"We arrived in Delhi on Thursday evening May 14, where we spent our first night at the lovely, lovely Shangri-La Hotel in the heart of New Delhi, just off the central Connaught Circle close by the nearby seats of government , India Gate, and myriad embassies. The Shangri-La, aptly named for the famed paradise of the popular book and Hollywood movie LOST HORIZONS by one Lord Hilton (no relation to the hoteliers of that name, by the way), is not unexpectedly a modern Chinese-born deluxe chain, akin to an Asian Four Seasons. Happily, the hotel in Delhi is truly a veritable traveler's utopia.
The next day, we were off to Pushkar itself, a few hours south of Jaipur. Pushkar is best known to many in the world for its famous annual "camel fair" -- usually held in November. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pushkar_Fair
Jaipur is considered by many urbanists to be one of the best planned cities. In an era when most of the rajputs were busy fighting with each other, Jaipur's kings diplomatically broadened their control sphere maintaining good relations with the Mughals.
The city was planned according to Indian Vastu Shastra (Vedic or Pouranic Planning for the comfort and prosperity of the citizens). The directions of each street and market are east to West and North to South. The Eastern gate is called Suraj (Sun) Pol, while the Western gate is called Chand (Moon) Pol. There are only three gates facing East, West, and North including the Northern gate (known as Zorawar Singh gate) which faces toward the ancestral capital of Amber, while many gates face South.
Although the present city has expanded from outside of its walls, the original planning was within the walls. The gates used to be closed at sunset and opened at sunrise. Almost all Northern Indian towns of that period presented a chaotic picture of narrow twisting lanes, a confusion of run-down forts, temples, palaces, and temporary shacks that bore no resemblance at all to the principles set out in Hindu architectural manuals which call for strict geometric planning. Thus, for Sawai Jai Singh II and the Bengali Guru Vidyadhar (who was a 'Shaspati' - Hindu Priest Architect), the founding of Jaipur was also a ritual and a bronze opportunity to plan a whole town according to the principles of Hindu architectural theory.
The town of Jaipur is built in the form of a eight-part Mandala known as the 'Pithapada'. Nine signifies the nine planets of the ancient astrological zodiac. It is also known that Sawai Jai Singh II was a great astronomer and a town planner, and hence the 'Pithapada'. Also, the commercial shops are designed in multiples of nine (27), having one cross street for a planet.
Back in Jaipur however, we ensconced ourselves in the sister property of the SAMODE PALACE, known as the SOMODE HAVELI, basically a city palace built by the same royals that built the magnificent country estate in which we had earlier stayed two nights before. Like the palace, the city residence HAVELI, is now run as a truly deluxe hotel, with every amenity that a global deluxe traveler seeks, but also with all the grandeur and character of a "heritage" experience. As only one example, the grand swimming pool at the HAVELI had the currently de rigeur poolside canopied beds, along with enormous bedside standing fans (sadly or more aptly -- mercifully, there are no servants with animal-hair fans anymore!) to keep guests cool as a cucumber in this desert state of Rajasthan. Of all the sites to see in Jaipur (including such highlights as the famed Palace of the Winds, or Hawa Mahal, and the grand Amber Fort outside of town), the most unusual is undoubtedly the JANTAR MANTAR, an improbable, larger-than-life, Vedic astronomical/astrological park just off Jaipur's main City Palace. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jantar_Mantar_(Jaipur)Its giant instruments, which dwarf a man, feel like one has entered a giant's chess -- or similar game -- board. Just extraordinary! For a modern understanding of these fantastifcal intruments from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, see http://www.vedicobservatory.org/
The next day we headed "home" to Delhi, where we returned to our utopian Shangri-La again. While Delhi abounds with urban pleasures, we chose to pursue our spiritual aims still, and visited several of the city's lesser-known (at least to the typical tourist I think) temples that honor the Indian version of the Virgen Mary -- known as DEVI, or translated into English as MOTHER DIVINE. To many, there is no more powerful Devi temple in Delhi than the KALKA JI temple ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalkaji ), virtually hidden next to the modern architectural masterpiece, the Baha'i Lotus temple, built to resemble a giant marble lotus flower (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_Temple ). While the Baha'i temple is gorgeous visually, the KALKA JI temple offers amazing "darshan," or blessings, to those who come to receive the beneficence of Mother Divine. This power is related to the fact that it is one of the famed some-64 SHAKTI PEETHA temples, which are natural power centers emating from the cosmic power of the cosmically divine mother.
We also visited another lesser known temple (to toursits at least, that is), called YOGA MAYA Mandir, (very close to the tourist hot spot of the KUTUBH MINAR. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qutb_Minar ). The Yoga Maya temple is also a temple to Mother Divine, in this case the sister of Lord Krishna, of Bhagavad Gita fame. This temple's beauty is more settled, with a serenity that is enveloping -- a very good place to settle in for some deep meditation, taking with one the motherly protections of Krishna's sister, Yoga Maya herself.
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