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The International Writers Magazine: Jaipur with Sumeet Lakhotia

Using an 18th century watch to tell time in Jaipur
Sumeet Lakhotia
“Tu toh Hrithik Roshan dikhe hai” (You look like Hrithik Roshan). In India you always know which hero is ruling the roost based on beggars, especially hijras (transgenders) likening you to him.

Men in turbans

Here I was at the temple of Lord Hanuman in Salasar (150 km from Jaipur) getting an ego massage by the numerous beggars. This temple is one of the most famous temples for Lord Hanuman and every year millions of devotees come to pray. Our timing was god sent, as a fair had just concluded the week before and the temple was almost empty, allowing us to do peaceful darshan without being pushed around. The aroma of yummy churma (a sweet dish) wafts out of a room and I peek in to treat myself to a sight of huge vessels filled to the brim with the churma. My mouth starts to salivate and I grin to myself for I know that this churma will be offered as prasad on leaving the temple. This temple is highly revered by Marwaris (people originating from Rajasthan) and many visit it once or twice a year.

I’m a marwari  and my hometown is 240 kilometers from Jaipur. Even though I live in Mumbai, my family and I visit our hometown twice every year to pray to our Kuldevi (Family Goddess). During these trips we also visit other places of worship like Salasar Balaji temple, Khatu Shyamji temple and the Ajmer Sharif dargah.

It’s 8 in the morning and I stretch myself as we wait for our taxi to pick us up from Jaipur airport. I see a man dressed in traditional Rajasthani attire with a placard. I crane my neck to see if our name was written on it, but alas, no such luck there. We’ve just arrived on a 6 am flight from Mumbai, which basically ensured that you don’t have a good night’s sleep. I was lucky in a way, as the two seats next to me on the flight were empty so I lay down and had an hour’s nap.

A white coloured Toyota Innova rolls to a stop before us (after some frantic waving by dad) and we load our luggage, take a seat and head off to Salasar. We make an early stop for some diesel. 9 km from the airport (area called Sahakari Bhavan) is a petrol pump of BPCL, where 95% of the attendants are ladies. Quite a rare sight in India.

On the way to Salasar, we stop for a quick breakfast 62 km from Jaipur, at a restaurant called Jhalak (Immediately reminded me of Himesh Reshammiya, his cap and his nasal twang). The pattern breakfast in the north of India is Aloo Paratha, so that is what I order. But by god the paratha was spicy, bringing tears to my eyes. I ate the food quickly, not because I was hungry but because the flies kept sitting on my food and the only other option was to keep shooing them off, which I had gotten tired off.
boy on bike A few kilometers ahead is the town of Ringas, which is a centre for car building. The sides of the highway are lined by garages with mechanics furiously tinkering away on cars and by skeletons of cars sitting outside, patiently awaiting their turn to be transformed from an ugly ducking to a beautiful swan.

Rajasthan is one of the drier states of India but a wide variety of crops are grown here. It is harvest season at present and crops of Peanuts and Bajra had been cut, while Jowar was starting to be cut. Our driver Raju’s family also has some fields and when he isn’t ferrying people to their choice of destinations, he lends a helping hand there. “This year the yield of bajra is very good, but that means that we will get a lesser price than last year as supply will be more”, says Raju. There seems to be a dark cloud with this silver lining. Raju continues “and now we will sow the wheat crop in our fields which will be ready in 60 to 70 days”.

Our talk gets cut short as we reach a Toll Booth and we need to pay 25 INR. A couple of young boys run up to the car offering fresh mullis (radish), 2 for 10 INR. The toll tax that is being collected is being put to a good use as the roads are in good condition and speeds of 80 kmph are achievable even though it is a two way road.

One thing you should know about Raju, is that he seems to be a big fan of Formula 1 racing. He might not know the names of the drivers or their teams, but he’s very good at imitating their on-track antics as he pushes the Toyota  to its limits. He speeds down the highway, cutting in and out of lanes and one time he even went full speed over a speed breaker causing us to jump (not for joy) in our seats which led to our heads playing bumper cars with the roof of the vehicle. For the very first time in my life I wore a seat belt while sitting in the back seat of a car, not entirely sure if it would help if we crashed. I have a slight suspicion that Raju is actually an undercover test car driver who in on a mission to put the Toyota’s acceleration, brakes, suspension and handling to the test.

On the way back to Jaipur we cross Navalgarh (140 km from Jaipur). This is a small town which hosts a camel fair for 10 to 15 days near the end of October. From here the fair moves to its more famous avatar at Pushkar, where the fair is held during from 12th to 21st November.

“You went to Jaipur and didn’t see any of the palaces?” is what my friends would have told me had I returned to Mumbai without taking in some of the sights of Jaipur. So the next day we head out to see some of the city’s heritage before we head home.

CITY PALACE The City Palace of Jaipur is where the current King, Maharaja Sawai Bhawani Singh, still resides with his family. A part of the palace is open for the public to see and enjoy. Our guide, Digvijay, accompanies us through the palace and entertains us with trivia about the palace and the erstwhile kings. Our first stop is the Mubarak Mahal.

Built by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II in 19th century to entertain his guests, today it has on display an array of robes, bedspreads, turbans and other textiles used by the kings and queens. A wedding robe, made of muslin from Dhaka and having 320 pleats, Maharaja Man Singh II’s winter as well as summer polo attire, Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II’s (who was 7 feet tall, had a chest measuring 4 feet and weighed 250 kgs) robe and pyjama and many other clothes are on display.

silver urn The Diwan – i – Khaas (Private meeting chamber of the King) has 2 large Silver Urns. These urns weigh 350 kgs each and can hold 900 galloons of water. Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II would drink and use only water from the River Ganga to bathe. When he went to England on a visit, he carried water from the River Ganga in these two urns.

A little ahead was the Diwan – i – Aam (Public meeting chamber of the King). The grandeur of this room is a sight to be seen. Intricate leaf and flower patterns made using real gold, adorn the ceilings. A crystal chandelier hangs in the centre of the hall. This chandelier was brought from Czechoslovakia and can hold 108 candles. It is the 2nd largest chandelier in India. The erstwhile kings of Jaipur look at you from their places of the walls, as you walk around the hall.

An interesting fact that I learned here is that the modern game of Polo actually originated from India, in the 1800s. The British did popularize it, but they discovered the game in the North East Indian state of Manipur. In 1834, the world’s first polo club was established in Silchar, Assam in India. Even before that, polo has been popular in India since the 12th century. During the Mughal period, the game (then called Chaughan) flourished. Even Emperor Akbar was fond of playing polo and introduced rules and regulations for the game.

Jantar Mantar

Yantar means instrument and Mantar means formula or calculation. But over time, the Y of yantar got converted to J, which is why it is now known as Jantar Mantar. The Jantar Mantar is located opposite the City Palace in Jaipur. It is home to 14 devices which were commissioned by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II (the founder of Jaipur) in 1728.


These devices were used to study astronomy by the scholars and the King, who was an avid astronomer himself. The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is one of five built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in India (the others are in Mathura, New Delhi, Ujjain and Varanasi), but it is the only one that is still in working condition. No wonder then that it has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1st August 2010.

The gem in the Jantar Mantar’s crown is the 90 foot (27 m) tall Sun Dial (World’s largest) (also called Samrat Yantra) which tells you the time with an accuracy of 2 seconds. Jeetendra Singh, our guide, pointed out one important fact, “The Sun Dial can tell you the exact time at Jaipur. But since Indian standard time is derived from Allahabad, the time in Jaipur is 11 minutes behind IST.” We head to the Sun Dial and the shadow of the median shows that it is 4:20 pm in Jaipur. My watch says 4:31 pm. Point proved.

Other instruments like the Jaiprakash Yantra tell you what Sun Sign the Sun currently is in, while the Narivalaya Yantra lets you know whether the Sun is in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, all based on where the Sun’s rays fall. Further down, are 13 constructions of stones (some in the form of stairs, triangles, etc.) facing a particular direction and set at a specific angle. When you look along the plain of the top end of the construction you can see the North Star or the star of the particular Sun Sign that the construction corresponds to. These contraptions can be tested only at night, but unfortunately the Jantar Mantar shuts its doors at 5 pm.

“The level of perfection that Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II wanted in these instruments can be seen in the fact that each instrument was first made in the form of a rough model, then a miniature scaled model and finally the actual instrument was constructed,” points out Jeetendra. He adds that all three models of each instrument are still present here.
All the instruments are made specifically for Jaipur’s location (Latitude of 27 degrees North), so if they were to be exactly replicated at any other place they would not work correctly.

I’m so glad I took some time out and visited the City Palace and especially Jantar Mantar. It was an eye opener to see the level of knowledge that India had at that time. To have built something which, even after almost 300 years, works as well as any of the complicated new age machines, is nothing short of sheer genius.

Before we said our good byes, I had one last thing to ask Jeetendra. “Why is Jaipur called the Pink city? Is it because of a certain stone used in the buildings?” Laughing, he replied, “Nahi Sir, in 1853 the Prince of Wales was visiting India and the king at that time (Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II) got the city painted pink, since pink was considered the color of hospitality. From that time on, the main road inside the walled city, where the Hawa Mahal stands, is pink in colour and Jaipur is known as the pink city.”

This makes me curious, why is Jodhpur called the ‘blue city’? Time to book a trip to Jodhpur to unravel that mystery.

full jeep

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