Our hotel was the Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace. This place is huge and the lobby is monstrously large with a huge dome. It could serve as a state house in most states in America. The rooms were truly magnificent; very large and extremely comfortable. Despite the age of the facility, all the modern amenities you would expect in a luxury hotel were there, including flat screen TVs and modern bath facilities. Breakfast was served on a beautiful patio off the lobby facing east into the sunrise. There were stunning views over countryside and the city with the Fort in the distance. Peacocks strolled the grounds in the cool of the early morning as the finishing touch.
Our next stop was the "Pink City" - Jaipur. Begun in 1699, it still retains its character and history despite the city growing into a bustling metropolis way beyond the gates of the old city. It is called the Pink City because of the extensive use of the locally abundant pink plastered stone. We stopped in the old city to take in the snake charmers, elephants beautifully painted foreheads, and mass of humanity that calls this place home.
Probably the most famous building in the old city is the Hawa Mahal. It is a pink sandstone facade of a palace built for the ladies of the harem of Swai Pratap Singh. It contains 953 small casements under a huge curve, each with a balcony and crowning arch.
One of the highlights of Jaipur was an absolutely fascinating visit to the Jantar Mantar Observatory. The observatory, built between 1728 and 1734, sits outside and houses precise instruments for measuring the "harmony of the heavens". Some of the amazing instruments are the Samrat Yantra (sun dial), Dhruva Yantra, (locates the position of the Pole star and swelve signs of the Zodiac), Nari Valya Yantra (sun dial for the Southern hemisphere), and the Raj Yantra (used once a year to calculate the Hindu calendar).
After another exquisite hotel stay in the Oberoi Rajvilas, we visited the Amber Fort. This is a beautiful, fortified palace which was once the capital of the state of Jaipur (until 1728 AD).
In the afternoon we transferred to cars for a journey to a local village where we experienced an interactive elephant ride. Of course it was very hot, but a great experience. These are Asian or Indian elephants (Not African - they have the large ears and are more difficult to train. I'll tell you about our day with African elephant in Botswana in an upcoming blog). These elephants have a "saddle" which is really a small platform on which you sit sideways to the direction of travel. Not the preferred mode of transport for long distances!
The next day and next installment takes us to Agra, home of one of the wonders of the world - the Taj Mahal.