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Red sandstone chambers for the ladies at Mehrangarh Fort India | Coastweek

Coastweek -- Red sandstone chambers (right) for the ladies and golden coloured ones (left) for the men at Mehrangarh Fort.  PHOTO - AJUM ASODIA

Royal family, many concubines and mistresses lived in 'Zenana'


Coastweek -- Sukh Niwas or Sukh Mahal (Hall of Pleasure) – the name says it all - is the opposite building which had a piped water supply through an open channel that ran through the building keeping it cool, as in an air conditioned environment.

All the women, Royal family, concubines, mistresses and their female attendants lived in the fourth courtyard (Zenana) which had many living rooms to accommodate the kings many wives.

He could visit the queen of his choice without being found out as to which queen he was visiting, as all the rooms opened into a common corridor.

Ladies would watch processions and fights between elephants and tigers in the courtyard, from windows above that were covered by curtains or carved marble.

Food was cooked in massive cast iron cauldrons (on display in the courtyard) where the cook would have to stand on a raised platform with a huge cooking ladle.

At one time, the King of Jaipur was the second wealthiest man in the world.

City Palace in the heart of Jaipur was built in 1729 is now part museum and part an existing palace where the royal family lives.

Both are open to the public at a fee, the actual residence will cost you 2,500 rupees per person for entrance and if you know the right people can have dinner with the Maharajah and his family.

It was in 1727 that the seat of power was shifted from Amer Fort to Jaipur initiating the construction of this Palace.

The Museum has many artefacts including the armoury from four hundred years ago which are housed in the Maharani Palace (queen’s residence).

A collection of old carriages, palanquins and European cabs are kept in good condition in the Bhaggi Khanna.

Since men were busy in battle, it was the women who kept the accounts which was housed in the zenana (women’s quarters).

In the marble-floored Diwan-i-Khaas, the private audience hall of the Maharajas which is located between the armoury and the art gallery are two huge sterling silver vessel 5.2 feet in height with a capacity of 4000 litres, weighing 340 kilograms, on display.

Made from 14000 melted silver coins without soldering, it is officially recorded in the Guinness Book as the world’s largest sterling silver vessels.

They were made especially for Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II, a devout Hindu who was making his first trip to England in 1901 for Edward VII’s coronation.

Not sure if he would be committing a religious sin by drinking English water, he made two of these silver urns and carried water from the holy Ganges all the way to England by ship.

Not very far from the City Palace is an astronomical observatory named Jantar (instrument) Mantar (formula).

Built in 1727 from local stone and marble it is the largest and best preserved in India with fourteen major geometric devices for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking stars’ location, ascertaining the declinations of planets, and determining the celestial altitudes.

At 90 feet in height, the Samrat Yantra (giant sun dial) tells you the time of the day to the nearest two seconds.

Jantar Mantar was a very important construction since everything that Indians do has to be done with reference to the astrological conditions of that time.

This practise is just as important today as it was centuries ago.

We did not get a chance to go inside the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds), so called because it is structurally designed to allow a breeze to pass through all the rooms without any fans or movement. .

Jaipur also has many hotels on different ratings but if you are willing to splurge you can stay at the Jaipur Palace Hotel (managed by the Taj group) for about 12,000/= rupees a night on bed and breakfast for a double or go one up and stay at an actual palace which has now been converted into a hotel, the Rambagh Palace (also managed by Taj) for about 30,000/= rupees a night.

Jaipur Palace Hotel is designed like a palace but is actually newly built on the grounds of one of the Maharajah’s havelis (mansion).

Chokhi Dhani is about 30km out of Jaipur and is an interesting concept.

A large area that houses all sort of traditional Rajasthani homes, snacks, trades, camel rides, dances, mehndi, snake charmers people sitting in a house actually cooking chapatis in the traditional way, head and neck massages and a restaurant.

Some of these services are free while for others you pay a small amount like ten or twenty rupees.

A 700 rupees ticket allows you to enter the area and roam around partaking in the free services while paying for those on sale.

The entry fee entitles you to a traditional Rajasthani thali (large brass plate) meal either sitting on the ground as tradition requires, or on a table.

Seven different curries and daals in little brass bowls, with chapatis, khichdi with ghee but all very spicy, so the accompanying buttermilk and dessert were very welcome.

Some of the chambers at the Mehrangarh Fort India | Coastweek

Coastweek -- Some of the chambers at the Mehrangarh Fort that have been carved out of the hillside at 400 feet high. PHOTO - AJUM ASODIA

'It is said that seven pilgrimages to Ajmer are supposed to equal one to Mecca'

JODHPUR AND MUMBAI - Our longest road trip was between Jaipur and Jodhpur, only 350 kms but taking almost eight hours.

We wanted to stop on the way in Ajmer, which houses the shrine of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti (mere gharib nawaz) whose followers include Emperor Akbar and more recently Indian music director A. R. Rahman.

It is said that seven pilgrimages to Ajmer are supposed to equal one to Mecca.

However, after seeing the commercialisation of (Moin-ud-din’s brother) Salim Chisti’s mausoleum in Fatehpur and warnings from our guide that it is a long walk from our car to the dargah through very dirty streets and with too many beggars, we declined.

Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan is known as the blue city since most of the houses near the Mehrangarh Fort, the older part of Jodhpur, are coloured blue.

Devout followers of Lord Shiva, who is always denoted in a blue hue, the residents have decided to paint their houses this calming colour

Cleaner than the previous cities we visited, we stayed at Ajith Bhavan, an heritage hotel which has old style rondavels but with modern interiors.

Ajit Bhavan is extension of a palace which is occupied by a cousin of the Maharajah, the hotel being part of their property.

Lovely gardens, lots of chirping birds and old items like cooking pots, hoes, horse and wagon paraphernalia are spread out throughout the grounds.

In the past, Jodhpur was the capital of the Marwar kingdom from where we get the Marwari Jains who eat no garlic, onions, eggs or meat.

They have a separate township behind the fort where all the above food items are totally banned.

In Jodhpur the king is called Rao, not Maharaja and you will see different coloured and styles of turbans and tilaks (annotation on the forehead, very typical in India) depending on the origin of the family.

400 feet above the city, Mehrangar Fort is actually a combination of many palaces spread over five kilometres and the current fort was built in the period of Jaswant Singh (1638-1678).

Entry through the fort is through seven gates of which one is the Loha Pol (blood gate), the final gate into the main part of the fort complex which still bears the hand prints (sati marks) of the ranis who in 1843 immolated themselves on the funeral pyre of their husband Man Singh.

Men’s chambers were golden in colour while the women had red sandstone finish, the former being taller had bigger doorways while the women had much smaller doorways.

Women, were kept in purdah so could only observe what went on in the courtyards from raised balconies through specially made screens so that they could look down but no one could see up.

The nearby lake, which is less than half it’s original size now, had a special water wheel system operated by camels.

Water could be taken up to the top of the fort (400 metres) through this system.

You can see some very well preserved old cannons on the ramparts which also offer breath-taking view of the city.

War in those days was a heavy affair with the Kings outfit weighing 5kg. and a soldier’s armour 11kg. plus the heavy sword.

Hilts on the sword were small because a prince would be trained in warfare from the age of 12 and probably did not live beyond 30 or 40 as most died in battle.

There is a room were different cradles are on display, each prince had their own cradle.

An interesting art collection is housed in one of the rooms as is the hundreds of years old armoury.

Paintings by Mughal artists had side profile and sharp noses on rice paper thus preserved very well, while Hindu artists painted the front profile.

Other galleries display the elephant howdah (seats used by the royals to sit on the elephants), Palanquins, Turbans, Folk music instruments.

One very interesting display that we saw in one of the galleries was a ladies’ make up box with two long wooden appliances on either side.

We were told that these were dumbells for the royal ladies to keep fit since all they did was sit and eat all the time – gyms existed even four hundred years ago.

If you are lucky and they are not closed for renovation or because of graffiti you can see the Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) – built by Sur Singh 1595-1619 and the largest period rooms with five alcoves leading onto hidden balconies so that his five queens could listen in on court proceedings without being seen; Sheesh Mahal (hall of mirrors), Phool Mahal (Palace of flowers) – a grand room where dancing girls performed under a ceiling of gold patterns where only male royals were allowed; Takhat Vilas – residence of Rao Takhat Singh (1843-1873), the last ruler to reside at the fort.

While this last room is still traditional you can see glass balls on the ceiling attributed to western influence that was brought in by the British.

The fort is a popular site for musical and dance performances and film shooting, the most recent was the 2012 release of The Dark Knight.

Chamunda was the kul devi (family goddess) of the kings and her idol was installed in a temple in the fort in 1460.

She remains the Maharaja’s and the Royal Family’s goddess and is worshipped by most of Jodhpur’s citizens who still come to pray at the temple on holy days.

There was an old man sitting in one of the rooms smoking a hookah with an interesting contraption by his side.

Opium was very legal a few hundred years ago in Rajasthan.

In fact, the guide was quick to point out that "opium is not good if you smoke it but perfectly all right to drink in small quantities, making you very relaxed and happy".

The poppy flower grew abundantly here in Rajasthan and it’s seeds were cultivated for opium.

This was put in a muslin bag with some water and the concoction would drip out of the hanging bag into a container below.

These juices were then drunk by men, women and children alike – they must have been a really happy lot in those days.

Not very far from the fort is the Jaswant Thada, a mausoleum built from the best Makrana marble by Rao Sardar Singh in 1899 in memory of his father Rao Jaswant Singh II.

Near it is the crematorium and other smaller cenotaphs of members of the royal family, the construction of this structure officially moved the royal crematorium out of the fort to this present location.

Handicrafts and textiles from Jodhpur are the biggest money earners and the city is also becoming very popular (like Jaipur and Udaipur) for high profile weddings.

We also had the best masala chai (tea) here in Jodhpur and you can purchase this masala from many shops in the bazaar.

Umaid Bhavan, the official residence of the Maharajah built in 1927 and at one time was the biggest private residences in the world.

Now a small portion is occupied by the royal family, a few rooms have been converted to a museum, while major part of the palace is a hotel run by the Taj group and is now closed to all non-residents.

A room at the hotel can set you back about 50,000 rupees going up to 100,000 rupees a night.

The king’s collection of vintage cars are also on display.

Lying just 250 kilometres from the border with Pakistan, Jodhpur is an important base for the Indian army, Indian Air Force and Border Security Force (BSF) and you can see MIG jets speeding across the skies on reconnaissance flights every day.

This meant that for our flight to Mumbai we had to undergo very strict security checks (though nothing like Srinagar) and we boarded our craft in an cordoned off area to keep prying eyes off the air base.

The wreckage of a shot down Pakistani military aircraft with an upside down flag of Pakistan on it, is proudly displayed at the main gate of their base.

MUMBAI - Traffic is always chaotic in Mumbai and the Taj Lands End (Bandra) is a welcome sight for sore eyes, ears and brains. Once inside you are totally cut off from the madness that is outside and are treated like royalty.

You would pay between 10,000 and 12,000 rupees for a double on bed and breakfast for a sea facing room but it is worth every penny.

Mumbai is a city that never sleeps, there are so many buzzing nightspots and restaurants from low to very high end, that one is spoilt for choice.

While in Mumbai you should try out Trishna (only in South Mumbai) and Mahesh (three branches the closest one in Juhu) for really good seafood, Elco market (Bandra) for their pani puri, pau bhaji, matka kulfi and of course the really cheap shopping but keep an eye out for quality, Only Parathas that has by far the most variety of Punjabi parathas and the best sarson da saag and makki ki roti complete with traditional white butter.

Only Parathas have many branches in Mumbai and one in Dubai but the closest to Bandra is their Palli Hill branch.

Lucky Restaurant in Bandra sells the best biryani I have ever had and this fact is verified by none other than Salman Khan, his brothers Arbaaz and Sohail who have given their views which are pinned with pride on their boards.

Again, if you are not used to spicy food, you must ask for mild food wherever you go otherwise your mouth will be on fire.

A wonderful and memorable trip, unfortunately too short as I would have preferred a few extra days to be able to experience all that I did more comfortably.

India has some beautiful and very well preserved historic monuments and sites but unfortunately not many see them as such and have caused so much damage through graffiti, forcing the authorities to close down certain areas, which is a real shame for those who appreciate these sites.



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