THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Mindrolling in Dehradun
The Amber Fort

Jaipur

I didn't make it to Rishikesh, alas. My friend in Dehradun didn't feel up to it, so I spent the day relaxing at my hotel. On Saturday morning, I took an early plane to Delhi and a connecting flight to Jaipur. It's off-season but this is part of the "Golden Triangle" of Indian tourism, along with Delhi and Agra, and is much more geared toward foreign visitors.

I had one of the ten best meals of my life in the hotel's signature restaurant on Saturday night. Once more I puzzled the waiting staff by abstaining from bread and rice, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment of an elevated version of local cuisine.

On Sunday morning, I set out on a guided tour of the city. We began with "the Palace of the Winds", a place that was used for the entertainment of royal ladies living in purdah. When the various festivals in the city were going on, they could view them from their seclusion through its many windows. There are no stairs. The various levels are reached by ramps along which the ladies, in their heavy attire, would be carried to the various vantage points. It's now government-owned and is one of the city's signature attractions. It's hard to get a different picture of something so much photographed, but I was pleased with this one. I was helped by the overcast skies which made for good, diffused photographic light all day.

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From there we walked to the Jantar Mantar, not a palace but a set of enormous scientific instruments built three hundred years ago by Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II, a man with a serious interest in astronomy and astrology. It's one of five astronomical observatories he built in North, West and Central India.

On the way there I took a tumble and measured my length on a funky Jaipur pavement. I had my camera around my neck and a backpack full of gear on my shoulder. As I fell in Peckinpah-time, I remember being mostly concerned about protecting my equipment. I fell on a telephoto zoom lens attached to the strap of my camera bag. Miraculously, it seems to be undamaged. Kind locals rushed over to help me up, but only my dignity was hurt. It reminded me of the endless prat falls in the comic strips of my Beano and Dandy-reading youth because it turned out I had – and what a cliché this is – slipped on a banana peel. Not only that but one discarded by the monkeys that raid the nearby fruit stalls!

At the Jantar Mantar (literally, "calculation instrument" but usually translated as "observatory") you can set your watch to Jaipur time by the huge sundials (adjusting by 32 minutes to get Indian Standard Time) or use huge globes set into the ground to determine the current position of the zodiac constellations. People have their photographs taken in front of the structure relating to their particular star sign. The object in the picture is the "giant equatorial sundial" which stands 90 feet high. This structure is used as the logo of the local council and features everywhere in the city. 

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Our driver then took us to the City Palace. This is still the home of the current Maharajah, a twenty-year old who went to boarding school in the U.K. but is currently studying for a degree on the East Coast of the USA. We toured the public spaces and some of the private rooms. Our guide was delighted to have an English car enthusiast to whom he could tell the story of a previous Maharajah who, when visiting London, was given the bum's rush from a Rolls-Royce showroom. He returned in full royal regalia and ordered six cars for delivery to Jaipur. When Rolls-Royce engineers arrived after six months for an after-sales servicing, they found he had given them to the city sanitation department to use for collecting rubbish! 

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Also prominently displayed are two enormous, elegant containers which accompanied another Maharajah to London for a coronation. He didn't trust the local water and so took then filled with Jaipur water for his consumption during his stay. One of the best parts of the visit was time spent with a local gentleman in the arts and crafts gallery of the palace. He demonstrated his skills with a "brush" with just one hair by executing a sketch and then showed us his work. I bought a splendid piece to add to my little art collection back home. Here he is, signing it with that "brush".

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