Like Playing Chutes & Ladders With A Maharaja

Welcome to the Jantar Mantar
Welcome to the Jantar Mantar

If you’re around my age (39) or older you know the game I’m talking about. You spin the dial and move ahead X number of spaces—all the while hoping you land on one with a ladder to take you further up, and at the same time dreading the prospect of landing on a chute that will take you down (like that ridiculously long one from 87 to 24). This is not a board game one would normally associate with travel. But that’s exactly what came to mind when I visited the Pink City of Jaipur, India and toured the World Heritage Site called Jantar Mantar.


Built by the warrior-astronomer Jai Singh, the Jantar Mantar (from a term meaning place of calculations) is essentially an outdoor observatory. Construction of this impressive collection of sundials and other uniquely-designed calculators of the heavens and Zodiac was first begun in 1728. Each structure serves a specific purpose, and are quite accurate even in an age of GPS and atomic clocks. The biggest is a sundial called Brihat Samrat Yantra, meaning ‘King of the Instruments’. At 27 meters high it’s easy to see why.

The 'King of Instruments'
The ‘King of Instruments’


I must admit my interest here wasn’t so much in calculating azimuths or predicting the next eclipse. As anyone who has visited India can attest, it isn’t hard to go into architectural overload. Between the forts, palaces, temples and bazaars, my brain could barely comprehend so much ornate design. Strolling peacefully among the structures of the Jantar Mantar—that is until I tried to climb one and was reprimanded loudly by a man with a machine gun—was a pleasant break from the ‘norm’. It was also a fun place to play the shutterbug, as the angles, straight lines and slotted bowl-shaped structures were excellent, if stationary, subjects to shoot.

Busted! Taking teh 'climb down of shame' after the heavily armed guard told me to.
Busted! Taking the ‘climb down of shame’ after the heavily armed guard told me to.


There’s a lot more to see in Jaipur, particularly the City Palace, iconic Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) and the enormous Amber Fort just outside of town. But for me, it was this astronomical playground resembling Chutes & Ladders if it were designed by a Maharaja, that made my visit here so pleasurable, as if I landed on 28 and took the ladder up to 84. If you spin the dial and wind up here, I’m sure you’ll feel the same.


Have you been to Jaipur? Share your thoughts here!