The first day of the archaeology class.
Soaking up the history. Basking under the Rajasthan sun’s glow. I was the disciple. The fort of Amber, the teacher. Awe and adoration of magnificence sticking with me throughout the midday sunshine. The marble walls shadowing the shadows of the limitless, spirited crowd. Incessant chatter of the guides coupled with camera’s noise made it a fairly audible affair. However getting to the fort was an arduous task. First, all the vehicles were stalled for about a kilometer and a half at the bare minimum. We expected quite a crowd, we went prepared; not overwhelmed, to say the least. Second, we were tasked with making sure everybody in the family had access to the palace.
In the beginning, we ran into the step-well. As Led Zeppelin would put it, the “stairway to heaven”. Let’s pause here. I want to emphasize that the architecture is complex. Any enthusiast would lose a good chunk of time, wondering.. lost in thought.. descending the stairs that time has to offer, into the step-well. Only to be pulled back into the harsh reality due to the distractions caused by the security’s bellowing voice.
From the step-well to the Fort is about a half a kilometer. The entrance is like a mini market, filled with the local products, pressing people to buy them, with the art of bargaining subtly forgotten. I was eager to know the amount of money splashed on the maintenance of the palace. The moment we entered the fort, reluctance crept in. Emotion is a wicked thing. Isn’t it?
Here, let me take you inside the fort, as your guide, as we travel the length and breadth of the aforementioned area of art. The first part of the palace is the moon gate.
The palace’s entry gates. Post that, is a massive area which apparently was the area for military practice. The stables were on next to the moon gate I believe. On the left of the moon gate, was a temple. A gripping fragrance mixed with the cool hill breeze flowed as we stepped up to enter the courtyards and apartments of the palace. The Ganesh gate stands as an entrance to the Diwan – I – Aam and the Diwan – I – Khaas.
As bewildering as it sounds, this gate is embellished with domes of red and crimson. A beautiful blend of Mughal and Rajput architecture.
The Sheesh Mahal. A place made of glass (Belgian mirrors actually). Small portions of the cracked mirror did not dampen the spirits. People went ahead with taking pictures. Besides that, I personally loved every minute spent at the Diwan- e – aam (house of commons) and Diwan – e – khaas ( the house of private audiences). Just thinking on how the courts functioned, how the king attended to the general public including the plebs, marshaling them during court hours at the house of Commons made it a fascinating affair. Post the respective houses, we entered the older section of the fort where the Mughal influence was confirmed by all to see.
Having read about the legendary Rajput bravery, combined with the terrain on which the fort was built, I could only infer (assuming at that time, it was extremely jagged and there were no concrete roads) that going to war would result in a guaranteed defeat. A rather insipid thought – the Mughals going to war. The emperor Akbar won the battle through alliance with the Hindu princess(es). A marble piece gives the details on when the older part of the fort was built and the influence that emperor Akbar had post marriage. Right above the writing, we find the apartments of the Queen’s of the palace. Each apartment with its own set of stairways. Complimentary much.
12 wives, the guide mentioned. My word, 12! That’s a lot of alliances for the King Raja Man Singh I . The king Sawai Man Singh though, has left an indelible mark on Rajasthan as many many places are named after him. (The cricket stadium , perhaps)
There was a Canon inside the fort but we decided to overlook it completely favoring other bits of the palace whilst keeping in mind, the ideal photo targets. We came out of the palace at 3 PM. Hunger consumed us before we consumed the food. Running towards the shops selling Ice creams, soda, and all the light eateries, there came a point where I stopped. Light music brought me to a screeching halt. An instrument that I had never seen before was being played. I approached the man playing the instrument, inquired on what was it that he was handling. He called his child – Ravan Hattha ( apologies to any/all natives reading if I have given any misleading information ). Amazed, I had no choice but to pat him on the back and say “Great stuff sir”.
Amber fort is a confluence of cultures, a mixture of great thoughts and a delicate juxtaposition of different architectural styles, giving a unique identity, lost within the sand of the medieval time.
A rhythmic end to a very absorbing afternoon.
The Hawa Mahal. (Wind palace [exact translation from Hindi])
While driving to the fort, we saw the Hawa Mahal. Everyone in the vehicle insisted that we visit the Hawa Mahal in the evening and we sped to the fort. However, we were delayed because of a testing lunch. Yes, lunch. We chose a random hotel from google and spent nearly an hour waiting for food.
Our initial plan was to go to the city palace and then the Hawa Mahal. The city palace, which was packed to the rafters, did not permit us to enter as we were behind schedule. So we parked the vehicle in the city palace parking lot and trudged along the market pathway in front to go to the Hawa Mahal to take pictures.
We went along various alleys and small passageways and stood at the entrance ( which in all fairness was the rear point of the place). Closing time had passed and we were unsure on whether we would be allowed in. Lady luck then played a blinder and how! A stare-down with the security for 2 minutes and telling him that we visited the place for the first time was all it took and we were inside!
What happened inside you ask? The camera signed where it was required. The sun bowed out to let the lighting of the Hawa Mahal take center stage. The act was beautiful, yet colorfully humble. 953 tiny windows. I’ve lost count of the number of windows I peeped through. On the top though, there was such a frenetic crowd who appalled me with their behavior of not letting others approach that area and take pictures.
To go to the top, we had to take a spiral path followed by a set of stairs. It was good to know that the Queen’s would see all the proceedings, festivals happening outside. But then, out of curiosity, I asked the security guard as to why were so many of these tiny windows constructed? He gave a more logical explanation that all the tiny windows in the palace would bring in cool breeze during the hot summers hence maintaining a fairly decent live-in temperature
The architecture is fabulous. I would recommend that one should spend an hour at the minimum here. Admiring the intricacies of the carvings, the precision of the domes, the smoothness of the walls while gasping in awe at the entire structure in parallel tells a story. A story, for which, the prologue starts with the opening of these windows.
A breezy end to a fairly eventful evening.
On our way out, we decided to explore the streets of Jaipur. To see what we had in store for us. We had overheard one of the other travelers talking about the food street(called Masala Chowk) in Jaipur and we decided to check it out ourselves. We took the tuc-tuc/ tum-tum( electrical rickshaws) and charged ahead.
We bumped into the Albert Hall which was opposite to the food street. Albert Hall , the museum was gloriously lit up. It invited us for the night but we declined the offer. We didn’t go to Albert Hall as we were not in the right frame of mind and proceeded towards the smell of the brilliant food instead. Although dinner (which by the way was just incredible) was served back at our hotel, we managed to grab a bite in the Masala Chowk.
To return back to our hotels, we had the option to either take a cab or to take the tuc-tuc. We decided to take the tuc-tuc. The tuc-tuc had no glass whatsoever to protect us from the cold. That six and a half kilometer ride was the slowest and the coldest ride of the entire trip.
A shivering end to an incredible day at the capital city.