Travel: Generous Jodhpur

imageShukriya is the first word that I learned in Hindi. It means “Thank You.” This is always the first term I learn when traveling in a foreign country because it allows me to thank all the kind people who help me find my way when I am lost and confused.

 

For me, it tells the locals, ‘Thank you for sharing your culture and heritage with me, Thank you for your generosity, and Thank you for welcoming me.’

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Today, is Christmas Eve, and it seems like an appropriate day to be grateful for the luxury of traveling. Too few people are given the opportunity, or have a passion to explore the world as I do. Let’s be honest, the hobby of adventure requires both capital and time, and such a large portion of the human population enjoy neither.

 

imageA family who can afford this extravagance is the Jodhpur Royal Family, and we visited their private residence, the Umaid Bhawan Palace. Built in 1943, the construction of the palace provided employment to thousands of citizens during a famine. Numbering at a total of 347 rooms, the building serves three purposes. It functions as a home, a hotel, and a museum.

imageLeaving the opulence of the structure behind, we headed back to the Saree store from yesterday for a final fitting. The fit was off, and the design of the blouse was not what we had discussed. Nick and I were both extremely frustrated as we had spent about 2-3 hours at the store yesterday to discuss and hash out all the details to make sure we got what we wanted.

We ended up walking out of the store unhappy and disgruntled.  Fortunately, my deposit was negotiated down to 500 rupees, so I only lost about $7 on this Saree attempt.

imageWe ended up making a third attempt at buying a Saree at the Sadar Bazaar, and settled on a dark blue Saree of a different style. I already decided that I refuse to buy more shoes or bangles to match this new color, so some clashing may occur. Thankfully, I know that no matter what I wear, I will still stand out of the crowd at the Wedding.

imageAfter dropping off our purchases at the hotel, we started to hike up to the fort before realizing it was closed for the day. On our way back down the streets, Nick started conversing with a young man, around our age, who promptly invited us into his home, which had been in his family for over 100 years. His mother and father were super inviting, and presented us with chai. Granted, much of the conversation was lost on me, but the mother asked to take a photo with me because she thought I was so beautiful. 😀

imageWe bid adieu with the intent to return to our hotel. A group of kids in an alley stopped us and asked for American coins, I felt bad because I didn’t have anything to offer. Their family also proceeded to welcome us with open arms, and we spent some time talking with the kids and their parents while savoring our second cup of Chai. They played a few games on my cell phone, and when the girls wanted to paint my nails, I couldn’t say no. Their future dreams ranged from working in Law Enforcement to being a Doctor. It was incredibly heartwarming to hear about their ambition, and Nick and I encouraged them all to study hard as we left.

Our hotel, the Castle View HomeStay threw all of its lodgers a party for Christmas Eve. We lit a lantern and attempted to let it float up into the sky, but alas, the windy conditions were not in our favor, and the lantern dropped like a rock. It was really funny at the time, and incredibly endearing how much effort the staff had put in. A ‘Santa Claus’ was nominated who gave us small handicraft gifts that are local to the region, and we enjoyed a buffet dinner together with some Gulab Jamun, a sweet milk dessert from a famous bakery in the city.

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Travel: Old Jaipur

To recap thus far, we have visited the states of Delhi – the capital territory of India – and Madhya Pradesh – “the heart of India” – and are now exploring Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan.

imageJaipur was founded by Jai Sing II, the Raja of Amer in 1727. His capitol originally lay 51 km away, but water was becoming scarce, and Jai felt that shifting his city would increase the population. After much deliberation and the architectural guidance of Vidyadhar Bhattacharya, the city was laid-out in accordance with the classic principles of Vastu Shastra. Its core concept centers around urban planning for the comfort of its citizens and the integration of the built environment with nature, while trying to maintain perfect geometric patterns (Yantra), symmetry, and directional alignment.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

The first stop of our day was the Hawa Mahal, “Palace of Winds.” Built in 1799 by the Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the structure was designed by Lal Chand Ustad to form the crown of Krishna. The five-story exterior face is reminiscent of the honeycombs of a beehive, and has 953 jharokhas (small windows) with intricate latticework. Not only did the windows allow royal ladies to observe daily life without being seen, but it also resulted in the Venturi Effect, natural ventilation that helped promote the flow of cool air through the building in the summers.

imageI also noticed that a lot of the window slots slanted downwards. Jaipur, named “The Pink City” because so many of its buildings are painted pink, lies in the desert. The slant of the window perforations allowed residents access to fresh air, without putting them at the mercy of the blazing sun. I found this to be a particularly ingenious idea for being created almost 300 years ago.

We had then hoped to visit the City Palace, but were rebuffed by how expensive it would have been to tour the interior (about 2500 rupees for foreigners with no cameras allowed).

imageWhile the pictures shown at the ticket office were pretty jaw dropping, this price point would have been equivalent to $45! It would have been the most expensive tourist destination I’d ever gone to across every continent and country. At the same time, this is marginally understandable as Rajasthan is one of the few states with present-day Royalty. They only chose to merge with the Indian Union after Indian Independence in 1949.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Just a few steps away was the Juntar Mantar. You may recall that it has a sister that we visited in Delhi.

 

Travel: Palaces of Vienna

Finally summoning the willpower to leave Prague, I found myself in the capital of Austria. As home to Sigmund Freud, and a history of providing philanthropic support to inspiring composers, Vienna is indeed the ‘City of Dreams and Music.’ It is hard to miss the beauty of its streets, as merely a stroll down any avenue will greet you with gorgeous architecture, baroque décor, and green landscapes.

I never considered myself ‘Palaced-out’ until I visited Vienna. The city has enough imperial palaces to satisfy the requirements of a minor ‘Disneyland’. As such, I averaged a royal residence a day, and each had its own unique quirks. Though I will admit, my enthusiasm has begun to wane in regards to both palaces and churches.

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My first visit commenced at the Schönbrunn Palace, as it was within easy walking distance of my hostel. It consists of 1,441 rooms designed in the  Rococo Style.  Once again, as in the case of Versailles, it originated as the court’s recreational hunting ground on an estate that was purchased the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II in 1569.

A mansion named Katterburg was subsequently erected, and then an Orangery added on by Eleonora Gonzaga, wife of  Ferdinand II in 1643.

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The next palace was the Belvedere Palace complex. Prince Eugene of Savoy purchased a sizable plot of land in 1697, and chose Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt as the chief architect. His vision was to construct a landscaped garden and a summer residence. He had to wrest the upper portion of land from imperial Grand Marshall Count Heinrich Franz Mansfeld, Prince of Fondi, by taking out a large loan secured against Stadtpalais. Thus, Lower Belvedere and Upper Belvedere became a united estate.

2013-05-14 10.35.45Vienna’s last, but most renowned palace is the Hofburg Palace, the primary residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth. It was a rare love match for the royal couple, despite ‘Sisi’ neglecting her duties as Empress, and spending much of her time traveling abroad. The complex itself is stunning, and incorporates many buildings, which have since been converted to accommodate museums, libraries, and theatres. This area has been the document seat of government since 1279, and the residential portion is now termed the ‘Sisi Apartments.’ Although not well respected in life, due to her indifference to participate in royal court, ‘Sisi’ was remembered fondly in her death after she was assassinated by the radical Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni in Geneva.

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Overally each palace was unique and rested on absolutely gorgeous grounds! The architectural landscape is so elegantly crafted and detailed, that despite the centuries past, you can almost feel the royal presence strolling through the gardens.