ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Jaipur

DAY 8 (3/5): CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan, India, 2018.12.01

In 2012, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy had come to closure with The Dark Knight Rises.  In this final chapter of the trilogy, there was a remarkable scene where Christian Bale (Batman) escaped from a terrifying underground prison.  That underground prison was actually shot in Rajasthan, at Chand Baori of Abhaneri.  Consisted of 3500 steps over 13 stories, and with a depth of about 30m, Chand Baori is one of the biggest stepped wells in India.  The oldest parts of Chand Baori date back to the 8th century.  For centuries, the well served as a community water cistern outside of the monsoon months.

We have long been fascinated by the beautiful stepped wells of India.  Visiting Chand Baori of Abhaneri was one of the first attractions we selected for our travel itinerary.  Despite visitors can no longer walk down the well, seeing the well from the top edge is still more than worthwhile to appreciate its ancient engineering marvel and sheer beauty of the stair arrangement.

01We arrived at Chand Baori before 1pm.

02It wasn’t the best time of the day to appreciate the shadow of the stairs.

03But the sheer grandeur of the stepped well was really overwhelming.

04One side of the well is occupied by a temple and resting spaces for the royal family.

05The intricate carvings of jharokhas (windows), balconies and rooms reveal the significance of Chand Baori in the medieval time.

06Like many attractions in India, pigeons are inevitable at Chand Baori.

07Details of the architecture.

08Dressed in blue, the staff of Chand Baori stood out from the earthy background.

09Full view of Chand Baori.

10Full view of Chand Baori.

13Full view of Chand Baori.

11The scale of Chand Baori is truly amazing.

12The 3500 steps of the stepped well constitute a surreal picture as if an etched painting by Maurits Escher.

14Similar to Bhangarh, Chand Baori was popular with local school groups as well.

15Without protective railings, the stepped well can be dangerous when the place becomes too crowded.

16The staff in blue really stood out at the stepped well.

18The entire stepped well was like an open air museum.

19There was a small Hindu shrine at the exit of the stepped well.

20Panorama of Chand Baori.

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DAY 8 (2/5): HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan, India, 2018.12.01

Adjacent to Sariska Tiger Reserve, the ruined fort in the village of Bhangarh is well known in India, not just for its impressive 17th century ruins but for its fame as the most haunted attraction in the country.  It is common for visitors with their own wheels to stop by the ruins during the journey between Jaipur and Agra.  Some adventure seekers go as far as hiding in the fort and staying the night illegally to challenge their courage when everybody is gone.  But they are truly risking their lives as tigers from the nearby reserve have been known for occasional visits in the wee hours.

We spent roughly an hour at the ruins.  Knowing that we still had two more places to go after Bhangarh, we had to be disciplined with time management.  While many visitors come to Bhangarh for its haunted legends, the site was in fact worth visiting also for its well preserved ruins.  Legend has it that a black magician fell in love with the beautiful Princess Ratnavati of Bhangarh.  The princess saw through the magician’s wicked plot of tricking her to fall in love with him.  The sour consequence led to the magician putting a curse over the entire fort.  The troubled fort had since then became deserted and haunted.

IMG_1165We passed by the Hanumaan Temple as soon as we stepped into the site of Bhangarh.

IMG_3210Flanked both sides by ruined stone houses, walking on the main street into the site allowed us to imagine its former glory.

DSC_2277Beyond the street of ruined houses, we arrived at the inner core of Bhangarh.

DSC_2224We were delighted to find a large open space at the heart of the site.

DSC_2273The open space was flanked by a number of buildings, including the Gopinath Temple.

DSC_2222From the open space it was another short walk uphill to the fort complex.

IMG_1190We were delighted to see how well preserved the fort was.

DSC_2227On our way up to the fort, we encountered several groups of local students.

DSC_2235They were really interested in us.  Perhaps it wasn’t common for them to see foreigners.

DSC_2243Groups after groups of local students urged us to take them pictures.

DSC_2247The laughter of the school children was a big bonus for our Bhangarh visit.

DSC_2238Looking down to the open space from the fort.

DSC_2254The fort was built cascading up the hill.

IMG_1194Most of the buildings had collapsed after centuries of abandonment.

DSC_2259Monkey were everywhere in the site, especially at the entrance of Somnath Temple.

IMG_1207Local visitors stepping out the Somnath Temple.

IMG_1215Gray langur monkeys are native to the Indian subcontinent.

DSC_2280Before leaving the site, we had encountered several different groups of monkeys, some of which were devouring fruits given by local visitors.

 


DAY 8 (1/5): ON THR ROAD TO AGRA, India, 2018.12.01

240km of travel distance, almost ten hours on the road including three major sights we stopped by along the way: Bhangarh (ruins), Abhaneri (stepped well), and Fatehpur Sikri (historical capital).  Hiring a car from Jaipur to Agra provided us the flexibility to make detours in the countryside at the eastern edge of Rajasthan.  After a week in the desert state, it was time for us continue en-route to complete the “golden triangle” of Jaipur, Agra and Delhi.  Our hired car was booked through Jaipur’s Arya Niwas Hotel.  The driver for the day turned out to be experienced and gentle.  The journey was smooth and rather comfortable despite we ventured into villages and sights away from the main expressway.  Throughout the journey, we passed by villages and farms, giving us an opportunity to see another side of Rajasthan away from historical palaces and fortresses.

IMG_1113Always wearing his flat cap, our driver  was experienced and gentle.

IMG_1134We passed by a village dominated with small stone carving workshops.

IMG_1138Colourful clothing of local Rajasthan women often stood out from the otherwise earthy background.

IMG_1151Along the dusty road, we passed by numerous makeshift petrol filling facilities for motorbikes.

IMG_1236An eye-catching motorbike and a woman with a marvelous outfit standing confidently looked as if a scene from a sci-fi movie.

IMG_1241No matter in cities or the countryside, street food remained popular among the locals.

IMG_1245Disregarded of their age, local Rajasthan women always cover themselves with clothing in vivid colours.

IMG_1283In rural India, cars and trucks are often utilized to their limits.

IMG_1288Throughout the day, we constantly crossed path with an elevated expressway under construction.

IMG_1414Local woman.

IMG_1453In conversation.

IMG_1459Simple hair salon.

IMG_1492In rural India, dried cow dung are commonly used as fuel.

IMG_1620Locals embarking on a motorbike journey.

IMG_1748Occasional sighting of camels on the expressway reminded us that we were still traveling in the desert state.

IMG_1832Shared tuk-tuk or auto rickshaws are everywhere.

IMG_1885Wheat, barley, pulses, sugarcane, oilseeds, cotton, tobacco, mustard, rapeseed, soy bean are some of the main crops in Rajasthan.

IMG_1927End of school day.

IMG_1933Construction site of a multi storey concrete building.

IMG_2022The smiles and laughter of Rajasthani locals would live long in our heart as we left the desert state for Agra.


DAY 7 (4/4): PALACE OF WINDS, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.30

Standing at the edge of the City Palace of Jaipur, the Hawa Mahal was part of the women’s chambers of the former royal palace.  Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the sandstone facade with a honeycomb of latticed bay windows is the most recognizable building in Jaipur.  The splendid facade is actually the back side of the palace building, where royal ladies were able to watch the activities and occasional festival events on the street through one of the 953 small windows.  Today, the five-storey palace building is open to visitors.  With narrow stairways and passageways and shallow rooms, the top three floors can get a little crowded during the tourist high season.

All tourists in Jaipur would take pictures of the famous facade from the main street, while not every one would actually visit the building interior.  We were curious to experience how it might feel to peek back at the main street through one the small windows, and thus decided to pay a brief visit of the palace.  Finding the entrance of Hawa Mahal required a bit of research.  Entered through a retail side street, we arrived at a back lane where the real entrance and ticket office of Hawa Mahal were located.

DSC_1796The splendid facade of Hawa Mahal is the most recognizable building in Jaipur.

IMG_0880To enter the building, visitors must find their way into the back alleyway where the main entrance is located.

IMG_0881Through a series of doors and gateways, we arrived at the primary courtyard of Hawa Mahal.

DSC_2129A feature water fountain dominated the primary courtyard of Hawa Mahal.

DSC_2132We had little interest on the water feature.  Instead, our primary aim was to check out the small windows and the views from the top two levels of the palace.

DSC_2135We walked up a level at a time.  Colourful stained glass windows were everywhere, providing a pleasant visual effects for the interiors.

DSC_2141While many small windows were locked up, some were opened for visitors to check out the street views.

DSC_2148It wasn’t difficult for visitors to imagine the elusive lives of the royal ladies behind the small windows.

DSC_2152The ramp tower led us to the top floor.  From the top floor, we could enjoy the view back into the royal palace.

DSC_2165The pink facade of Hawa Mahal matches perfectly with shops across the street.

DSC_2168There was another courtyard complex connected to the Hawa Mahal on the ground level.

IMG_0905Looking straight down the iconic facade was a little frightening.

IMG_0906Across the street, restaurant patios lined up on the roof and top terraces for anyone who might have the time and mood to sit down with a drink, and take in views of the romantic sunset and iconic facade.

IMG_0921Stairs and hallways on the top floors were really narrow.

IMG_0929By the time we reached the top level it was almost sunset time.

DSC_2179Before leaving Hawa Mahal, we found our way to check out a corner pavilion at the terrace level.

IMG_0980We stopped by a rooftop cafe across the street to enjoy the sunset scenery of the iconic Hawa Mahal.

IMG_1002Before the sun disappeared below the horizon, flood lights at the base of Hawa Mahal were turned on for the night view.  We bid farewell to Hawa Mahal and returned to the Peacock Restaurant for our final dinner in Jaipur.

 


DAY 7 (3/4): MAHARAJA’S ASTRONOMICAL LEGACY, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.30

In 2010, Jaipur’s astronomical experiment ground, Jantar Mantar, with what many referred as the “world’s largest sundial” was inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage.   The world’s largest sundial Vrihat Samrat Yantra was said to provide time with an accuracy of 2 seconds.  Built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1734 as one of the five Jantar Mantars (Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Ujjain, Mathura) in India, Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar was used to observe the movement of the sun, moon and planets, and compile astronomical tables.

We are no astronomical experts, but were curious to check out the 18th century observatory.  Even without any astronomical knowledge, the splendid instruments can be appreciated purely for their physical beauty and historic values.  From Amber Fort, it took us a while to bargain with different tuk tuk driver to take us back with the same price that we paid in the morning.  In Jaipur, we get off at the entrance of Jantar Mantar, directly across the street from the City Palace.

IMG_0825The moment we entered the compound, we were immediately overwhelmed by the sight of the huge sundial, Vrihat Samrat Yantra.

DSC_2065Right by the entrance, we started from something much smaller, the Unnatamsa Yantra, an instrument to measure the altitude of celestial bodies.

DSC_2071After several smaller instruments, we arrived at the biggest of them all, the Vrihat Samrat Yantra.

DSC_2083With 27m (88 ft) in height, Vrihat Samrat Yantra literally means the “king of all instruments”.

DSC_2094Its shadow moves visibly 1mm per second.  Its face is angled at 27 degrees, the latitude of Jaipur.

DSC_2099Rashi Valaya Yantra is comprised of twelve gnomon dial to measure ecliptic coordinates of stars and planets.

DSC_2101They were also used to measure the coordinates of the 12 constellations.

IMG_0857A small piece of artwork indicates the corresponding constellation.

DSC_2067All instruments were made of stone and marble, with astronomical scale marked on a marble lining.

DSC_2117It must be delightful to witness the gentle movement of shadows across the astronomical scale.

IMG_0858Planet study was also a popular subject at Jantar Mantar.

IMG_0862The last instrument we encountered was Jai Prakash Yantra.

DSC_2105Jai Prakash Yantra is consisted of two bowl shaped marble slabs with inverted map of the sky.  it allows astronomers to move inside the slab to measure altitudes, azimuths, hour angles of celestial bodies.

IMG_0871The nearby Kapali Yantra is also consited of two sunken bowls with a map of the heaven carved on the bowl.


DAY 7 (2/4): JAIGARH FORT, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.30

At the exit of Amber Fort, we asked a local visitor for directions to the Jaigarh Fort, the mighty fortress overlooking the Amber Fort atop the Cheel ka Teela (Hill of Eagles) of the Aravalli Range.  Built by Jai Singh II in 1726, the main function of Jaigarh Fort was to protect the Amber Fort.  Many visitors make the effort up to Jaigarh to check out Jaivana, the super large cannon cast in 1720 by Sawai Raja Jai Singh II of Jaipur.  We opted for its supreme views of Amber Fort and Maota Lake.  The local visitor advised us to return into Amber Fort and search for the “Tunnel”, a sub-terrain passage below Amber Fort connecting to the trail of Jaigarh Fort.  We reentered Amber Fort and descended into the “Tunnel”.  The “Tunnel” was dark but full of curious tourists.  There were no signage to confirm the destination but we were told that it would eventually lead us to Jaigarh Fort.  After several minutes in the dark, the “Tunnel” opened to an outdoor archway passage going uphill.

DSC_1985The “Tunnel” exited to an archway passage between Amber and Jaigarh Fort.  The passage was concealed below grade probably for defensive purpose.

DSC_1988The archway passage eventually merged with an uphill path leading to Jaigarh Fort.

DSC_1989Not that many tourists were around on the path.  The path was quite exposed.  We were a little hot despite it was winter.

DSC_1993After ten minutes of ascending, Jaigarh Fort was right ahead of us.

IMG_2924Looking down, we could see the winding path that brought us up to the fort.

DSC_1996After walking through a tunnel, archway passage, and uphill path, we finally reached Jaigarh Fort, the defense citadel for Amber.

IMG_2932Compared with Amber Fort, Jaigarh was relatively bare and empty.

DSC_2005Most of the interior spaces were off limit for visitors.  We wandered around the courtyards before reaching the back gardens.

DSC_2008Despite all furniture were gone, we could still imagine what the spaces would be like when filled with generals and military personnel.

IMG_0762At various lookouts, we could truly appreciate the defensive structure and ramparts that extended way beyond the fort.

DSC_2017As an defensive complex, the back garden of Jaigarh Fort was surprisingly elegant.

DSC_2029We walked on the rampart walls around the garden to enjoy the surrounding landscape.

IMG_2952From the wall, we could also see the Amber Fort down below.

DSC_2023We could also see a number of temples in the town of Amber down below.

DSC_2025From distance, the protective ramparts surrounding Amber seemed like a small version of China’s Great Wall.

IMG_0786Delicate latticeworks seemed to exist everywhere no matter where visited in Rajasthan.

DSC_2053At the other end of Jaigarh Fort, we finally found Jaivana, the large 18th-century cannon cast by Sawai Raja Jai Singh II of Jaipur.  After a test-fire in 1720, the cannon had never fired twice.

 


DAY 7 (1/4): AMBER FORT, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.30

Getting up early was the key to beat the crowds.  Our goal was to reach Amber Fort (or Amer Fort) before 8:30am.  From our hotel in Jaipur, we had no problem flagging down an auto-rickshaw to cover the 10+ km to the valley of Kalikho Hills.  The trip took roughly half an hour.  At 8:15am, the majestic Amber Fort bathed in the morning glow came in sight while our auto-rickshaw approached Maota Lake.  After getting off, we had the option of walking uphill to the fort or riding one of the 103 elephants to approach the hill fort in the maharaja’s way.  Dozens of Indian elephants carrying foreign tourists on crimson howdahs zigzagged their way up to the arrival courtyard is a common sight at Amber Fort every morning.   Yet, recently complaints filed in court had exposed the ill treatment of the elephants.  We decided not to support the elephant owner.  Walking uphill to the main gate Suraj Pol was a causal 15-minute walk.  At the arrival courtyard Jalebi Chowk, we were soon overwhelmed by the enormous scale and exquisite details of the architecture.  First built in 1592 by Man Singh I on earlier fort structures, the citadel was further expanded by Jai Singh I in the 17th century.  The fort and its palace complex remained as the political centre of the region until 1727, when the capital was moved to Jaipur.

DSC_1810We get off the auto rickshaw right by Maota Lake, the main source of water for the Amber Fort.  The fort and its reflection glowed under the morning sunlight.

DSC_1820We gave up the idea of riding the elephants and walked uphill on the same path as the elephants.

DSC_1827Many tourists preferred to take the exotic elephant ride to reach the fort.

DSC_1865Amber Fort is situated in a valley of Kalikho Hills, 11km northeast of Jaipur.

DSC_1896The progression of elephants making their way up and down the fort has become a common scene at Amber everyday.

DSC_1846We entered through Suraj Pol Gate into Jalebi Chowk, the arrival courtyard of Amber Fort.

IMG_2817We got our admission tickets at Jalebi Chowk and headed up a grand stair to the Singh Pol (Lion Gate).  Through the gate we entered into the first palace courtyard that was dominated by Diwan-i-aam or Hall of Public Audience.

IMG_0671Built in 1639, the elegant Diwan-i-Aam or Hall of Public Audience is an open pavilion that served as an audience hall.

IMG_2845The Diwan-i-Aam or Hall of Public Audience is a beautiful piece of Rajput architecture.

DSC_1872From the courtyard of Diwan-i-Aam, we entered the inner palace through the beautiful Ganesh Pol Gate.

DSC_1903The three storey Ganesh Pol was built in 1640.  It marks the main gateway into the inner palace.

IMG_0692Beyond Ganesh Pol lies the Aram Bagh or Pleasure Garden.  The garden is flanked one end by the  Sukh Niwas or Hall of Pleasure and the other by Sheesh Mahal or the Mirror Hall at lower level and Jas Mandir or Hall of Private Audience at upper.

IMG_2856The Sukh Niwas or Hall of Pleasure marble rooms of Sukh Mahal were cooled by water channeled in the walls and floor.

IMG_2921Across the courtyard from Sukh Niwas stands the Sheesh Mahal or Mirror Hall.

IMG_0709The Sheesh Mahal or Mirror Hall was the private chambers of the maharaja and his queen.  Small pieces of mirrors and glasses filled the ceiling and walls.  The space was particularly atmospheric at night under candle light.

DSC_1922The last courtyard we came to was Man Singh I Palace Square, where the Zenana once lived.  This is the oldest part of the palace.  The Baradari pavilion in the middle was the meeting place of the royal ladies.

IMG_2900From the Suhag Mandir at the upper level of Ganesh Pol, royal ladies could look out into the Diwan-i-Aam or Hall of Public Audience.

IMG_0706A cleaning staff at Man Singh I Palace Square.

DSC_1935The Baradari pavilion at the centre of Man Singh I Palace Square.

IMG_0640From Amber Fort, we entered a tunnel and path that was supposed leading to the ramparts of Jaigarh Fort further uphill.