August 19, 2011
After visiting Amber Fort our first morning, Ingrid and I together with our smaller group of friends went on our own adventure and separated from the tour group. We hired cars and went exploring Jaipur. We had one agenda – shopping! And I really wanted to see Jaipur up close as it is considered one of the best examples of Indian urban planning using Vastu Shastra or the science of architecture based on directional alignments and astrology.
Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, is about 11 kms away from Amber. In 1727, the Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II moved his capital from Amber Fort to Jaipur. Here he was able lay out a very well planned city – wide roads, zoning rules, network of grid streets. There’s even a mathematical formula with the way the streets were laid out – cut into six sectors separated by wide streets of 111 feet. Apparently 111 is a holy number in Hinduism and considered lucky. Commercial shops were designed in multiples of 9 (27); nine signifies the 9 planets of ancient astrological zodiac and twenty-seven signifies the 27 naksatras. Source.
The Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Winds built in 1799. Don’t let the imposing 5-storey facade fool you. This building is just one room deep on the top three floors. The purpose of this palace was for royal ladies to be able to watch the city streets and the market without being seen by outsiders. Back then royal women (yes, plural) were not allowed to be seen by other men. It’s like one big architectural veil with latticework windows made of plaster and stone. Interesting to note too that the ornamentation is only focused in the front not the back of the building. Amazing.
Finally, our driver took us to Gem Palace… after much debate and deception attempts. He kept saying “Gem Palace, no good. I take you to better place.” But we had a goal. We had to see Gem Palace. Turns out, there is a system in Jaipur where business establishments pay up to 30% commission to tour operators who recommend shoppers – this includes hotel concierges, taxi drivers, tourist guides etc. Places like Gem Palace do not pay commission and that’s why drivers will try to discourage you from going.
I am fascinated with woodblock print fabric and was amazed to see it as wallpaper at Gem Palace.
I loved the feel of the place! The jewellery was beyond! The rooms were fantastic in it’s old-world character. The Gem Palace was established in 1852 by the Kasliwal family of Jaipur. They have been jewellers for over 8 generations, even serving some Mughal emperors. Their shopping bag bears the crest of the British empire twice because of their appointment by the Earl Mountbatten, Governor General of India and Richard Gardiner Casey, Governor of Bengal.
We were entertained by an Italian-speaking gentleman who, as it turns out, is a 7th generation Kasliwal gemologist. Samir Kasliwal helps run their family’s precious business. I guess he figured out that we were major fans of jewellery, he brought out some of the most amazing pieces I’ve ever seen! And he let us play with them!!!
Ingrid’s piece was gorgeous. You must read her story of this place. The emerald opens up like a locket to reveal a very interesting “surprise.”
It was hard to leave Gem Palace. But we had to rush. I was determined to shop at Anokhi, specializing in woodblock print fabrics. Same thing happened. Our driver tried to trick us to going to his recommended shop by saying Anokhi was 45 minutes away and that it was closing at 7:15. But I insisted. I said I had an appointment and that I knew it closed at 8pm. Ingrid and I got there 10 minutes before closing time. I hoarded and later panicked about excess baggage.
We got a very little and quick taste of Jaipur. But it was really colourful and exciting. Here Claudette’s driver assisted us in crossing the street (inside the Pink City!). It was 50 seconds of hell. I was screaming my head off – half frozen and half wanting to sprint. But I knew that doing that would kill me instantly. So we took baby steps and screamed like crazy women.
A page from Fiona Caulfied’s Love Jaipur book. My friend Alicia Sy recommended this and I’m glad I found it. It’s not easy to find this book. When I got to my Jaipur hotel, I checked the bookstore for the “Love Jaipur” book and the bookstore keeper directed me to the Kama Sutra section. Toink! Haha. This book is filled with inside information on where to go, what to do, where to buy and how to experience Jaipur so you’d fall in love with it. It’s a series by the way; she also has Love Delhi, Love Mumbai etc. The book itself is beautiful – made in acid free paper and fabric cover. It even looks letter pressed (there’s an old book binding and press industry in Jaipur). It also comes in a cotton and silk pouch.
I went away with some fantastic purchases from Jaipur. Treasures, not because they are precious in price, but because they were all carefully crafted by hand.
And in the short time I was there, I fell in love with Jaipur.
I will be back.