Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Jaipur, Amber Fort & Palace - Rajasthan State

Event date: 2nd July 2009

After about half an hour's drive from the city center, I reached the site of Amer Fort and/or famously called as Amber Palace and Fort. It is set on a hill top overlooking the Maota Lake on northern part of Jaipur. It was originally, a home of Rajput royalty until Jaipur city was constructed. It contains a number of breathtaking palaces, halls, gardens, and temples. You may see inside the fort compound, an elaborate mirror work of Sheesh Minar adds to it's grandeur. The fort entrance is reached by walking up the hill, going in a jeep, or taking a lurching elephant ride.

Frequent buses depart from the Palace of the Winds (Hawa Mahal) to Amber Fort besides available taxis at the hotel doorstep and many other parts of the city. Please take note that an entrance fee of Rs200 for foreigners is charged. Elephant rides are priced at Rs900 rupees for two people. The place is open from 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. daily. The elephant rides are only available in the mornings until 11.30 a.m, so, be sure to be there early to get one, as it's not possible to pre-book as the demand is high. I had my ride for the first and I hope it will be the last as during the ride, my heart was enduring the pain of the poor elephant. It was silly of me to think that way.

Sweat even before the giant started walking gracefully :(
Amber Fort was built by Raja Man Singh I and is known for its artistic style, blending both Hindu and Rajput architecture elements. It was built with large ramparts, series of gates and cobbled paths. The aesthetic ambiance of this formidable fort is seen within its walls on a 4 level layout plan (each with a courtyard) in a well turned out wealthy palace complex built with red sandstone and marble consisting of the Diwan-e-Aam or the "Hall of Public Audience", the Diwan-e-Khas or the "Hall of Private Audience", the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace) and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over the water cascade within the palace. Hence, the Amer Fort is also popularly known as the Amer Palace. 

On a Stairway to the Palace ground

A pair of birds at Sheesh Mahal

The palace was once lived in by the Rajput Maharajas and their families. At the entrance to the palace near the fort’s Ganesh Gate, there is also a temple dedicated to Sila Devi, a goddess of the Chaitanya cult which was given to Raja Man Singh when he had defeated the Raja of Jessore of Bengal in 1604.

Main entry of the palace fort is through the Suraj Pole (Sun Gate) which leads to Jaleb Chowk, the first main courtyard. This was the place where armies would hold victory parades with their war bounty on their return from battles, which were also witnessed by the Royal family women folk through the latticed windows. This gate was built exclusively and was provided with guards as it was the main entry into the palace. It faced the eastern direction towards the rising Sun and hence the name. Royal cavalcades and dignitaries entered the palace through this gate.

Jaleb Chowk where the elephant rides stop
1st courtyard: An impressive stairway from the Jaleb Chowk leads into the main palace grounds. Here, at the entrance itself to the right of the stairway steps is the Sila Devi temple where the Rajput Maharajas offered worship, starting with Maharaja Mansingh in the 16th century till the 1980s, when the animal sacrifice ritual (sacrifice of a buffalo) practiced by the royalty was stopped .

Ganesh Pol or the Ganesh Gate, named after the Hindu God Lord Ganesh who removes all obstacles in life, is the entry into the private palaces of the Maharajas. It is a three level structure which has many frescoes and was also built at the orders of the Mirza Raja Jai Singh (1621–1627) and leads to the private quarters of the royal family. Above this gate is the Suhag Mandir where ladies of the royal family used to watch through the latticed windows functions held in the Diwan-i-Am.

2nd courtyardThe second courtyard, up the main stairway of the first level courtyard, houses the Diwan-i-Am or the Public Audience Hall. Built with double row of columns, the Diwan-i-Am is a raised platform with 27 colonnades, each of which is mounted with elephant shaped capital with galleries above it. As the name suggests, the Raja held audience here to hear and receive petitions from the public.

3rd courtyardThe third courtyard is where the private quarters of the Maharaja, his family and attendants were built. This courtyard is entered through the Ganesh Pol or Ganesh Gate, which is embellished with mosaics and sculptures. The courtyard has two buildings, one opposite to the other, separated by a garden laid in the fashion of the Mughal Gardens. 

The building to the left of the entrance gate is called the Jai Mandir, which is exquisitely beautified with glass inlaid panels and multi-mirrored ceilings. The mirrors are of convex shape and designed with coloured foil and paint which would glitter brightly under candle nights at the time it was in use. Also known as Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace), the mirror mosaics and coloured glasses were "glittering jewel box in flickering candle light". However, most of this work was allowed to deteriorate during the period 1970–80 but has since then been subjected to a process of restoration and renovation. Carved marble relief panels are placed on walls around the hall. The hall provides enchanting vistas of the Maota Lake.

The other building seen in the courtyard is opposite to the Jai Mandir and 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 edifice keeping the environs cool, as in an air conditioned environment. The water from this channel was led into the garden.

4th courtyard: The fourth courtyard is where the Zenana (Royal family women, including concubines or mistresses) lived. This courtyard has many living rooms where the queens resided and who were visited by the king at his choice without being found out as to which queen he was visiting, as all the rooms open into a common corridor.

The queen mothers and the Raja’s consorts lived in this part of the palace in Zanani Deorhi, which also housed their female attendants. The queen mothers took deep interest in building temples in Amer town. Jas Mandir, a hall of private audience with floral glass inlays and alabastar (stalagmitic limestone) relief work is also located in this courtyard.

Remarks: Before I arrived in the Amer Palace, I have seen a scene of the Mughal Garden of the Palace from a film "Jodhaa-Akbar", an Indian epic historical drama film released on 15 February 2008. It is directed and produced by Ashutosh Gowariker starring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai in the lead roles. It was a beautiful movie where it was shooting in Amer Fort as well as in Fatehpur Sikri.

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