Our first stop in Jaipur was the Amer (pronounced Amber) Fort just outside the city in the small town of Amer. The fort (or palace, as it really is) is located high up on a hill which offered protection from invading armies.
A lot of people choose to ride elephants up the hill, much like kings would have done hundreds of years ago. We chose to save some money and walk up to the back entrance (and now I know better and wouldn’t ride them for any reason!). After all the riding around in the car, the exercise did us some good.
The palace is believed to have been built starting around 967 and added on to over the next 150 years. It has four distinct sections, each with it’s own courtyard. This is the Sun Gate, where most people would enter the palace into the first courtyard.
Up these stairs is the second courtyard of the palace, where the public audience hall is located. This is where the maharaja would meet with his citizens and other official business was conducted.
Have you ever seen the movie Jodha Akbar? If not, make sure to check it out. It’s long, around 4 hours, and the first hour is actually the hardest part to get through, but it gets better, I promise. It’s a sort of true story based loosely on the life of the Mughal emperor Akbar (son of Humayan, of the tomb we saw in Delhi a few days back, and grandfather of Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal) and his love for his first wife Jodha. Anyway, this area where the maharaja would hold an audience with the public reminds me very much of the palace in that movie, and it helped me imagine what it might have once looked like while walking around this area.
To access the next courtyard, we had to go through the Ganesh Pol gate.
I can’t remember exactly what this is, but I think it was a type of fireplace used to heat the water for bathing.
One of the things I found most interesting about the Amer Fort was how they controlled the temperature before modern conveniences. The third courtyard below was where the royal family spend most of its time. The first photo is of the summer palace. When the weather was hot, they would run water through little ditches in the floor into fountains and it would cool the area down. There would also have been swings for people to sit on which would have created a small breeze. How clever is that?
And this was the winter palace. There would have been heavy drapes they could close to keep out the colder temps, and rugs covering the floors. But perhaps the most innovative idea (at least in my opinion) was that every single wall is covered with little mirrors which would reflect the sunlight from outside around the rooms inside, creating heat. I was so impressed with this ingenuity!
To get to the fourth courtyard, we had to go up again and walk around the walls. Everything is so lavishly decorated on the inside, even though the outside is rather plain.
From up here, you can see for miles! The gardens were kept out in the lake to make for easy irrigation in drier months.
This is the last courtyard. Imagine fabric awnings stretching from the structure in the center to the surrounding walls, pillows and rugs of every color all over the ground and women lounging in the shade and you are instantly transported back a thousand years. The surrounding buildings were the rooms where the women lived, and they would often congregate in the middle to spend the day.
During my wanderings, I noticed these women cleaning the palace. Their saris were so bright they were hard to miss, and they made for such a striking contrast to the buildings around them that I just had to take a picture. But this lady noticed me and demanded money. I have always really disliked people demanding money for photo’s, but having experienced how annoying it can be constantly having strangers take pictures of you, I didn’t blame her for insisting. Plus, the 50 or so rupees (aproximately $1) I gave will go a lot further for her than it will for me. And I got a beautiful picture out of it. It seems like a fair trade.
I have no idea what these were used for, but in my mind I imagine them as giant cast iron skillets for cooking up feasts for the maharaja and his armies.
As we were heading out, we stopped in a little bookshop and I bought a book on Hindu Mythology. It’s a really great read and you can learn all about the Hindu gods and their creation. And this monkey was waiting for us when we exited to say goodbye.
The Amer Fort is definitely worth a stop on anyone’s Rajasthan itinerary. It’s the best reason to visit Jaipur, though we have a few more things to see before we’re done here.