Embedded within town walls, Jaipur is a harmonious city of broad boulevardes and unusual travel wonders. Today, the bustle of a huge population, manic traffic, enthused street vendors and meandering cattle overwhelms much of this harmony but the obsession with painting the buildings in shades of red (the city is known as The Pink City) still helps the city exude an elegant charm.
Most striking of all the buildings is the five-storey honeycombed Hawa Mahal or The Palace of the Winds. Over 200 years old and build from red and pink sandstone, this structure sits like a regal crown. With an exquisite carved facade boasting almost 1000 small windows, the fine stone latticework lets people see out (but not in). The light at different times of day changes the palace's moods changing its colour from golden bronzes to riotous reds.
The surprises lie behind the scene. Walking through a large courtyard, it is clear that this building is only one narrow room wide, more like a five-storey honeycombed wall than a palace. Walking to the top floor via ramps (there are no staircases), you can peer out of the tiny grills onto the vibrant city below. General belief is that this was built for the women of the royal household, who could view the city parades and other activities while keeping hidden from public view, their lives being led under very strict rules of modesty.
Today, the brazen monkey inhabitants steal the best views, keeping a watchful gaze over their domain. They seem somewhat affronted having people wandering through their regal surroundings, though any chance to pickpocket an unwary visitor of food or other items is quickly grabbed.
On the street below, the snake charmers beguile the tourists and locals alike with the cobras rising from their woven baskets and swaying to the mournful music. Similar to their backdrop being a palatial facade, their act is also somewhat of a facade. The cobras have been de-fanged and the swaying following the path of the gently rocking charmer, rather than dancing to the music. After all, the snake cannot hear the music!
Whether a facade or not, the Palace of the Winds is a stunning royal building with its intricate carving and excellent views over the mesmerising Pink City of Jaipur.
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