Kya hal he? was the only Hindi greeting I know but at least that made my guide Vishnu give out that smile showing tea-stained teeth. It turns out this Delhi-educated bloke speaks Spanish and Italian as well. Which means I'm in good hands if his multilingual skill is anything to go by (he guides Europeans as well you see).
We meet early this morning in front of Jaipur's most famous Hawa Mahal. This 5-story pink facade built in 1799 is composed of 593 lattice-stoned screen windows which enabled women living in the palace to view the city outside without any lesser mortal seeing them. If one goes inside looking out this time, the view is that of today's Jaipur filled with tourist shops just across the street, the traffic bedlam, and more wandering cows.
Within Jaipur's old walls, buildings have a pinkish color. This is accordingly on orders of the Maharajah as a sign of welcome for a visiting Prince of Wales in 1853. The buildings are repainted every 10 years, the last being in 2000 during the visit of Bill Clinton.
It's Elephant Festival today and what better way of appreciating the services of a pachyderm than taking a ride atop one on the way up to the massive Amber Fort. The elephants are festively painted in different colors and adorned with bells. It cost me 470 Rupees to feel like a Maharajah but all pretensions vanished when the mahout had a hard time coaxing the beast to move faster. Other elephants were overtaking us and all the mahout could tell me is that he's dealing with a geriatric animal.
The Amber Fort is reached via this narrow pass going uphill. After entering the Sun Gate and dismounting from my ride, I meet Vishnu who's been looking all over for me worried that I might have fallen off from the elephant. Vishnu brought me to the Hall of Public Audience and through the Elephant Gate. I find the glittering Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace) the most interesting with its covering of mirror mosaics and colored glass.
On the way back to the city, we passed by Man Sagar Lake where Jal Mahal, a lake palace built in 1799, sits forlornly and closed to the public. For astronomy buffs, Jantar Mantar is a very fascinating medieval observatory. There are 18 instruments, most of which looks more like huge art installations but actually works even to this day.
At the City Palace, I came to see the museum depicting the lavish lifestyle of the Maharajahs during their time. The last one to rule before Indira Gandhi abolished their power in 1970 is Maharajah Sawai Man Singh II. Vishnu says the family of the former Maharajah currently resides in the adjacent palace which is off-limits to the public.
To cap another long day, I went for an Ayurvedic massage at the Charak Ayurveda Clinic recommended by the hotel. For only 1700 Rupees, I had 90 minutes of pure indulgent bliss - the most relaxing part was that pot of herbal oil slowly poured over my forehead for half an hour. This is the same treatment that costs $200 in New York!