Wednesday, February 25, 2015, Aboard the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels

Trip Map

Overnight our train brought us to Ranthambore and later it continued on to Jaipur
(Image courtesy of VENT)
(Click on images to enlarge)

Sawai Jai Singh II Today we explored the territories of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the creator of the Jantar Mantar astronomical observatories. We first looked for tigers and birds in his former hunting grounds, and then we toured his city (“Jaipur” means “city of Jai”) and the big fort his ancestors built on a hill above where he later built his city.
We had to be up and ready to go by 6. After grabbing a few cookies in the dining car, we were off in the dark aboard an open truck to be driven to Ranthambore National Park, a preserve created from the former hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur. Our steward Keith had insisted that we take a blanket along, but our fleeces were sufficient to deal with the “cold”. (We keep hearing about how horrible the weather is back home and being glad we were clever enough to schedule this trip, despite our not having given any thought at all then to its potential for avoiding the worst of the winter.)

The sun had risen by the time we got to the national park. The park is especially wonderful in that it has the ruins of a massive 11th Century fort and associated buildings scattered about. Videos we’ve seen of the tigers in the park sometimes show them basking on the warm golden stone of the ruins. We did not, in the end, find any tigers today, but it was a glorious morning with wonderful birds and other wildlife, all of them very relaxed about visitors.

Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan

Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan
Perhaps the most relaxed were the Rufous Treepies, who overcame their innate shyness to greet us as soon as we arrived in the park. They are attracted to vehicles to the extent of perching on the bars over our heads and were quite willing to come to a hand to take food. We had as many as five at a time in attendance on us throughout the morning.
Rufous Treepie, Ranthambore National Park

Official Greeter, Ranthambore National Park
Rufous Treepie

Rufous Treepie graciously accepting an offering
The rest of the wildlife was also accustomed to people. The white-phase Oriental Honey-Buzzard perched low in a tree eating something appeared not to mind our being so close. A Spotted Deer fawn browsed unconcernedly a few feet away from our vehicle. Other animals barely glanced up as we passed near them.
Oriental Honey-Buzzard, Ranthambore National Park

Oriental Honey-Buzzard
Spotted Deer fawn, Ranthambore National Park

Spotted Deer fawn
Samba Deer, Ranthambore National Park

Samba Deer
Wild Boar, Ranthambore National Park

Wild Boar

Spotted Deer, Ranthambore National Park

Spotted Deer
Mugger Crocodile, Ranthambore National Park

Mugger Crocodile
And there were more terrific birds, such as the Spotted Owlet sound asleep in its hole. There were Peafowl everywhere, and we were surprised by how much gold they glinted in the bright sunlight (this is the first day we’ve been in India when the sky was actually blue).
Sleeping Spotted Owlet, Ranthambore National Park

Sleeping Spotted Owlet
Peacock, Ranthambore National Park

White-browed Wagtail was a dazzler. And I was thrilled to spot the Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago!) at the edge of a pond we were surveying. Amy thanked me for “the only good photo of a snipe” she has ever taken—they are very cryptic and secretive usually.
White-browed Wagtail, Ranthambore National Park

White-browed Wagtail
(Image courtesy of Amy Sheldon)
Common Snipe, Ranthambore National Park

Common Snipe
(Image courtesy of Amy Sheldon)
The White-breasted Waterhen was a lifebird for me, and it was good to get a much better look at the Asian Openbill. (At one place, we had an Asian Openbill sitting on a dead tree just above a White-throated Kingfisher with several other great birds within a few feet of those. It became hard to keep up with the birds as Dion called them.)
White-breasted Waterhen, Ranthambore National Park

White-breasted Waterhen
(Image courtesy of Amy Sheldon)
Asian Openbill, Ranthambore National Park

Asian Openbill
(Image courtesy of Amy Sheldon)
We paused in our drive so everyone could try for the canonical photo of Spotted Deer in front of a pink pavilion. This is Lee’s:

Spotted Deer, Ranthambore National Park

Spotted Deer and reflections, Ranthambore National Park
There were Hanuman Langurs (Northern Plains Grey Langurs) all over the park, especially around the entrance. As we were leaving the park, we paused to see a mother who was nursing a tiny infant. Our luck with raptors continued just outside the park, where we had a killing view of a Crested Serpent Eagle.

Hanuman Langurs, Ranthambore National Park

Hanuman Langurs
Crested Serpent Eagle, Ranthambore National Park

Crested Serpent Eagle
(To see some exceptionally good photographs of the wildlife of Ranthambore, I suggest you look at Craig Jones’s page.)

We were all ready for breakfast when we got back to the train. I daringly chose the Puri-Bhaja, which proved to be among the best food we’ve had on the trip. At breakfast, a very kind-hearted companion, who had realized from Lee’s awful cough that he has bronchitis, gave him her stash of antibiotics, and he took the first dose right away. I was so grateful to her!

After breakfast, Dion gave us the not-so-good news that once we got to Jaipur, the train would be taken to the yards for servicing and wouldn’t be available to us again until 9:30 in the evening. He’d not been told about this change until today so had been scrambling to figure out how to amuse us for all that time. (The plan had been for us to come back on board in the middle of the afternoon, which I’d been looking forward to after our early start.) After Dion finished going over the program for the day, I did about a three-minute introduction to the Jantar Mantar and Sawai Jai Singh II, in the hope of getting our companions interested enough to allow us more time to savor the Jantar Mantar when we arrived in Jaipur.

By then the train was moving, so we had about an hour to rest, recharge batteries, etc. Lee and I watched through the windows as the train approached Jaipur and noted much home-based small industry, including cloth dying, in the outskirts of the city. The population of Jaipur is about half that of New York City, so it is a considerable town.

City Gates, Jaipur

City Gates, Jaipur
City Gates, Jaipur

Detail of City Gates, Jaipur
We were driven by bus into the old city, the “pink” city of Jaipur. The pink is really a dusty rose, very attractive, and everywhere detailed with white. The city gate in pink and white with blue-winged figures is especially striking. Some of the old buildings are gorgeous. Though many of the grand old houses have now had their ground floors converted into shops, clear effort has been put into preserving their beauty. Old City, Jaipur

Old City, Jaipur
Our first stop in Jaipur was at the Jantar Mantar. This is where Sawai Jai Singh II did much of his own astronomical work and had some of his best instruments. He constructed the instruments between 1725 and 1738. In 1901, the then Maharaja of Jaipur, Madho Singh II (who was the adoptive son of Jai Singh’s great-great-great-grandson) arranged to have them restored. The restoration was led by Lieutenant A. ff. Garrett, who clearly understood the instruments well. Garrett wrote that he did the work “entirely with Jaipur labour, materials and workmanship.” The results are beautiful. (If you want to see more, here are a 13-second clip and a two-minute walkthrough.)
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Cakra Yantra (bronze, in foreground) and Rama Yantra (left)
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Nadivalaya Yantra (for determining the equinoxes)
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Rasivalaya Yantras (a “sundial” for each sign of the zodiac)
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Gnomon and scale of the Great Samrat (sundial)
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

I was overjoyed at the chance to see it all and to see how really well preserved it is. I ran around like a mad thing trying to take in everything in the short time we had. It was nice to see that the scale of the Great Samrat here is not buried in concrete as in Delhi (though it is shadowed by nearby buildings to some extent). Questions I’d had about how some of the instruments worked were answered when I could examine their scales hurriedly. I wanted to jump over some of the fences to get a better look here and there, but restrained myself.

It was nifty that the sky was clear enough here (unlike in Delhi) that we could actually see the shadow of the circular marker suspended by crosswires above the hemispherical Jaya Prakasa. An observer standing in one of the walkways of this instrument could readily make an exact measurement of where the opening in the marker’s shadow fell on the scale and, thus, of the Sun’s altitude and azimuth. More interestingly, at night an observer with a sighting tool (a tube with a mirror and eyepiece) could walk through the instrument and place the sighting tool on the scales to line it up so that the star or planet of interest could be seen through the opening in the marker overhead, thus determining the position of the object in the sky very precisely. Jai Singh’s big contribution to this method was to replace the traditional single, solid instrument with two complementary Jaya Prakasa with walkways. He built them side-by-side, so that when the object in question moved from the scale to a walkway of one instrument, the observer could move to the other instrument, where the object would have just moved from a walkway to the scale.

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Suspended marker (blue arrow) and its shadow (red arrow)
Jaya Prakasa Yantra, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

Detail of shadow
Jaya Prakasa Yantra, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
I would love to have had a couple of hours at the Jantar Mantar, but Dion extended the time as much as he could for us, and it was a real treat. From there, we were led to the nearby City Palace, which was built by, of course, Sawai Jai Singh II. The palace is a pretty fluff of pink and white with peacock decorations and elephant sculptures and many touches derived from the Taj Mahal, such as the stone inlays of flowers. (The Taj was completed about 80 years before this palace was begun. Jai Singh would have known the Taj well; he created the best map we have of Mughal-era Agra.)
Chandra Mahal, Jaipur City Palace

Chandra Mahal, Jaipur City Palace
Diwan-I-Khas, Jaipur City Palace

Diwan-I-Khas (audience hall), Jaipur City Palace
Peacock Gate, Jaipur City Palace

Peacock Gate, Jaipur City Palace
Elephant sculpture, Jaipur City Palace

Elephant sculpture and stone inlays, Jaipur City Palace
The most memorable part for me was seeing the original of the large painting of Sawai Jai Singh II that is reproduced only in black-and-white in the books I have. Alas, we were not allowed to take photos in that room, which was a sort of throne room.

Another nice touch was our spotting a Dusky Crag-Martin building a nest among the white marble reliefs on the palace walls. Intricately carved marble apparently makes a reasonable substitute if one can’t find a real crag.

Dusky Crag-Martin, Jaipur

Dusky Crag-Martin at nest, Jaipur City Palace
(Image courtesy of Amy Sheldon)
Shikra, Jaipur

(Image courtesy of Amy Sheldon)
By then, it was mid-afternoon and we were ready for lunch. We were taken to yet another grand hotel, where we were greeted by a handsome big image of Ganesha adorned with marigolds. The buffet was quite good. (And I got Gulub Jamuns again.)

Lord Ganesha

As we were going out through the hotel’s extensive grounds after lunch, one of the guides noticed a beautiful male Shikra perched in a tree eating his prey. He was really gorgeous, our third spectacular look at a raptor for the day.

Then it was time for our trip to the magnificent Amber Fort, built by Sawai Jai Singh II’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Raja Man Singh I, whose war elephant mortally wounded the famous horse of Udaipur, Chetak. (By then, the Rajas of Amber/Jaipur were liegemen of the first Mughal Emperor, Akbar.)

Amber Fort

Amber Fort
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Earlier in the day, I had persuaded Lee that we should join the others for the elephant ride up from the base of the hill to the entrance to the fort and he had agreed reluctantly (probably only because he was too sick to fight back). I was thinking of Vikram Chandra’s sentence from Red Earth and Pouring Rain when the young poet Sanjay watches the elephant Gajnath:
Gajnath swung up, looming, and Sanjay laughed in delight; watching Gajnath walk away (the little mahout beside, scolding), Sanjay understood all the various allusions in Ram Mohan’s dictation to beautiful women with elephant-walks: there was that unhurried, graceful placing of one foot, then the other, the body swaying above, that delicacy.
It wasn’t as romantic as that. It was a very slow waddle up the very high hill with the elephant occasionally blowing spume on us, but it ticked one more item from our bucket list, and I was glad to have had the experience. (I still have no intention of trying a camel ride, however.)

Young men with cameras have made a business of taking photos of riders setting out at the bottom, racing up the hill on their motorbikes past the lumbering elephants, printing the photos, and having them for sale when the elephants reach the top. We obviously all looked alike to them, as Lee and I seemed to be offered photos of every pair of people where one was wearing a dark blue shirt like Lee’s. At any rate, I bought the three of us, at 100 rupees ($1.57) each. (We haven’t exactly been spreading wealth in India.)

When we reached the top, another young man, who called out to us to remember that his name was Lucky, took photos of our arrival. He had those ready at our departure, again offering us all the photos of blue-shirted people. I bought only one. When we got back down to our bus later, he was there to offer us the remainder for a total of 100 rupees, which I agreed to. How people must hustle here to support themselves!

Lee and Melinda riding elephant at Amber Fort

Photo by Lucky
The fort itself was magnificent, and the great wall passing along the ridges around it was even more so. The buildings are an interesting mixture of Mughal and traditional, very handsome indeed. I particularly liked the rooftop gardens that must have been much more splendid in olden times.
Walls of Amber Fort

Walls of Amber Fort
Diwan-e-Aam (Hall of Public Audience), Amber Fort

Diwan-e-Aam (Hall of Public Audience), Amber Fort
Ganesh Pol, Amber Fort

Ganesh Pol (Ganesha Gate), Amber Fort
Detail of Ganesh Pol, Amber Fort

Detail of Ganesh Pol, Amber Fort
Flower carving, Mirror Palace, Amber Fort

Flower carving, Mirror Palace, Amber Fort
Gardens, Amber Fort

Gardens, Amber Fort
Painting of Cheetah, Amber Fort

Hunter with cheetah, Amber Fort
High on a palace wall, we noticed a drawing of a man hunting with his cheetah, a sport of royalty. The Asiatic Cheetah has been extinct in India since the middle of the 20th Century, alas. (The last three were shot by the Maharaja of Surguja one day in 1947.) There are thought to be only 40-70 of them left in the wilds of Iran now. In the dying days of the Raj, Indian princes imported cheetahs from Africa for coursing, but the sport finally died out.

Our visit to Amber Fort ended with a jeep ride back down to the bus. Animal rights people have caused the rules to be changed not to require the elephants to carry passengers going down (and to limit the number of passengers to two rather than four). We were perfectly content not to have another elephant ride.

Raj Mandir Cinema, Jaipur

Interior of Raj Mandir Cinema, Jaipur
We drove back into the city as the sun set. Earlier, Dion had told us that he had a surprise in store for us and Lee had made me cringe by teasing me that it was going to be the sound and light show at the Jantar Mantar for which we’d seen an ad. Instead, we were taken to a glamorous movie theater to sample a Bollywood film. I think Dion was disappointed that the movie was not really typical of Bollywood. Though there was singing and dancing, there was much gratuitous (though not very explicit) sex and violence. By the intermission, the consensus was that it was time to leave. An Indian family in the row behind us apologized for this not being a good Indian movie, adding that they didn’t like it at all. Lee and I had watched a couple of the more typical Bollywood films in preparation for the trip, but in those cases we had the advantage of subtitles, so we understood them a lot better.

Crossing the street to get back to our bus, we had to deal not only with the mad traffic but also with people trying to sell us stuff right in the middle of the road while we were dodging cars and motorcycles. It seemed insane, but nobody got hit, so all was well.

With Lee so sick, the wait until we could get back on the train became something of a trial. We were taken to another hotel for an indifferent dinner accompanied by “folk music” that was much too loud. (Yes, by then I was tired and cranky.) As soon as we could, the two of us escaped into a quieter lobby, where we vegged out on a couch and contemplated a huge painting that was of interest primarily because some of the artists who worked on it were elephants.

Help in Suffering painting

Work made for the Help in Suffering charity for the betterment of captive elephants

At last we got to go back to the train, where Keith quickly brought me some hot water to make Lee his night-time cough medicine, and we turned out the lights as soon as he had drunk it.

My birds for the day:

Comb Duck Ruddy Shelduck Northern Shoveler Garganey Green-winged Teal
Grey Francolin Indian Peafowl Asian Openbill Great Cormorant Little Cormorant
Oriental Darter Grey Heron Purple Heron Eastern Great Egret Indian Pond Heron
Black-headed Ibis Oriental Honey-Buzzard Crested Serpent Eagle Shikra White-breasted Waterhen
Common Moorhen Great Thick-knee Black-winged Stilt Red-wattled Lapwing Little Ringed Plover
Common Snipe River Tern Rock Pigeon Eurasian Collared Dove Spotted Owlet
Little Swift Common Kingfisher White-throated Kingfisher Pied Kingfisher Black-rumped Flameback
Rose-ringed Parakeet Black Drongo White-browed Fantail Rufous Treepie House Crow
Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark Dusky Crag Martin Red-rumped Swallow Cinereous Tit Red-vented Bulbul
Plain Prinia Jungle Babbler Blue Rock Thrush Bank Myna Common Myna
Asian Pied Starling White-browed Wagtail

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