Starting from our stay in Ranthambore we are spending most of our time in India in the state of Rajasthan. Located in the northwestern part of the country, Rajasthan is India’s largest state, accounting for over 10 percent of the landmass. Now that we have those tigers out of the way our first urban stop is the capital Jaipur and, with a little over three million people, the state’s largest city. Supposedly a major tourist destination (though we didn’t see a lot of western tourists), it is the home of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The city dates from 1727 when Jai Singh II, after whom the city is named, moved his capital here from nearby Amber. For our admittedly limited purposes here the next important thing that happened in Jaipur was in 1876 when, in anticipation of a visit from the Prince of Wales – later Edward VII – Sawai Ram Singh I ordered the city’s buildings painted pink. The order remains in effect in the old city, thus explaining why Jaipur is sometimes known as the Pink City.
I like pink so my hopes were high. Only to be crushed. By my standards “pink” would be an overstatement. More kind of a faded, dirty, peeling, crusty salmon maybe, with lots of brown smudges. After I got over my disappointment I could find a certain attractiveness to the city, but I would definitely not call it pink.
I have to admit that I’m surprised at just how dirty, squalid even, we are finding these Indian cities. I mean, we’ve been to India before and we know it’s poor. I’ve read Katherine Boo’s stunning Behind the Beautiful Forevers, her National Book Award-winning masterpiece on poverty in Mumbai. But somehow it seems as though I’ve read a lot over the last few years about how India is finally booming. And after the time we’ve spent in China, where huge cities have sparkling parks and beautiful transit systems, I was expecting a little less of, well, the filth and a little more sparkle. There’s not a lot of sparkle to be found. Stories of a resurgent India are likely true, but from such a low base. In fact, according to the World Bank India’s per capita income is just $6,490 compared to China’s $15,500. Thus the squalor we find here versus the clean parks in China.
Once you start to accept Jaipur on its own terms though – no pink, no sparkle – you can start to appreciate its own
beauty interesting qualities. The first big site to visit is the Amer Fort, about seven miles outside of Jaipur and the region’s original capital. One of Jaipur’s two UNESCO sites, the “fort” – it’s really a palace – is laid out in four sectors, each with its own courtyard. As we experienced in both Delhi and Agra, the palace here again reminds you that there was once a lot of wealth and power in these places. Beautiful carved sandstone, marble, lattice-work windows (so the women could see out but others couldn’t see in…), mirrored walls and ceilings – this place has it all.
The next big site was the City Palace, the home of Jaipur’s Maharajas from the 18th century on. Interestingly, and unlike most historic royal palaces we see, this one is still occupied, and still occupied by the royal family. Even though there isn’t a royal family. Royals were eliminated in India in 1947 when the country gained independence, though royal titles were retained until constitutional changes were imposed in 1970. The Maharaja of Jaipur kept his home, though, kept living here, and people kept calling him the Maharaja or King. When he died in 2011 his adopted son – his grandson in truth – ascended to the no-longer throne and is now called the King, even though he has no formal role.Oh, and there is a bit of scandal here. The current king, Padmanabh Singh, is the son of the old king’s daughter, his only child. Expected to marry into royalty of some sort, though, she married a commoner and, worse yet, the son of one of the king’s staff people. Imagine the horror; apparently people really were aghast. Not to worry, though; the marriage didn’t do so well and once the commoner was out of the picture the king formally adopted his grandson so he could ascend to the pretend throne.
At any rate, we shelled out big bucks – something like $30 each – for a tour of the palace. That’s really quite unlike us, as we usually don’t like tours. In this case it was the only way to see the inside of the palace – the part that’s not currently lived in, at least – and it was worth it. Nothing earth shattering or anything, but lots of pretty stuff and a better understanding of how all that royal stuff works around here.
There was one last site to visit, right near the City Palace, called the Jantar Mantar. It’s a collection of 19 architectural astronomical instruments built by Jaipur’s founder Jai Singh II and is Jaipur’s other UNESCO site. The various instruments include the world’s largest sundial, a device so accurate that it supposedly indicates the time to within two seconds. Of course, as Mark points out, our AppleWatches are exactly correct, so what’s the big deal? To be honest, I just don’t have much of a scientific bent about me so I really didn’t get much sense of what it was all about. To a junior astronomer, though, it must be a pretty interesting place.
So that was Jaipur. Not as pink as I’d hoped but a tasty treat once you get over the dirt and honking and all that. And surprisingly picturesque, we discovered, as we went through all the photos we’d taken.