Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Delhi's strangest attraction?

My slutwalking on Sunday took me to within a stone's throw (well, if you're me, around 7 stones' throws) of a Delhi sight I'd been curious to see for a while: the brilliantly named Jantar Mantar (though the pronunciation is closer to Junter Munter). It dates from the early 18th century and is basically a big observatory - a set of oversized instruments designed to measure the declination of the sun and various other heavenly bodies, as well as measure the time of day to within half a second. A 300-year-old Jodrell Bank, if you will. It is smack in the centre of Delhi and makes for a quite surreal side trip from the nearby shopping mecca of Connaught Place.

The complex looks rather like someone decided to build a grand mansion, started with all the staircases, threw in two large jacuzzis, some tucked-away servants' quarters and a couple of scale models of the Colosseum, and then got bored before he could add in all the bits in between:

Walking among these bizarre structures, full of mysterious crevaces and stairways to nowhere, it's hard to believe they were actually designed to have a functional purpose. It's more like you've accidentally wandered into an unfinished Escher painting:

There are five Jantar Mantars scattered across northern and central India, all built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur, who must have been a learned if somewhat eccentric chap. Apparently the only one still working is the one at Jaipur (though this begs the question as to what the others are lacking that means they don't work: did the batteries run out?).

Anyway, bizarre though the structures look, it's refreshing to visit a historical site that stands testament to one man's commitment to scientific enquiry and intellectual pursuit, rather than his vainglory (which, let's face it, lies behind a great deal of the architectural and historical treasures we have in this world). Even if the science behind it is beyond me - or at least beyond the ability of Delhi sign-writers to make it comprehensible for laymen like myself.

And it makes for some pretty cool photos, too.


Helen Gray said...

Incredibly cool photos. I love the structure and pattern :)

Chris said...

Thanks Helen! Yeah I was fascinated by the shapes. Really extraordinary.

Asmita said...

I think 'not in working condition' means they don't have trained guides to give tours there.
When I visited, oh..20 years ago, the guide showed us all the ins and outs of the sun dial etc. For a teenager..it was fascinating. I remember being disappointed on my next trip when there was no guide to show us around.