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onstruction on Jaipur’s
Amber Fort took 60 years to
complete. Inside its imposing
walls are audience halls
displaying Mughal flourishes, and a
mirror-lined palace reflecting Persian
architectural influences. There are
manicured garden courtyards, guards’
quarters, and temples and gates dedicated
to Hindu gods and goddesses.
There’s also a residential wing known as
the Ladies Apartments. In other countries
this may have been called a harem, for it is
here that the maharajas’ wives spent their
days and nights in rooms of their own.
Twelve cubicles face onto a central
courtyard where the king’s courtesans could
mingle and gossip. All were accessible via a
common corridor. And each was separated
so the maharaja could have his way with
one without the others knowing.
“So a wife for each month then?” I say
to my guide, Alok.
“Yes, but what about all the mistresses
and concubines?” he replies. “Probably
one for each day.” Such were the benefits
of being a Rajasthani king.
India has changed since those heady
days. Rajasthan’s royal families may have
been allowed to preserve their wealth
post-independence, but they no longer
wield the same power as they once did.
Even Amber Fort wasn’t immune. When
it was completed in 1638, its walls were
considered close to impenetrable. But in
1727, the ruling maharaja decided to shift
his throne to another site 11km down the
road. Hence, Jaipur was born.
Most of what you can see in Jaipur
today can be linked to its founder,
Maharaja Jai Singh II. The man who lent
his name to the city is credited with using
the first grid-patterned street design in
India. Nine blocks were laid out across a
marshy flat fortified on three sides by rocky
hills. Two were reserved for royalty and its
administration. The rest were designated
for his subjects, in conformity with the
Hindu caste system that necessitated the
segregation of people belonging to different
communities and ranks.
A city wall measuring 10km long with
seven entrances was erected around them.
It contains the Old City, where everything
inside – and the wall itself – is painted pink.
The reason for favouring a terracotta-
tinted hue is uncertain. Some believe
it was a means of cutting down glare.
Others think it was to imitate the red
sandstone favoured by Mughal emperors
at the time. But the motive touted most
often is that pink is the traditional colour
of hospitality, and that the city was given
a fresh splash of paint ahead of Prince
Albert’s visit in 1876.
Ever since, Jaipur has been known
as the ‘Pink City’, to the extent that the
governing Chief Minister still orders
a paint touch-up every year. The only
exception to that rule is the yellow City
Palace complex – home to the royal
family, and an Aladdin’s cave of treasures
containing bejewelled daggers, ornamental
doorways and princely robes.
Jaipur’s only World Heritage-listed
site, the Jantar Mantar, can be found
next door. This is where giant sundials
constructed in 1728 can tell the time
within two seconds, and where betrothed
couples use astrological means to check
their compatibility before committing to
But it’s back to the regal womenfolk we
go, as it was for them that Jaipur’s most
recognisable attraction originated. Built
in 1799 in a pyramidal shape rising five
storeys high, the Hawa Mahal – or Palace
of the Winds – served as a screen, behind
which the women of the royal household
could spy on the city’s grid-patterned
streets without fear of being seen. Here, it
seems, the maharaja wasn’t the only person
who could sneak around at night. •
Mark Daffey travelled to India courtesy of
Korean Air and Crooked Compass.
FOR MANY, THE RAJASTHANI CITY OF JAIPUR WILL BE THEIR FIRST STOP ON
AN INDIAN TOUR – AND IT’S WELL WORTH PAUSING THERE.
WORDS &PHOTOGRAPHS MARK DAFFEY
r Getting There
Korean Air flies daily from
Sydney and three times weekly
from Brisbane to Seoul/
Incheon, connecting to Mumbai
on Mondays, Wednesdays and
Fridays. See koreanair.com.
Numerous Indian airlines
connect Mumbai with Delhi on
a regular basis.
0 Travel With
The author travelled on
Crooked Compass’ 10-day
Ard Kumbh Mela itinerary in
February 2016. It included
the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Delhi,
Agra and Jaipur and three
days spent at the Ard Kumbh
Mela festival in the holy city of
Haridwar. Crooked Compass
specialises in off-the-beaten-
track small-group tours, which
includes 14 unique Indian
Festival tours. They also offer
private tailor-made itineraries.
Visit: [@] www.crooked-
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