We were lucky enough to be in Jaipur for the International Kite Festival.  Hundreds of kites flew in the skies as well as decorated the trees and streets.  If you have read The Kite Runner, the festival has the same premise – try to cut the string of another kite flying near you.  And if you are walking on the street, pick up any fallen kite and it is yours.  The kites are simple in color and shape – rhombuses decorated with no more than two colors and they do not have tails.  The kite string contains glass, so there is an art to flying it to prevent cuts.  Raj showed us how to fly the kite, but we didn’t have enough time to each try it out.

The purpose of visiting Jaipur was to experience the culture.  We started the day with a short elephant ride to the Amber Fort.  The fort was built in the 16th century and is an example of Hindu architecture.  Up until now, we have only visited Muslim-inspired architecture.  It is an enormous structure placed strategically upon a hill.  It is surrounded by a large wall which helped protect the palace from invaders.  Within the palace, the women were able to enjoy celebrations and festivals from above.  They would be seated looking through a marble, lattice opening so they could see out, but those outside could not see in.  There is also a Hall of Mirrors, which served as an area to host guests.  The walls are intricately decorated in a mosaic with ivory, mirrors, and glass.  Between the narrow hallways and steep staircases, you could easily get lost inside.

Our Group at the Amber Fort

Amber Fort Hall of Mirrors

We made a quick stop before lunch to a textile store where workers demonstrated block printing and rug making.  All the rugs are handmade – an 8 x 10 ft. rug takes two workers five months to complete.  It was neat to see how much labor goes into making these beautiful rugs.  We were given two options for lunch – McDonalds or the restaurant at the Holiday Inn.  We chose the Holiday Inn.  It gave the option to have a break from Indian food, if you wanted.

The City Palace, located in the center of town, was our next stop.  The palace was and still is home to the Maharaja, the royal figure head of the state of Rajasthan.  It has been the set of a few Hollywood films and has a beautiful courtyard where each door resembles a peacock for each season.  History lesson: the peacock is the national bird of India.  Our tour guide said the peacock was chosen because it is loyal and only has one mate for life.  Next door was the Jantar Mantar, an observatory.  It was built in the 18th century and contains stone instruments that measure time, predict eclipses, and track stars’ locations.

Peacock Courtyard at City Palace

But the highlight of the day was an elephant safari!  The group divided into pairs and climbed a platform to sit in a seat resting on the elephant’s back.  All the elephants have similar paintings on their heads and trunks.  All of the elephants were female, and as our guide explained, “males are dangerous, just like people” while laughing.  The safari took us through the jungle (think dry, sandy ground – desert like, but with vegetation).  Our elephant’s name was Noori.  Noori is 22 years old and has been giving rides for four years.  Throughout the ride, Noori made a rumble-like noise, which our guide informed us was a loving noise toward her mom, who was in front of us.  Our guide spoke better English than most and credits tourists for helping him learn the language.  He also told us that each morning he takes an hour to bathe Noori and an additional hour to “clean up” her living space.  The ride lasted about an hour and took us by a reserve which houses lions and tigers rescued from circuses.  At the end of the tour, we got to feed whole bananas (peel and all) to Noori and the other elephants.  We were able to watch the sun set over the hills before jeeps took us back to our bus.  It was a really great experience and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Laura (left) and Elizabeth (right) with Noori!

Elephant Safari Through the Jungle

Painted Elephant

Sunset After a Great Day in Jaipur

The group ended the night on the hotel’s roof top to celebrate the birthdays of Andrea and Sarah, our advisor.  It was a nice way to end our short trip to Jaipur.

Laura Bondi & Elizabeth