Jaipur, Amber Fort: "It Keeps Getting Better"
February 23, 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
It just keeps getting better!
"The magnificent delicate-pink, fort palace of Amber (pronounced Amer), a beautiful, ethereal example of Rajput architecture, rises from a rocky mountainside about 11km north of Jaipur." [*]
As Adit and I drive into Amber, the walls and the towers, more golden than pink, sit high and imposing on the mountains to my left.
I enter the fort through the Ganesh Pol, "the shimmering three story gateway built in 1640." [**] Elegant buildings surround the broad courtyard. And from the courtyard and from the walls of the fort I must zoom in on the distant (OK I'll say it if I must) panoramic views of other hillside buildings and the undulating walls and towers that follow the contours of the ridge that encircles and protects the valley below.
Just as I have become acquainted with the Mughal and Rajasthani Shahs and Maharajahs, their architecture and art now seem familiar as well. And yet each new site surprises me with unique adornments and designs and achievement.
"The Jas Mandir, the Hall of Private Audience, has latticed windows, and a floral ceiling of elegant alabaster relief work." [**] I stare up at a large vertical panel of delicate lattice images. The outlined figures are of the god Shiva playing his flute as he enchants the ladies and entertains the animals. And a few paces to the left I spot a duplicate panel, except this one surprises me since the lattice outlines are filled with colorful glass inlay. Can it be that the builders of Amber Fort, Man Singh I (1592) and Jai Singh I (1621-67), imported European stained glass craftsmanship?
The wives and women of the Shah gathered each day at a special private outdoor building or in the Aram Bagh, the pleasure garden. At the head of the garden stands the high three-story building that is connected to the main gate and the Shah's residence. The top of the wall is decorated with stone lattice windows. Behind the windows the wives and women wait in their individual apartments. Behind these rooms is a labyrinthine network of passageways. The Shah, of an evening, can tiptoe about, and choose a room for the night without anyone else being the wiser. That's what the Shah thinks, anyway. I am guessing that every wife is just a little demanding of the Shah's time from time to time.
The Amber Fort, a "must see" site in Rajasthan, is crowded with busloads of travelers from Europe and East Asia, a few North and South Americans somewhere, and many Indian families . . . adults young and old, and their children. And below the fort in the old city of Amber are the shops and shopkeepers-in-waiting, eager to pounce and make a sale. But I'm tough. I have enough shirts and carpets at the moment. Instead Adit and I explore the back streets of this old capital city.
I share dusty walkways with wandering cows, squealing pigs and piglets, young boys chasing about eating ice cream, and older "boys" sitting under a tree shuffling a deck of cards.
I am the only visitor to Jagat Shiromani Temple. What a relief to be silent and alone. I greet again the many gods and goddesses who pose on the remarkable gateway and temple ceiling and walls. The temples here are covered inside and out with exquisite four hundred year old stone carvings, frescoes and glass mosaics displaying, with dignity and reverence, the pantheon of Hindu dignitaries.
The young boys lead me behind the temple to Panna Mian Ka Kind, a huge deep open-air stone and plaster water tank. This is the first time I have seen a "baoli" or step well. Rajasthan is a semi-arid region where water is at a premium. The inhabitants long ago engineered this method of water conservation. Steps are carved into the insides of the well so the slowly declining water level is always accessible.
I am sad to leave Amber. The fort is high and mighty. The temples are graceful and seductive. But, I am anticipating a delightful dinner in Jaipur. Of course, I am not a Shah or a Maharajah so my own evening activities at the guest house will be comparatively staid, yet I expect, interesting and entertaining.
My best wishes to you for interesting and entertaining evenings,