Monday, 02-03-2015. Day 194 (Part one).
The Jewel of Jaipur
Our first stop on our day-long tour of Jaipur was the Amber Fort, also called the Amer Fort or the Amber Palace, and a UNESCO World Heritage site under the umbrella of the Hill Forts of Rajasthan.
The Amer Fort is 11 kilometers north of Jaipur in the town of Amer, and, being a good, defensible fort, is high up on a hill. There are essentially two ways to get up the hill and into the fort. One is walking, the other is on the back of an elephant. There are 130 elephants that do this job, and they are mandated by law to only make four trips up and back per day. The elephant train starts running at 7:00 a.m. and has to stop by 11:00 a.m. But a lot of people do this. It seems there's a great appeal to ride an elephant up a hill and through the Sun Gate like a maharajah of old.
We've already mentioned we aren't elephant-riding types, so we walked. On the way up, we saw a lot of elephants trudging up the incline carrying two tourists and a driver. These poor animals looked miserable.
Once we were at the top, getting into the place became very confusing. Our guide told us it would be 1600 rupees, and that included a combo ticket with the Jantar Mantar, another Jaipur historical attraction we wanted to go to. The kids weren't free here. It seemed a bit expensive. Then when we got to the ticket window, there was a sign saying that 400 rupees per person was the price for a 2-day pass to the two attractions, a one-day pass was 200 rupees. We were only here for the day, so I asked the guide about it. He gave me some half-baked explanation about getting more benefit from the two-day pass. I knew he was being less than honest, but he was getting a bit irate, so I let it go. He bought the tickets and came back with 400 rupees in change, saying he was able to get student rates (200 rupees each) for the kids, even without student IDs. I think I only got this because I called him out on his creative math; and I think he pocketed about 500 rupees for himself.
In addition to being a little shifty, this guy wasn't all that good at explaining things. Other than it being the seat of the Rajput Maharajahs (without even knowing what that means), I don't quite know what the deal was with the Amber Fort. He did go into a lot of detail about how bad the elephants used to have it, though. They used to run all day and carry four tourists plus a driver. Then there was an accident where some tourists fell off an exhausted elephant and were killed. So some laws were passed and things are much better now. But there's always an ambulance in the courtyard, in case there's an accident (we got the impression there were still frequent elephant-riding accidents).
I do know that the fort as it can be seen today was built over the remains of an old Indian hill tribe outpost during the time of Rajah Man Singh, a contemporary and ally (subject) of Akbar the Great (the third Mughal Emperor). And I can tell you that the balcony above the first courtyard offers up some great views of the garden in the lake below the palace and the wall which surrounds and protects the town of Amer.
Our guide told us the wall around Amer was as impressive as the Great Wall of China. I didn't want to argue with the guy, but as great as the Amer Wall was, it was no Great Wall of China.
After admiring the scenery surrounding the Amber Palace, we went through the ornately decorated Ganesh Gate and followed our guide through as series of narrow low-ceilinged passageways to the private chambers of the maharajah in the third courtyard.
A big draw here was the so-called mirrored palace, a room filled with inlaid convex mirrored tiles. The interior chamber was closed for repair, but the outside was still quite amazing. You can imaging how strange and beautiful the place must have looked in glittering candlelight.
Across from the mirrored palace, we also got to see how the Amber Palace was cooled during the hot Indian summers. It was all based on circulating water throughout the palace in such a way that took advantage of using prevailing breezes for evaporative cooling.
After the mirrored palace, we walked to a courtyard where the rooms where the many wives and concubines of Rajah Man Singh lived and waited patiently to be administered to by the Rajah himself.
And that's pretty much the extent of what we saw and learned about about the Amber Palace. I'm sure there's a fascinating tale or two about the place and how it fit into the rest of the history of India under the Mughal Empire, but we didn't get any of it. Time for some independent study.
On the way back down the hill, we encountered some monkeys. At least these weren't the crab-eating macaques we'd seen everywhere else. These were (I think) black-faced vervet monkeys. And they kept their distance. But they were still creepy as hell.
We also saw one of the last elephants of the day bringing two tourists up the hill. And let me tell you, this was one tired elephant. It plodded along, pausing after each slow, deliberate step, half the time with its eyes closed. This beast was clearly exhausted. It looked like how I felt going up to Trail Crest from Guitar Lake when I hiked the John Muir Trail.
I asked the guide if the elephants got to eat between their four trips up to the palace. He told me, "No, they get to eat when their work is done." An animal of that size, one that eats 10% of its body weight each day, is going to need fuel to make that climb four times. We felt so bad for this particular elephant. We were really glad we didn't ride any elephants up to the Amber Palace.
After we got back down to the road, we climbed into the the car and drove back to Jaipur to see what there was to see in the capital of Rajasthan.
- UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 1 (23 cumulative)
- Elephants seen: 130
- Monkeys seen: 14
- Dogs seen: 6
- Goats seen: 9