India's Golden Triangle - palaces and forts and energy galore in Jaipur
JAIPUR, INDIA - They call Delhi-Agra-Jaipur the Golden Triangle of India tourism. After a day here, I’d have to think Jaipur doesn’t get the share of love it deserves.
We got up Wednesday morning and hit the Hawa Mahal, the so-called Wind Palace, a towering affair from 1799 that features 953 lattice-work windows, built to take advantage of Rajasthan’s famous winds. The story goes that women would sit behind the windows and peer out but that others couldn’t see in.
It looks hugely impressive in pictures and it’s pretty cool, but I didn’t realize it was on the main street in the old town and swamped by a sea of traffic. The guide books I read suggest you can go in to what’s behind the façade, but my guide insisted that’s not the case. Similarly, the photos I’ve seen of the Jai Mahal, or Lake Palace, make it look like Xanadu on the water. It’s nice, but somehow seems much smaller in person than it does on those Google images.
The Amer (or Amber or Amher fort, depending on who or what you read), on the other hand, is far more impressive than I thought (see picture). Sprawling over the top of a ridge a few kilometers outside Jaipur proper, it’s a massive, yellow stone affair that dominates everything around it and is filled with beautiful compounds and courtyards and royal steam baths and saunas and apartments for wives and mistresses both and winding staircases and hidden pathways that were used by the women’s wheelchairs. Why the wheelchairs? Apparently they wore something like 20 pounds of jewels and 30 pounds worth of dresses, or perhaps the other way around (probably so given the heat here in summer) and couldn’t even move, so had to be carted around on human-powered “wheelchairs” in secret corridors behind the main courtyards.
Very cool, with spectacular views of the valleys. There’s also a massive fort that sits on the hill that rises high behind the Amer/Amber/Amher fort. And there’s a huge security wall, like the Great Wall of China, that rises and climbs and falls and dips and swirls over many kilometers along nearby ridges.
It’s quite something to see, and only a few bucks for entry.
Down in Jaipur proper is the City Palace, carved out by the Rajasthan and Jaipur kings over the years. There are more courtyards here and towers and also a textiles museum that shows off various clothing worn by the royals, including a royal dress worn by a king who’s said to have been 7 feet tall and weighed something like 500 pounds.
I got a charge out some of the costumes but was far more interested in the arms and weapons room, where they spell out "welcome" with guns and knives on the wall. Displays include fancy daggers that open up into something like scissors once inside an opponent's body (best not to think about that too much) and a belt that turns into a sword, (the old belt that turns into a sword trick, as Maxwell Smart might say).
Just as good as the sights, to my way of thinking, is the fabulous Samode Haveli hotel in the centre of town. I loved it as soon as I walked in and saw the courtyard with small. lit-up fountains and soaring, Indian-style arches and enclosing a lobby-like area with beautiful furniture, marble floors and brightly painted walls. Some of the rooms in the older part of the property are simply stunning. Mine has a series of arches and a giant bed and a massive bathroom at the end of a long corridor, with lovely, black- and-white prints of local notables. There's also a lovely, quiet pool with three enormous cabanas for lounging (see photo), plus they make fabulous food for dinner that you can eat in the courtyard, under the stars.
The hotel is owned by the royal family from nearby Samode, one of many parts of India that still has royalty. From what I can tell, their roles are purely ceremonial. My guide yesterday, Raju, said the royal family of Jaipur has a role similar to that of the Queen of England and still lives in the City Palace.
More to come on the massively colourful Gangaur festival, which we witnessed in central Jaipur Wednesday night. Then back to Delhi for a day before heading home to what I hope are a few sprinkling of crocuses, snowdrops and maybe even an early-blooming tulip somewhere.