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Traipsing across the Pink City

Jaipur in the winter is anything but comfortable for someone from warm and humid Chennai, where winter only means reducing fan speeds. A dry-desert region, Jaipur 's night temperatures drop to 10 degrees and early morning walks are nearly impossible unless you have the insane willpower to step out of your warm blanket fortress you've been carefully nursing all night. Needless to say, it was a challenge to take the camera out of my bag and press the shutter with trembling glove-clad hands. But how could I not?! Winter or no winter, the pink city is prettier than ever.

Exploring Jaipur ofcourse always starts with the old city. A delightful result of traditional planning guidelines, the city's vocabulary is of Rajput and Mughal architecture. It was constructed with astonishing foresight and is probably the only historic city in India whose infrastructure can still cope with present-day pressures of vehicular traffic and bustling tourists. Built on the ancient Hindu grid pattern, the city was divided into nine blocks by main roads as wide as 34 metres and each block further interceded by smaller streets. The streets intersected at squares called badi or chotti chaupars. When the city was built, a 6 metre high wall was constructed around it with seven gates, locally knows as pols, puncturing the three metre-thick wall. Until the 1940s, these gates would close at dusk and open only after dawn. It is said that a canon woud be fired at dusk to notify the people of the gate’s closure. Today, these gates are merely symbolic of Jaipur’s rich architectural legacy. And also make for excellent photo subjects!

A traditional case of mixed-use architecture

Enter the pols and you enter chaos. In the morning cool crisp air, all the shop's shutters are closed. A handful of tea stalls can be spotted by early-morning pedestrains crowding fro warmth. The ground floor façade has the bazaars, while the upper and inner floors are residential zones which open to interior courtyards, cut off from the main roads outside. The bazaars of the city were planned along the main North-South and East-West axes. Usually two or three-storeyed structures, these buildings housed bazaar shops on the ground floor, while the upper floors usually had temples, and a wide space for religious festivals and for spectators to watch processions. Now they are used as an extension of the homes, as verandas. 

Inside Homes

Walking the corridors of the bazaar, it was interesting to note that in between the small shops, there would be  an inconspicuous and extremely narrow dark passage leading to an inner courtyard of a house.  Most of these inner houses are now adapted to commercial or office spaces, like this printing press that we happened to explore.

Of Forts and Rajput kings

Jaipur is the land of many beautiful forts and palaces that are striking examples of the union of Rajput and Mughal architecture. Of these, the most stunning and expansive of all is perhaps the Amer fort, located around 10 km away from the Jaipur city. Constructed entirely of red sandstone and marble, the enormous opulent palace is laid out on four levels, with wide courtyards and intricate Rajput architecture. The Mirror palace or Sheesh mahal has an interior of inlaid semi-precious jewel. Amer fort was the prime residence of Maharajas and their families. Walking through the massive gilded doors, one can only imagine that along these very paths, princesses strode along in their royal attire, guards would have marched, beside their royal king, and once, i'm sure, a queen would have stolen a first kiss with her king.

Jaigarh Fort

Originally built to protect the Amer Fort and the palace within the complex, the Jaigarh Fort is situated on a promontory of the Aravalli hill range and thus offers a stunning wide panoramic view of the city of Jaipur, both old and new. The journey to Jaigarh is in itself awe-inspiring, and the views it offers of the city far beyond is stunning indeed.

Jal Mahal

A welcome peace after the chaos of Jaipur city is the beautiful sight of the Jal Mahal, literally translating to the Water Palace, the five-storeyed structure seemingly floats in the still waters of the man-made Man Sagar Lake. Once a shooting lodge for the Maharajah, the Jal mahal is now one the most famous tourist spots in Jaipur, and is also an evening hangout spot for the city dwellers. Munching on papad and hot tea, we walked a small perimeter of the path bounding the lake, mesmerised by the light sand coloured stone walls reflecting on the deep blue of the waters.

Hawa Mahal

Walking back into the city, it is really easy to miss the Hawa Mahal’s infamous façade amidst the bazaars and chaos and other equally ancient structurers all along the street. Located right in the heart of Jaipur, this stunning five-storey palace was constructed, supposedly in the form of the crown of Krishna, in order to provide the royal women in the palace a view of everyday life through the 953 intricate and detailed windows or Jharokhas. Seems like they missed a more beautiful view, OF the Hawa Mahal itself.

At dusk, we settled on the open terrace of a roof-top café right opposite the bustling main streets opposite Hawa Mahal. Sipping on hot chai and bun maska, we watched the sun set in the far horizon where the Aravalli hills stood oblivious to the changing hues and the sky, and wind, steadily lost warmth. .

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