Since the Fairmont Jaipur was close to the Amber Fort, that was where I head to first thing in the morning. Arriving at the Fort in the morning was a majestic sight as the fort was high up in the hills. The approach to the base was equally magnificent with the scenic hills seemingly greeting us and walls high up in the hills that resembles the Great Wall of China.
Once I got off the car, there was a lot of touts who approached me for the jeep ride and offering to be guides. I did my best to turn down their offers politely as they were really insistent. There are basically 3 ways to get up to the Fort. One way was to pay for a jeep ride, or to pay 900 Rupees (about US$15) for the one way ride to the Fort or to just take a walk which is free. Since I am a tourist, I settled for the touristy method via the elephant ride. It was a slightly chaotic scene with no proper line for the elephant rides so I waited in one of the lines for about 10 minutes or so before getting one to head up to the Fort.
The elephant ride was not really the most comfortable method but it does afford a beautiful view of the lake and the hills around the Fort. The jeep ride would be via the back road and goes through a different view. Closer to the front gate of the Fort, there will be numerous photographers taking you pictures and trying very hard to sell them to you, so be insistent on no photos if you do not want them.
In addition, your elephant rider would also request tips from you. Do give him some if you think he was good, and I gave a 100 Rupee tip as he helped me take some good photos along the ride up. It should be mentioned that there was a sign that said ‘no tipping’ though I do notice many tourists do tip the elephant riders.
Arriving into the front courtyard was really a nice sight especially with the procession of the elephants that morning. This front courtyard served as the military procession grounds for the royal soldiers and also where the stables were located at. It is also here where visitors could get tickets to enter the Fort and the touting will begin once again as touts offer guide services and souvenirs for sale. The first point of interest on entering the Amber Fort is the colonnaded hall referred to as the Diwan-i-Am also known as the Hall of Public Audience. The courtyard outside this hall leads towards the Ganesh Pol or Ganesh gate which is one of the more impressive buildings in the Fort. Behind the Ganesh Pol are chambers of the Fort where the Maharajahs reside. There are also Turkish baths inside the fort indicating the lifestyle of the Mughal Rajs being similar to the Turkish sultans.
There are also beautiful views from the upper floors of the Fort as it provides a vantage point to look at the Maota lake and surrounding Aravali hills.
Inside the fort beyond the Ganesh Pol the next major point of interest is the Mughal-style gardens in the centre of the Diwan-i-Khas, or the Hall of Private Audience. This part of the Fort is also commonly referred to as the Palace of Man Singh I, named after the Maharaja who ordered the construction of this palace.
This part of the Amber Fort is perhaps the most impressive with the Sheesh Mahal or the Palace of Mirrors and the Sukh Niwas or the Hall of Pleasure being located around the Mughal-style gardens. The Sheesh Mahal is famous for the mirror mosaics and shiny tiles that glitter in the sunlight while the Sukh Niwas is a series of alcoves from where the royal families were able to enjoy the view of the gardens from.
After the Diwan-i-Khas, visitors can explore the private chambers of the Rajas as well as the chambers of the royal ladies. There are some beautiful mosaic ceilings and latticed screens within the palace complexes and sometimes the cleaners might want to ask you to follow them as they guide you to the chambers and obviously they will seek tips later.
There is also another courtyard with a pavilion in the center where the royal ladies congregate. Around the palace in this section, one could also view how the Amber Fort has a water circulation system to collect rainwater for the dry winters as well as to circulate rainwater during the monsoon season. There was a series of pipes and drainage systems to divert water away as well as storage tanks to collect them.
Altogether I spent probably about 2 hours exploring the Fort and as I made my way out, there was a bazaar and cafe for visitors to buy souvenirs or get some hot drinks. From there it was back out into the front courtyard where I decided to walk down as I wanted to take some more photos of the fort from the base as well as to walk to the gardens in the middle of the lake.
Turns out that the gardens in the lake was off-limits and I suspect it is the venue of the nightly show in Jaipur where a ‘lights and music extravaganza’ takes place every day. The hike down the Fort allowed for a slower pace to take in the sights and is probably recommended since walking down is easier than hiking up!
From Amber Fort, my hired driver took another 20 minutes or so to reach the Man Sagar lake where I found the Jal Mahal or the Water Palace. As much as the palace creates for a romantic scene, there was no boats around the promenade to carry me to the palace so I just spent some time taking some photographs and went off after probably 20 minutes.
The rest of the sights would be in the city of Jaipur itself and I had actually bought a package entry ticket when I visited Amber Fort and this ticket allows me entry to most of the sights in Jaipur including the Jantar Mantar, Hawa Mahal, Nahagarh Fort and the Albert Hall. Though my next stop is the Jantar Mantar which is an ancient astronomical observatory centre constructed by Sawai Jai Singh. The center has some ancient instruments with a small explanation of how they work.
The various instruments in the Jantar Mantar makes use of light, shadow and angles to calculate altitudes, distance and time. The largest instrument was the Vrihat Samrat Yantra which is basically a giant sundial that can show the time to an accuracy of 2 minutes, something that could be considered a feat in the past.
Some other attractions in the Jantar Mantar are probably what I call the constellation blocks that resembles a children’s playground with each blocks representing a particular constellation. That said, Jantar Mantar resembles a park more than a museum with every exhibit being outdoors and makes for a family friendly attraction as well.
A short walk beside the Jantar Mantar is the City Palace complex and since my package tickets did not include the entry to this attraction and I was getting hungry, I skipped the visit. Instead I chose to head down to the Rambagh Palace which is now a Taj Hotel in Jaipur. Formerly a royal residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur, it is now a luxury hotel. It was also a great place to spend the afternoon resting for a break while visiting the city sights. I would post a review of my visit there in another chapter.
The last stop of my Jaipur trip was a visit to the Hawa Mahal which was actually close to the City Palace as well. During the drive from Jantar Mantar to the Taj Rambagh Palace, I actually passed this palace and got to admire the splendid facade comprised of numerous ornate windows. From the exterior, this has got to be the most beautiful building in Jaipur. The entrance to this palace lies actually at the back. There was a courtyard at the entrance and the Palace (if it can be defined as such) was actually not very huge as the building itself was quite narrow even if it looked grand from the facade.
One of the highlights in the palace was the numerous stained windows and the view of the city from the latticed screen windows. To get to the top of the palace, there was a series of stairs and some very narrow ledges as well so it can take some time as there was very little room for 2 person. One of the vantage point in the palace is actually on the tower or the top of the palace itself, where I had a nice view of the sunset over the city. This palace, while small, is located right in a busy marketplace and would also showcase the daily life of locals.
If I would have to say, I liked Jaipur as a travel destination in India due to the combination of the scenic sights, the numerous places of interest that was well maintained and the rich history of the area that brings out the ornate handicrafts and decorations that makes the detail complete. Jaipur should be a destination to visit for anyone looking to travel to India and what better way to start the tour in the city from the Amber Fort!