Walking Like Queens

Jaipur is also known as “The Pink City”. This is because when Queen Victoria decided to visit all her empire, the ruling mogul of Jaipur at the time decreed that the city be painted a shade of dusky pink, believing it was Queen Vic’s favourite colour or that pink was the colour of hospitality. The guide wasn’t too sure on that one.

Be that as it may, the city is a bustling array of old and new with market streets winding away into the distance with many original buildings and walls painted pink.

The city fort or royal residence was all very charming and beautiful, laid out with courtyards and walkways. The largest courtyard had four doors opening into it, each one representing a season so the day we visited, we walked through Autumn in order to admire the vast open space which would have been covered with silk carpets on which the dancing girls could parade, watched over by the mogul from his balcony, whilst being watched by his concubines.

The current royal family does still live there and coloured flags flew from the mast, advertising that they were “in” but all we got to see of them was a family photo of the royal mother, her daughter and grandchildren.

At the time, the daughter caused a bit of a stir because she fell in love with her driver and married him. This caused the locals to protest at the fort gates but she followed her heart and married him. I imagine when they divorced some years later, she followed her head. Maybe.

Driving past the very beautiful and rather surreal holiday palace,sitting in the middle of a man-made lake and designed so that the two lowest floors of the palace were flooded to keep it cool, we then climbed high up into the surrounding hills and where we could see pinkish sandstone forts on every summit, joined by snaking lines of walls.

We stopped at Tiger Fort where the whole, huge city of Jaipur spread before us, with the man-made lake just twinkling in the distance. Our guide was from the Kshatriyas caste, which meant he was a warrior. He explained that this caste believed that their women had to be as educated and as highly trained as the men, so they stood “shoulder to shoulder” with them. That is why at the fort, there is a magnificent marble-lined swimming pool which the royal ladies used to swim and train in.

The fort has many steps but also many ramps. This was for the royal ladies to move about. They walked only on carpets laid on the ramps and would head down to the pool most days to compete in arduous games of water polo and gymnastics wearing the equilvalent of gymwear- a short, wraparound sarong.

The pool itself is vast, with stepped sides and as I wondered on its design, thinking that perhaps the royal ladies used these for sunbathing, I was told no, it was designed that way “just to make it beautiful”.

I also discovered that this caste allowed, indeed encouraged its women to drink alcohol so that when the men were away fighting, the women, would have the “dutch courage” needed to defend their homes. This practise still goes on today at weddings where a guest cannot enter the wedding ceremony until he or she has had a good few glugs of Indian whisky.

One famous maharajah’s wife was so beautiful that he could not bear to leave her behind for too long to go and fight. She realised he was too distracted and so somehow arranged for someone to cut her head off and send it to him, saying “This is just a body. Go fight for the country.” She is honoured in this part of India.

So it seems to me that beneath the jewels and the silks, beat strong, courageous hearts, prepared to stand and fight for their beliefs and families. Beneath the crowns and heavy headdresses were highly educated minds, able to grasp the problems of a vast sub-continent; the dainty, hennaed feet passing over carpets of silk, could also stop and give you a damn good kicking if you needed it.

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