Amer Palace; a spectacular hill fort with exquisite touches of opulence
The Amer (or Amber) Fort located in the town of Amer, 11 km from Jaipur high up in the hills.
This was the original capital city of Maharaj Jai Singh II. The approach to the fort takes you through the a gate in the imposing wall that surrounds the city of Amer, which stretches for miles around the area, snaking as it follows the undulations of the hills, like some mini-me version of the Great Wall of China. The fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013, as part of a group of six hill forts in Rajasthan.
If you plan to visit (and we strongly recommend you do) I would leave a minimum of 2 hours (we did it in about 90 minutes). Also, the crowds can be somewhat crazy so get there as early as possible. This way you also avoid the heat.
As we approached the Fort we were stunned by its beauty, sitting on a hill above the man-made lake and gardens. Even from the outside the scale of the Fort complex is very impressive. We stopped briefly to snap some photos, although conditions were not great with the lingering fog. Close by our stopping place was an opportunistic snake charmer, who, for a few rupees would charm his cobra from its basket and let you take a picture of him and his serpent companion. Karen, ever curious went over to check it out and get a sneaky snap shot on the sly. She obviously caught the cobra’s eye, or perhaps it was trained to bite people who didn’t pay up, but it suddenly darted in her direction. You will never have seen a nearly 60 year old woman with two replacement hips move so quickly or squeal so loudly. It was quite impressive really! From where we were we had a few options to get to the Fort.
- We could walk, which would have added time and meant there could be longer queues at the top)
- We could pay for a ride on an elephant up to the Fort, but we were having time with elephants later!
- We could take the car to the entrance
So, not wanting to spend the extra money or time on option 1 and 2, we took the car ride through the old town and up the winding route up to the Fort Entrance.
Amer Fort (or Palace), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built around 1592 and is constructed mainly of red sandstone and marble. The Palace is divided into four main sections each with its own entry gate and courtyard. The main entry point is through the Suraj Pol (Sun Gate), where the elephant rides enter, which leads to the first main courtyard. This was the place where armies would hold victory parades with war bounty on their return from battles, which were witnessed by the Royal family’s women folk, who could peer unseen through the latticed windows.
We climbed to the second courtyard up a set of stairs, passing through another impressive gate. This section was where the royal family would hold its public audiences. The main feature of this area is the Diwan-i-Aam or the Public Audience Hall. The roof of the Diwan-i-Aam is supported by double column supports, over which are classic scalloped Islamic style arches. It really was very beautiful.
The entrance to the next courtyard took us through the spectacularly decorated gate, the Ganesh Pol. This third courtyard is where the private quarters of the Maharaja, his family and attendants were located. The courtyard has two buildings, one opposite to the other, separated by a Murgal style garden. The building to the left of the entrance gate is called the Jai Mandir (or Sheesh Mahal, the mirror palace), which is exquisitely embellished with glass inlaid panels and multi-mirrored ceilings. It was truly one of the most beautiful buildings we had even seen! It would have been wonderful to be there at night and have lit candles inside the palace and watch the shimmering reflections from the thousands of mirrors covering the walls and ceiling. We had to settle for a cute photo shoot opportunity our guide pointed out, getting a picture of the two of us framed in one of the larger mirrors. Of course, having discovered this, Karen felt obligated to point out this photo opportunity to all the other tourists in a 40 foot radius!
The second building in this courtyard is known as the Sukh Niwas or Sukh Mahal (Hall of Pleasure). This hall is approached through a sandalwood door with marble inlay work with perforations. A piped water supply flows through an open channel that runs through this building which provided some air-conditioning for those hot summer days.
The exit to the fourth courtyard is through the Lion Gate, which leads the private quarters of the royal family. This courtyard is where the Zenana (Royal family women, including concubines or mistresses) lived. This courtyard has many chambers where the queens resided. The king would visit the women at night, passing along a common corridor to these rooms, selecting the queen or concubine of his choice, without the others knowing who! At the centre of the courtyard is covered structure where the wives and concubines could hang out in their spare time (of which I am sure they had a lot!)
This concluded our tour, which had taken about 90 minutes.