Travelling in Rajasthan in February 2008
Jaipur >> Shekhawati >> Pushkar >> Jaisalmer >> Jodhpur
+ Previous: Jaipur with Raju
+ Next: Old City: City Palace, Jantar Mantar and Hawa Mahal – II
Jaipur’s weather is at its best during the arrival or departure of winter. I have chosen one such time to be there, when the sun shines brightly after a long hangover of winter, but is not harsh and unforgiving yet. Even the good weather days of Rajasthan are difficult for me – the spoilsport who has lived in the tropics most of his life, in moderate climes where the mercury is friendly to the human body through the year. Wandering in the city’s roads, wind bites my skin and I find it cold every time I am in shadows. Its a pleasure to get out and feel the warmth of the sun in those moments, but only for some time before the sun starts burning the skin. Altering between sun and shadow was something I had to keep doing for my entire three weeks of stay in Rajasthan.
Like every other city with a history, Jaipur too, has an old walled block that is struggling to survive with the changing days, and a modern city that is fast expanding. Unlike popular belief, its not entire Jaipur but only the old city that gets called ‘Pink City’. Walking on the main streets of Old City, its a surprise even to the best informed traveller to witness every structure painted in pink. The uniformity doesn’t stop there. Every shop on the street, whether they sell groceries or clothes or mutual funds, all have the same shape and size and need numbering to distinguish one from other. Thank god for the numbers, without them one would have no idea how to find the shop he is looking for. But once in a while you see the order broken. Modern corporations, ever conscious of an image and with pressures to build their brands have tried to break out of the monotony and have raised sleek signboards in front of their offices. The pink palettes of Jaipur can’t survive democracy for long – it takes a king to bring an order of such degree and have no one question it.
One of the gates of the old walled city.
And it is indeed a king who decided the color of the buildings. Late nineteenth century, Maharaja Man Singh II decided that the best way to welcome the then Prince of Wales to Jaipur is to have the entire city painted in pink. Once the orders were dispatched, probably no questions were asked and the task would have been completed overnight. No protests from site owners, no bundh calls from opposition or no court hearing to stall the order.
Whether people of Jaipur in those days liked it or not, the pink city gave name and fame to Jaipur. There is a certain charm to see in the evenness of its lanes that is a relief from regular chaos of other parts of the city. Neatly lined up shops in perfect order selling every possible thing – grains by wholesale, clothes, hardware, crockery, plastic, anything you can think of. I even see sewing machines labeled ‘Nokia’ in a shop. But out of the sidewalks and into the streets, things are not much different. Roads are crowded in the peak hour with scooters, rickshaws, cars, bicycles and push-carts. Congestion happens often in roads probably built a few hundred years ago without a foresight of industrial revolution. Yet, it is impressive that the system has supported years of growth. After all, when it was established, Jaipur was the only city in the country built with a plan.
But despite the bustle of the market, an old world feel remains in the pink city’s structures. Once in a while you see ancient buildings that haven’t seen any restoration work in many years. Lanes leading out of the main roads are quiet and cozy without the noise of the traffic. Sandstone colored stucco are peeling off from old buildings with large domes on their top. Standing on the roof of a building, I can see arches on the top of old and worn out pink buildings spreading in all directions of the old city.
As I walk besides the shops on the way to City Palace, a few shopkeepers selling objects of tourists desire call at me, inviting me to take a look at their stockpile of handicrafts, souvenirs and colorful clothing. My eyes meet that of a rickshawalla when I cross a street, and there is a flicker of hope in his eyes as he thinks I might turnout to be a customer. A little ahead, there are two pigeons having a fight in their corner which lasts long enough for me to wait and watch. Just when it is erupting into a violence showdown, one of them accepts defeat and flies away.
I enter the complex of City Palace through a narrow gate that isolates the area from traffic, noise and the rush outside. The complex is a large area with empty, wide alleys and open spaces. Large gates with tall arches divide sections of the complex, with fluttering pigeons occupying every inch of free space on the top of these arches. Once in a while they rush out of their perches with loud flutter of wings, collectively strong enough to create small local currents of wind. The amiable Marwaris feed the pigeons generously, letting them thrive and grow plump in the quarters of Old City.