Friday, April 26, 2024

Incredible India - Part 6: Ranthambore Fort and the Pink City of Jaipur

Ranthambore Fort and the Pink City of Jaipur

Wednesday and Thursday,  February 14-15, 2024

The Entry Pavilion at Ranthambore Fort

Wednesday - Ranthambore Fort and a Long Drive to Jaipur

Rob and I woke early for another "travel day," a long drive from the Ranthambore National Park to the city of Jaipur.  Our first stop took us back into the park for a visit to the huge Ranthambore Fort whose walls stretch along the tops of the high peaks above the kingdom of the tigers below.

The earliest buildings here dated to the 5th century, but most of what we saw today was from the 12th century and built by kings from later dynasties. The fort is considered a monument of high significance in the history of India, especially in the shifting of power between Hindus and Muslims and back again. It also played a role in defending the Rajput Empire against the attacks of foreign invaders, and it was easy to see how! It would have been next to impossible to scale the steep slopes with an army raining weapons down on you.

The ancient walls of Ranthambore Fort.
Its placement at the top of the steep cliffs made it invulnerable to attack.

We climbed the 250 steps to the top, enjoying the many monkeys scampering over the walls hoping for hand-outs from the visitors, then wandered the grounds for about a half-hour. Much of the fort is in ruins, but some of the buildings have been restored. 

The steps to Ranthambore Fort

Monkeys and birds wait for treats from visitors.

Langur monkeys of Ranthambore Fort

Some of the ancient buildings of the fort.

The Entry Pavilion

Annapurna Mandir - a small temple

These rock piles were placed by Indian visitors. 
They are the prayers of people wanting to find or build a new home.

Monkeys were not the only animals seen at Ranthambore.  
The little chipmunks we saw several times are called squirrels here in India.

One highlight of the visit was a stop at a famous Temple of Ganesh. Today was Wednesday, which is Ganesh's special day, so the temple was filled wall to wall with people bringing their offerings and prayers to the elephant-headed god. Pawan, our guide at the fort, took me by the hand and led me right to the altar where I was blessed with the red dot on the forehead by one of the temple priests. The inside of the temple was extravagantly decorated with colorful cloths, metals, and flowers, and the worshippers were packed in so tight, it was hard to turn around to exit!

The market place adjacent to the Temple of Ganesh sells flowers and other offerings
for pilgrims visiting the temple.

The glittering interior of the Temple of Ganesh

I was blessed in the temple with the "bindi," the red dot representing a third eye
or venerating an energy center within the body.

Rob and our guide return to the exit of Ranthambore Fort.

Rob encountered this unusual fellow on our way out of the fort.

The temple wasn't the only place where it was hard to turn around!  The traffic in and out of the Ranthambore Fort was almost as bad as the center of Delhi!

The only road in or out of Ranthambore Fort.

Drive to Jaipur

The rest of our afternoon was spent in the car observing the life of the villages as we passed through them. We were held up in several spots by wedding parties, with the groom and male friends and family paraded in their finery on horseback - with the horses likewise dressed up in bright colors. It was Valentine's Day in America, but February 14th this year also coincided with an Indian holiday, Basant Panchami, also known as Saraswati Puja, which is held in several states of India. It is celebrated to worship the Goddess Saraswati, and is considered an auspicious day for weddings.

Bridal Procession

The bride's carriage (photos taken from our car)

Along the drive, the contrast between "tourist India," with beautiful sights and luxurious hotels, and "real India" was striking. The roads through the rural towns, and even much of the highway, is lined with old, run-down structures. There are brick or cement store fronts, but also tin-sided or wooden shacks. Cows are everywhere, walking down the highway, standing in the alleys, wandering through the marketplace. Cows ARE seen as sacred here, and everyone is supposed to start their day by feeding a cow. One of our guides said there are still old grandmothers who will not feed the family until they have fed a cow. But amid the dirt and poverty and squalor, most women are dressed in beautiful, colorful saris and shawls. Quite a contrast with our jeans and t-shirt culture!

Rajvilas Oberoi Hotel

The Rajvilas Oberoi Hotel, which was the first of the Oberoi hotel chain, welcomed us in the late afternoon with flowers and a blessing.  The large red sandstone walls match the architecture of the fortresses here, and peacocks, the national birds of India, wandered freely around the grounds. 

The grounds of the Rajvilas Oberoi Hotel

The rooms of the hotel were in buildings around the large grounds.

Some of the peacocks wandering the hotel lawns and walls.

We took advantage of the free afternoon to just rest and recover from the last few busy days, but the evening brought a special treat. Our travel company had arranged for a cooking lesson and dinner in the home of an Indian family. Mita Kakkar and her husband have a lovely large home in the hills of Jaipur and she owns a company, Mita's Cultural Paradise, which provides cultural experiences for guests, including cooking, dancing, and yoga.  We had a very nice chat, then Mita had me help prepare the meal, explaining the techniques and spices as we worked. I got to control the amount of hot spice (which I have discovered can be very hot!) so the final meal was just right for my western tastes. 

Mita shows me the spices that are essential to Indian cooking.

A modern neighborhood in Jaipur

Jaipur is a mix of old and new.

Jaipur, "The Pink City"     

Today was our full day in Jaipur, which is called "The Pink City," because in 1876, Maharaja Ram Singh ordered that most of the buildings be painted pink, the color of hospitality, in preparation for a visit from Queen Victoria.  Her husband, Albert, apparently nicknamed it The Pink City.  I must admit to being just the tiniest bit disappointed that the city was not all pink! It is a very large city of over 4 million people sprawling out below and up the sides of a mountain range, so there are several neighborhoods, and only one of them got the pink treatment.

The Pink Neighborhood of Jaipur

Our new guide, Vinaya, and driver Pawan picked us up right after breakfast for a busy day of sightseeing. The traffic was as crazy as usual as we drove from the Rajvilas Oberoi to the hillside containing our first sights of the day. (I haven't said a lot about the traffic, but I could do a whole post on it! India does have traffic laws, but you would never know it from the way everyone drives, including our tour drivers. It's every man for himself. Traffic lanes mean nothing...the driver just plunges ahead, swerving into any lane that offers a way through the mass of cars - including the oncoming lanes!!! I just had to put my faith in the experienced drivers, and other than a couple of gasps of horror, it was almost being in a very crowded bumper car ride.)

Panna Meena ka Kund

Our first stop was Panna Meena ka Kund, a huge "step well" which allowed people to climb down the steps to dip their buckets into the rain catchment at the bottom. This 16th century well was an architectural marvel, a square pit with with symmetrical steps forming geometric designs on all sides.

Bihari Ji Temple sits above the Panna Meena ka Kund step well

Panna Meena ka Kund Step Well

Amer Fort and Palace

We continued up the mountain for a photo stop of one of the best known sites of Jaipur, the Amer Fort, (also known as Amber Fort), one of the most magnificent palaces in India. Construction was begun by one of the most trusted generals of Akbar, Maharaja Man Singh I, in 1592, and was completed over the next 100 years by later emperors. Amer Fort and Palace served as the main residence of the Rajput rulers. 

Amer Fort and Palace

Two happy travelers on the way to Amer Fort

The palace was stunning, with fresco-covered walls and gorgeous carved arches everywhere. There are several large courtyards, each with their own magnificent entrances.  From our high perch, we could see all of Jaipur spread out below us.   I'll let the photos and captions tell the story of the palace.

Goats lounging on the fortress walls outside of the entry gate.

We entered through Chand Pol, the "Moon Gate," which led us into the First Courtyard, which served as the grand entry.

Suraj Pol, the "Sun Gate," is the royal entrance into the first courtyard.

Royalty uses to enter the Suraj Pol by elephant,
so the tradition is continued for visitors today.

Ganesh Pol (Ganesh Gate) was the entry into the private palaces
of the Maharajah's family.

Ganesh Pol is named for the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesha,
who is believed to remove all obstacles.

Notice the Jali screens (the lacy windows) that allowed Mughal women to see out without being seen.  It is a common feature in Mughal architecture.

Detail from the gorgeous frescoes of the Ganesh Pol

The Second Courtyard included the Diwan-i-Aam, the Hall of Public Audience.

From the second courtyard, we could look down on the gardens below.
The gardens were design to resemple a carpet.

The Third Courtyard held the private quarters of the Maharajah and his family.  
Rajah Man Singh built twelve bedrooms for his twelve wives.

There is a star-shaped fountain in the Third Courtyard

Also facing the Third Courtyard is Jai Mandir.
This building is known as Sheesh Mahal, the "Mirror Palace" as the walls and ceiling
are covered with mirrors and foil.  It could be illumimated by a single candle!

The mirrored walls and ceilings of Sheesh Mahal, the Palace of Mirrors

The Fourth Courtyard, the Palace of Man Singh I, was the oldest area of the Palace.
The Zenana, who were the royal family women, mistresses, and concubines
lived in the many rooms surrounding this courtyard.

The chambers of the ladies of the court.

The Palace of Man Singh I, was built in the 1500s and looked its age.

Ramps had to be built because the Maharani's clothing was so heavy
that she had to be wheeled around the palace!

Feeling like a Princess  
(The henna treatment I received in Agra is still clarly visible.)

This baradari, or pavilion, in the fourth courtyard was curtained for privacy
and used as a meeting place by the maharanis.

A small sample of the artwork that covered the walls and ceilings of the Amer Palace.

Architectural details from the Hall of Public Audience

Amer Palace was spectacular and I was reluctant to leave at the end of our tour.  It was one of the most beautiful stops on our trip.  

Jaigarh Fort

Following our tour of the Amer Fort, we drove even farther up the mountain to the Jaigarh Fort, which is situated on the promontory called the Cheel ka Teela of the Aravalli Range. It overlooks the Amer Fort and Palace and the Maota Lake, which was the source of water for the both fortresses.  Jaigarh Fort was built by Jai Singh II in 1726 to protect the Amer Fort and its palace complex and was named after him. We walked through the courtyards where the buildings had once been filled with soldiers, and we gaped at the world's largest cannon. The Amer Palace and Jaigarh Fort had been assaulted many times, but never conquered due to their strategic placement at the tops of these two mountain peaks.

Jaigarh Fort

The Jaivan Cannon is believed to be the largest in the world. It was pulled by
elephants and ropes, and it can be rotated on its four-wheel carriage. 
Over 100 kilos of gunpowder was required to fire the 50 kilo cannonball.

Part of the aquaduct bringing water to the fortress.

A resident of Jaigarh Fort

Jaipur still has a royal family, and the crown prince designed this garden entry
to the old palace residences at Jaigarh Fort.

Hall of Public Audience

Royal Palace

Another example of a jali, the "lace window" to shield a woman from view

Sedan chairs of the royal family

View of Moata Lake

The palace gardens of Jaigarh Fort

View of  Moata Lake and the "Great Wall of Jaipur,"
which you can also see climbing up the mountains to the right.

View of the city of Jaipur and the Amer Palace far below the Jaigarh Fort.

The City Palace

After our busy morning, we stopped for lunch at Samode Haveli, a hotel restaurant in a lovely flower-filled setting.

Then, we headed to the City Palace. It was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh between 1729 and 1732, and the palace comprised one-seventh of the original walled city, and it is still the home of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Photos were not allowed in the interior of the palace, but Vinaya took us around the large throne room, which was lined with paintings of all of the Maharajas of the city. There were a couple of notable ones, including one who looked remarkably like John Lennon with his round glasses, and another who had weighed about 550 pounds. I saw his trousers and shirt in the museum, which contained many costumes of the maharajas, and his clothing took up nearly the entire wall!

The Udai Pol, one of the four gates into the City Palace

Diwan-i-Aam, the Hall of Public Audience

Tower of Chandra Mahal, the royal residence

Chandra Mahal

Ridhi Siddhi Pol leads to a courtyard with four gorgeous towers.

The Rose Gate is represents Winter and is dedicated to the Goddess Devi.
The Green Gate shows Spring and is dedicated to Lord Ganesha.

The Lotus Gate represents Summer and is dedicated to Lord Shiva
and his consort Parvati.
The Peacock Gate is Autumn and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

A closer look at these glorious doors.

The Gangajali jars were made to hold holy water from the Ganges.
This one is believed to be the largest silver vessel of its kind in the world.

The magnificence of the City Palace

An ancient mirror with images of Buddha

Stone "lace" decorates the Rajendra Pol, the gate leading to the Diwan-i-Khas,
the Hall of Private Audience

Jantar Mantar

The last stop of our visit to Jaipur was fascinating. Jantar Mantar, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the largest stone astronomical observatory in the world. It was built by Raja Sawai Jai Singh in 1727-33. The large grounds contain about twenty huge stone sundials, including the largest sundial in the world. There are twelve sundials based on the signs of the zodiac, and they are each placed at an angle that will allow calculation of the time based on the placement of the sun at that time of the year. This was yet another amazing sight - and the sundials are remarkable accurate!

Some of the sundials of Jantar Mantar

Sundials of various shapes and sizes

One of the Zodiac sundials

The largest sundial in the world

Reading the time on the largest sundial

The Chakra Yantra ("Round Instrument")

I had to check out the sundial for my own astrological sign of Scorpio.

As we returned to the hotel, we passed through the pink section of Jaipur where we saw the gorgeous Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds. Built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh in the year 1799, Hawa Mahal derives its name from its unique structure, which is a mesh of small windows that allowed cool wind to enter the palace. This kept the palace comfortable during the hot summer months. The main reason behind the palace's construction was to allow the women of the royal house to observe the festivities on the streets whilst being hidden from view behind the Jali windows

The Pink City

Hawa Mahal - the Palace of the Winds

As soon as we returned to the hotel, it was time to pack and go to bed early in preparation for our 4 a.m. wake-up call the next day for our early flight to our next destination of Udaipur. With only two nights in each location, this has been a whirlwind trip, but there are only two more cities to visit.