Jaipur: a pink retrospective

17 05 2008

Hearing the news this week of bomb attacks in Jaipur, in which an estimated 63 people died, brought back thoughts of my visit to the city in 2004 when I explored some of the streets in the old town where the attack happened.

Waiting for custom

The street above is in front of the famous Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) and it was here that I started to realise quite how surreal India could be (as distinct from overwhelming). Looking up at the Palace I was approached by a young man with a microphone, followed by another man with a large, professional looking, video camera. They explained that they were students from the local college and were doing a project on the city development plans, part of which involved the pedestrianisation of some of the streets, and asked if they could interview me on camera about it. For some unknown reason I said yes and started pontificating on my extensive (well, very limited) knowledge of city planning. I suspect I prevaricated about it potentially being both good and bad but whatever I said it was capture for posterity:

talk about traffic

Jaipur was also, I think, where I started to fall in love with India. Delhi had been exhilarating but arriving after a long flight, with two changes in the Gulf (note to self: always, always fly direct with Jet Airways) only to find the traffic gridlocked due to a presidential motorcade, made it more of a challenge than a pleasure, not helped by being stung by bees at Humayan’s Tomb (subsequent visits have fortunately shown the wonderful side of the city). After a train journey down to Jaipur I remember the city as relatively calm – roundabouts in a cyclo-rickshaw were still terrifying with traffic always only just missing – but the atmosphere felt open and easy going, no more so than at the Jantar Mantar:

“The biggest stone observatory in the world, which is still in a running condition and stands witness to the wisdom of the former age. Jantar Mantar of Jaipur in Rajasthan is one of the five astronomical observatories built by Maharaja Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur of Rajasthan and is located close to the gate of the famous City Palace of Jaipur of Rajasthan. The Jantar Mantar at Jaipur of Rajasthan was conceived as a quest for discovering the mysteries of the Cosmos. It was built not only to verify astronomical observations made at Jaipur of Rajasthan, but also to stimulate interest in astronomy, which had become enmeshed in theory, superstition and religious jargon. During the period between 1727 and 1733, Jantar Mantar of Rajasthan took its form and structure”

When I visited the site it was full of student veterinarians from Southern India with the inevitable photographic consequences when Elizabeth and I joined them on the steps of the small samrat (sundial):

Happy vets!

If there is a ‘small’ samrat there must be a large one and the large one here reaches a height of 27.4m and is accurate to within two seconds (the smaller is ‘only’ accurate to 20 seconds) with the time taken from the scale below:

Down the curve

Now what's the time?

In another part of the site are a further twelve samrats, called the Rashivalaya Yantraeach, each specific to one of the signs of the zodiacs and they are apparently to “get direct determination of celestial latitude and longitude” (p35 Astronomical Observatory of Jaipur by Daulat Singh Pajawat, Delta, 1989):

One for each sign

Key to the site is the Jai Prakash, two sunken hemispheres which are the most accurate instrument at the site for measuring latitude and longitude and showing which astroological sign the sun is passing through:

The others were rectified with the help of it

For more information about the site I would recommend this website which although it uses an old-fashioned web structure nevertheless has some useful diagrams and explanation of how the instruments work. Also useful is Daulat Singh Pajawat’s book Astronomical Observatory of Jaipur, which I bough for 50Rs at 10:14 on 29/02/04 from the Site Superintendent, according to the receipt tucked inside the book along with the entry ticket to the City Palace Museum:

Reappearing after four years

More photographs from the trip to Jaipur can be found here and there are also photographs of the Varanasi and Chitwan (Nepal) parts of the same trip.

— Words Paul
— Pictures Paul & Elizabeth




One response

18 05 2008

I was shocked by the news from Jaipur. It is a lovely city to visit.

I particularly like the observatory, too: such fantastic shapes!

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