My day started with a ride on an elephant, so it was quite a special day in my life. It was certainly not the most efficient way of climbing the hill to the Amber Fort, but it was by far the most fun. Dad and I sat side by side on a big padded seat attached to the elephant’s back, with our legs hanging off the side. We climbed the steep path and entered the grand gate like the Maharajas of old. I found the Amber Fort of Jaipur to be more amazing than either the Red Fort or the Agra Fort. It may not have had the same monumental scale as its Mughal counterparts, but what it lacked in size, it made up for in its setting, its labyrinthine qualities, and the freedom visitors have to explore its depths. There seemed to be an endless number of passageways that we were free to follow, some leading to unremarkable dead ends and some leading to ornately pained rooms with views of the surrounding mountains. The child in me came out more than it had in a long time, as I wandered through the old maze in wonder, not knowing what I would find around each corner. While sketching, I met a group of Indian architecture students and it was fascinating to get their perspective on architecture and education in particular. Between the maze of passageways and my new-found friends, I had many reasons to never want to leave, but alas, there is always more to see. We headed to Jantar Mantar, the observatory. It was one of the strangest places I have ever been to, seeming like a fantasy land of mysterious structures that looked like a real-life landscape from Dr. Suess or Alice in Wonderland. What made it even more fascinating was that these structures that looked like “follies” were actually the complete opposite: very much functional and incredibly accurate instruments to measure time and sun angles. It is truly amazing that a 75 foot high sundial built 300 years ago could still be accurate by mere seconds. Later that night we went to see a Bollywood movie in Jaipur’s most famous movie theater, which was quite the cultural experience. It was fascinating to see everyone cheer the first time an actor made his/her first appearance in the film. It was also wild to see some people get out of their seats during the musical scenes to dance in the aisles. It didn’t even matter that the whole movie was in Hindi and I couldn’t understand a word of dialogue. The actors’ facial expressions were so exaggerated and over-acted that it was pretty easy to tell what was going on. Raj helped with the rest.
We started our day with a surreal visit to the Galta Temple, a Hindu house of worship built into the mountain outside the city. It lay just beyond the city gates, yet once inside, the complex felt like a very remote place. Perhaps this was because of the spiritual atmosphere there. We were given red dots, good luck bracelets, and incense, and I was allowed to take pictures yet I somehow felt it was an unholy thing to do. When we started climbing the terraces of bathing pools, we saw a few monkeys hanging out on the stone floor. Then the “monkey master” pointed out an area of the cliff where there were literally hundreds of monkeys running, climbing, shrieking, and chasing each other around the sheer face of the cliff. Dad and I had one of those moments where we simply could not believe where we were. The whole setting just seemed too bizarre to be real. Later, I met one of the architecture students from the Amber Fort for coffee at the mall and had such a wonderful conversation. It was so nice and refreshing to have a conversation with someone who wasn’t trying to get money out of me, and better yet, someone who knows about architecture and design.