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Northern India part 8: Sultanpur Jheel and Delhi: 31st November – 2nd December 2019.   Leave a comment

This is the 8th and final post about our trip to Northern India in November 2019. In order to combine natural history with cultural sites we arranged a custom tour organised by Jo Thomas of Wild About Travel

On our final day we spent the morning at Sultanpur Jheel reserve, about an hour’s drive from Delhi and did some sightseeing in the city during the afternoon.

 

I had been to Sultanpur Jheel on my first visit to India in 1986, but the area held one bird that was a lifer for me, so a return was called for.

 

Much of the northern lowlands of India, especially the Ganges plain, is affected by smog and pollution in the winter, this is worst by far in Delhi where an acrid haze hangs over the city.

 

Sultanpur Jheel (jheel refers to a shallow lake or flood) is a small reserve compared to Bharatpur but still contains a wide range of waterbirds. Here Coots, Grey-headed Swamphens and various ducks can be seen.

 

In this photo a flock of Spoonbills and a Painted Stork are flying in …

 

… as well as the Coots and a single Moorhen plus Shoveler and Pochards.

 

This species was originally called Purple Gallinule, but this was also the name of a species in the New World, so the alternative name of Purple Swamphen was employed. Then the species was divided into six on morphological grounds and this one that occurs in South and South-east Asia is known as Grey-headed Swamphen, although this one doesn’t look all that ‘grey-headed’!

 

Other regular birds were Indian Pond Heron (which can be found in just about every puddle across the sub-continent) and Glossy Ibis.

 

In the dense vegetation we found a wide range of Phylloscopus warblers; Siberian Chiffchaff, Greenish Warbler, Tickell’s, Hume’s, Large-billed and Brook’s Leaf Warblers, none of which I got decent photos of, as well as this Ashy Prinia.,

 

There were also a few Nilgai, also known as Blue Bull, the largest antelope in India.

 

But most of our targets were in the dry scrub outside the reserve – Indian Thick-knee (or Indian Stone Curlew) …

 

… Yellow-wattled Lapwing (which is far rarer than its red-wattled cousin) …

 

… and the bird I most wanted to see, Sind Sparrow.

 

Smaller than a House Sparrow with a greyer crown and a broad rufous supercillium that extends behind the ear coverts, Sind Sparrow is restricted to north-western India, Pakistan and south-east Iran.

 

Any bird that only occurs west of India, south of Uzbekistan and east of the Levant can be most difficult to find in the current political climate. Fortunately I was able to catch up with this little gem, only the second life-bird of the trip, near to Sultanpur Jheel.

 

We headed back into Delhi, Indian roads are the source of endless wonder and amusement. We wondered what this strange contraption was …

 

… it proved to be just a man on his bike delivering a huge fridge!

 

We headed for Qutub Minar. The traffic in Delhi was just awful. India seems to have a unique set of road rules, but in spite of the constant blaring of horns, the rapid braking and dodging of stray animals, everything seems good natured. Delhi was different, drivers seemed mean and would cut you up to gain a six foot advantage. A typical three-lane road would become five lanes as drivers squeezed past each other with literally inches to spare and most cars were dented from the inevitable collisions. Fortunately our driver was calm and level headed.

 

Once at Qutub Minar we wandered around the ancient buildings.

 

From Wikipedia: Qutub Minar (or Qutab Minar), is a minaret and “victory tower” that forms part of the Qutb complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Mehrauli area of New Delhi, India. The height of Qutub Minar is 72.5 meters, making it the tallest minaret in the world built of bricks. The tower tapers, and has a 14.3 metres base diameter, reducing to 2.7 metres at the top of the peak. It contains a spiral staircase of 379 steps.

 

Again from Wikipedia: The Minar is surrounded by several historically significant monuments of the Qutb complex. Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, to the north-east of the Minar was built by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak in A.D. 1198. It is the earliest extant – mosque built by the Delhi Sultans.

 

We wandered around …

 

… marvelling at the architecture.

 

More from Wikipedia: It consists of a rectangular courtyard enclosed by cloisters, erected with the carved columns and architectural members of 27 Hindu and Jaina temples, which were demolished by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak as recorded in his inscription on the main eastern entrance. Later, a lofty arched screen was erected and the mosque was enlarged, by Shams-ud- Din Itutmish (A.D. 1210-35) and Ala-ud-Din Khalji.

 

The cloisters can be seen here …

 

… and here.

 

Qutub Minar was begun after the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, which was started around 1192 by Qutb-ud-din Aibak, first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. The mosque complex is one of the earliest that survives in the Indian subcontinent

 

Another view of the tower …

 

… and a close up of the intricate carving on the base.

 

Our intention was to visit Humayun’s Tomb, the tomb of the Mughal Emperor dating from 1558 but however we tried we just couldn’t get near due to the congestion. It was a Sunday and the roads around all tourist attractions were packed. Eventually we told our driver to abandon the attempt and just take us to India Gate.

 

… but of course the roads around were also heavily congested and there was nowhere to park.

 

Our driver dropped us off by the adjacent government buildings …

 

… where we admired the seat of government of the largest democracy in the world (India’s population is over 1,300,000,000!).

 

In one direction we could see the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Presidential palace (formerly the Viceroy’s palace during the days of the Raj) …

 

… and from the other all the way down to India Gate. From Wikipedia: The India Gate is a war memorial located astride the Rajpath, on the eastern edge of the “ceremonial axis” of New Delhi, formerly called Kingsway. It stands as a memorial to 70,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who died in between 1914 and 1921 in the First World War, in France, Flanders, Mesopotamia, Persia, East Africa, Gallipoli and elsewhere in the Near and the Far East, and the third Anglo-Afghan War. 13,300 servicemen’s names, including some soldiers and officers from the United Kingdom, are inscribed on the gate. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the gate evokes the architectural style of the triumphal arch such as the Arch of Constantine, in Rome, and is often compared to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and the Gateway of India in Mumbai.

 

Around the building we saw the ubiquitous Common Myna and …

 

… overhead large numbers of Black Kites. I have commented before about lack of vultures and kites in the skies above India compared to say my visit in 1986. However here at least Black Kites were numerous.

 

On the 2nd December, our final morning, we were dropped off at airport at 0800 in good time for our flight back home. Delhi now has a modern and easy to navigate airport, a far cry from my experience in 1986.

 

… and nine hours later the east coast of England came into view. Imagine my surprise when I realised that we were right above Margaret’s daughter’s house in Maldon, Essex. The Blackwater Estuary, the River Chelmer, Heybridge Basin and  lakes, the Chelmer-Blackwater Navigation Canal and Maldon itself can be seen in the photo. It’s almost possible to make out her house.

 

So I’ll conclude this account of a highly successful and most enjoyable trip to India with another view of Qutab Minar, a trip that encompassed wildlife, local culture and history. I can’t wait to get back, I have another India trip pending – just waiting to the Covid situation to improve!

 

 

Northern India part 7: Jodhpur and the Bishnoi villages: 28th – 30th November 2019   Leave a comment

This is the 7th post about our wonderful trip to northern India in November 2019. The custom tour was arranged by Jo Thomas of Wild About Travel, who arranged an itinerary, accommodation, transport and guides to our specification, which combined wildlife viewing and cultural highlights.

This post covers our half-day visit to the city of Jodhpur and a visit to some nearby villages belonging to the Bishnoi people.

 

After visiting Mumbar gardens (see post 6) we entered the city of Jodhpur and stopped at the Clock Tower where there was an extensive market  …

 

… selling a wonderful variety of fruit,  vegetables, clothing etc. We were able to buy some spices and masala tea, far better souvenirs than the usual tourist junk.

 

The whole area is overshadowed by the Mehrangarh or Mehran Fort. which dominates the skyline.

 

Later we were taken to our hotel, the lovely Rattan Villas near the city centre.

 

No dancers this time, but a musician playing traditional instruments made up for that.

 

The next morning we drove with a guide to Jaswant Thada, a marble mausoleum overlooking the city. Note the ancient city walls running along the skyline.

 

An adjacent lake got me my first Ferruginous Ducks for the trip, but the main focus was the beautiful architecture of the mauseleum.

 

Unfortunately the usual mist and pollution haze hung over the city, but even so the view was spectacular.

 

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m no fan of the selfie craze, but even so I found this sign quite amusing.

 

From Wikipedia: The Jaswant Thada is a cenotaph located in Jodhpur, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh of Jodhpur State in 1899 in memory of his father, Mahara-ja Jaswant Singh II, and serves as the cremation ground for the royal family of Marwar.

 

The mausoleum is built out of intricately carved sheets of marble. These sheets are extremely thin and polished so that they emit a warm glow when illuminated by the Sun.

 

The cenotaph of Maharaja Jaswant Singh displays portraits of the rulers and Maharajas of Jodhpur.

 

The cenotaph’s grounds feature carved gazebos, a tiered garden, and a small lake. There are three other cenotaphs in the grounds.

 

The view from the mausoleum’s gardens were once again dominated by the Mehrangarh Fort, which was to be our next destination.

 

From Wikipedia says about the Mehrangarh Fort,: There are seven gates, which include Jayapol (meaning ‘victory gate’), built by Maharaja Man Singh to commemorate his victories over Jaipur and Bikaner armies. There is also a Fattehpol (also meaning ‘victory gate’), which commemorates Maharaja Ajit Singhji victory over Mughals.

 

The fort is truly enormous, said to be one of the largest in India.

 

If Jaipur is known as the pink city then Jodhpur is the blue city.

 

From Wikipedia (again): Jodhpur is the second-largest city in the Indian state of Rajasthan and officially the second metropolitan city of the state with a population surpassing 1.5 million. It was formerly the seat of the princely state of Jodhpur State. Jodhpur was historically the capital of the Kingdom of Marwar, which is now part of Rajasthan. Jodhpur is a popular tourist destination, featuring many palaces, forts, and temples, set in the stark landscape of the Thar Desert. It is popularly known as the “Blue City” among people of Rajasthan and all over India. It serves as the administrative headquarters of the Jodhpur district and Jodhpur division.

 

The old city circles the Mehrangarh Fort and is bounded by a wall with several gates. The city has expanded greatly outside the wall, though, over the past several decades

 

This bronze model shows the size and scale of the gigantic fort.

 

These next three photos …

 

shown the scale and extent of the wonderful architecture …

 

… and the incredibly intricate stonework seen here …

 

… and here.

 

The museum in the Mehrangarh fort is one of the most well-stocked museums in Rajasthan. In one section of the fort museum, there is a selection of old royal palanquins, including the elaborate domed gilt Mahadol palanquin which was won in a battle from the Governor of Gujarat in 1730.

 

The museum exhibits the heritage of former times …

 

… in shrines, costumes …

 

… paintings and decorated tapestries.

 

A few more photos of the fabulous interior …

 

… it was so gob-smackingly beautiful …

 

… that I failed to take in all the details that our guide was providing.

 

Eventually we emerged outside for another view over the city.

 

You get the feeling that this passage way was designed for a smaller person!

 

More of the delicate stonework that allows the breeze to enter but allows the women of the court to view the plazas below without being seen themselves.

 

This time a view complete with Rock Pigeons. The question of what is a truly wild Rock Pigeon and what is a domesticated feral pigeon is a vexed one. Certainly those in European cities and any in the New World are feral but these here on the forts of India showed every characteristic of being wild; no enlarged cere, no variation in plumage and pale grey not white rumps.

 

More views of the city walls …

 

… more highly decorated corridors …

 

… and yet more intricate stone work.

 

Later on we returned to Jodhpur and after some lunch we headed into the countryside to visit the villages of the Bishnoi people.

 

After lunch the guide and our driver Mehaz took us to some villages of the Bishnoi people. Apparently Bishnoi means 29 in the local dialect which comes from the 29 commandments given to members of the Bishnoi sect by Guru Jambheshwar (1451-1536). As well as religious instructions and social rules the commandments list a number of environmental considerations and instructions for sustainable living. If only Moses had thought to bring another 19 commandments with him when he descended from Mount Sinai then the world would be a very different place today! Like so many of these village tours it was really just an opportunity to sell artefacts to tourists, but the villagers seemed so much more deserving than their city counterparts (and prices were much lower).

 

In this rather scruffy yard we were shown how the villages make and fire the large earthenware pots and we bought a ‘terracotta sun face’ to put on our garden fence …

 

… whilst elsewhere and an old man with a gammy leg offered us some opium – which we politely declined.

 

Although we usually hate being taken to ‘carpet outlets’ when on a tour we rather stumbled on this one and as he didn’t give us the hard sell,  we bought a small rug off him.

 

Our visit to a group of nomadic ‘snake charmers’ was more impromptu but we were welcomed in once they realised that the guide came from the same village as they did.

 

… although a small child ran away screaming in terror when he saw our white faces (he calmed down later for this photo).

 

These are the cow-turd piles that the villages construct as the fuel store for cooking and heating.

 

The Bishnoi believe in protecting nature and we were taken to a lake where they feed the Demoiselle Cranes that come from Central Asia for the winter. The birds were rather distant for photos so I’ve included a shot from the similar, but much larger feeding station at Bikiner some distance to the west, where the cranes can be found in their tens of thousands.

 

We returned to the hotel that evening but the following day was worst of the trip. The flight to Delhi was in the early afternoon which would have given us time to do some sightseeing on arrival, so in the morning we had a bit of a lie in followed by another visit to the Clock Tower markets (where once again Margaret would be asked to pose for a selfie with the locals). Then we headed to the airport in the late morning and said our goodbyes to the very capable driver Mehaz. Before we left he reminded us of the three requirements for driving in India – a good horn, good brakes and good luck! Once through security we found there was a major delay with the flight and we spent six or more hours in a tiny departure lounge that was hot, crowded and very noisy due to a loud security scanner and lots of babies. We finally arrived at our hotel in Delhi late in the evening where decided to skip dinner and get straight to bed. It was the only hiccup of the trip and completely outside the organiser’s control.

 

I’ll conclude with a photo of the wonderful Jaswant Thada taken with on a telephoto setting from the fort of Mehrangarh.

The eighth and final post will deal with our time at the wildlife reserve of Sultanpur Jheel near Delhi and some of the monuments within the city itself.

Northern India part 6: Tal Chhapar and the Mumbar Gardens near Jodhpur: 27th-28th November 2019   4 comments

This is the 6th post on our wonderful trip to northern India in November 2019. The custom tour was arranged by Jo Thomas of Wild About Travel who arranged an itinerary, accommodation, transport and guides to our specification that combined wildlife viewing and cultural highlights.

After spending a day touring historic sites in Jaipur it was the turn to do some birding in the reserve of Tal Chhapar (yes that is the correct spelling!) a reserve near the village of Chhapar which is just under half way between Jaipur and the Pakistan border.

 

We were relatively close to Tal Chhapar on my Birdquest Western India trip in 2016 when we visited Bikaner, (as so often happens it was added to the itinerary the following year). There were two lifers for me here, one mammalian and one avian, the beautiful Blackbuck and the little-known Indian Spotted Creeper.

 

It was a 215 km drive from Jaipur and took over four hours. The village of Chhapar was quite unremarkable with a single busy main street and a few back streets like this.

 

We stayed at Raptors Inn, a private guest house run by local bird guide Atul Gurjar and his wife Sunita. They made us very welcome and provided great food. Margaret was very taken by this home stay and had a chance to ask Atul and Sunita about many aspects of Indian life including their cuisine. See more here

 

They tried their best to keep their boisterous children away from us but we found them most entertaining.

 

That afternoon we headed to a ‘gaushala’ a walled off area where the sacred cattle can safely graze. On route we passed this camel and buggy. There is clearly no law about using your phone whilst driving a camel in India! Here we were to search for the ‘semi-mythical’ Indian Spotted Creeper. Now I can’t say that I’ve been waiting to see this species all my life, I didn’t even know about of it until after it was split from its African cousin in the late 90s, but I have been wanting to see the area’s other attraction, the beautiful Blackbuck since I was a small child.

 

Finding the Indian Spotted Creeper took some time but there was no problem with seeing Blackbuck, up to 50 were on view. The females ,which are smaller, brown and white and have no horns were present but elusive, but the males were in rut and were bold and approachable.

 

Males would approach each other and then ‘parallel walk’, sizing each other up …

 

… sometimes disputes were resolved by this but often it ended up with an all out battle.

 

In due course Atul found a Spotted Creeper but it was in a line of trees by the gaushala wall. After a brief view and one very mediocre photo, it flew to some trees outside the gaushala where it could be seen but not photographed (there was a considerable drop on the other side of the wall so climbing over was impractical).

 

This was my first bird lifer on the tour and I was pretty pleased at this moment. This species and its African cousin are members of the Sittidae, the Nuthatch Family rather than Certhidae which contains all the (Holarctic/Oriental) treecreepers. Both photos by Prasad Natarajan see here

 

I think I said in an earlier post, when discussing the catastrophic decline in Indian vultures, that the only vulture we saw on the trip was Egyptian. That’s not quite true as we saw a single wintering Eurasian Griffon Vulture. How ever that doesn’t detract from my earlier statement that because of poisoning, the formerly widespread and abundant Slender-billed, White-rumped and Indian Vultures are now critically endangered.

 

Other raptors included this Black-winged Kite …

 

… and a beautiful Long-legged Buzzard.

 

Other birds photographed that afternoon included the punk-crested Brahminy Starling (above) and …

 

…  flocks of Indian Silverbills, small estridid finches, native to India but introduced to many other places.

 

There were a few ‘lesser whitethroats’ wintering. The taxonomy of this group has been controversial with between one and five species accepted at various times and by various authorities. IOC and HBW both now recognise three species, Hume’s Whitethroat which breeds in the mountains of Central Asia and winters in southern Baluchistan and SW India, Lesser Whitethroat which breeds from western Europe to east-central Siberia and winters in Africa and northern India and Desert Whitethroat which breeds in parts of China and Turkestan and winters in the Arabian peninsular and north-west India. This bird is a classic minula, ie a Desert Lesser Whitethroat, small, sandy with reduced grey in the crown.

 

There were quite a few Lanius shrikes in the area, including this male Bay-backed, which looks like a Penduline Tit on steroids …

 

… and the more familiar Great Grey Shrike, although here of the race archeri. The ‘great grey shrike’ group has undergone a lot a changes during the last few decades. Originally one species, then three (Southern, Great Grey and Steppe), its now still three but a different three: Northern Grey occurs in North America and eastern Siberia, Iberian Grey occurs where it’s name suggests and all the rest are re-lumped in Great Grey again. The problem seems to be that genetics and morphology don’t match, maybe eventually more sensitive and innovative genetic methods will be able to divide this group further and so better match DNA to plumage.

 

Also present were a number of Common Woodshrikes. These are not related to true shrikes of the genus Lanius (see the two photos above) but instead are members of the Vangidae, an unusual Family which includes the vangas of Madagascar, the African helmetshrikes and shrike-flycatchers and Asian philentomas.

 

After we had our meal that evening we heard very loud music coming down the street. Atul and Sunita said it was a pre-wedding celebration, so we decided to take a look.

 

Although they had never met us before the villagers were most welcoming. First they brought chairs out into the street so we could watch the dancing in comfort, then they invited us into their house and where the ladies were keen to be photographed with Margaret.

 

Later we (well mainly Margaret) joined in with the dancing …

 

… and we were treated as honoured guests. The bride and groom-to-be had yet to arrive but everyone else seemed to be having a great time on their behalf.

 

Now I’ve heard of ‘a bull in a china shop’ but its not that often that you come across the ‘cow at the mobile disco’, well not this sort of cow anyway.

 

Atul was a bit hesitant about visiting the actual Tal Chappar reserve (Tal meaning low-lying land) as heavy rain had made the tracks unsuitable for vehicles. As a result the following morning we first visited a lake near the gaushala.

 

We found a few waterbirds we had seen earlier on like these Indian Spotbills but the River Terns we found were new for the trip.

 

Spotbill used to be a single species but has since been split into Indian and Chinese varieties. I think it looks rather splendid in the pale-yellow light of dawn

 

Eventually Atul relented and took us to the nearby Tal Chhapar, but we had to leave the vehicle at the entrance gate. In this low-lying hollow the mist persisted, producing some atmospheric views of the local Blackbuck.

 

As well as Blackbuck there were quite large numbers of Wild Boar.

 

However some of the piglets showed characteristics more typical of domestic pigs so there must be some interbreeding. Also seen were Common Cranes and Western Marsh Harriers, but unfortunately not Monties or Hen Harriers (I dare say we would have seen more if we could have stayed or if the visibility had been better).

 

Well we weren’t able to walk very far as we had huge great clods of mud stuck to our boots, making walking rather difficult. Back at vehicle we had a very close encounter with a male Blackbuck. I don’t know if I’ll ever see this magnificent antelope again, but if I don’t I can’t complain about the views we had this time.

 

So we returned to the other side of the road and explored another area dodging great herds of goats on route.

 

Here we found Indian Desert Jirds. We only saw about ten but their burrows were everywhere.

 

These little rodents are preyed on by many raptors including …

 

… Booted Eagles (although in Europe rabbits are their favoured mammalian prey) …

 

… and Long-legged Buzzard.

 

Tawny Eagles are know to be mainly a scavenger and a kleptoparasite but I dare say the odd Jird or two would make a tasty snack, if they were quick enough to catch one.

 

We had spectacular views of a Tawny Eagle being harassed by a pair of Lagger Falcons. Unfortunately in my photos either the eagle or falcon are blurred so I’ve included one from iNaturalist taken by Philippe Boissel see here

 

The little Shikra is in the genus Accipiter which feeds mainly on birds rather than rodents.

 

Rather commoner than the larger Gyps vultures but still declining severely is the widespread Egyptian Vultures.

 

We came across a group of four on our drive around.

 

Also seen was (yet another) Spotted Owlet.

 

Enjoyable as it had been it was time to leave Chhapar and heard to our next destination.

 

That afternoon we drove to Jodhpur and stopped for a short while at Mumbar Gardens near the city where there was an attractive temple and a wetland area caused by the damming of the local river.

 

We didn’t learn anything about the temple a this was just a short impromptu stop …

 

… but like all old Indian architecture it was very beautiful.

 

There were a few birds in the temple area …

 

… but most were in the overgrown water channel. These included a ‘water rail’, I hoped that it would be the recently split Eastern Water Rail (or Brown-cheeked Rail), after all the scientific name is Rallus indicus, but it proved to be the same one we get at home.

 

Perhaps the most notable feature of the temple was the very approachable Hanuman Langurs.

 

The next post will cover our visit to the city of Jodhpur, the nearby Bishnoi villages and a nearby lake where Demoiselle Cranes gather.

Northern India part 5: the city of Jaipur: 26th November 2019   Leave a comment

This post covers our stay in the city of Jaipur, Rajasthan in northern India.  This was part of a custom tour arranged by Jo Thomas of Wild About Travel which combined wildlife viewing and cultural highlights in a way that wouldn’t be possible in standard tour of India.

 

 

As I explained in the last post our bird guide at Baratphur came with us to Jaipur on 25th November as there was a site nearby where we might encounter the seldom seen Indian Spotted Creeper, but we weren’t in luck. We dropped the guide off at a bus station to get back to Bharatpur and we were taken to our hotel.

 

The hotels and lodges we had stayed at so far had been really good but the Umaid Mahal hotel was something special …

 

… with it’s highly decorated corridors …

 

… and a lovely room.

 

In the dining room we were entertained by some Indian music and dance.

 

The following morning we picked up our guide and drove into the centre of Jaipur.

 

From Wikipedia: Jaipur is the capital and the largest city of the Indian state of Rajasthan. As of 2011, the city had a population of 3.1 million, making it the tenth most populous city in the country. Jaipur is also known as the Pink City, due to the dominant colour scheme of its buildings. It is located 268 km from the national capital New Delhi.

 

We stopped on a busy road to photograph the Palace of Wind. Unfortunately we couldn’t get further away from the façade to take the photo so the following image shows a bad case of ‘falling over backwards’.

 

From Wikipedia: Hawa Mahal (English translation: “The Palace of Winds” or “The Palace of Breeze”) is a palace in Jaipur, India approximately 300 kilometres from the capital city of Delhi. Built from red and pink sandstone, the palace sits on the edge of the City Palace, Jaipur, and extends to the Zenana, or women’s chambers. The structure was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the grandson of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, who was the founder of Jaipur. He was so inspired by the unique structure of Khetri Mahal that he built this grand and historical palace. It was designed by Lal Chand Ustad. Its five floor exterior is akin to honeycomb with its 953 small windows called Jharokhas decorated with intricate latticework. The original intent of the lattice design was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life and festivals celebrated in the street below without being seen, since they had to obey the strict rules of “purdah”, which forbade them from appearing in public without face coverings. This architectural feature also allowed cool air from the Venturi effect to pass through, thus making the whole area more pleasant during the high temperatures in summer. Many people see the Hawa Mahal from the street view and think it is the front of the palace, but it is the back. In 2006, renovation works on the Mahal were undertaken, after a gap of 50 years, to give a facelift to the monument at an estimated cost of Rs 4.568 million.[6] The corporate sector lent a hand to preserve the historical monuments of Jaipur and the Unit Trust of India has adopted Hawa Mahal to maintain it.[7] The palace is an extended part of a huge complex. The stone-carved screens, small casements, and arched roofs are some of the features of this popular tourist spot. The monument also has delicately modelled hanging cornices.

 

But our main focus for the day was the huge Amer Fort, which is usually known as the Amber Fort.

 

We parked and climbed up the access road which gave us views of the modern town and and the ancient walls that enclosed the town and fort. Some of the wall can be seen just to the right of the large cream-coloured buildings in the upper right of the photo.

 

There was a lot of step climbing involved.

 

Some views over the town from the fort – here …

 

… and also here. More of the wall can be seen in the upper right corner.

 

Some people opt for an elephant ride around the lower part of the fort but we didn’t bother.

 

It was quite spectacular to watch the procession of elephants coming through the arch. Yet more of the ancient wall is visible through the arch …

 

… and in this photo. Climbing up further we visited the parts that elephants couldn’t reach.

 

From Wilipedia: Mughal architecture greatly influenced the architectural style of several buildings of the fort. Constructed of red sandstone and marble, the attractive, opulent palace is laid out on four levels, each with a courtyard. It consists of the Diwan-e-Aam, or “Hall of Public Audience”, the Diwan-e-Khas, or “Hall of Private Audience”, the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace), or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over a water cascade within the palace. Hence, the Amer Fort is also popularly known as the Amer Pal-ace. The palace was the residence of the Rajput Maharajas and their families. At the entrance to the palace near the fort’s Ganesh Gate, there is a temple dedicated to Shila Devi, a goddess of the Chaitanya cult, which was given to Raja Man Singh when he defeated the Raja of Jessore, Bengal in 1604.

 

Incredibly fine ‘filigree’ stone work was employed to produce these screens, to allow maximum ventilation whilst providing the women of the court (who were not allowed to mix with outsiders) the opportunity of watching proceedings in the plaza below.

 

It was hard to take in or remember the function of each of the architectural marvels that we encountered …

 

… so may of the wonderful buildings will have to remain undescribed.

 

Today was a day for enjoying ancient architecture and Mogul art rather than birding, but I did have my bins with me. A large raptor that I never got to identify and some distant ducks on the lake below was about all I recorded.

 

More from Wikipedia: Amer Fort is a fort located in Amer, Rajasthan, India. Amer is a town with an area of 4 square kilometres located 11 kilometres from Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Located high on a hill, it is the principal tourist attraction in Jaipur. The town of Amer was originally built by Meenas, and later it was ruled by Raja Man Singh I. Amer Fort is known for its artistic style elements. With its large ramparts and series of gates and cobbled paths, the fort overlooks Maota Lake, which is the main source of water for the Amer Palace.

 

Even the cleaning staff wear beautiful uniforms!

 

Within the palace were wonderful floral frescos …

 

… and pretty gardens.

 

Much of the decoration consisted of intricate patterns on the walls and ceilings. This ceiling has a series of small mirrors set in it …

 

… evidenced by the fact that in the mirror just left of centre, you can see part of my arm and camera!

 

I was going to include a Mogul painting of a naked man and woman painted above an entrance arch but it was so explicit that looked like an image from the Kama Sutra. However I decided that I didn’t want to get in trouble with the ‘cyber police’ and thought it wise to omit it.

 

On the way back into Jaipur we stopped briefly at the Water Palace or Jal Mahal. From Wikipedia (again): The Jal Mahal palace is an architectural showcase of the Rajput style of architecture (common in Rajasthan) on a grand scale. The building has a picturesque view of the lake itself but owing to its seclusion from land is equally the focus of a viewpoint from the Man Sagar Dam on the eastern side of the lake in front of the backdrop of the surrounding Nahargarh (“tiger-abode”) hills. The palace, built in red sandstone, is a five-storied building, of which four floors remain underwater when the lake is full and the top floor is exposed. One rectangular Chhatri on the roof is of the Bengal type. The chhatris on the four corners are octagonal. The palace had suffered subsidence in the past and also partial seepage (plasterwork and wall damage equivalent to rising damp) because of waterlogging, which have been repaired under a restoration project of the Government of Rajasthan.

 

We carried on to Jantar Mantar …

 

… a sort of astronomical observatory built by the Rajput King Sawai Jai Singh II in 1734.

 

Most of the instruments are designed to tell the time of day from the angle of the sun …

 

… and considerable effort was made to take account of the sun’s position at various times of the year. With a correction factor for the deviation of Jaipur from the meridian of India’s time zone applied, the result was accurate to a minute or two.

 

Not content with that Sawai Jai Singh II had a truly stupendous sundial built 27 m tall …

 

At this scale the sun’s shadow moves along the dial at 1mm per second. These are just two of nineteen instruments in the complex all built on the orders of this most scientifically minded king. As always Wikipedia is my source of information: The observatory consists of nineteen instruments for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking location of major stars as the earth orbits around the sun, ascertaining the declinations of planets, and determining the celestial altitudes and related ephemerides. The instruments are (alphabetical) 1. Chakra Yantra (four semicircular arcs on which a gnomon casts a shadow, thereby giving the declination of the Sun at four specified times of the day. This data corresponds to noon at four observatories around the world (Greenwich in UK, Zurich in Switzerland, Notke in Japan and Saitchen in the Pacific); this is equivalent of a wall of clocks registering local times in different parts of the world.) 2. Dakshin Bhitti Yantra (measures meridian, altitude and zenith distances of celestial bodies) 3. Digamsha Yantra (a pillar in the middle of two concentric outer circles, used to measure azimuth of the sun and to calculate the time of sunrise and sunset forecasts) 4. Disha Yantra 5. Dhruva Darshak Pattika (observe and find the location of pole star with respect to other celestial bodies) 6. Jai Prakash Yantra (two hemispherical bowl-based sundials with marked marble slabs that map inverted images of sky and allow the observer to move inside the instrument; measures altitudes, azimuths, hour angles, and declinations) 7. Kapali Yantra (measures coordinates of celestial bodies in azimuth and equatorial systems; any point in sky can be visually transformed from one coordinate system to another) 8. Kanali Yantra 9. Kranti Vritta Yantra (measures longitude and latitude of celestial bodies) 10. Laghu Samrat Yantra (the smaller sundial at the monument, inclined at 27 degrees, to measure time, albeit less accurately than Vrihat Samrat Yantra) 11. Misra Yantra (meaning mixed instrument, it is a compilation of five different instruments) 12. Nadi Valaya Yantra (two sundials on different faces of the instrument, the two faces representing north and south hemispheres; measuring the time to an accuracy of less than a minute) 13. Palbha Yantra 14. Rama Yantra (an upright building used to find the altitude and the azimuth of the sun) 15. Rashi Valaya Yantra (12 gnomon dials that measure ecliptic coordinates of stars, planets and all 12 constellation systems) 16. Shastansh Yantra (next to Vrihat Samrat Yantra) This instrument has a 60-degree arc built in the meridian plane within a dark chamber. At noon, the sun’s pinhole image falls on a scale below enabling the observer to measure the zenith distance, declination, and the diameter of the Sun.) 17. Unnatamsa Yantra (a metal ring divided into four segments by horizontal and vertical lines, with a hole in the middle; the position and orientation of the instrument allows measurement of the altitude of celestial bodies) 18. Vrihat Samrat Yantra (world’s largest gnomon sundial, measures time in intervals of 2 seconds using shadow cast from the sunlight) 19. Yantra Raj Yantra (a 2.43-metre bronze astrolabe, one of the largest in the world, used only once a year, calculates the Hindu calendar) The Vrihat Samrat Yantra, which means the “great king of instruments”, is 88 feet (27 m) high; its shadow tells the time of day. Its face is angled at 27 degrees, the latitude of Jaipur. The Hindu chhatri (small cupola) on top is used as a platform for announcing eclipses and the arrival of monsoons. Jai Prakash Yantra at Jantar Mantar, Jaipur The instruments are in most cases huge structures. The scale to which they have been built has been alleged to increase their accuracy. However, the penumbra of the sun can be as wide as 30 mm, making the 1mm increments of the Samrat Yantra sundial devoid of any practical significance. Additionally, the masons constructing the instruments had insufficient experience with construction of this scale, and subsidence of the foundations has subsequently misaligned them. The samrat yantra, for instance, which is a sundial, can be used to tell the time to an accuracy of about two seconds in Jaipur local time.[13] The Giant Sundial, known as the Samrat Yantra (The Supreme Instrument) is one of the world’s largest sundials, standing 27 metres tall.[14] Its shadow moves visibly at 1 mm per second, or roughly a hand’s breadth (6 cm) every minute, which can be a profound experience to watch.

 

We continued with an obligatory visit to carpet makers, but we convinced our guide we didn’t want to stop long (unlike our experiences in Turkey and UAE).

 

The final stop on our guided tour was the City Palace within the city of Jaipur.

 

And yet more from Wikipedia:The City Palace, Jaipur was established at the same time as the city of Jaipur, by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who moved his court to Jaipur from Amber, in 1727. Jaipur is the present-day capital of the state of Rajasthan, and until 1949 the City Palace was the ceremonial and administrative seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur. The Palace was also the location of religious and cultural events, as well as a patron of arts, commerce, and industry. It now houses the Mahara-ja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, and continues to be the home of the Jaipur royal family. The royal family of Jaipur is said to be the descendants of Lord Rama. The palace complex has several buildings, various courtyards, galleries, restaurants, and offices of the Museum Trust. The Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum Trust looks after the Museum, and the royal cenotaphs (known as chhatris).

 

Once more we saw some exquisite architecture …

 

… and beautiful buildings.

 

Of particular note was a quadrangle with four large ornate doors representing the four seasons.

 

… here are close ups of the arches above the other three doors, although which one represents which season …

 

…. is rather hard to tell …

 

… but that doesn’t detract from their beauty.

 

A few more images of the City Palace …