INDIA Blog 2 (Jan-Feb)

Mughal Architecture + water preservation

I so enjoy the old architecture – the attention to detail, graceful columns, surprising roof views. Next to the City Palace is an amazing oddity: the Jantar Mantar, an astronomic observatory made of stone. At the start of the 18th century Jai Singh built 19 instruments to measure time and track stars in their orbit. He employed 2 dozen astronomers and built smaller Jantar Mantars in 4 other cities. While I was familiar with delicate brass instruments, having most of them built in stone, including a sun dial about 7 stories tall, is a sculptural and 3d space experience. A very different instrument is Jai Prakash Yantra, two half globes sunk into the ground with intricate cuts – juxtaposing the cuts in its adjacent twin. The gaps were created for astronomers to walk inside and explain the constellations. Sounds complicated – just see the photos! – All that with minimal technology! I stayed until closing.

On Saturday I rent a taxi for a multi-stop day trip to the Amber Fort, a palace an hour outside of Jaipur.

While the fort was intricate, especially the mirrored winter palace, the many tourists + haggling sellers lessened the experience.

Some beautiful surprises:  just outside Jaipur is the Gaitor Ki Chhatriyan, a cluster of small temples and shrines, the royal resting place.

The lithe columns and lattice balconies played with light and gravity.

More on the hewn, colossal side was Panna Meena Ku Kund, the small Amber stepwell adjacent to an old, atmospheric Hindu temple with Mughal and Hindu architectural elements. Given that WATER is part of my project I am interested in the spiritual value that used to be attached to the (now scarce) source of drinking and agricultural water. The ‘Escheresque’ geometry alone is a visual feast.

A Srishti colleague recommended the small Anokhi Museum, dedicated to the Rajasthan craft of block printing. Beautiful textiles in an old mansion. On the top floor an old woodworker demonstrates how he chisels the delicate forms out of wood.

I saved the Jal Mahal water palace for the late afternoon, when the sun illuminates the building and water. The 16th century lake was made by damming a river– in response to drought and need of drinking water (topic noted). Depending on water levels up to 4 of the 5 stories are under water. No, I could not visit – it is under renovation and this was a long day. Ah yes, I got a few textiles – supporting an artisan community market.

A Jaipur tale would be incomplete without showing the warm and friendly people I met, like this vendor – I got nice earrings for a friend.

An India blog would also be incomplete without a nod to glorious Indian food and palette of spices.

And finally, a Jaipur tale would be incomplete without naming the contradictions of splendor and squalor, of polished floors and abject poverty. There are those who do not have skills to earn money or craft work, like this girl who carries around her bare-bottom little brother, 2/3 her size.

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