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Jaipur - Hawa Mahal, City Palace, Raj Mandir cinema and the thing about beggars

Jaipur Travel Blog

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Hawa Mahal

Jaipur, ‘the pink city’, city of 2.5 million souls, capital of Rajasthan and gateway to the state. For many short-time visitors to India, Jaipur is merely a stop on the ‘Golden Triangle’. For me, it was an introduction into experiencing Indian city life, the first contact with palaces and forts and its typical architecture. Likewise, it was a first encounter with the social consciousness faced when in India and a meeting that was to define some of my perceptions of India and its people.

In the morning, I walk towards Mirza Ismail Road (MI Road) in search of a different hostel and find one at the Chameliwala Market, the Hotel Pink Sun, where I get a half-decent room for 250 Rs.

me at Hawa Mahal
Walking along busy Indian city roads is rarely a pleasure . Most of the time there is no sidewalk to speak of, only a side-strip of dust, where the wind collects the rubbish, street vendors are selling fruits or snacks, people using the ditch to take a piss or a dump, and holy cows taking a rest after having successfully crossed the frantic traffic.

Around noon I take a cycle rickshaw to the Hawa Mahal, the ‘Palace of the Winds’. It was built in 1799 by some chap called Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh who apparently had a big harem and therefore built this palace for his numerous ladies, so that they could look through one of the 953 casements down onto the street to watch processions without being seen. The word hawa means wind or cool air and sure enough, the many windows and small holes in the pink sandstone facade allow the air to rush through, providing a fresh and pleasant breeze.

Hawa Mahal detail
From the top of the palace you also get a great view of Jaipur: on the one side past the City Palace and Jantar Mantar (Observatory) the Nahargarh (Tiger Fort) stands on a sheer rock face, and on the other side the not-so pink city streches widely towards the horizon.

The striking beauty of the Hawa Mahal is fully revealed from the street outside. From here it stands proud and - like a pyramidal shaped monument - rises to a height of 15 meters. Set against a perfectly blue sky, the sandstone coloured five-storied wall looks impressive from the opposite side of the street and delicate from close up with all its miniature windows, grills, finials and domes. It also brings to mind the honeycomb web of a beehive with small portholes. For the best views it is a good idea to accept “invitations” from shop owners on the upper floors across the street.

crazy traffic in Jaipur
From there you can fit the whole structure on your camera lense and also enjoy it without the busy traffic and throng of people. Sure, the shop owner will want to show you his crappy jewelery and quote ridiculous prices but you don´t have to feel like you need to buy something just because they allowed you up on the roof for views. Just walk down the stairs again after having taken your pictures and ignore the offended affectation of the touts.

A cow stands in the middle of the road, seemingly oblivious of the rush of traffic around it. It´s just standing there without moving despite the honking. It is chewing something with pleasure, its eyes half closed as if in meditation. Is an Indian cow the opposite of a tourist in India? A cow is mostly left alone and worshipped for religious reasons, a tourist is never left alone and worshipped for monetary reasons.

shoe store

After the Hawa Mahal I walk to the near City Palace, which is set in the centre of Jaipur and surrounded by high walls. After paying the entrance fee and picking up the audio guide, I enter the complex through the main gate into a large courtyard with the Mubarak Mahal at the centre. Inside it are textiles and costumes of which the wedding outfits are especially interesting, some musical instruments and toys. In one corner of the courtyard is a small museum with loads of armoury but - unless you´re really into pistols, swords, rifles and the like - it´s rather boring. In the next courtyard, called Diwan-i-Khas, are two silver urns which are said to be the largest pieces of silver in the world. These two 309-kg heavy urns were used to carry Ganga water all the way to England when the “humble” maharaja Sawai Madho Singh visited Queen Victoria.

Mubarak Mahal
Now, if that´s not called devotional, then I don´t know what is. Anyways, the hightlight of the City Palace is the Chandra Mahal (Moon Palace) which is seven storeys high and painted in a yellow colour, the window shutters green surrounded by purple frames and some blue and white walls hidden in the shade of balcony arches. In the courtyard are four beautifully painted doors, the best of which are the Krishna and the Peacock door.

After the City Palace, I decide to roam around the city for a bit, intentionally getting lost, past many shops protected from the sun by pink arcades. Fruit sellers display their goods on the street for sale: piles of potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, chilis, etc. A guy approaches me, asking the usual stuff and recommending his jewelery shop to me but once he notices that I´m not going to visit his shop, he stops his I´m-trying-to-sell-you-stuff-kinda-talk and switches to a calm manner, smokes a cigarette with me and recommends things to do in Jaipur.

Chandra Mahal
From a balcony above the street we watch the bustle of the street unfold underneath us. It´s like a street concert with the car honks as the instruments. Camels towing man and goods and people towing other people. In between, a random assortment of animals roaming around, cows and horses and pigs.

In the evening I decide to watch a movie at the Raj Mandir cinema, which is one of the best known cinemas in India. The movie showing tonight is “My name is Khan” with the famous actor Shah Rukh Khan in the lead role. The interior of the cinema is beautiful, with a large foyer that has chandeliers on the high ceiling. In the auditorium - which holds about 1 300 people (!) - seating is provided in stalls and balcony areas. Watching a movie in India is quite an experience because, unlike in other countries, the Indian audience cheers and howls and claps when they like a certain scene, which makes a great atmosphere.

Raj Mandir cinema
For example, when the beautiful lead actress appears on screen for the first time, the men in the cinema start whistling loudly and howling like horny wolves. Also, Indians don´t care about switching off their mobile phones and talk loudly or they would get up during the movie to get some more popcorn or soda. But instead of being annoying, it´s rather part of the experience. The movie “My name is Khan” then wasn´t that bad either. Here´s a plot summary from www.imdb.com:

“Rizwan Khan, a Muslim from the Borivali section of Mumbai, suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism that complicates socialization.

delicious dinner
The adult Rizwan marries a Hindu single mother, Mandira, in San Francisco. After 9/11, Rizwan is detained by authorities at LAX who mistake his disability for suspicious behavior. Following his arrest, he meets Radha, a therapist who helps him deal with his situation and his affliction. Rizwan then begins a journey to meet US President Obama to clear his name.” See a trailer here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uNDm6YfN2k

After the movie I´m starving, so I walk along MI Road to look for somewhere to eat and find a small place called Lassiwala, where I take a seat and, my hands shaking with hunger, I order three samosas, some potato dumplings and a mango lassi. It´s all very delicious and ridiculously cheap, like one samosa costs only 7 Rs (€ 0.

selling vegetables on the street
10).

Outside of Lassiwala I see a woman with her child begging for money, which involuntarily makes me think about the poor and poverty in general. The question “Do you give to beggars?” is a very difficult one. There is a good forum about it here on travbuddy: www.travbuddy.com/forums/viewtopic.php?id=18036&p=1

Personally, I would never give them money because I would never know if they will really use it for food or some dubious other purpose. Some of them wouldn´t even accept food and want money instead. So how do you know and how do you judge who is a “genuine” beggar? How do you know if it´s someone who begs because that´s his “job” and he´s just too lazy to get his / her ass in gear or if it´s someone who simply can´t manage to escape his / her own misery? How do you know whether the begging is not part of some scam? And there´s this other thing that´s bothering me: If I give food to someone, then he or she will be happy cause they have something to eat, but what about the next day? They will just go back to begging in the hope that there will be other foreigners who give something.

selling vegetables on the street
They will become dependent on travelers, dependent on begging and don´t feel the need anymore to help themselves because they know they´ll earn enough by begging on the street. Therefore I wondered, I mean, it´s surely a bad thing to give money in my opinion, but is giving food bad too? Surely, it´s important to distinguish which ones are genuine people or not, but how would you know? If I knew that a person is poor and begging because he or she simply doesn´t get any opportunities and is therefore really suffering, I have given and give food to them anytime. But it´s this struggle between being human on the one hand and not wanting to encourage the practice of begging on the other hand. But again, who knows what someone´s circumstances are and whether they are really left with no choice? Surely some people actually would have a choice but begging makes their lives easy, doesn´t it? And where does giving end? Sure, I could afford to buy 10 samosas and give them to random beggars on the street.
Indian traffic
But then, I could even afford to invite all of them for dinner in a restaurant or buy them clothes or get a hotel room for them so they could have a decent shower and so on and on. I could afford that not because I´m rich, but because in India it wouldn´t cost the world. But then why don´t we do it? And more importantly, would it really help in the end? They might enjoy it for a brief moment, it would bring momentary happiness into their otherwise drab and hard life, but what then? It´s true: human beings are capable of bringing happiness into other people´s lives, even if it´s just for a brief moment. But the thing is, if this is true, then why is mankind unable to make everyone happy, not just temporarily but forever? After all, it would be possible, wouldn´t it? It´s not happening because of greed and ignorance and corruption, everyone knows that, but every now and then, this fact makes you wonder what the hell is wrong with humankind? My friend Sumedha said that humans are evolving and they are realizing that there needs to be a change.
Indian traffic
She said “only when humanity totally falls down will it rise again. It´s the fate of mankind. And once we´ve managed to rise we will evolve to higher beings and manifest as such.”

I guess we can all agree that poverty is always a sad thing to deal with but we cannot really solve it, can we? Poverty is caused by many different things and we cannot solve every single problem. There are so many greedy people out there who knowingly exploit the poor. Sure, you can give a job to someone, but more often than not it´s just about taking advantage of them. Is it a modern form of slavery? Likewise, often there are too many people willing to work but too little jobs to employ them. Sure, one could say that opportunities are all around and that it´s just a matter of decision-making which determines whether or not the door will open and furthermore you could say that someone who doesn´t have any opportunities has merely made bad decisions somewhere in the past.

a camel among the traffic
But is it really that simple? What about the problem of overpopulation? Does it exist at all? And charity? Sure, we can keep throwing money at the poor, but in the end that only makes the problem worse, doesn´t it? Do you believe in charity or in opportunity? So many questions, so little answers…

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” (Lao Tzu)

James1985 says:
“only when humanity totally falls down will it rise again. It´s the fate of mankind. And once we´ve managed to rise we will evolve to higher beings and manifest as such.”

love this!
Posted on: Feb 25, 2012
abhi_Dreamer says:
i am hooked....bt yeah....well you can also try multiplexes next time..where people don't howl like horny wolves....thats a different India..
Posted on: Jun 21, 2010
Africancrab says:
I enjoyed reading your blog. Well written, thanks for sharing.
Posted on: Jun 21, 2010
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Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
me at Hawa Mahal
me at Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal detail
Hawa Mahal detail
crazy traffic in Jaipur
crazy traffic in Jaipur
shoe store
shoe store
Mubarak Mahal
Mubarak Mahal
Chandra Mahal
Chandra Mahal
Raj Mandir cinema
Raj Mandir cinema
delicious dinner
delicious dinner
selling vegetables on the street
selling vegetables on the street
selling vegetables on the street
selling vegetables on the street
Indian traffic
Indian traffic
Indian traffic
Indian traffic
a camel among the traffic
a camel among the traffic
cycle rickshaw
cycle rickshaw
entrance of Hawa Mahal
entrance of Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
small, colourful windows
small, colourful windows
me inside Hawa Mahal
me inside Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
inside Hawa Mahal
inside Hawa Mahal
the street in front of Hawa Mahal
the street in front of Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal detail
Hawa Mahal detail
Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
view of City Palace
view of City Palace
me at Hawa Mahal
me at Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
view across the street from Hawa M…
view across the street from Hawa …
Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
shop with bags
shop with bags
entrance to City Palace
entrance to City Palace
City Palace
City Palace
clock tower
clock tower
detail
detail
City Palace
City Palace
gate
gate
Diwan-i-Khas
Diwan-i-Khas
detail of a door
detail of a door
Krishna door
Krishna door
Krishna door
Krishna door
detail of Chandra Mahal
detail of Chandra Mahal
detail
detail
Peacock door
Peacock door
Diwan-i-Khas
Diwan-i-Khas
Jaipur
photo by: oxangu2