A Jaipur weekend

I have already told about the Delhi visa chase, which required our physical presence in the heat of the plains on a Friday and a Monday. Since we had already seen most of the sights of Delhi on an earlier trip in 2003, we resolved to take a weekend trip on the train (planes might have required passports for identification).

Since we were in tourist mode, we decided on Jaipur, the capital of Rajisthan. Built in the early 18th century by maharaja Jai Singh II, the pink-walled city is one of the largest and best-preserved of the Moghul era. At its center are a set of palaces, including a much-photographed women's palace where members of the maharaja's family could look out on the city from behind a safe screen of lace-like stone.

My personal favorite was the royal observatory of Jai Singh II, much larger and better preserved than the similar one he built in Delhi. Most of the instruments were large and very accurate sundials, reading the time on a semi-circular scale wrapping around the huge stone gnomon. Others allowed accurate measurement of stars' declination and right ascension (angles). Marcia waited under a tree while I deciphered all of this in the 43-degree C (109 F) midday heat.

Late Saturday afternoon, I went to the train station to see if I could track down a small box of medicine I had left on the train down. In typical Indian bureaucratic style, I was sent to six different windows and moldy offices until I determined that the Railway Police was the only thing close to a lost and found desk. They had me file a handwritten report, stamped in duplicate and entered in a dusty book. I don't expect to ever see my box again, although Indian bureaucracy sometimes surprises in strange and wonderful ways.

We devoted Sunday to a visit to the large and well-preserved Amber Fort ten kilometers north of town. Once the maharaja's capital until his city outgrew it, the fort is now crawling with tourists, elephants, and security guards looking to give tours of the king's latrines for a small tip. Despite the hordes, it was still worth visiting in the cool of the morning.

We were thankfully able to upgrade to an air-conditioned car on the train back to Delhi.

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