’s Palace is Singh Pol, or the Lion Gate, with two statutes of marble elephants by the entrance. Beyond the gate is a courtyard flanked by buildings of oleander stucco with the marble Diwan-i-Khas at the centre. Diwan-I Khas is a hall for private audiences, which is worth a visit to see two huge sterling silver vessels, each with a capacity of 9000 litres, standing in the marble-paved gallery.
The vessels were made to the order of Maharaja Madho Singh II and served to keep the holy water from the Ganges river during the Maharaja’s trip to Europe to participate in the coronation of Edward VII, the king of England, in 1902. As a very pious man, he did not wish to commit the Hindu sin of crossing the "kalapani"(the oceans). However, an assembly of religious leaders, made an exception on condition that he travelled in a ship where beef had never been cooked or served; the idols of the family deity travelled with him and that Jaipur’s sacred soil be spread daily below their thrones and sprinkled on the Maharaja’s bed to represent Indian land. And that he only drank and used Ganges water during his planned three-month voyage.
The most notable building in the City Palace Complex is the Chandra Mahal. The magnificent seven-storied Palace is still the home of the descendants of the former rulers of Jaipur. At the very top, the royal flag flies whenever the current Maharaja of Jaipur is in residence. The whole building is private except for the ground floor that is open to the public as a museum for carpets, manuscripts and many other items belonging to the royal family. The entrance is through the beautifully decorated peacock gate. The palace is surrounded by well atendered gardens and an artificial lake stretches in front of the building. The City Palace Complex is open from 10.00 to 17.00 all year round except for Holi, Diwali and National Holidays.
Hawa Mahal (the Palace of Winds) was erected in 1799 for Maharaja Pratap Singh. This baroque fantasy is known as the giant veil that used to hide the women of the court, who were obliged to follow “purdha”, which translates as curtain, and is the practice, still observed in some Moslem countries, meant to prevent men from seeing women. This palace-like structure enabled the noble women to watch parades and street life without being seen. The façade is in white and pink with intricate stone carvings. Small and big balconies are topped with semi-cupolas and protected from looking into by shielded windows. Inside, is a single hall with enough space to accommodate all the female members of the Maharaja’s court. It is believed that the 5-storey arrangement of the balconies represents the crown of the Hindu God Krishna. The palace is located at Jaipur’s historical and business centre. It forms part of the City Palace and is adjacent to its Zenana quarters, which is a part of the former harem.
The Jantar Mantar is the name for Maharaja’s astronomical observatory situated across from the City Palace. During the 1720s and 1730s Maharajah Jai Singh II built five observatories in different locations of India. The largest one is in Jaipur; the others are in New Delhi, Ujjan, Varanasi and Mathura. The Jantar Mantar has the biggest sundial in the world, named the 'Samrat Yantra'. The term ‘Yantra’ means instrument in Sanskrit and in its corrupted version sounds as ‘Jantar’ which means ‘magical’. The second term ‘Mantar’ refers to the word ‘Mantra’, or formula: sacred words with spiritual power in Hinduism. The Jantar Mantar was thought of as a place of scientific observation that aided Jai Singh II in the revision of the Indian lunar calendar and astrological tables. The instruments of the Jantar Mantar served for the precise measurement of time, the azimuth, declination of the sun, the positions of constellations, and other scientific observations.
Galta Monkey Temple
The Galta Monkey Temple, also known as Galtaji, occupies a picturesque location in the mountains near the town of Kanya-Balaji, just east of Jaipur. This sacred place of Hindu worship grew around natural water springs in ancient times. The present temple complex was built in the 18th century in honour of Galav, a Hindu saint who lived and meditated here. According to the legend, the Gods blessed the place where Galav performed his holy deeds with abundant water. Galatji is the main temple complex in an area made of pink stone pavilions. The pavilions stand around natural water springs and waterfalls that feed sacred water tanks, or kunds. The holiest reservoir in the temple is the Galta kund as the water in it never dries out. The sacred kunds of Galta attract Hindu devotees for spiritual purification. A special day for a holy dip pilgrimage is on the Makar(a) Sankranti festival, in January. However, there are plenty of bathers in the Galta pools, all year round. The present name of the Galta Monkey Temple is a nickname that refers to the large population of rhesus macaques and langurs living in and around the temple complex. These monkeys became part of a tourist attraction, as many visitors to the temple buy fruits and peanuts to feed the animals. There are special vendors for this purpose by the temple entrance. However, feeding the monkeys is not the main part of the show. It is worthwhile to come to the Monkey Temple near closing time when the crowds recede and the monkeys approach the pools for a swim. Opening hours for the temple visit are from sunrise till sunset. Apart from the entrance charge, there are also fees for entering with still and video-cameras. To get to the Galta sanctuary from Jaipur's centre one can hire an auto-rickshaw. The cost is from Rs300 including the return trip.