At Jaipur we availed the services of Sharma, the guide. We found him to be a sober looking and very knowledgeable person in terms of the history of places he took us to. He was also well respected by the community of guides, as every where he was greeted with reverence by his fellow guides. Sharma advised us to start our tour by visiting Amer Palace at Amer Fort. There he gave us two choices. We could avail an elephant ride to reach the top of the fort, or we could go by our car.
It took nearly 20 minutes for the elephants to climb the steep upward gradient to reach the courtyard at the entrance of the Amer Palace. On the way we observed that there was a continuous stream of elephants climbing up with tourists and descending with empty howdas. In the courtyard at the top we found the elephants scurrying through in unloading their mounts, and hurrying back to pick up their next clients. On enquiry our mahout informed us that they could hardly make two trips per day, as the day ended by 12.00 noon. He also complained that even though they make around Rs.1500 to 2000 per day, they are left with a meager amount for themselves.
Amer Palace, also called Amber Palace, is located on a hill besides Amer town. The fort is known for its artistic Hindu style elements with its large ramparts and series of gates and cobbled paths, overlooking Maota Lake, which is the main source of water for the Amer Palace. The aesthetic ambiance of the palace is seen within the walls. Constructed of red sand stone and marble the attractive, opulent palace is laid out at four levels, each with a courtyard. It consists of Diwan-e-Aam or Hall of Public Audience, Diwan-e-Khas or Hall of Private Audience, Seesh Mahal, mirror palace, also called as Jal Mandir, and Sukh Niwas where a cool ambience is artificially created by winds that blow a water cascade within the palace.
The Amer Palace and Jaigarh Fort are located side by side on the hill. They are together considered to be a complex and are said to be connected by an underground tunnel. However, tourists are allowed only to visit the Amer Palace, since Jaigarh fort is out of bound for the public. We found hundreds of tourists thronged in the courtyards of the Palace. We were told that approximately 5000 tourists visit the palace every day. In 2013 the World Heritage Committee has declared the Amer Fort as UNESCO World Heritage Site, forming a part of the group – Hill Forts of Rajasthan.
A palace with four courtyards
Amer Palace is divided into four main sections with its own entry gate and courtyard. The main entry is through the Suraj Pole (Sun Gate), which leads to Jaleb Chowk, the first main courtyard. This is where armies would hold victory parades with their war bounty on their return from battles, which were also witnessed by the women folk of the Royal family through the latticed windows at the top courtyard. Several temples are located in the first courtyard. Shila Devi and Suhag Mandir are the prominent ones where one also finds a statue of Lord Ganesha carved out of a single piece of coral. Double leaf silver door of Shila Devi temple is a master piece of art.
The second courtyard, up the main stairway of the first level courtyard, houses Diwan- e- Aam. It is a raised platform with 27 colonnades, each of which is mounted with an elephant shaped capital with galleries above it. As the name suggests, the Raja held public audience here to hear and receive petitions from the public.
The third courtyard is where the private quarters of the Maharaja, his family and the attendants were located. This courtyard has two buildings, looking at each other, separated by a garden laid in the fashion of Mughal Gardens. The building to the left of the entrance gate is called Jai Mandir, which is exquisitely embellished with glass inlaid panels and multi-mirrored ceilings. The mirrors are of convex shape and designed with colored foil and paint which would glitter bright under candle light. This is the Sheesh Mahal built by Raja Man Singh in the 16th century and completed in 1727. It is also the foundation year of Jaipur State. Opposite Jai Mandir is located Sukh Niwas or Sukh Mahal (Hall of Pleasure). The hall is approached through a sandal wood carved door with marble inlay work. A piped water supply flowing through an open channel keeps the environs of this edifice cool. The same water then flows into the garden.
A particular attraction here is the “magic flower.” It is a carved marble panel at the base of one of the pillars around the mirror palace depicting two hovering butterflies; the flower has seven unique designs, including a fish tail, lotus, hooded cobra, elephant trunk, lion’s tail, cob of corn and scorpion. Each one of these figures visible by a special way of partially hiding the panel with the hands. And our guide showed us each one of them with abundant pride on his face.
The fourth courtyard is where Zenana (Royal family women, including concubines or mistresses) lived. This courtyard has many living rooms for the queens. Since all rooms open into a common corridor the king could visit any queen at his choice without being noticed by other queens!!!
One of the best fort palaces of Rajasthan
During our tour of Rajasthan we visited several Fort Palaces. Jodhpur and Jaisalmer fort palaces were no doubt architecturally very rich and the artistically very beautiful. However, we found Amer Fort Palace a notch higher in both these qualities. It left us with great sense of pride to visualize the richness of history and greatness of architecture of 16th and 17th century India.