Sunday, February 7, 2016

Jaipur - elephants and the Amber Palace

In Jaipur we joined up with the main group.  Delhi and Agra were a pre-tour that we did with three other women.  We signed up to do both pre- and post-tours because I don't know if I will ever return to India, so I wanted to see as much as I could while I'm here.  The larger group consists of 20 people plus Charllotte Kwon, the organizer of this and so much more (more about her later), her assistant, and two tour guides.  I would travel anywhere with Charllotte, the organization and smooth functioning of her tours and the wonderful varied itinerary she plans for us make traveling with her non-stressful and fascinating.
  Jaipur is known as the pink city because many of its building are created with pink sandstone.  We visited a Red Fort in both Delhi and Agra, so you can see that this sandstone is a common building material.
  We started our tour with a visit to the Amber Palace, which offered both a different colour in the India palette, and an elephant ride.
 On the way to the palace, we stopped to see this building, which was where the royal women lived.  They were not allowed to be seen, and so they had the small windows shown in the second photo to look out through when they wished to see what life was like outside their residence.  They were not allowed outside at all, not even if they wore clothing that covered their bodies completely.  Once in a while, though, they could leave in a covered carriage to attend little parties at a private residence.

And here are snake charmers.

 These umbrellas were some of the items offered to the tourists as we stood in line for our elephant ride.  I love the colours, and small mirrors are incorporated into the designs.


 Finally, elephants.  Some of they were beautifully coloured, too.  They seemed to be well treated.  The mahouts did not use pointed or sharp goads, that can cut the skin, but had small rounded sticks to guide their elephants.

 It's a long way down from an elephant!  We got on by standing at the edge of a wall that was, conveniently, elephant height.  We then joined a parade of tourists riding up the steep and winding road to the palace.  The road was just barely wide enough for two elephants.  Ours was speedy, and kept passing the slowpokes.

  All of the forts and palaces we've seen are beautiful.  I think I mentioned before the attention paid to detail that is simply cosmetic.  The gardens are also amazing.  The one below was outside the palace, and the inhabitants could look down and see it.

Here's another inhabitant, although he's probably not part of a royal family.  There are many palaces and royal families, because India is made of up many states, and each was independently ruled until the British arrived and unified them.  British rule officially began in 1757, but the East India Company was given a British royal charter in 1600, and essentially took over large parts of the Indian states with their private armies. India achieved independence in 1947, and there is a federal government, but each state has considerable independent power, too, much like the provinces in Canada or the states in the US.

I am continually awed by the artistry shown in the decorations and small details inside the various rooms of these forts and palaces, which were essentially built for defence, but which were also luxurious homes.

In the picture below, you can see hooks in the ceiling, and also along the arches that lead to an outdoor courtyard.  The ones along the sides were used to hold carpets that were hung to serve as walls when weather led to a need for them.  The ones in the ceiling held huge fans which were manipulated by a servant pulling on ropes to waft the fan back and forth, creating a breeze

Here are some more pictures of the decorative elements.

In this one you can see how mirrors were incorporated in some ceilings.

Here is one of the courtyard gardens.

The next two pictures show the chamber of mirrors.  This was created for one royal lady who had loved to sleep outside to see the stars, before she was moved in to the palace.  She was no longer permitted to sleep where other people might see her, so this room was created with thousands of mirrored pieces on the walls and ceiling.  The room was designed so that two candles would light up all the mirrors and she was surrounded by these artificial, but still beautiful, stars.

Here is the fort from the outside, and couple of views of one of the oldest paintings.

I love taking portrait photos.  I always ask permission, which is an expected courtesy.  In some places I visit, there are people dressed in traditional clothes, present for the tourists to photograph.  This is how they make their living, and a small tip is expected.  100 rupees, or two dollars, is considered generous.

Here are some more cosmetic details.  These small paintings are located between the supports for an upper level's balconies.  Each painting is different, and there were probably at least forty of them, just along this one outside corridor.

After we left the Amber Palace, we stopped to see this step well.  It has served as a source of water for hundreds of years.  The water level is low at present, in part because India is using more and more water and so water tables are decreasing.  During and after the monsoon season, the water does rise.  The tradition in using a step well is that you never climb up the same set of stairs that you used to get down.
  The stairs are steep, and worn from the centuries of feet traveling up and down.  Even here, though, where poor people went, the design is one of beauty.

This picture shows flowers growing outside the door of our Jaipur hotel.

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