Read my post: Rajasthan – The Incredible State of India
Located eleven kilometres from Jaipur, Amber Fort (also called Amer Fort) is a spectacular 16th century fortress-palace complex built by Raja Man Singh I (1550-1614), the Kachawaha (Rajput) king of Amber and trusted army commander of Mughal emperor Akbar.
Read my post: Regal Rajasthan Travelogue (Part I): Jaipur
Amber was the capital of the Kachawahas from 1037 to 1727, when Sawai Jai Singh II moved the capital to Jaipur. The ancient city of the Kachawaha clan was called Dhundar which later became Amber or Amer from the original name Ambikeshwara of the Mother Goddess Amba, the goddess of earth and fertility.
Construction of the fortress-palace of white and red sandstone began in 1592 upon an earlier palace. It was fully expanded by Raja Jai Singh I and underwent improvements and additions by successive rulers over the next 150 years till Maharaja Jai Singh II (the founder ruler of Jaipur) made Jaipur his capital in 1727.
One of the most popular forts of Rajasthan, known for its massive architecture, Amber Fort is a definite “must-see”. More than a magnificent fort, it’s a mesmerizing palace. It also offers a spectacular view of the outlying area of Jaipur. No wonder it attracts more than 5000 people every day.
The fort is open on all days from 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM. On weekends, it gets crowded. Try to go early to escape the crowds and intense afternoon heat. A major crowd puller is the impressive hour long sound and light show held every evening. There are two shows, in English and Hindi.
The best time to visit is from October to February. There is a lot to see and experience, so a guided tour is highly recommended. An audio guide is another good option which is available at the fort entrance. Major attractions are : Jaleb Chowk, Singh Pol, Shila Devi Temple, Diwan-e-Aam, Ganesh Pol, Diwan-e-Khaas, Jai Mandir, Yash Mandir, Sukh Mandir, Sheesh Mahal, Suhag Mandir, Bhool Bhulaiya, Baradari and Zenana Deorhi. In addition to entry fees, there is a fee for photography and video too.
The fort also offers tourists the most alluring attraction of riding uphill to the fort entrance atop brightly-painted elephants. It makes for a unique royal experience and a more spectacular and memorable trip. Elephant rides are available from early morning to noon. Another fun activity is the balloon safari which gives an aerial view of the fort-palace and its surroundings.
There are three ways to enter the fort, which is situated on a hill: a 20-minute climb, elephant ride or by vehicle. For either of the first two, entry inside the fort’s courtyard is through Suraj Pol (Sun Gate). Royal cavalcades, dignitaries and the victorious army would enter after battle through this gate. By vehicle, the entry is through Chand Pol (Moon Gate) which was the main gate used by common people, workers and tradesmen.
Both entrances have a ticket office, and lead to the main courtyard, beyond which lies a beautiful and spotless complex of palaces, halls, pavilions, gardens, and temples.
First view of the magnificent Amber Fort high up on the hill, with Lake Maota in the front…
The ancient name of the lake is “Mahavata” but it is commonly known as Maota due to the large trees located near the lake. It supplied water to the fort-palace. On the hill above it is the Jaigarh Fort, built by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1726 to protect the Amber Fort. This fort too was built upon an earlier fort, and has an eighteenth-century cannon named “Jaivana”, which was manufactured in the fort precincts and was then the world’s largest cannon on wheels.
Reflection of the magnificent Amber Fort on the placid waters of the lake…
Entering the grounds, the beauty of the fort exteriors is heightened by beautiful gardens. They are away from the road for vehicles to the fort, which also leads to the old town and its many temples.
Watch my video: View from the car parking area outside Amber fort entrance
View of the fort entrance…
One of the many musicians playing along the way, hoping for a few rupees from tourists…
Amber Fort is divided into four main sections, each having an entrance gateway and courtyard, accessed through a staircase. Gateways were usually constructed at important crossways in palaces in those days.
The fort’s first and main courtyard is Jaleb Chowk, with two gateways opposite each other: Suraj Pol (Sun Gate) and Chand Pol (Moon Gate).
Watch my video: Jaleb Chowk
Suraj Pol (Sun Gate)…
This gate faces the east, towards the rising sun, hence the name. Facing it, across the huge, sprawling courtyard is Chand Pol (or Moon Gate), the main gate of entry for commoners. The upper storey of the gate is called Naubatkhana (a room or turret chamber situated on the upper storey of the main gates of royal palaces), where kettle drums and other musical instruments were housed and played.
Watch my video: View of Jaleb Chowk from Chand Pol
Jaleb Chowk was the place where the king’s army would hold victory parades and showcase the war booty upon their return from battle. Its surrounding three sides housed the soldiers’ quarters.
From Jaleb Chowk, the top of the exquisite Ganesh Pol in the second courtyard is seen. A flight of stairs lead to the Singh Pol (Lion Gate) which is the entrance to the second courtyard.
To the right of Singh Pol (Lion Gate) ornately carved silver doors lead to Shila Devi Temple, which contains an image of the goddess Kali, the family deity of the Rajput Kachawahas kings.
Raja Man Singh I commissioned the building of this small temple during the construction of the fort. The temple is open from 6:00 AM to 10:30 AM and 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM.
The second courtyard housed the Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Public Audience) with intricately decorated galleries.
Diwan-i-Aam was the court where the king gave audience to his subjects and met his officials. Festivities on certain special occasions like the celebrations following a victory in battle, Dussehra and the king’s birthday were held here.
The structure has forty pillars which divide the hall in three parts, and is built in red sandstone and marble masonry. It has a raised platform for the king to sit from where he could address the people.
View of Jaleb Chowk from this courtyard…
View of fortifications extending 14 km around the fort…
To its south are 27 kachehris (or offices) running in a series. These colonnaded arches housed the Government Secretariat from where the administration of Amber State was carried out.
A mesmerizing example of Hindu architecture is the Ganesh Pol (or Ganesh Gate) with its beautiful frescoed arches.
The massive, three-storey gateway provides access to the inner and private parts of the palace. This fabulously painted gate was constructed on the orders of Raja Jai Singh I. Lord Ganesh is the Lord of New Beginnings and Remover of Obstacles, so his likeness is traditionally painted or placed over the main entry into a building.
Above the Ganesh Pol is Suhag Mandir, which was used as a chamber by the royal ladies to witness, through lattice screens, the state functions held below in the Diwan-i-Aam
Watch my video: Ganesh Pol
The architectural excellence and fabulous stone carving work accomplished manually around four centuries back is absolutely amazing. The walls are clad with intricate and colourful murals and frescoes, while mosaic artwork is common throughout the complex. Courtyards and halls are connected by long marbled corridors and stairs. Built in Rajput architectural style, the lavish and beautiful fort interiors provide a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the Rajput kings.
Ganesh Pol leads to the third courtyard which houses the fort’s star attraction: Diwan-i-Khas, the Hall of Private Audience. It was constructed during the reign of Raja Jai Singh I, hence it is called Jai Mandir. The beautifully carved marble ceiling and walls of this hall are encrusted with innumerable pieces of mirrors with stunning floral paintings on them, so it is called Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors or Glass). Inside the mirrored walls are mirrored rooms, where the important visitors would meet with the king. Just one candle is enough to light up the entire hall due to the reflective nature of the mirrors.
Watch my video: An overhead view of Diwan-e-Khas
Various frescos of flowers and butterflies are seen around the Sheesh Mahal…
The “magic flower” carved in marble at the base the pillars around the hall – recognizable by two butterflies hovering around it, the flower can be seen to contain seven unique designs (a fish tail, a lotus, a hooded cobra, an elephant trunk, a lion’s tail, a cob of corn, and a scorpion).
The upper part of this building is Jas Mandir, which again is a spectacular hall of private audience with intricate floral designs and glasswork. Jas Mandir and the royal washrooms faced the lake.
Adjacent to the Sheesh Mahal is the Hammam (Turkish Bath) used by the Raja and the royal family. Water – hot and cold – was separately stored here in tubs. Change and massage rooms along with adjoining toilets are seen here. A hearth in the outer portion of the hammam was used to heat water.
In front of the Sheesh Mahal is a patterned garden called Char Bagh (or Four Gardens).
Opposite, across the garden, is Sukh Niwas (Pleasure Palace), the king’s private apartments where he retired to rest. This was his summer quarters. In this artistic hall, cool climate was artificially created. It is said that the kings used to spend time in this Sukh Niwas with their queens and sometimes with their mistresses, hence it is known as the residence of pleasure.
Watch my video: Diwan-e-Khas or the Hall of Private Audience
The top of Suhag Mandir as seen from Sheesh Mahal…
The exquisite Suhag Mandir…
Overhead view of Diwan-i-Khas with the Palace of Raja Man Singh behind…
The towers and ramparts of Jaigarh Fort seen from top of the third courtyard…
Watch my video: View of Jaigarh Fort
Kesar Kyaari (Saffron Garden) or Mohan Bari is another beautiful part of Amber Fort. It is a beautiful garden in Maota Lake with star-shaped flower beds in which saffron was planted by Raja Man Singh I. The scientific reason why the garden was built on the lake was that saffron grew in cooler places and the climatic conditions of Rajasthan did not allow that, hence it was built in water to keep the environment cool to facilitate its growth. Today, it is just a beautiful garden with other plants.
View of Kesar Kyaari garden from top of the third courtyard…
Watch my video: View of Kesar Kyari Bagh on Maota Lake
The fourth and the last courtyard of the fort houses the Palace of Raja Man Singh. The below inscription in Persian was affixed at some point in Raja Man Singh’s Palace on its completion during his reign in 1599. It was placed here in 2008.
This is the oldest part of the fort and also houses the Zenani Deorhi (Ladies Apartments), where the royal women, mistresses and female attendants resided. Other than the Raja and eunuchs, no man was allowed entrance. The royal ladies often had estates assigned to them, the management of which was also carried out from here.
In the centre of the palace is a baradari (or colonnaded pavilion) where the Raja would mingle with his wives and be seen by other ladies. This is also where the wives would meet.
The surrounding walls housed the living quarters of the queens or mistresses. The rooms of the queens were built in such a manner that the king could visit any queen without the knowledge of the other queens. This was probably important to keep the peace in the palace.
The ground and upper storeys of the palace contain rooms in which, and under the sunshades of which, frescoes were painted. The two rooms on the top of the palace were embellished with frescoes and coloured tiles.
Floral designs on the walls…
On the western side of the palace there is a tunnel connecting to the Jaigarh Fort. It is subterraneous till a point, after which it runs roofless on the surface up to Jaigarh, The tunnel is accessible from the Man Singh Palace, Zenana Deorhi and Diwan-i-Khas. This way the Raja and his family always have an escape route.
On the way out from this part of the fort, tourists can stop at the restaurants, shops and entertainment shows There is a fine dining restaurant, as the sign says, for royal experience called “1135 AD Amber”…
Snake charming show …
An old pot…
There are three underground storage tanks in the palace located under the Jaleb Chowk, Diwan-i-Aam and the Man Singh Palace. Being stored underground, the water would remain potable for a longer period and evaporation would be lower.
Tripolia (“Three Gates”) Gate mainly controls access from the west into the palace. It opens in three different directions, hence the name. A passage leads towards the north to Jaleb Chowk and another to the Man Singh Palace and Zenani Deorhi in the south.
Watch my video: Tripolia Gateway in Amber Fort
The western passage leads out of the fort-palace and into the vehicles car parking area. Kadimi Mahal, known to be the oldest surviving palace in India built by the Meena dynasty which ruled over the region before the Kachawaha dynasty, can be seen in the valley from here.
While most of the ancient buildings in this part of the country have either been destroyed or replaced, given the many wars that have taken place in this region’s history, it is a marvel to see Amber Fort standing tall and well preserved. This amazing palace-fort is now maintained by the state government.
Coming next# Regal Rajasthan: Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur
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