Two Thought Provoking Palaces in Jaipur

by Ekua on April 6, 2011 in India

The Hawa Mahal and the Jal Mahal were the original poster children of Jaipur for me. A couple months before I went to India, I browsed a travel friend’s photos of India. I hadn’t yet booked anything and wasn’t sure if I’d go and I was looking for ideas on where to go. Amongst the photos, pictures of these two palaces stood out. I asked about them and found out they were both in Jaipur. A few quick Googles later and it seemed clear that Jaipur was a highly recommended stop in India and not too far out of the way on the journey from Kolkata to Delhi.

Flash forward two months or so. As we approached these palaces, I realized the driver/guide had no plans to stop. Both times, I was that tourist, the one who asked him if we could pullover briefly, pretty please. He gave us enough time to snap a few pictures while he mumbled quick scripted descriptions of the palaces. Despite how underwhelming the stops were, I was intrigued by the improbability of these buildings: an intricate palace that is just one room deep and an abandoned palace in the middle of a lake…

An Elaborate Building Used to Segregate Royal Women

The facade of the Hawa Mahal is undeniably incredible. From the side, it looks so thin, like it could easily be snapped in half. From the front, you look up at all that texture and detail and dusty rose color and it seems a bit unreal. You doubt your eyes so you rub them and squint them just to make sure.

The Hawa Mahal was added to the City Palace in 1799. It’s located in the “Pink City” part of Jaipur. Hawa Mahal translates to “Palace of the Winds”. With its many windows, it was built with ventilation in mind and it provided a respite from Jaipur’s heat during the summer months.

The royal women of that time had to adhere to purdah which meant they couldn’t show themselves to men. Because of this, the windows were decorated with lattice work so the women could see the happenings on the street below without people being able to look up and see them. Repression behind a beautiful facade.

A Palace in a Reservoir

The Jal Mahal can be spotted on the way to and from the Amber Fort. It sits not on the shore of, but in the middle of a man made lake called Man Sagar. In a previous life, the Jal Mahal was a retreat for royals; a place to duck hunt, picnic, and party.

More recently, Man Sagar was a toxic sewage bowl for Jaipur and the Jal Mahal was dilapidated and abandoned. Today, with the help of restoration, the Jal Mahal still stands as a testament to man’s audacity and intelligence as well as man’s arrogance.

Ironically, the presence of this palace in the middle of the water has helped save the area’s ecosystem. The Jal Mahal’s visibility along the road to one of Jaipur’s main attractions and its potential to be lucrative in a tourism-centric city sparked efforts to not only preserve the palace, but to clean up the lake as well. Through a relatively rapid habit restoration and waste diversion project, Man Sagar is becoming a more hospitable environment for the flora and fauna that once lived there.

But as I read about the two million metric tons of toxic silt that was dredged from the bottom of the lake, I couldn’t help but wonder how they disposed of it. When it comes to getting rid of toxic silt, it often seems that the pollution is just shifted from one place to another, presumably moved to a less visible and less lucrative location.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sunee April 7, 2011 at 4:52 am

These palaces really are beautiful, but it’s the little bits of history and background that make them interesting. I wonder what life must have been like for the women of the Hawa Mahal? Were they content with sacrificing their freedom for the luxury of being a royal wife? And I also wonder how the toxic silt has been disposed of – perhaps another reason for the state of the Ganges…?

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Ekua April 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I don’t think they were necessarily sacrificing their freedom, I think it was just the way things were done at the time… and it still happens today with the cloaks and veils that some Muslim women wear, like what I mentioned in my “Brief Encounters in Jaipur” post. To me, the idea that men can’t control themselves so women should be made to hide or cover themselves is always repression, regardless of culture or religion. With the way some men treat females in India, the detrimental results of repression and other gender issues there are blatantly clear.

As far as toxic silt goes, it is very very expensive to dispose of in a less harmful way that doesn’t allow it to pollute groundwater or another body of water. Even in the U.S., Europe and Australia, toxic silt often gets dumped in another body of water or in a less used part of the same body of water they took it from because the cost of putting it in a sealed dump is so expensive. The restoration of the lake and the palace took a lot of money, but it probably wasn’t enough to cover the cost of disposing of that 2 million tons of toxic waste properly. This is just one example, but when it comes to environmental “solutions”, the pollution is often just shifted to another place or another industry, but you only hear the positive upbeat side of the story.

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Mezba April 7, 2011 at 9:33 am

Hawa Mahal is really beautiful – too bad most tourists just pause by the side to take a picture and then go on (we were guilty of that at first!). They have some monkeys around the area that used to both tourists as well.

It’s interesting that the maharajahs and rulers were Hindu, yet they still observed Purdah!

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Ekua April 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm

We only stopped to take a picture! The driver/guide wouldn’t have even stopped at all if I hadn’t asked. It would have been nice to spend more time there and actually go into the building. I didn’t take anything away from my driver’s explanation so I decided to look it up later and find out more about it.

According to this definition, both Hindus and Muslims can observe purdah: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/purdah

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