Jaipur

Jaipur : Jaipur (city of victory) was built by Maharaja Jai Singh 2nd (1700-43), ruler of Amber, and a true renaissance man. At the young age of 11, he so impressed Emperor Aurangzed that he was awarded the title ‘Sawai’ (literally ‘one and a quarter’). Therefore, all the Jaipur rulers were given this title. In 1727 he began to lay out a model palace-city, Jaipur employing a Bengali called Vidhaya Chakravarty as his architect. Latter this city became the capital of the Kachhawa clan, and centre of one of the three most powerful and splendid states of Rajasthan.

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A Jewelry Junkie in India

I am a jewelry junkie. And there's nowhere better to be one than in India. The country is a treasure trove of jewelry and gems. Gold and jewels are on billboards and in stores, adorning residents, depicted on deities, and embedded in buildings. Even animals drip in jewels. During festivals elephants sport massive jangling anklets and ornate howdahs (riding carriages) studded with gems and precious metal. Horses and camels wear special headdresses covered with stones. Jewelry is much more than pretty ornamentation in India. It's an integral part of the culture and economy. When babies are born they receive miniature bangles and silver anklets for their tiny wrists and ankles. Families often save up from birth for their daughter's weddings and dowries. (Dowries are technically outlawed but commonly practiced.) Brides are heavily adorned and showered with gifts of jewelry. During auspicious occasions, holidays, and weddings women wear their finest jewels from gem-studded forehead ornaments to nose rings and earrings so heavy with gold and precious tones that a special support chain is wrapped around the top of the ear and attached to the earring. Like family doctors, most women have a family jeweler, usually the same one as their grandmother. The Indian appetite for this precious metal is insatiable—and the population spends a considerable portion of their income on gold, especially solid, 18-24 karat gold jewelry which is popular among the masses. Forget stocks and bonds—jewelry is their bank account. One New Delhi business woman told me "Investing in gold jewelry is as good as investing in property." She also said solid gold bangles are considered one of best investments because they're in one piece without any cuts. Jewelry is handed down to daughters. "It's money saved as well for bad days that may come upon us," she said. By some accounts, 90% of the world's colored stones are cut in Jaipur. Rubies, rose-cut diamonds, tourmaline, blue topaz, smoky quartz, citrine, emeralds, chalcedony, you name it, you'll find it. Gems are everywhere—even in small general stores. I walked into one wholesale market and the clerk was sorting through piles of polished labradorite cabachons and ringing up Coke and bags of potato chips in between. The window display outside the towel held rolls of toilet paper next to hanks of faceted green amethyst. "Hey honey, don't forget the toilet paper while you're out—and pick ups some gems while you're at it." Posted by KATHY SCHULTZ -

Jaipur

Tuk Tuks

Motoring through crowded streets in auto rickshaws (aka tuk tuks), is my favorite mode of transportation in India. They are loud. They are subject to the wind and rain. They miraculously come within millimeters of pedestrians, cows, scooters, bikes, and other auto rickshaws. And they are fun as hell. The three-wheeled vehicles are covered but door-less. With a two-stroke engine and handlebar controls, it's similar to a ride at Disneyland, albeit without the circular track to nowhere. Unlike a sanitized, elevated ride in an air-conditioned four-wheel drive tourist vehicle, tuk tuks are the best mode of transport for a close-up look at daily life. You'll whiz past vegetable markets and get a whiff of ripe bananas, hear locals haggle over goods, and get a birds eye view of monkey shenanigans on the roadside. Tuk tuks are inexpensive rides compared to taxis or hired cars and quite comfortable forms of transportation for two or three people. However, it's not uncommon to see riders crammed within the small confines of the cab, limbs akimbo and protruding from the vehicle. Some tuk tuk drivers show pride of ownership. They cover the seats with fancy fabrics or colored Naugahyde, embellish them with stitched-in heart shapes, trim them in fringe and tassels, and decorate them with deities. Auto rickshaws are used throughout India but rules vary regarding fares. In some areas the meters are working, running and required. In others, meters are often "broken", so you must use your bargaining skills. If you're on an organized tour, don't deprive yourself of this experience. If you're on business consider hiring a tuk tuk driver for the day. Just negotiate in advance. Tuk Tuk Tips Ask the hotel where you're staying what a ride should cost from point A to B. If you're already out flagging down a tuk tuk,, think half of the quoted price and go from there. Always establish a price in advance. Don't assume a driver knows where your destination is. The driver may be from a different state or village and driving his auto rickshaw in an adopted city. I once tried going to an early morning yoga class with map and address in hand only to be dropped off in the middle of, well, I don't know where it was. It took two more tuk tuk rides before I found the yoga class. Bring a map and point out your destination if the driver is unfamiliar with its location. Use common sense. A fellow traveler was adamant about paying a fair, non-tourist price. The driver asked for 80 rupees. She insisted the quoted fare (approximately $1.75) was too much. Perhaps. Well, probably. But there were no other tuk tuks in sight on this long stretch of road. The driver spoke good English and clearly knew the location of our chosen destination. That, in my book, was worth the extra 50 cents he was charging. I sometimes walk to where the tuk tuk drivers congregate. I look for drivers whose vehicles are neat and clean and speak English since my Hindi is limited. It's more efficient for both of us. If a driver insists on taking you to a friend's, uncle or cousin's shop, insist on getting to your desired destination. Chances are, they are taking you to a shop where prices will be high due to their commission. Drivers work hard and work long hours. Tips are appreciated. For the Adventurous You don't have to take a back seat in these crazy little motorized contraptions. Consider driving your own tuk tuk for the Rickshaw Challenge. This "amazing race for the clinically insane" has an outlined route that traverses across several microclimates, and through suburban, country, and city roads. July 31 through August 13, 2009. POSTED BY KATHY SCHULTZ

Jaipur

Miniature Paintings & More

While in Udaipur in Rajasthan I visited some of the studios known for producing miniature paintings, a traditional Indian art form. Artists painted everything from portraits to idyllic scenes from royal days with the aid of paint brushes made of squirrel tail hair(s). Rather than succumb to the chemicals that modern day painters use, those true to the art form use natural pigments including cow urine for the gold coloring. Can't make it to India to see these masterpieces? Check out the Garden & Cosmos exhibit at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. It's a royally impressive collection of 58 paintings and works created from the 17th to the 19th century coming all the way from Jodhpur, in Rajasthan, India. And, it's the first exhibition of these works in the U.S. These exotic creations of palace life, depictions of the gods, and portrayals of the cosmos are intensely colored in gorgeous hues and shades of gold, lilac, magenta, ochre, and deep jungle green. The paintings are precise, infinitesimally detailed, and mesmerizing. Silvery parrots and snowy egrets roost in lush trees. A bejeweled maharaja is serenaded by nubile bosomed queens and attendants. Steel gray elephants cavort beneath cobalt-blue rain clouds. Red-faced monkey soldiers wearing garments that look suspiciously like underpants bravely battle to rescue Sita, wife of Rama. When your eyes tire of soaking in the painstaking yet beautiful detail, take a break in the room filled with photographs of Jodphur's and Rajasthan's rich culture including the people, forts, dancers, pageantry and modern day royalty. Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur Tues.-Sun., Through April 26 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park, 1400-E. Prospect St. 654-3100. www.seattleartmuseum.org Image: Maharaja Bakhat Singh Rejoices during Holi, ca. 1748 - 50 Opaque watercolor on paper Attributed to Nagaur, India 29 x 37" Mehrangarh Museum Trust, RJS 1986 POSTED BY KATHY SCHULTZ

Jaipur

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