The Tribune - Spectrum



Sunday, March 4, 2001

Holi(day) in Pink City
By Chetna Banerjee

BILL CLINTON'S visit to Rajasthan at the fag end of his presidency did for tourism what a spate of international crowns have done for Indian beauties. It gave a global face to a state that was already inherently beautiful. And just as the global beauty crowns spur the Indian cosmetic industry to launch new internationally compatible designer brands, the former US President’s tour has inspired a whole new sight-seeing package, named, obviously, after him.

But , even months after the global spotlight has faded and the hype and hoopla has died down, post-Clinton Rajasthan remains as hot a tourist destination as ever because of its enduring cultural vibrancy, embodied best in its colourful festivals and spectacular arts and crafts. And the ideal time to pass through the gateway to Rajasthan—its Pink City Jaipur—is the spring season.

Gangaur Festival

Come spring and Jaipur dresses up for two of its most colourful fairs and festivals that showcase its rich cultural tapestery in all its magnificance. Jaipur is the perfect getaway during Holi time, when it is literally set to become a splash of colour.

A view of the Hawa Mahal in JaipurGangaur, the spring festival, is celebrated in March. It heralds the harvest season. The festival is held in honour of Goddess Gauri (Parvati), the consort of Lord Shiva. Gangaur commences on Holi every year. The celebrations go on for 18 days. The culmination,marks the arrival of Lord Shiva to escort his bride back home.

During the festival, married women offer prayers to Goddess Gauri for continued marital bliss. Unmarried girls also invoke the blessings of the deity for a husband who will love and cherish them.

Bedecked in bridal finery—multi-hued ghagras teamed with vibrant kurti kanchlis— Rajasthani women pluck flowers from gardens and draw water from wells as they chant hymns eulogising the Goddess.

On the grand finale of the festival, a massive procession starts from the City Palace carrying an idol of the Goddess in a palanquin. Gaily caparisoned elephants and camels, drummers, dancers and chattering children accompany the procession.


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Elephant Festival

The other major spring festival of Jaipur is the Elephant festival. It is essentially a toast to the majesty and grandeur of elephants, who occupy a place of pride in Rajput culture and battle folklore.

Ornately decorated pachyderms at the Elephant FestivalAnd after Bill Clinton’s visit to Rajasthan, and his much-publicised fascination with its elephants, these animals have tasted a fresh dose of international fame.

During this festival, a spectacular procession of pachyderms—resplendent in their pomp and splendour and elaborately embellished for the occasion—passes through the main avenues of the Pink City. The spotlight later shifts to Chaughan stadium, where the pachyderms have a rollicking time playing polo, races and even Holi.

Rabri in Rajasthan!

A visit to the Pink City is incomplete without a feast of its traditional cuisine.Those wanting to have a taste of authentic Rajasthani food must sample the dal-bati choorma and gatta masala with bajre ki roti. " And don’t miss the rabri ", the guide told us during the local sight-seeing trip. Rajasthani rabri ? I was surprised . Somehow this "sweet’’ dish has come to be associated so much with the Bihari Rabri (Devi), that a mention of it as a Rajasthani delicacy seemed far-fetched. The guide dispelled all conjectures about the sweetness of this dish. "Itnot sweet at all. It is a kind of curry", he informed . Kuchh kuchh khatti, kuchh kuchh namkeen !

There are not many places in Jaipur which offer the traditional cuisine. So, it took some scouting to locate a few not-so-plush dhabas tucked away in the the otherwise upmarket MI Road, their colourful banners inviting tourists to savour the Rajasthani thali and other fare.

And, of course, among the snacks, the hot ‘n’ spicy mirchi vadas (mega-sized stuffed chillis coated with besan and deep fried) are not to be missed. Just be prepared to get teary eyed since these mouth-watering temptations are eye watering too. They can aptly be called the "spice girls" (or guys) of Rajasthani cuisine !

A hearty Rajasthani meal is best topped with the suparis and choorans that jaipur is so famous for. As it is, the bajre ki roti certainly needs some digesting.From heeng and jeera golis, imli and anardana choorans to meethi saunf and supari, you name it and they have it.

The Clinton tour

It was interesting to learn about a new package that awaits tourists in post-Clinton Jaipur. Named "Visit India the Clinton way", this package was introduced in the tourists’ itinerary soon after Clinton’s much-hyped Rajasthan trip. it includes sight-seeing in all those places which he visited, including Nayla village, near Jaipur, and the famous Amber Palace, 11 km from the city.

Village scene recreated

About half an hour’s drive from Jaipur is a place called Chowki Dhani , which is a must -see for all those tourists who either don’t have the time or inclination to visit the real villages of Rajasthan.

This place comes alive at night, when it is brightly illuminated, and recreates a typical Rajasthani village scene. Dancers and other performing artists give a taste of colourful rustic life of the state. Those who are unable to visit the real desert areas of Rajasthan, can experience the romance of sun bathed sand dunes right here in Chowki Dhani. Sand dunes have been specially cretaed at this site to add to the rustic experience.

And the Rajasthani thali and other traditional cuisine on offer here completes the taste of this desert state. The guide’s ‘jocular remark: ‘‘rabri se mulaquat chowki dani mein hogi’’ was obiviously not without basis.

Forts and palaces

A trip to Jaipur’s magnificent forts and palaces helps to relive its glorious past. since jaipur is the gateway to the rest of Rajasthan, it has a well-organised network of sightseeing packages, courtsey Rajasthan Tourism. Two types of tours are conducted to historical spots in and around the city—half-day and full-day tours.

Half-day tours cost Rs 90 per head and include sight-seeing of the Hawa mahal (only front view), Amber Palace, Jal mahal (outside view), Gaitore maharaja cenotaphs, City Palace and Museum, Jantar Mantar and Laxminarayan Temple.

The full day package costs Rs 135 per head (non-AC) and Rs 160 per head (AC bus) and besides the above mentioned sites includes a visit to nearby Jaigarh and Nahargarh forts and the Birla Planetarium.

The residency of Rajput kings and warriors in ancient times, Jaipur’s forts and palaces stand as sentinels of its glorious past. And their architectural splendour reminds us of the diverse of influences it has been through. Whether it is the mingling of the Rajput and Mughal architectural styles in the City Palace, the intricately carved Diwan-e-Aam, painted Ganesh Pol and delicate jali screens of the Amer Palace— rising dramatically from the waters of Maotha lake—or the honey-combed, semi-octagonal windows of Hawa Mahal, Jaipur takes one on a spectacular journey into its eventful past.

Shop in a rickshaw

To get the real taste of the colourful bazaars and, at times, chaotic traffic of the old city, it is best to shop around in a rickshaw. The ambling pace of the rickshaws enables one to soak in peculiar roadside sights and sounds—a view of vibrant, multi-coloured kites dangling in front of shops, the aroma of mirchi vadas being prepared by street corner tea vendors,etc.

Being the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur offers handlooms, handicrafts and artefacts from all corners of the state. The cluster of shops in front of Hawa Mahal sell a mind-boggling range of souvenirs, be it stuffed toys, bandhej suits and dupattas, lac bangles, camel leather stools from Jaisalmer or the famous Jaipuri quilts. Bargaining is the secret to sensible shopping here since the prices quoted are often steep.

Johari Bazaar is a veritable treasure trove fro those digging gems and silver jewellery.For those on the lookout for the much-touted block printed textiles of Rajasthan, Bapu Bazaar is the ideal place. From the traditional tie and dye bedcovers and Sanganeri block prints to the contemporary applique design sheets, the range is enormous and there is stuff to suit everybody’s pocket.

jaipur is also famous for its blue pottery, which can be had from emporiums like Sawai Ram Singh Shilp kala Kendra on MI Road and Rajasthali, the state government’s outlet in the main city.

Why it is named Pink City

Anybody on a maiden visit to modern day Jaipur—especially when passing through the more cosmopolitan areas of the new city which hardly has any pink buildings—cannot help wondering why it is called the Pink City.

As our guide informed us in his half-Hindi, half- English narrative, it is the ancient or old Jaipur that is actually the Pink City. It is known thus because most of its structures—be it the magnificent palaces, imposing dwars or the rugged forts—have been been made with pink sandstone. Traditionally, the colour pink is associated with hospitality in rajput culture. The ‘ pinking’ of Jaipur , in fact, took place in 1876, when Ram Singh II gave a facelift to it for the visit of the Prince of wales. The choice fell on pink colour as it was said to mellow the fierce glare of the sun. Thus, to give its buildings the rose pink colour, white lime was used along with underburnt terracotta.

The ancient city was built by maharaja sawai jai Singh II in 1727 AD. It was a young bengali architect, Vidyadhar Bhattacharya, who formalised the city’s plan into a grid system.

The wide avenues, lanes and rows of shops on either side of main bazaars were arranged into nine chokris (sectors). Even in those times, jaipur was developed on scientific lines, in accordance with the principles of the Shilpa Shastra, an ancient treatise on Hindu architecture. It was thus among the few planned cities of its times.

With symbols of the new, hi-tech age— roadside cyber cafes, the constantly beeping mobiles and scores of towering, cosmopolitan complexes in the midst of old havelis— juxtaposed on centuries of history, Jaipur is a perfect cocktail of the ancient and the contemporary. And the best time to taste this intoxicating brew is during the spring festivities.