No place like home: JaipurWednesday, July 06, 2011
No one is truly a gypsy. There is always that one place that you are tied to, and you can always feel a the pull towards it. Jaipur City was where I was brought up and have spent most of my life. So that's where I start from.
My house is in the very center of the city in the locality of C-Scheme. Within a mile from there is a famous landmark of Jaipur, a tall figure of the the city's founder with a royal canopy, made completely in white marble. The figure itself is erected on a major cross road and due to lack of other highly creative names, the point is known as Statue Circle. The Statue is that of Maharaja Jai Singh II, and the city too is named after him.
Jai Singh was the ruler of Amber, a small palace town situated 11 kilometers from Jaipur. Concerened about growing population of Amber, he decided build a new city. Being an intellectual with interests in Sciences, Mathematics and Vastu Sastra (Indian flavor of architecture), he hired experts and scholars to chart out the plans. The result was one of the most advanced cities of 18th century India. Founded on November 18th 1727, the old city of Jaipur consisted nine blocks, wide perpendicular avenues and a heavy fortification surrounding the city with seven gates to guard it. The Statue shows Jai Singh holding an astronomical chart, a testament to his love for the cosmos.
In the evenings this place comes alive with families, frolicking teens, kids playing around and courting couples. It is one of Jaipur's oldest hangout spots. Moreover, It is surrounded by several other landmarks. There is Rajmandir, a famous movie theater, now facing tough competition from the swarm of new multiplexes opening everywhere, but it still maintains that royal charm which makes it irreplaceable. There also a hotel/restaurant/bar called Jeffery's (now Henry's, trademark issue) nearby dominating the skyline. Right next to Jeffery's (now Henry's) is a series of snack stalls serving good hygienic food, which is remarkable considering a famous open sewer dominates the place's ambiance.
Jaipur is the political capital of the not-so-politically-important state of Rajasthan, but that does not stop us from building a one of the largest State Assembly buildings of the country. The Vidhan Sabha holds a commanding view from the other end of Jan Path, the Statue Circle. It has a magnificent architecture replete of traditional Rajasthani features like Jharokas, Chhatries, Kamani, Baradaries etc., complete with a conspicuously over-sized dome with Sarnath Lions on top. Walking down Jan Path gives one a feeling similar to that of Jan Path in Delhi, which connects India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhawan, although the later has a much grander scale and history.
Moving on from there we come to another site which boasts the city's royal heritage. Moti Dungri, Pearl Hill, Jaipur's very own Scottish Castle and one time home of Jaipur's most famous Queen, Rajmata Gayatri Devi.
Speaking of the Rajmata, she was larger than life, a global socialite, celebrated for her fabulous beauty (counted once as one of the ten most beautiful women in the world by Vogue) and is considered a modern legend. Her entire life is well documented and volumes have been spoken about her but my tryst with the legendary queen was as a kid.
I used to study in a school established and often frequented by her. I was waiting around for a pickup from the school sports ground which used to be her private property. There comes in a black Merc E-Class, stops next to me, windows roll down and there is the Rajmata offering me a lift home. Ofcourse, I obliged, no one can refuse a queen after all, right?
The Rajmata was also an extremely successful and adored politician. In fact, she still holds the world record for the largest landslide victory in '62 national elections. She was running against Congress and was a royalty, which did not put her in Indira Gandhi's good books. Subsequently, during the Emergency she became one of Tihar Jail's famous prisoners and her hilltop castle one of the raid sites.
Moti Dungri, apparently, has quite a holy locality. The castle itself houses a Shiva Temple, which is flocked by devotees on special occasions like Shivratris. There is a Ganesh Temple and a Hanuman Temple at the foot of the hill which is mobbed every Wednesday and Saturday, mostly by people seeking blessings of the Gods after buying something new.
Then of course, there is the sublime Birla Swami Narayan Temple, made completely of white marble in a flush green courtyard. It feels peaceful to just go and sit there in its divine ambiance, in solace and solitude, like at a quite oasis. There not much history associated with this site, except that it is one of several temples built around the country by the Birla marwadi business family.
Jaipur is a city of moderates, neither too fast nor slow. People are neither too aggressive nor too laid back. It is a relatively quite city which chooses to move at its own pace and always stays true to its royal, colorful heritage. A lot more is still to come from the city I call home. . .