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A window to the Pink City

Above the rooftop of Hawa Mahal

This is not my first time to Jaipur, but it is the first time in the main for the purpose of tourism. Luckily, we were able to combine this with a visit to the family.

I left Delhi by train one mid-afternoon and boarded a summer special express train to Jaipur with Mr W in tow. We love trains and though this was only a five hour journey, we managed to book a sleeper class train to rest a little when it got dark outside and we could’t see any sights. As seems to be the way when booking online with the Indian Railway Reservation, the system allocated us tickets which were a few seats apart. The conductor on the train however soon moved people around – without us asking – and got us seats facing each other with a berth above. We whiled away the hours looking outside the window and then unfolding the berths to get a little sleep using the fresh linen and pillows provided. An hour before Jaipur, a chai wallah duly woke us up with a sweet milky tea to rub our eyes and get ready to disembark. Around dinner time we reached Jaipur and checked ourselves into our hotel in a leafy part of town near Paanch Butti.

Through the lattice window at Hawa Mahal

Next day, we decided to explore the old city of Jaipur called Pink City for the colour of stone and rendering used on all the buildings. The Pink City is made up of a dozen noisy, busy streets and intersections reminiscent of Old Delhi. Unlike Old Delhi however, there is some semblance of order in the chaos and you can walk around the kilometre square more easily. Also unlike Old Delhi, Jaipur, perhaps because of a heritage order has all it’s buildings and shops look identical from the outside – so you can easily get lost and not place yourself in the labyrinth of streets until you step out and find yourself on the exact opposite end of the walled city to where you entered.

Looking through an internal window at Amer Fort

By chance, we happened to come upon Hawa Mahal which is in the centre of the PInk City and a famous palace. Hawa Mahal literally means The Palace of Winds, probably named so because it is more an airy space than a palace. Using the same pink stone that the rest of the old city is made of, the palace was designed to be used by the Maharajas and their wives to escape the heat of the city and spy at the goings on of their people through the latticework windows which make up most of the wall space of the palace.

What struck me about Hawa Mahal and Amer Fort which I’ll come to in a moment is the sheer number of windows in the architecture. For some reason in my head I have a notion which says windows make a structure weak. So how then were the architects of this palace able to design more windows than wall space without it all toppling over? The palace has very few staircases. Instead you walk around a sloping Ecsheresque corridor which wraps around a central column to reach the next floor. At each floor you see more of the Pink city which itself doesn’t have any tall buildings except the the palace itself. At he higher floors you begin to see the outside limits of the city and the hill with a fort on the eastern limits. We spent a pleasant hour and a half wandering around and taking pictures of the windows and latticework of this rather charming palace.

The next day we woke early to haggle with a tuk-tuk driver to take us and bring back from Amer Fort, around 22 kilometres outside the city. The fort is larger than any I have been to and sprawled over a couple of

Amer Fort

hills. From the highest point you can see the walls going away from the fort in each direction where soldiers would have kept a watchful eye from their vantage point on anyone coming up the hill. The architecture is not only impressive in terms of keeping the enemy out but also beautiful. The moat and outside walls of the fort belie a charming interior where the Maharajahs, Ranis, their families and courtiers would have lived, dined and enjoyed entertainment.

The most famous landmark within the walls of Amer Fort is the Sheesh Mahal or The Palace of Glass. This isn’t constructed out of glass so much as has different coloured glass embedded into it’s walls to give it a reflective finish. It must have taken an age and scores of slashed hands to have completed this beautiful structure. Whilst we were there, work was going on to renovate the areas of the walls which needed attention.

Like the Hawa Mahal the fort features hundreds of windows looking out of the fort but also within the fort into the dozens of courtyards. Sitting at one of these windows I understood their purpose. These weren’t just to look out of but to get a break from the oppressive heat of the desert. The architect designed the windows exactly at places where breezes will come through the various windows of a room to gather momentum and feel like a cool wind. So this must be the purpose of the hundreds of windows at the Hawa Mahal in the Pink City also.

They say your eyes are the window to your soul. Certainly this is the case for the architecture of Jaipur. Without the intricate latticework windows through which the royals saw their city at the palace and the fort, the buildings themselves won’t have a soul.

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