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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Architecture in Focus: Hawa Mahal - the Palace of the Winds


Tucked within the busy streets of Jaipur, is an architectural marvel standing pyramidal 50 feet high of red and pink sandstone adorned with 953 jharokha windows designed intricately with latticework. Built in 1799 under the orders of Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the building was designed by the architect of Jaipur city, Lal Chand Ustad and is an example of Rajput Architecture prevalent in the state of Rajasthan. Inside was where the royal ladies practicing the purdah, peeks into the outside world observing the street affairs without getting seen. The direction to which the Hawa Mahal faces and the lattice allows a strong breeze to emanate from the outside and cool the interior which measures the size of a small room in width. Thus, it being called as "The Palace of the Winds".

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Me and Aileen woke up early to start our day of exploring Jaipur. The day before we arrived on a train from New Delhi and spent the afternoon rummaging through many interesting items at Johri and Bapu bazaars. Surprisingly the vendors here aren't as annoying as the previous stops we've had. Yes, they would say "come take a look inside five minutes" while pointing us to their shops, but when we say "No, it's alright" they'd smile back and say "no problem"

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Jaipur was our 5th stop in India after Kolkata, Varanasi, Agra and New Delhi and I've come to relax my senses and the paranoia of being scammed or Aileen being groped as suggested by many travel warnings I've read online prior to our trip were almost gone and forgotten. It is because since the start of our trip in Kolkata, we've had the good fortune of meeting kind and helpful locals. 

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Of course, the touts along the ghats of Varanasi are out of this world - but understandably so as they're just plying their boat trade. Jaipur - being our first destination in the state of Rajasthan I quickly noticed the sudden shift of the landscape. The roads are littered with speck of golden dust, the architecture quickly turn another page and as mentioned more bazaars that sells items that escapes the hold of modernity.

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From sarees, pashmina shawls, tunics, scarves, traditional decorated shoes, lehangas in colorful bhandhej, gemstone jewelries, Jaipuri jutis, salwar suits, bedsheets, handcraft items and a lot more had Aileen almost going mad just by trying to decide which item to buy. 

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We arrive near the Hawa Mahal area around 8:30 am, the wind is a bit cold since it is still the tail-end of winter. Good for us because summer can be hotly unbearable and walking around this weather gave us more time to explore on foot. Being in India this long we've embraced the frenetic street activities and that morning, people on the streets are just starting their day. Shops and offices such as the ones offering Rajasthan Tour Packages are slowly being filled with patrons. 

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Coming at par with the 'specimen of fanciful architecture' label of Hawa Mahal, the surrounding buildings which also include the nearby City Palace of Jaipur does not disappoint either. There is always these contrasting things that battle it out each step we take. 

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One moment we were walking a narrow street reeking with piss, cow and dove dungs, then a few steps after we will be greeted by a marvelous structure - in this case, the outer wall of the City Palace. There's always a place for chaos and beauty in India as magnified here in the streets of Jaipur. Something that our friend Mina told us, 'will blow all your senses away'. 

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As a traveler, it is exactly what I intend to experience. Jaipur and the bazaars, Hawa Mahal and later on during this day, the City Palace, the Amber Fort, more street walking and local foods and then some, reinforced me with what I was really expecting of India. 

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As I stand across the Hawa Mahal - I imagined the royal ladies of the old days, their faces covered with only their visible sparkling eyes staring back at me. The wind blows across their veil exposing their attractive features and for a rapid stolen moment I locked eyes with one of them. 
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