Jaipur is situated around 150 miles west of Agra in the state of Rajasthan. This area was once ruled by a Hindu royal family of Maharajahs (maha means great and rajah means king). The British persuaded the Maharajahs to give up their right to rule in favour of democracy, whilst still retaining their lands and riches, but when Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister, she stripped them of their wealth and they were forced to earn a living by converting their homes into hotels and museums.
We stayed at Shahpura House – a ‘heritage hotel’ that was once the residence of a nobleman. It was very grand with marble floors, carved furniture and beautifully ornate decor. We were greeted by footmen in traditional dress bearing flower garlands.
Our guide, Rajesh, told us stories about the Maharajahs that brought them to life. The ‘big fat one’ was 2.1 metres high and 1.2 metres wide. The ‘trendy, slim one’ looked like John Lennon and was a world champion polo player. The current Maharajah was just 18 years old when he came to power, but the Maharajah we admired most was the incredibly gifted Jai Singh, who established Jaipur and constructed many of its wondrous buildings.
First stop was the City Palace and Museum, where we saw an exhibition of weapons. A particularly gruesome one was shaped like a crescent moon and could be used to either slice off a man’s head or pierce his eyes out. Neither option appeals.
Across the road was the Royal Observatory (or Jantar Mantar), completed by Jai Singh in 1734. It houses the world’s largest sun dial, another that is accurate to within 2 seconds and several other structures that map the orbit of planets. Hindus believe in astrology, and this sparked off a discussion about the influence of a full moon on human behaviour. Our midwife daughter told us that the maternity unit is always very busy at full moon; our teacher daughter informed us that the school children go crazy; and our police officer son said that crime goes up and mental illness gets worse. So, even though I’m not personally a believer, maybe planets can influence us after all!
Jai Singh designed the city of Jaipur in a grid system with wide streets, and the number 9 figures heavily in the layout. This number is significant to Hindus, so everything is a multiple or square of 9, or related to it in some other way.
Jaipur itself has the hustle and bustle of Delhi without the manic overcrowding, and for the first time in our busy trip we had time to browse and explore the shops. We hadn’t been out long when we spotted a procession of elephants ambling down the street, on their way to some festivity or other. Apparently, elephants on the streets of Jaipur is quite common, but not to us, and our twin daughters went crazy with excitement! An appetiser for what was to follow. Read next month for more about our day with the elephants!