By the time we got to Amer Fort on Tuesday the line to take the elephants through the moon gate entrance was too long for us to bear, and already we wished we had made an earlier start. With a full day of sites to see we skipped the elephants; just as well, Cary hears they’re not well treated.
Amer, or Amber is another Mughal fort situated at the top of a hill near Jaipur. The fort is actually the latter of two nearby forts, and was itself built on top of an 11th century fort during the reign of Man Singh in the early 1600’s. The fort looks like many we’ve seen, though it was far more open than Agra’s Red Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. We were free to wander almost the entire structure. This sounds cool until you actually start roaming and find yourself lost in the drafty tunnels and tight staircases. There isn’t much impressive about the architecture in the majority of the fort, and you get a sense for what living in one of these places would be like which was rewarding in it’s own right.
Disappointingly, most of the fort’s really impressive sights were closed to the public. The Jas Mandir, the latticed, mirrored hall of private audience was completely shut. Gated as well was the Summer Palace located above. Cary managed to snap a few shots through the windows, but I would have preferred to wander inside. We did get to descend into the bowels of the fort where the water storage tanks were housed. We left Amer a little tired of forts and headed back toward the Old City of Jaipur to check out a site I was really looking forward to: Jantar Mantar.
Jantar Mantar is basically a medieval observatory on a massive scale. Built by the brilliant Jai Singh II, who believed that larger instruments would render more accurate measurements, the site possesses an array of gargantuan and unique sundials and astronomical measuring tools. The Yantras, or instruments were truly fascinating, and Cary and I spent several hours walking from device to device trying to determine how they might be used. Most of the tools use the location of the sun and it’s movement as a reference. The shadows cast by the sun on the tool being used could determine the azimuth, altitude, or information about which hemisphere the sun was currently in. There is some truth to the Jai’s argument; with many of these tools you can actually watch the sun move by degrees through the sky. We would’ve like to see some demonstrations of the tools in use but none were provided. Perhaps there will be a Nova special on it very soon.
We left Jantar Mantar hot and sweaty and walked over to the nearby City Palace. We weren’t ready to have a wonderful experience here, it is after all a fairly modern structure, but we were pleasantly surprised to find several museums and architecture during our visit. We both found the textiles museum fascinating, which had on display the costumes worn by the Rajputs and their wives over the centuries. In the main court there are several brightly colored gates, and a very modern hall of public audience complete with chandeliers and giant silver urns. Inside the hall of private audience there are several portraits of the Maharaja’s over the years, photographs if the Raja with British Viceroys, and Man Singh II’s polo trophies. This isn’t at all boring, and the opulence of the hall adds to the atmosphere that suggests a significant British influence.
The modern story of the British relationship with the Maharaja is actually a good one, and though there are mixed emotions in some places about British rule of India, I got the impression that the folks here feel the relationship was a positive one. I found myself in agreement with one prominent Maharaja who, after a trip to England and Scotland declared that he didn’t really care for anything there other than the whiskey, which he brought back with him. Is this why the easiest liquor to find in any Indian pub is Scotch?
After leaving the City Palace we walked out into the streets of old Jaipur, and around the Bapu Bazaar which specializes in textiles. Cary stopped in several shops, perfecting her bargaining skills with the locals and picking up some choice fabrics along the way. I bought a pair of much needed sandals, though I think I could have gotten them cheaper. I’ll let Cary do the bargaining next time.
How do you bargain in an Indian bazaar? The trick is to first appear disinterested in whatever they’re showing you, no matter how much you might like it. Like buying a house, don’t fall in love with it. Make the decision that you might like to buy something like it, and ask what the price might be. When you hear the price, scrunch up your nose, cock an eyebrow, or make whatever face you’d normally make when someone tells you the price you don’t want to hear. Wave it off, stating that its too much. If they respond with a lower price, act like you’re considering it, then shake your head. They may at this point ask what you think the price should be. A good starting point is less than half the asking price. The goal is to get to 50% the asking price or lower. Do that and you’ve succeeded. Bonus points for whoever can make the merchant cry.
We wandered around looking for dinner afterwards and ended up at Niro’s, a restaurant that shows up in nearly every travel book. It was decent, though the horrible 80’s muzak can get irritating. We would leave for Bikaner in the morning, so we packed up our wares and went to sleep, tired from mingling with the locals.
We found Jaipur to be an incredibly fun city. The traffic is awful, but finally getting to experience life as a pedestrian in an Indian city showed us that you’re safer than you think out there. Just listen for the honking, and if you plan on stepping out in front of a car simply hold your hand out; they actually stop no matter how fast they seem to be going. The fort is a good place to visit if you haven’t seen any other forts, but the highlights of the city are certainly Jantar Mantar, City Palace, and the bustling bazaars. If you’re planning a trip to Rajasthan, you will need two days to soak this city in.
Next up, Bikaner and the back country desert of Western Rajasthan.