The Amber Fort is breathtaking.
Up there with the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort in the great sights of the 'Golden Triangle' and a magnet for hundreds of Indian and foreign tourists. But the fort rises above all the attention to become one of the great sights of Asia.
Soaring over the city of Jaipur are the Aravalli hills. Perched on each one like sentinels overlooking the town are giant forts. These were built by the Kuchawa Rajputs to defend their kingdom of Amber. The Rajputs were of warrior caste, rather like the knights of medieval Europe. They ruled this part of the world from 1277 to 1727 when Jai Singh moved the capital down to his new city. They constantly vied with the other petty kingdoms of Rajasthan and were loathed by all due to their accomodation with the superpower of the day - The Moghul Empire. Today tourists climb its walls and look out over the Amber valley to the monumental forts overlooking it all.
To reach it is very simple. An autorickshaw will not cost you more then fifty rupees from the centre of Jaipur, if you pay him another thirty rupees he will wait for you when you come down and take you home (be careful though it may be via his brother-in-law''s gemstone factory). Or you can even take the bus from outside the Hawa Mahal all the way to the village of Amber. From there you can walk the winding trails to the fort or catch a jeep (100 rupees) or more atmospherically take a painted elephant (450 rupees)and sit on its howdah as it climbs up to the fort. Be careful around the start though the hawkers and touts can be very persistant. I had a child hat-sellar climb into the jeep with me - he so wanted the sale...
We took a jeep along the winding roads to the towering fort and through the main gate to the central courtyard - Jaleb Chowk. Yellow sandstone ramparts run all around the courtyard, with topiared gardens in the centre and steps led up to the Shila Mata temple and Maharajah's pavilions. Langurs (monkeys) scampered around while painted elephants took tourists around its cirumference for 50 rupees.
I tried the Shila Mata Temple first, dedicated to an aspect of the bloodthirsty goddess Kali. I had to take my shoes off and leave them with an old man. I was grateful for the cool marble on my feet and was caught up in the atmosphere of devotion in the temple.
Up to the main royal pavilions took me through Ganesh Pol (elephant gate). As you enter there is a magnificent marble courtyard; on its eastern side is the Diwan-I-am - hall of public audience. This was a maze of cool ruby coloured columns overlooking Jaleb Chowk, the columns were designed to catch the hill breezes and keep the rajahs entourage cool.
Through lattice windows the court could look out on a fantastic vista of the valley of Amber below. The mountains opposite were dotted with ruins and forts. From this height Moata Lake could be seen below us with its blue/green waters providing refreshment for horses and elephants. But directly below was another palace, and we could see geometric gardens and the road tumble down to the village of Amber.
The rest of the palace was just as beautiful. In places its white walls glittered in the sunlight as they were inlaid with thousands of pieces of silvery glass. Each of the hallways and pavilions was similarly decorated with gold or silver. But the highlight was the Jas Mandir. Myself and a number of tourists entered a darkened octagonal room. A chowdikar (old man) was there with a number of lit matches that he waved in the air. The light reflected off the walls to create a strobic, glittering effect - it was magical to watch the light dance and sparkle in the darkness.
Time flew by at the Amber Fort. And it was with real regret that I got back in the jeep and returned to Amber. This is one of the wonders of India and you cannot come away without being entranced by the Amber Fort.......