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Jantar Mantar

Started: 2016-01-12 09:15:03

Submitted: 2016-01-12 11:31:45

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In which the intrepid narrator explores Jantar Mantar in Jaipur

Willy joined us for breakfast at our hotel in Jaipur. The breakfast room was less full than it was the day before, so we were able to sit inside. Calvin enjoyed the white toast and plain omelettes. I enjoyed the endless refills of sweet chai in tiny cups and the masala omelette (here "masala" means "mixed" with green onions and tomatoes; it was not spicy).

Dad and Willy in the courtyard at the Rajasthan Palace Hotel
Dad and Willy in the courtyard at the Rajasthan Palace Hotel

We headed out into the street and caught an auto rickshaw to central Jaipur. We ended up cramming all six of us into one auto rickshaw; Bethany and I ended up stuffed in the back sitting awkwardly on the too-small bench and I had flashbacks of riding up Hill Cart Road to Darjeeling in the back of a Tata Sumo with the back of the bench seat in front of me digging into and bruising my ribs with every bump in the road -- and since this was India there were many bumps in the road.

Shopping in Jaipur
Shopping in Jaipur

Our rickshaw dropped us off in the general vicinity of Jantar Mantar, though before we visited the historic astronomical observatory we stopped for Mom and Bethany to shop. We were in the original walled city of Jaipur, built on a rectangular grid with broad streets and ground-level shops and residential apartments on the upper levels. (Bethany and I immediately identified this as a "mixed-use development".) Calvin amused himself by taking my watch off my wrist and wearing it himself, until he grew tired of it and gave it back to me.

Uncle Willy and Calvin on the street in Jaipur
Uncle Willy and Calvin on the street in Jaipur

When at length we dislodged Mom and Bethany from the shops we walked around the corner to Jantar Mantar. I visited the observatory in Delhi on my last trip to India, but this one was built by the same Rajput prince in his own backyard and is bigger and better. After a lengthy ticket queue, we gravitated to the giant sundial -- the largest in the world -- along the side of the walled garden. It was just after noon local time, but the sundial showed that it was still about fifteen minutes before solar noon. I did some quick calculations based on our longitude east of Greenwich and concluded that solar noon should be about 12:26 local time.

Shadow on sundial at Jantar Mantar
Shadow on sundial at Jantar Mantar

I watched the sundial count down to solar noon, which turned out to be right on time as I'd expected.

Sundial at solar noon at Jantar Mantar
Sundial at solar noon at Jantar Mantar

Calvin grabbed my camera and took a few pictures, which proved amusing since the camera, with its large telephoto lens, was about the size of his head. He was not especially adept at taking pictures but I'm sure he'll figure it out eventually.

We wandered around the rest of the garden, looking at the twelve structures designed to point to the various astrological signs at their apex. I studied the various other structures designed to measure the astronomical coordinates of various celestial bodies on various coordinate systems. I knew just enough about the astronomical coordinate systems to figure out what was going on, but I would have appreciated more interpretive and explanatory signs to help me figure it all out.

Shadows on apparatus at Jantar Mantar
Shadows on apparatus at Jantar Mantar
Uncle Willy, Grandpa, and Calvin look at the sundial at Jantar Mantar
Uncle Willy, Grandpa, and Calvin look at the sundial at Jantar Mantar

We left Jantar Mantar and caught an electric rickshaw to take us a kilometer or so to the nearest gate of the original walled city. Outside the gate we walked up the street that ran parallel to the wall for several blocks until we found a restaurant, Niros, where we could eat lunch. Calvin continued to be less than fully amused by Indian food but was willing to eat plain rice (especially if I added salt to it) and various Indian flatbreads.

Uncle Willy, Calvin, and Aunt Bethany in an electric rickshaw in Jaipur
Uncle Willy, Calvin, and Aunt Bethany in an electric rickshaw in Jaipur

We dropped Mom and Bethany off at the small handicrafts store run by the government of Rajasthan and headed back through the gate into the old city, past rows of identically-sized shops occupying the 18th century buildings. Shops clustered together in themes: we'd see a bunch of shops selling pipe, then a bunch of shops selling bathroom fixtures, then a bunch of shops selling toys, then a bunch of shops selling kites and equipped with motors to wind and rewind spools of kite line. It was like an outdoor department store where each three-meter-wide piece of shelf was run by a different vendor.

Our target was the tower of Isarlat, but as the tower was within sight, Calvin announced that he needed to go to the bathroom. I spotted a Sulabh Toilet Complex (built and maintained by an Indian NGO to provide sanitation facilities) and pointed Calvin in that direction. The rooms, however, were identified only by Hindi, so I started to head to the women's side until Willy, in a panic, waved me to the other side. The urinal was too tall for Calvin to use effectively, so I looked for a toilet but found squat toilets behind the first two doors I checked. As I opened the fourth door in the row and found a toilet behind a stack of cleaning equipment, the restroom attendant caught up with me and tried to point me to the squat toilet. I eventually used the key word "western" and gestured to Calvin and the attendant pointed Calvin into the toilet stall in the empty women's restroom. "All I remember," Calvin reported later, "is going from bathroom to bathroom and I thought I would never stop looking at bathrooms."

Isarlat
Isarlat

With our biological needs met, we headed to the tower and paid the admission price to climb the spiral staircase inside the tower to the observation deck at the top. The tower was built to commemorate some historic victory or another, and is now just a tourist site. At some point in the tower's history, the steps in the spiral staircase had been plastered over to produce a ramp with concave divots where the steps used to be. This worked well enough climbing up, but Calvin had trouble climbing down, and had to hold out both hands onto opposite walls to give him enough balance to down-climb the ramp.

View of Jaipur from Isarlat
View of Jaipur from Isarlat

From the top of the tower we had a commanding view of the city of Jaipur nestled between the surrounding hills. I could see Jantar Mantar a few blocks away, and the broad avenues of the old city with its mixed-use development fading away into the newer development (not painted pink) in the distance. We stayed at the top for some time, enjoying the view in the afternoon sunlight.

View of Jaipur from Isarlat
View of Jaipur from Isarlat

Back on the ground, we caught an auto rickshaw back to the hotel and went up on the roof of the hotel to watch the manager fly kites. (It was, apparently, kite-flying season, and the skies were filled with little plastic kites being held aloft by the weak wind and the tenacity of their flyers. From the fourth-floor roof I could see more of the neighborhood, including the lofty ten-story residential tower next door and the broken glass embedded in the mortar of the adjacent building to discourage anyone from jumping from our hotel's roof onto the adjacent roof. (I spotted the obstacle while thinking about the stereotypical developing-country chase scene in which James Bond or Jason Bourne would jump from rooftop to rooftop.) The roof also gave me a unique vantage point to see the construction underway at the hotel -- they were slowly building up the second floor over the lobby, and the rebar sticking out of the second floor roof spoke to the ambition that they'd be able to continue building up.

Courtyard and second-floor construction at the Rajasthan Palace Hotel
Courtyard and second-floor construction at the Rajasthan Palace Hotel

The hotel appeared to be mostly or entirely new construction, but it was built with materials reused from old buildings in a style meant to call back to historic building styles of Rajasthan. It was clear that the manager and his staff had a great deal of pride in the building, but I couldn't help but wish they'd done a few things to be more accommodating of western visitors, like installing shower curtains and bath mats.

Bethany wasn't feeling well in the evening, so we left her at the hotel and walked the kilometer from the hotel to Willy's home in Jaipur. This involved crossing a busy road, which was somewhat more hair-raising than I was prepared for, as we were waiting on the center line for traffic on the other side of the street to clear and saw a vehicle coming towards us overtaking another vehicle on the wrong side of the center line and we had to dodge to avoid being hit. (It's one thing to take these sorts of risks myself; it's another to be dragging Calvin along, when I'm entirely responsible for him, and he represents 50% of my genetic legacy for the next generation.)

We stopped first at the Ganesh temple around the corner from Willy's house. We took off our shoes to enter and walked up through the series of queues designed to guide worshipers up to the idol in front of the temple and back out again in the most efficient way possible. We stepped aside of the worshipers to study the idol, built in what I took to be a stylized Rajasthani fashion, and Willy pointed out the paintings on the walls flanking the idol, which showed Ganesh being fanned by a series of Rajasthani women in the style of a Rajput king.

We made another brief stop at the Hanuman temple next door. Hanuman was also portrayed in orange in the same stylized manner as Ganesh. The temple also featured a small alter with an idol of Durga.

We headed to Willy's host family's house, where the family had invited us for dinner and had cooked a number of traditional foods from Rajasthan. This included an appetizer of a hot soupy salty millet-based drink served in a clay cup, and the main flavor I tasted was that of the clay cup itself. The main course included a soupy dal served with heavy bread closely resembling whole wheat dinner rolls; one was supposed to crumble up the rolls into the dal and eat them together. I enjoyed the meal, and the opportunity to meet Willy's host family in his home-away-from-home in Jaipur, though I was getting tired by the end of the evening and I was worried about getting Calvin to bed at a reasonable hour.

After supper, Willy took us up to his rooftop bedroom, complete with a detached bathroom on the roof (though if one considered the entire rooftop to be Willy's space the bathroom could be en-suite). For Calvin's benefit he reenacted his misadventures with monkeys harassing him on the roof and in his bathroom and pursuing him into the stairway.

We got a ride back to the hotel with one of the host family's twenty-something sons. I put Calvin to bed and worked on packing in advance of departing Jaipur the following day.

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