We had been strongly encouraged and told that Rajasthan was a place in India that we should visit. So Carol arranged this trip for us. We were in Rajasthan about three weeks. This post starts a series on this Rajasthan trip in October and November of 2013. It started in Jaipur and ended at the Pushkar Camel Fair.
Rajasthan, known as “the land of the kings,” is an ancient place in northwest India, with cities dating from before the Vedic culture. The ruins at Kalibangan in northwest Rajasthan date back to 3500 BCE, and are the location of the oldest known plowed fields in the world. It is written of in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Hindu Vedas.
Other than the Thar Desert in the Shekhawati region of western Rajasthan, there are few natural barriers to conquest, and the history of Rajasthan has been one of conquests and of the building of forts and defenses against conquest. The many famous Maharajas of Rajasthan have played a major role in these defenses (and conquests).
Much of Rajasthan is desert, and water is precious here. Rajasthan is the largest state in India in terms of its area. Rajasthan has a population of 68 million people and half-a-million camels.
Jaipur is the capital and largest city of the state of Rajasthan. It was founded on 18 November 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who ruled from Amer (the Amber Fort). The original part of Jaipur, the “Pink City,” is unusual among pre-modern Indian cities in that is is a planned city, with regularity of its streets, and the division of the city into six sectors by broad streets 34 m (111 ft) wide. Jaipur has many forts, palaces, monuments, temples and gardens that make it an interesting place for visitors.
The Maharajas of Jaipur patronized the arts and crafts. They invited skilled artisans, artists and craftsmen from India and abroad. The communities settled in the city and made Jaipur their home. As a result, Jaipur is a major hub for arts and crafts. There is a long list of crafts and skills that come from Rajasthan, including: bandhani (a form a tie-die); block printing; stone carving and sculpture; tarkashi inlay; zari embroidery, gota applique work, and zardozi Persian embroidery; silver jewelry; gems, kundan jewelry with gold foil between the gems, meenakari enamel metal-craft, miniature painting; blue pottery; ivory carving; shellac work; leatherwear, and patwa craft jewelry made with gold and silver thread. Because of the traditions in these crafts, Jaipur is a great destination for those interested in such works.
The Amber Fort
The Amber fort is the one “must-see” in Jaipur. It is really where the history of Jaipur begins.
Amer, commonly known as the “Amber” Fort, predates Jaipur by hundreds of years.
Amer, a small city consecrated to Amba, the Mother Goddess, was known in the medieval period as Dhundar and was the capital for the Kachwahas from 1037 to 1727 AD. There was an earlier palace existing in Dhundar upon which the Amber Fort was built during the reign of Raja Man Singh, the Kachwaha King of Amer. The structure was expanded by his descendant, Jai Singh I. Later, the Amber Fort underwent improvements and additions by successive rulers over the next 150 years, until the capital was shifted to Jaipur in 1727.
We enter the fort area through one of many gates in Jaiaput, about 10 km from the central city, known as the “Pink City.”
We are entertained by a snake charmer.
We get our first view of the magnificent Amber Fort (and Palace). In front of us is the Maota Lake, which supplied water to the Amber Fort.
On the hill above the Amber Fort is the Jaigarh Fort, built by Jai Singh II in 1726 to protect the Amber Fort.
The Amber Fort looks quite impressive.
Once we get into the grounds, the first thing we see are beautiful gardens.
Then we are swarmed by vendors. Just say no. Hindi for “no” is “Nahim.”
The Elephant Ride
For most Westerners, the elephant ride is the way to actually get into the fort. Elephant rides cost Rs.900 (Per elephant, usually for 2 people) and are available only from 8:30 in the morning to noon. A sign at the end of the ride says not to tip the driver, but our guide said we should tip him Rs. 100.
We see a number of elephants going up to the fort entrance.
There is a long line, but the wait was not bad.
Finally Carol and I got our seats in a howdah.
Here is the platform from which we ascended the elephant. These high boarding platforms are common.
Climbing up, we see a garden on the left.
As elephants return, we get into a bit of a pachyderm traffic jam.
Some have their heads and faces nicely painted.
The first gate ahead is the “Elephant Gate.”
Here it comes.
Looking down, we can see the gardens of Dilaram Bagh.
The Fort walls climb high above us.
Here is a screenshot of the Google Maps satellite photo of this fort. We enter into the top most (northern) courtyard, and work our way to the south as we move from courtyard to courtyard.
Entering through the Suraj Pol (Sun Gate)
We enter through the Sun Gate.
This gate was always guarded, as it was the main entry into the palace. It faces east, towards the rising sun, hence the name. Royal cavalcades and dignitaries entered the palace through this gate.
This gate is also known as the Victory Gate, since this is where the victorious army would enter after battle.
Jaleb Chowk, The First Courtyard
This was the place where the armies of the Maharaja would hold victory parades upon their return from battle. They would also show off the bounties of war they brought back. This would be witnessed by the royal family, with the women looking through the latticed windows.
Soldiers lived in quarters on three of the surrounding walls.
On the other side of the courtyard is another gate. I guess this would be the Moon Gate, the one used by common people, workers and tradesmen.
There is a platform to dismount the elephant, too.
There is a big crowd in the courtyard. Many people are here in groups. I think about 5000 people visit here each day, and most arrive in the morning.
From this courtyard we can see the top of the Ganesh Pol (gate) in the next courtyard.
I look back to see another elephant entering through the gate. Something is deeply fascinating to me about entering the fort on an elephant.
The Jaigarh Fort is on the hill above the Amber Fort.
Looking down on the other side of the fort, you can see the tower of an old temple.
Ruins are also on this side of the fort. While there is some effort of preservation, there are also local pressures to occupy these, or tear them down to use the bricks.
Coming out of the Jaleb Chowk is a set of stairs that lead to the Singh Pol (Lion Gate). This gate takes you into the palace.
To the right at the top of these stairs is the entrance to the Shila Devi Temple. Shila Devi is a form of Kali.
The story of this temple, from jaipurthepinkcity.com:
Maharaja Man Singh was a devotee of goddess Kali and invoked her grace both in peace and during war. According to legend, the image of the goddess was brought by Maharaja Man Singh from eastern part of Bengal in the last quarter of 16th century A.D. While in an encounter with the ruler Kedar (a ruler in the empire of King Pratapaditya), Maharaja Man Singh did not get success for the 1st time and so, he prayed for success to goddess Kali.
The goddess gave him a vision in dream & took a promise from him for her salvation from the lot; she was then subjected to a slab (Shila). As a result of the promise given by the Maharaja, the goddess blessed him with victory in the forthcoming battle.
This stone image of Shila Devi was lying in the sea in the form of a slab (called Shila in Hindi) and was taken out and brought by the Maharaja Man Singh at Amber where it became popular by the name of “Shila Devi”.
According to one more legend, ruler Kedar of Bengal after his defeat had married his daughter to Maharaja Man Singh and presented this image of Shila Devi to him.
This tunnel leads to the temple. Be careful, if you want to visit it. It it closed during much of the day. Temple hours are:
Morning Time : 6:00 am – 10:30 am
Evening Time : 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
No photos are allowed. Remove shoes before entering, naturally.
More from jaipurthepinkcity.com:
Visitors can see beautiful stone carving work in the temple and fabulous silver work on the doors of the temple. Nine incarnations of Shakti (Goddess Durga) namely Shail Putri, Brahmcharini, Chandra Ghanta, Kooshmanda, Skand Mata, Katyayani, Kaal Ratri, Maha Gauri, and Siddhi Daatri; and Ten Mahavidyas (ten incarnations of Goddess Sati) namely Kali, Tara, Shodashi (Tripur Sundari), Bhuvneshwari, Bhairvi, Chinnmasta, Dhumawati, Baglamukhi, Maatangi, and Kamla are engraved on silver doors of the temple.
This leads through the Lion Gate to the next palace courtyard.
The Second Courtyard
This courtyard was an area where the public could come, principally for the Diwan-i-Am or the Public Audience Hall, which is where the Raja held audience with the public. Across from us is the Ganesh Gate, the entrance to the private part of the palace.
Diwan-i-Am or the Public Audience Hall
Where the Raja held audience to hear and receive petitions from the public. The southern area of this courtyard was kept clear so that the royal women could watch the proceedings of Diwan-I-Am from the Zenana house (Women’s quarters) palace.
Here is a sign, giving some of the story of this hill.
Fine stone work is at the top of the pillars of this hall.
Looking out, you can see the walls and a tower of the fortifications that surround the Amber Fort. These were the first line of defense, extending 14 km around the fort.
The Sattais Kacheri, a colonnade of 27 pillars
As hard as it is for me to imagine, these were the administrative offices of the palace. It makes a kind of sense though, this was an area where ordinary people and tradesmen could come. It is with these people that the officers would have to do business.
Pretty grand for an office, I think. These predated the “Open Offices” now common in the US by several hundred years.
Wonderful carved marble columns.
Carol took this photo of a Rajasthani woman who was sweeping. After the photo, the woman asked for money for the photo.
The side of the Sattais Kacheri is open to the outside of the fort.
You can see the hills surrounding the fort, topped by a wall and watchtowers.
From here you can also get a good look at the garden of Mohan Bari, in Maota Lake.
Looking up, across the hill the other way, we can see towers and walls of the Jaigarh Fort.
The Turkish Baths
Next to the 27 Columns are the Hammam, Turkish Baths.
Here is one of the bathtubs.
It seats four. So bathing was a group activity. I would certainly expect the palace women to bathe together.
Grill work, so you can see out of the baths, and not be seen.
In the floor of the courtyard is this grill, pictured below. It is above a well. The water system of the fort was extensive, needed because there are only a few weeks of rain each year. Rain water was collected from the Jaigarh Fort above, as well as the Amber fort, and held in several big tanks below the palace. The idea was to not only have water throughout the year, but also to be able to survive a siege.
Runoff went into the Maota Lake, below, which was also a part of the fort and palace’s water supply.
The Ganesh Pol (Ganesh Gate)
Entrance to the private quarters of the Maharaja, his family and attendants.
An explanatory sign at the entrance of the Ganesh Pol.
The paintings here really show the Muslim influence. The style of this work is Moslem, not Hindu, even though Hindu images are used. This influence was there at the start of the Amber Fort. Raja Man Singh (Man Singh I) (December 21, 1550 – July 6, 1614) started this fort. We are told that he was a very wise ruler; instead of fighting all the powerful rajas that surrounded him, he made agreements instead, the biggest of which was with the Mughal emperor Akbar, by far the most powerful man in this part of the world. Raja Man Singh was a most trusted general and held the highest rank possible for someone not of the royal family in the court of Akbar. He even was allowed multiple wives, a Moslem tradition, not Hindu.
This is Ganesh at the top of the Ganesh Gate.
More exquisite decoration on the Ganesh Pol.
This is the view once the Ganesh Pol is entered. I think this is a very classy entrance. All the stonework is marble.
We climbed up stairs to the top of the Ganesh Pol. I notice that all the fine halls are connected by many stairs and corridors.
A special treatment was done to the walls of these to make them very reflective, as shown below. This improved the lighting in these dark places.
One of the long corridors.
They have this special grill work, so that light is allowed in, but you cannot see in. This way the women of the palace can move about unseen.
At the top is the viewing hall, the Suhag Mandir, on the back side of the Ganesh Pol.
Palace women would come here and look out the grilled windows to see the events at the Diwan-i-Am (the Public Audience Hall) in the courtyard below. Women were not able to actually go to the public events there.
Looking out the window.
The marble inlay on the ceiling of this structure was amazing.
From up here we can see in the next courtyard the Mughal-style Aram Bagh (Pleasure) Gardens, (more Moslem influence) and the Sukh Mahal.
The Third Courtyard
The next courtyard was a place for the Royals and their attendants, and for visitors of high rank. This courtyard houses the Sheesh Mahal (or Mirror Palace), the Aram Bagh Garden, and the Sukh Mahal (Hall of Pleasure).
The Jai Mandir, or Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace)
This is also known as the Diwan-I-Khas, the private audience hall of the Maharaja. From the outside, it looks nice, but nothing really extraordinary.
When you get close though, you are overwhelmed.
Walls and ceilings of inlaid mirrors. This kind of work is from the Mughals. There is nothing like it in the Hindu world.
I have seen nothing like it. All the mirrors do not really show well in most of these photos. Imagine in each that there are walls of flashing light being reflected back at you.
Here is detail of one design. You can see the mirrors better here.
An explanatory sign.
And inside the mirrored walls are mirrored rooms, where the important visitors would meet with the Maharaja.
Some more detail. Amidst the inlaid marble and mirrors are flower designs.
Now from the sublime to the mundane, the royal toilets.
View on the way to the latrines.
Royal toilets. Maybe these are for the men? Maybe those are urinals to the right?
The Sukh Mahal
Next is the Sukh Niwas or Sukh Mahal (Hall of Pleasure). This was the summer quarters for the Maharaja.
The Sukh Mahal palace was kept cool in the summer by covering its arched openings with screens woven with the roots of the aromatic grass called khas. The screens were moistened periodically with water, air passing through the screens was thus cooled, and carried also the fragrance of the grass into the palace-chambers. This was the Maharaja’s private apartments where he retired to rest.
This was where water flowed in, down from the Jaigarh Fort. The water cooled this area, then went into the garden.
An explanatory sign.
Looking into one of the inner rooms.
Mughal pattern on back wall.
Stained glass windows, too.
Another decorative element are these carved and inlaid floral designs.
Lapis Lazuli inlaid into this bug.
The Fourth Courtyard
This was one of the first parts of the fort/palace that was built. This was built by Raja Man Singh for his many wives. We were told that he had nine wives, with an apartment built here for each of them. As you will see in the next photo, these were also the Zenana. The Zenana is a Muslim tradition (and Hindu, adopted from the Muslims) and is where the royal women were kept in seclusion. They could not go outside, and other than the Raja (and I imagine, eunuchs), no man was allowed entrance.
The Baradari, on the left, below, is a colonnaded pavilion where the king would mingle with the ladies of the court. This is also where the wives would meet.
It is in the center, surrounded by walls. On the other side of the walls are nine enclosures, one for each wife or concubine. Each had an open area in front, and apartments, living quarters, in back.
One of the apartments.
We climb up a ramp. Each of the women’s apartments has a private stairway so that she can meet with the Raja without any of the other wives knowing. I think this was probably important to keep the peace in the palace. To have nine fighting wives sounds like about the worst thing I can imagine.
Upstairs, looking out onto the courtyard. You can see on the left and right side, open areas in front of rooms. I think these were minor wives or concubines. The apartment we are in now has a big open area and bigger rooms, so it was for one of the higher ranked women of the Zenana.
Here is a good look at the Baradari, where the Raja could meet with his ladies. And be seen by the other ladies.
I think the first two levels are for the women and the king. I am not sure about the third level.
Paintings were on the walls of the second level that are the oldest paintings in the fort, and in a much cruder style. Pictured below is Ganesh.
Also holy basil, Tulsi, is grown in the Zenana.
Tulsi growing even today.
More paintings on the wall. I can’t make out what is happening in it. I see a man on the right, and I guess two women in the center.
Attractive floral designs.
Even queens have to use toilets.
A sign in the old palace.
Leaving the Fort through the Moon Gate
We were ready to leave, and had to exit through the Moon Gate. This is the route where commoners would enter and leave.
Musicians play along the way, hoping for a few rupees.
Through a gate (not the Moon Gate).
Here is an interesting sign. There is a tunnel between here and the fort up on the hill. This way the Raja and his family always have an escape route.
The big hemispherical objects are iron cooking pots, used for meals in the fort. They had to cook for many people!
Vendors near the exit.
This one is painting a new piece for sale.
Corridor near the next gate. With this kind of arch, the Muslim style continues.
Sign giving information on the Moon Gate.
The Chand Pol, Moon Gate, as we leave.
The wall here is riddled with holes, and in each hole is a pigeon.
Walking out, the Moon Gate is behind us.
Another musician plays for tourist rupees.
Ruins Outside the Fort
Outside the fort are ruins of old buildings, part of the fort in the old days.
Some of these were officers’ quarters in that time. There is great potential for restoration for some of these buildings.
Wow, what a place. When we read that we were going to a big fort, we never imagined anything like this. If they had written about a big palace, instead of a fort, it would have been more like what we found here. This is a place you should visit if you are in Rajasthan. Go with a private guide, not a group tour. You will want time to explore, there is so much to see. A good guide will expand your experience by providing some history and context for what you see here.
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