Equal Education for All Odyssey (contd.)he mission statement of EducationWorld (estb. 1999) is to "build the pressure of public opinion to make education the No. 1 item on the national agenda". To this end and to spread the message that the people of India need to demand Equal Quality Education for All, Education-Worldâ€™s special correspondent Srinidhi Raghavendra together with Kishore Patwardhan under the aegis of Borderless Bikers, Bangalore embarked on a historic five month, 25,000 km motorcycle odyssey across India and South Asia on December 3, 2006. Since then the duo has travelled 7,500 km through 11 states, interacting with students and teachers of over 22 schools and members of five Rotary clubs. Notes from Raghavendraâ€™s daily diary/ log covering the period December 3-11 were featured in our January issue (p.13). Extracts covering the period December 13-29 are given below.
EducationWorldâ€™s special correspondent Srinidhi Raghavendra is on a five-month, 25,000 km motorcycle odyssey across India and Asia. His mission: to communicate the importance of providing access to equal education to build harmonious societies
December 13. The day started badly. Already four days behind schedule, we were likely to be delayed in Pune for one more day because the documents expected from Bangalore hadnâ€™t arrived. We decided to make the best of the day by riding to the Bhima Shankar temple, 135 km from Pune. Tucked away in the heart of the Bhima Shankar Wildlife Sanctuary, this ancient Shiva temple is revered as one of the 12 Jyothirlinga shrines of the country.
The Pune-Nashik road off which the sacred shrine is located is perhaps one of the busiest roads out of Pune. After crawling in second gear on stretches of hill road, and deftly negotiating winding curves and declines, we turned off the highway into a small, narrow and potholed trail which took us through panoramic forests all the way to the temple, an antiquated black granite building supported by attractively carved pillars. We returned to Pune late evening to learn our documents had arrived, and prepared for our onward journey to Shirdi and Aurangabad.
December 14. We started off at 7.45 a.m on the Pune-Ahmednagar road (State Highway 50) and gunned our iron horses towards Ahmednagar from where we had to detour to Shanishingnapur, Shirdi, and if possible reach Nashik for the night halt.
Our first stop was at a small village Supa (pop. 5,500), where we visited the local government school. In rural India Equal Education for All is an alien concept. "How is this possible when each state in India is different and education should teach children about their immediate environment?" queried one of the teachers. "Why should our children study what people in Jammu & Kashmir are studying?" asked another. It took a long session to explain Equal Education in respect of quality of content, and that whatever children learn should be comparable with anywhere else in the world. Finally the teachers seemed convinced and agreed to let us address the students on the subject. The next stop was Ahmednagar. Here we couldnâ€™t visit any school because we arrived at 1.00 p.m when most schools were closing for the day. We rode a further 35 km towards Shanishingnapur, a small village in which none of the houses, shops, or business establishments have doors. The common belief is that the powerful local deity Lord Shani protects the people and their possessions.
According to residents of Shanishingnapur there has never been a single theft or burglary reported in the village. In the heart of the village is the sprawling temple dedicated to Lord Shani, which uniquely does not employ priests. Anyone who wishes to offer pooja can do so. The temple trust has promoted a free school for village children from its revenue.
The highlight of our visit to Shanishingnapur was the array of landscapes we got to witness once we turned off the highway towards the temple town. The physical diversity of the region is reflected in its barren black soil belts, golden sunflower fields, brooks and gurgling streams, and hillscapes.
We surged ahead towards Shirdi on a decrepit state highway. Curiously this toll road (Rs.10-50) is far worse than a village road, so our average speed dropped to just 30 km per hour. A unique feature of the numerous sugarcane juice vending shops lining this road is that almost all of them are wooden mills driven by oxen â€” stoneage technology in use a mere 150 km from Pune city which is trying to beat Bangalore as the hi-tech capital of the country! Itâ€™s pitiful that bullocks have to stand all day long even if there are no customers. Where are the animal rights activists, who keep shouting themselves hoarse in big cities in front of television cameras?
After a rough ride over potholed roads through dry and drab countryside, we finally made it to Shirdi, Sai Babaâ€™s temple town, which receives an average 15,000 visitors every day. The temple administration board has constructed several guesthouses. We went there seeking a room for the night and the staff promptly refused. "We donâ€™t rent out rooms to bachelors. Our rooms are only for families!" said the man at the reception rather rudely. We enquired about other options and were informed about the Janglee Baba Ashram, a socio-education institution on the outskirts of the city. We were courteously received here, and a comfortable room was promptly allotted.
Sited on a sprawling 45-acre green field property, the ashram manages a fully-residential CBSE affiliated school for over 2,500 children. This free co-educational school is funded by the income the ashram generates from donations, room rents, agriculture etc.
Being a Thursday, the Sai Baba temple was chock-a-block with people even at 10 p.m. We stood in a serpentine queue and entered the sanctum after about 45 minutes, just in time for the last aarti of the day. The aarti is an elaborate 45 minute ritual accompanied by chanting and singing. Seeing is believing this ethereal experience. Feeling uplifted we exited the temple only to find that someone had swiped my shoes left outside in the stands.
December 15. The bumpy ride of the previous day took its toll. Tired, we overslept and woke up late at 8.30 a.m, to head towards Nashik after a quick breakfast at the ashram kitchen. For me it was a difficult ride because I was barefoot, and cold winds froze my feet. It was difficult even to shift gears or apply the rear brake. However we settled at a steady 50 km per hour and reached Nashik in the afternoon.
About 22 km before Nashik, in a village known as Sinner is Gargoti â€” The Minerals Museum. Established in 2001, Gargoti displays over 1,700 exhibits of natural stones, crystals, minerals and native ores of various metals. It is a unique, personal collection of entrepreneur K.C. Pandey, who has assembled it over 32 years and housed it in a 10,000 sq. ft fully air-conditioned museum. Included in the collection are rare mineral samples from around the world and rock specimens from the moon and Mars. "We invite local schools to bring their students to the museum and our guides explain the geology of rocks and minerals to them," says Pandey.
After spending about 2 hours in Gargoti we sped towards Nashik (pop. 1.3 million) and reached there at about 3.00 p.m. Our first stop here was Ram Kund, sited on the banks of river Godavari. There are several temples along the river dedicated to mythological deities Hanuman, Rama, Lakshman etc. We also took in the Sita Gupha, Panchavati and the reported death site of Jataayu (of the Ramayana).
Having had our fill of temples and pilgrim centres, we headed towards Aurangabad (185 km) on the State Highway 25 which is being re-surfaced. It was a long journey and the road conditions were unconducive. The wind was nippy so despite our super heavy riding jackets, we felt the chill. We reached Aurangabad (pop. 79,000) at 10.30 p.m to be warmly welcomed by Dr. Anant Pandre, a friend we met through the internet (www.hospitalityclub.org). Our accommodation was arranged in the guesthouse of the Dr. Hedgewar Hospital.
December 16. Dr. Hedgewar Hospital is a not-for-profit charitable institution, and though it is promoted and managed by the right-wing Hindu Sangh Pariwar, it is reportedly popular with the Muslim community. "The driving spirit behind our organisation is social transformation. This canâ€™t be achieved by alienating minority communities. Hence in our hospital we welcome anyone who comes here for treatment," says Dr. Pandre.
The most popular monument in Aurangabad is the Bibi Ka Maqbara aka Baby Taj, built in memory of Moghul emperor Aurangzebâ€™s wife Rabia Ul Dawani alias Dilras Banu Begum by her son Prince Azam Shah. The mausoleum took over a decade (1651-1661) to construct. Built on the lines of the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Maqbara is a limestone and plaster structure, unlike the original splendour in marble.
Another interesting but derelict monument in the town is Aurangabad Fort, which has a moat around it currently filled with the townâ€™s sewage. The fort has 52 gateways named differently and till date around 42 of these gateways exist and serve as major and minor intersections. A striking feature of Aurangabad is that all its main roads are four-laned, separated by road dividers and they are potholes free, making driving a pleasure. Apart from chaotic traffic during peak hours, Aurangabad is a well planned city which could serve as a model to civic planners across the country.
Another interesting monument we visited is the Panchukki or water driven flour mill. This unique mechanism was used to achieve dual benefits for the townâ€™s population â€” water supply from a well 6 km away, and water to run the flour mill.
December 17. We headed out of Aurangabad towards Ellora on smooth, tarred roads, flanked by dry arid scenery. Our first stop was at Daulatabad Fort (20 km). This massive, imposing fort built on an isolated pyramid-shaped natural mountain has two moats and is a combination of a ground and hill fort which was almost impregnable. Like most ancient Indian forts, Daulatabad also employed an excellent network of rainwater harvesting for its drinking water needs and to fill the fortâ€™s moat.
After a smooth exit through the gates of Daulatabad Fort and a fast ride on 18 km of smooth surfaced road which snaked around a tall mountain, we reached Khultabad where the mortal remains of the last Moghul Emperor Aurangazeb are interred. The town and tomb are in a sad state of neglect, with filth and squalor everywhere. Inside the mosque there is a modicum of order and embellished windows and pillars.
The day ended at the historic piece de resistance of cave art â€” Ellora. I was struck speechless by the sheer beauty and vastness of the caves and sculptures within. Moreover it is pertinent to note that the caves are not natural formations, but carved out of sheer rockfaces through continuous labour. Of the 34 caves, 12 depict Buddhist deities, nine Jain and 13 Hindu. The most important and beautiful is the 16th century Kailash cave to enter which a modest fee of Rs.10 is payable. Carved out of a single rock in the shape of a large elephant drawn chariot, it is even more impressive than the rock cut temples of Mahabalipuram.
December 18. We started early from Aurangabad and enjoyed a smooth ride to Ajanta. Being a world heritage site, private vehicles are not allowed near the caves, so we parked our bikes about 4 km ahead and proceeded by a MTDC electric non-polluting bus to the caves.
The spectacular caves in Ajanta have been carved in a horse-shoe shaped mountain with a stream flowing through its centre. Several wooden bridges have been constructed at vantage points to enable visitors to cross the stream and climb to the caves. Over 4,000 sq. km of surrounding hillsides have been declared protected, and nobody is allowed to stay there beyond 5.30 p.m.
The Ajanta caves are world famous for their beautiful frescoes which are well preserved and illustrate the life of the times. According to expert opinion, one needs at least three days to make a quick passage through the caves. And in my opinion the Ajanta caves are more splendid than those of Ellora.
After Ajanta we journeyed further upto Pahur where we turned off the main road onto a narrow village strip towards Jamner, and further out of Maharashtra into Madhya Pradesh.
I was surprised to see that roads in MP have improved phenomenally since my last visit in 2002. We traversed potholes-free roads almost upto Khandwa (pop. 81,000), a small commercial town.
December 19. The entire Rotary community of Khandwa turned up to meet us, and it was an opportune moment to discuss the importance of Equal Quality Education for All and how Rotary clubs can play a major role in realising this ideal. The Rotary Club, Khandwa committed itself to adopt and upgrade three government schools in the next academic year, and ensure high quality education to their students.
We started off on the state highway to cover the 125 km distance to Indore (pop. 1.25 million). As we entered the town and stopped to call our Rotary Club hosts, we gathered a large crowd which was enthused by our Equal Education for All mission. After that we went into the town to the hotel where the Rotary Club Indore had arranged our stay.
December 20. Starting from Indore at 8.00 a.m we headed for the temple town of Ujjain (pop. 4.29 lakh), sited at the confluence of rivers Tapti and Narmada. The meagre distance of 65 km took over four hours because of potholed roads and unruly truck traffic, but the scenic vistas of rivers and countryside compensated for the bad stretch. On reaching Ujjain we made a beeline to the Mahakal temple only to be deluged by touts, shopkeepers, self-styled priests and others offering us darshan, pooja etc. The main temple is sited in the middle of a vast complex of several shrines dedicated to different mahadevs or incarnations of Lord Shiva. This is a beautiful stone temple built in the rashtrakuta style of architecture with intricately carved pillars and wall panels.
In the afternoon we left Ujjain. A precarious 80 km stretch brought us to Sardarpur where we halted for the night and attended a colourful village fair in neighbouring Raigarh.
December 21. From Sardarpur we rode towards Jhabua, the border district of Madhya Pradesh dominated by tribal people. We encountered a tribe of Banjara gypsies with herds of sheep and camels camping in an open field. A gaggle of scruffy children stared at us curiously when we stopped to take pictures. It was dismaying to learn that these 10-12-year-olds had never been to school. Indeed, a shudder ran down my spine at the thought of the many such children in the district without any schooling and with no hope for a decent life and future.
The tribal belt of Jhabua district, Manchali Ghat, is now a protected forest. Except there is hardly any forest left. Itâ€™s just endless scrub and sparse vegetation.
After riding 27 km out of Jhabua, we arrived on the Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh border. Immediately the road quality improved by several hundred percent. In Gujarat we were suddenly riding on excellent, international quality roads with smooth asphalting. The countryside also changed from dry, barren grassland to neatly cultivated agricultural fields, watered by gurgling streams. Our progress became swifter and we crossed Dahod and reached Godhra, the starting point of the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.
Vadodara is only 90 km from Godhra and the road transformed into a dual carriage toll way (bikes exempt). Cruising at about 80-85 kph, we entered Vadodara (pop. 1.73 million) through two gates (Champaner and Ghandy) of the old city and its centre (Mandvi) before reaching the Bhavanâ€™s Vidyalaya where Mr. Kharkhanis â€” an old friend â€” welcomed us. In his comfortable home we reminisced about our days in Ladakh when we were volunteers in Operation Sadbhavana, launched by the Indian Army to win the hearts of the Muslim minorities living close to the border areas. "I hope the schools we established in Ladakh are still functioning. Children in those remote villages have little hope otherwise," said my host.
After freshening up, we were treated to an authentic Gujarati thali comprising 18 cooked vegetables, topped up with two sweet dishes and a dessert. It was the first time since we started the tour that we had such a princely meal!
December 22. Our gracious host showed us around the city. The Maharaja Fatehsingh Museum, contiguous to the Vadodara Cricket Club in the palace compound, displays a vast collection of paintings by master artist Raja Ravi Varma who was a close confidante of Maharaja Sayyaji Rao III.
On our agenda was a visit to all four gates of the old walled city. The walls collapsed long back, but the four main gates remain. We visited the Khanderao market, a building which looks more like a large temple with four tall towers and a grandiose entrance, than a market. Built by Maharaja Khanderao in late 18th century, the stately building hosts the cityâ€™s main wholesale market. "One of the few kings who used peopleâ€™s money for the right causes," observed Kharkhanis.
The Vadodara City Museum housed in a stately colonial building inside the Sayyaji Rao Park, a large green space, was the most interesting visit of the day. Neatly organised into several thematic galleries, the museum sprawls over 30,000 sq. ft with three stories. Particularly interesting is the antiques gallery and the paleolithic gallery which display an array of objects dâ€™ art, weaponry, tools and implements, costumes, figurines and coins used centuries ago.
One positive directive of the Gujarat state government is that it is mandatory for all school children to visit a museum, science centre, planetarium and zoo every academic year. This is an excellent initiative worthy of emulation by state governments.
December 23. Our plan for the day was to visit the world heritage site Champaner and the Pavagadh hill fort crowned by a Durga Mata temple, and return to the city in the evening to prepare for the next dayâ€™s departure to Ahmedabad. The entire Champaner-Pavagadh area is well maintained with explanatory signage and Archaeological Survey of India information kiosks. The site provides an object lesson of how proper government attention can transform a monument into a tourist attraction.
In Champaner is a massive fort wall built of red sandstone. In the walled city, Saher Ki Masjid is a sprawling mosque, displaying refined stone artwork in the interior and exterior. Built in the latter half of the 15th century, the mosqueâ€™s distinguishing characteristic is its two minarets and five circular domes each fronting a mehrab or prayer niche. Constructed to facilitate optional use of natural sunlight and ventilation, the structure has windows on all sides with each window embellished with intricate mesh art.
The Jami Masjid is the finest monument of the Champaner ruins. It has seven mehrabs with a separate section for women. The sections are separated by a perforated screen, or jali featuring excellent stone tracery unique to the mosques and monuments of north India.
The Pavagadh hill crowned by an ancient Mahakali/ Durga temple is a popular pilgrim centre. One can reach the top by climbing the steep 8 km footpath or hitching an exhilarating 20-minute, at times scary, ropeway ride (Rs.70 per head return). We opted for the latter and savoured the spectacular scenery of the Champaner valley, Pavagadh ravines and protected forest around the site. After getting off the ropeway one has to climb another 1,000 ft of steep rock-cut steps to reach the zenith of the mountain. The temple per se is not particularly great but the view of the surrounding countryside and hills is breathtaking.
December 24. Already 4-5 days behind schedule, our Christmas eve plan was to reach Ahmedabad, 155 km from Vadodara. We rode on the smooth double-lane road taking in the green well-cultivated countryside, and reached the outskirts of Ahmedabad at about 2.30 p.m. Our host Ms. Minal Doshi had given us clear instructions on how to reach her house in the commercial capital of the state of Gujarat (pop. 50 million). An educationist and advocate of inclusive education, Doshi runs an education/ intervention centre to mainstream challenged children under age five.
December 25. "Merry Christmas," said Minal, waking us up at 7.30 a.m. We set out to explore and re-discover the numerous heritage monuments and landmarks of Ahmedabad (pop. 5.1 million). The HuthiSingh Jain temple is perhaps the most striking monument in the city. With its fort-like external wall sheltering several shrines, the entrance arch to the temple is itself a marvellous work of art in stone. A 50-ft tall manasthamba in front of the entrance is adorned with excellent relief sculptures.
Returning to Minalâ€™s house late in the evening, we briefed her about our Equal Education for All mission. "Do you know that there are millions of challenged kids who donâ€™t receive even the substandard education provided in government schools?" asked Minal, a former visiting scholar of Columbia University who has published a critique of the UNâ€™s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). "The MDGs donâ€™t refer to the education needs of physically and mentally challenged children. Neither does the Millennium Declaration say anything about early childhood intervention and care of special needs children," lamented Minal. The success outcome of her learning centre is high. "Thanks to early intervention, over 80 percent of our children are attending mainstream schools and some have even passed class X," says Minal. Currently 450 children in the age group of 0-5 are enrolled in the centreâ€™s learning programmes. An exemplary social entrepreneur doing exemplary social work.
December 26. Our original plan was to travel from Ahmedabad to Udaipur via Himmatnagar, about 260 km from Ahmedabad. But in Ahmedabad we learnt of the splendour of the Modhera Sun Temple, which would involve a detour of over 200 km.
Our first stop was a mere 17 km from the city at Adalaj village to visit the adalaj vav or stepped well. Adalaj vav is a fine example of how human creativity can transform a prosaic well into a work of art in stone. It comprises two wells around which a massive stone structure has been built comprising balconies, windows, steps supported by artistically carved pillars. The water level in both the wells is 60 ft below ground level and one has to descend a flight of well laid stone steps to reach water. The artwork on the supporting pillars, windows and frescoes displays a high degree of perfection and even to this date the water in the wells is potable.
The route to Modhera took us through narrow village roads upto Mehsana, and from there it was a smooth single lane road all the way to the temple. This 35 km stretch was the only badly maintained road in Gujarat.
As we entered Modhera we chanced upon a vast lake on the banks of which is the Sun temple. Nearby is the Hawa Mahal, from where the glory of the temple is in full display. This 12-pillared structure is equally artistic and has two windows with attractive tracery work.
The Sun temple is one of the countryâ€™s most beautiful shrines. It comprises two polygonal structures in which no rock surface has been left unadorned. Every inch of wall, pillar, roof and window displays relief sculptures in exquisite leaf and floral patterns, strikingly similar to the mosques of Champaner.
The stepped tank before the temple is currently bereft of water but surrounding it are small shrines housing deities such as Ganesh, Lakshmi, Parvathi, Shiva etc. The artisansâ€™ attention to detail and perfection is overwhelming, indicative of another age when only the best was good enough.
Crossing the Gujarat border we entered Rajasthan (pop. 56 million) and set course for the Mt. Abu Road. With the road width reduced to two lanes, we rode continuously through stark and rocky terrain, dodging marble laden trucks and their unruly drivers who canâ€™t tolerate vehicles overtaking them. Cold winter winds hit us and despite our super heavy jackets, insulated gloves and helmets we felt the bite of the Rajasthan winter as we entered Pindwara, a village en route to Udaipur.
The locals warned us this was bandit territory. The 98 km road between Pindwara and Udaipur passes through a thick forest with deep, narrow ravines. With bated breath, bones rattled by bumpy, pot-holed roads, and chattering teeth we negotiated the 98 km distance via Gogunda and reached Udaipur (pop. 2.6 million) at 8.30 p.m. Our host organisation Seva Bharathi, an education and social service NGO had deputed some volunteers to ensure our comfortable stay in their guesthouse. We were served steaming hot tea and dinner before we hit the sack.
December 27. Starting off at 8.30 a.m when most of the city was still asleep, we headed towards Lake Pichola, reputedly the most beautiful lake in the city. But as we rode on the city roads, it occurred to me that this is one of the most commercialised tourist cities I have ever visited. Even Goa pales in comparison. Every building is either a hotel, guest house, restaurant, handicraft shop, travel agency, STD PCO, or business establishment.
After dodging all touts and guides we finally reached Lake Pichola and had a glimpse of Lake Palace, the former home of the royal Mewars, converted into Indiaâ€™s most expensive, exclusive hotel. Sited on an island in the middle of the lakeâ€™s azure waters, the palace seems afloat in water. The milky white building, against the glittering panorama of soft, early morning sun rays, completed a perfect picture.
About 17 km from the lake palace is the Sajjangarh wildlife sanctuary. The ground floor of the palace here has been converted into a Nature Interpretation Centre which features exhibits providing detailed explanations about the Aravalli mountain range, its forests, animals, birds, insects, tree and plant varieties, water sources, rainwater harvesting etc.
Some 25 km from Udaipur is the Eklingaji temple which houses the deity of the royal family of Mewar. From here the landscape suddenly changes with the road passing through a series of rocky cliffs. It seemed as if we were transported into a different world, on a narrow black road flanked by tall cliffs, striking scenery, and the smooth winding road providing an exhilarating biking experience. The cacophony of truck and car horns brought us back to terra firma. Nevertheless to reach Ajmer asap we raced our bikes overtaking trucks, cars, buses and two-wheelers. After some close shaves with oncoming trucks, we finally reached Ajmer at 10.30 p.m. Luckily our hosts, Anil Thawani of Seva Bharati and his colleagues were waiting for us with a hot dinner before heading for bed.
December 28. Ajmer (2.18 million) is a sacred city for Indian Muslims, and many Hindus visit the shrine here as well. On the edge of the city is Pushkar, which hosts the countryâ€™s sole Brahma temple and is the venue of the annual camel fair.
We rode into the city to the Dargah Sharief, where we were met by one Imran Chisthi and it was thanks to him that we could negotiate the chaos and disorder that prevailed inside the sanctum. I have been to several religious places such as the Tirumala Tirupati Balaji shrine in Andhra Pradesh, Mata Vaishnodevi temple in Jammu and Kashmir which are visited by larger crowds, but every devotee gets a chance to see and pray. I think someone should take initiative and change the scene in Ajmer.
Pressing on towards Pushkar (15 km) we traversed a beautifully constructed road snaking through rocky hillocks of the Aravali range, to reach the only Brahma temple in the world, highly revered by Hindus. Despite all the natural beauty and spirituality associated with Pushkar, the harsh reality is that it is a potheadsâ€™ haven. Foreigners throng to this town because of the easy availability of opium, heroin and marijuana. In the temple â€” a modern structure constructed on an elevated platform on the banks of the Pushkar lake â€” one has to be careful of pesky priests who promise the world in return for monetary contributions.
December 29. The distance from Ajmer to Jaipur is only 165 km and the road is excellent, we were informed by our hosts. Hence we started leisurely at about 9.00 a.m after the sun was high in the sky, as early mornings are too cold to ride. Before heading out of the city we bought the local editions of Dainik Bhaskar and Rajasthan Pathrika which featured articles about our Equal Education for All odyssey.
We reached Jaipur (pop. 5.2 million) at about 2.30 p.m, and as directed in Ajmer, got to the Bharathi Bhavan, office of Seva Bharathi where our accommodation was pre-arranged. We freshened up and headed out into the busy city hoping to visit some of its famous landmarks. But we were taken aback by the chaos and disorder that reigns on the roads of Jaipur. All manner of vehicles â€” pushcarts, cycles, cycle-rickshaws, three-wheelers, motorcycles, cars, mini buses, lorries, and of course cattle â€” compete for lebensraum. Even on the 100 ft wide main roads, the scenario is the same. I felt thankful that I didnâ€™t live in Jaipur. Bangaloreâ€™s traffic is bad but not as chaotic and disorderly as in Jaipur. The Pink City of India descriptive becomes obvious as one enters through any of the vast gates of the walled city. Every building on the main thoroughfares including the palace, market, shopping malls, police station, and even the hospital is pink hued. Like Udaipur, Jaipur is highly commercialised and everywhere there are shops selling handicrafts, stone jewellery, silverware, shoes, traditional clothes, antiques etc.
Our first stop was Hawa Mahal, the five-storey gallery with quaint windows from which ladies of the royal household would watch the happenings in the city. Jantar Mantar, an observatory built by the astronomer-king Raja Jaisingh is also worth visiting. Amber fort is located atop a tall 1,200 ft rocky hill accessible via a snaking, narrow road. Thereâ€™s a perpetual race between vehicles on this road, with unruly cab drivers who threaten to mow two wheelers off the road into the valley. The crowing glory of Amber fort is the Sheesh Mahal â€” halls studded with tiny mirrors which throw back a thousand reflections, at the strike of a match. One can only marvel at such unique artistry while taking in the panoramic vistas of Jaipur from atop .