Jaipur and the Amber Fort

This morning we had a veritable lie-in, as our wake-up call wasn’t until 8.00am.  We therefore got ourselves ready and went for a leisurely breakfast along the scented hotel corridors.  One thing we’d noticed about the hotels we’d stayed in; they seemed to have a lot of oil-burners and incense sticks around, leading to a pleasant and evocative fragrance.   🙂

We enjoyed a good breakfast, as ever, then went to the reception to await our bus.  This morning we would be visiting the Amber Fort, amongst other things.

Off we went once again through the frenetic streets; this time however, our journey was only about a couple of miles.  When the bus pulled up, we were told we’d been split into groups of six or seven and put into Jeeps for the climb up the zig-zagging road to the fort.  Visitors could also reach the fort on elephant back, but Peter explained how Titan Travel had stopped doing this a couple of years ago, following rather a nasty accident.  When we saw the rustbuckets that passed for the Jeeps, however, we weren’t entirely sure that going this way would be any safer.   🙂

Trevor and I, when called, climbed into our Jeep which was open-sided but enclosed within curtains and tarpaulin.  The back was open and we could see the Jeep behind us; one of its tyres was practically bald and it had a broken side-light; it certainly would not have been allowed on the roads in Britain!

As our driver started his engine the Jeep lurched forward then made its erratic way up the winding road to the fort.  Once there, we alighted from the vehicle and waited for the others to arrive, as ever being pestered by the ubiquitous hawkers.

The Amber (or Amer) Fort is known for its artistic Hindu style elements. With its large ramparts and series of gates and cobbled paths, the fort overlooks Maota Lake. It is the main source of water for the Amber palace.

The aesthetic ambiance of the palace is seen within its walls. Constructed of red sandstone and marble, the attractive, opulent palace is laid out on four levels, each with a courtyard.  Access to each level was via tunnels either with steps or a long ramp, and we enjoyed great views as we climbed up; particularly of the parade of elephants plodding their way up to the main square, carrying two or three people on their backs.

The fort consists of the Diwan-e-Aam, or “Hall of Public Audience”, the Diwan-e-Khas, or “Hall of Private Audience”, the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace), or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over a water cascade within the palace. Hence, the Amber Fort is also popularly known as the Amber Palace. The palace was the residence of the Rajput Maharajas and their families. At the entrance to the palace near the fort’s Ganesh Gate, there is a temple dedicated to Sila Devi, a goddess of the Chaitanya cult, which was given to Raja Man Singh when he defeated the Raja of Jessore, Bengal in 1604.

The buildings were ornate and opulent; I particularly enjoyed the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace) wherein pieces of mirrored mosaic adorned the walls and ceiling in intricate patterns.  Imagine how they would have gleamed and shone in candlelight!  Fabulous.   🙂

We spent a couple of hours looking around the buildings before Vikram rounded us all up again, and counted us into groups ready for the Jeep rides back down again.  While we were waiting, a lady showed us some little colourful decorated trinket boxes she’d bought from one of the hawkers; five for 100 rupees, so the equivalent of 20p each!!  I wish I’d seen them; they’d make great gift boxes for small jewellery items such as earrings.

Eventually we were called to a Jeep, and this time I found myself in the passenger seat next to the driver.  I was somewhat perturbed to find that, not only was there no passenger door, but there was no seat belt either!  So I hoped the driver wouldn’t take any corners too fast, otherwise I’d fall out.   😦   There was, however, a stout iron bar attached to the dashboard so, feeling as if I was about to participate in a ‘White Knuckle’ ride, I hung on for dear life for the manic journey back down to the buses.  Phew!  We made it in one piece.

Back on the coach Peter called out “Shop’s open!” and invited a couple of the milling hawkers into the entrance of the bus, so he could display their wares.  I was pleased to see that the little trinket boxes were on offer; but I got a better deal because I got a pack of six for a £1.00 (100 rupees).  So definitely a bargain.   🙂

Once everyone had purchased what they wanted, the bus set off.  Our next visit was to a carpet and textile factory/warehouse and again, it wasn’t very far from the hotel.

Entering the workshop, we saw a weaver making an intricate carpet on a loom.  The proprietor of the workshop explained to us how the carpets were woven either from pure sheep’s wool or, for the most expensive ones, from silk.  The greater the number of knots per square inch, the finer in quality the carpet.  The weaver’s nimble fingers flew as he worked, and like a lot of master craftsmen, he managed to make it look easy.

The next step in producing a fine carpet was to comb and trim the pile and, again, this was done by hand (or that was how they showed us).  A lady, squatting on her haunches, was using a sharp pair of scissors to trim the pile really short, combing away the excess.  This allowed the pattern to sharpen and really show up in all its splendour.

The final stage was for any stray hairs or fibres to be burnt off the carpet using a type of blow torch; the residue being brushed off the carpet.

After we’d seen how the carpets were made, we were ushered into the showroom and offered a hot or cold drink.  Trevor and I opted to try an Indian rum and Diet Coke; it was actually very nice.  They showed us lots of different carpets of varying sizes, some in wool and some in pure silk, and told us the prices (per square metre) in pounds sterling.  As expected, they were not cheap; one large mat was about £1,700 in silk.  One lady did buy a small hearth mat, however.

After we came out of the carpet factory we went downstairs to the textile workshops, where fabulous printed fabrics were produced.  A large roll of plain calico was unrolled onto a long table, and the master craftsman was putting the design onto it by means of block-printing.  If you remember the potato printing you used to do in art classes at school, it was a similar idea but obviously a more intricate design carved onto a hardwood block, and dipped into indelible vegetable dye.

The patterns or pictures on the fabric were built up in layers; each block was carved into a different part and a different colour was used, the block being placed in precisely the right position on the cloth to build up the design.  It was quite addictive watching the printing guy; place the block into the dye, place the block onto the fabric, give it a little tap, place the block back into the dye, then move it to another part of the fabric, ad infinitum.   🙂

Once we’d seen the fabrics being completed we were then invited into the emporium to see the locally woven, printed, spun, sewn, embroidered materials.  There were all sorts of stuff, from handkerchiefs up to duvet sets.  In particular, I was looking for a gorgeous pashmina or hand embroidered/beaded wrap.  One of the shop assistants was trying to get Trevor to order a hand-tailored bespoke shirt or jacket (“I will have it ready for you tomorrow.”) or me to buy a sari.  Gorgeous though the saris were, when on earth was I going to ever wear a sari ?!

I ended up buying a lovely translucent, diaphanous wrap in a pale eau-de-nil colour; it was edged in red velvet and featured appliqué and sequins and embroidery.  it will look fabulous with a plain black dress or strappy top; you wouldn’t want to wear any other colours with it so as not to detract from it.  It was only £28.00, far cheaper than one I’d seen in ‘East’ back home, which was 60 quid.   🙂

Afterwards we returned to the hotel for lunch. Peter asked us all to be back on the coach for 2.00pm for the next stop on the itinerary – the City Palace and the  Jantar Mantar observatory.

After lunch we had about half an hour before we had to be back in reception, so we decided to have a 30 minute power nap as we were quite tired after our action-packed morning.  However, when the alarm went off I really couldn’t be bothered to go back out again; since we’d arrived in India we’d barely had any time to ourselves at all.  So I told Trevor to go without me; I’d spend the time pottering around, getting showered and sorted out at leisure and doing some of this blog, which is exactly what I did.   🙂

Trevor and the rest of the party arrived back around 5.00pm and, as the hotel bar was offering Happy Hour, we went along to enjoy a couple of freezing Kingfisher beers each, and chat to our fellow travellers.  As is often the case on these types of adventure holidays, a lot of us had tales to tell of other places we’d been to and other sights we’d seen.   🙂

When it was time to go to dinner, I promised myself I wouldn’t eat too much (!!) but it was very difficult not to want to try a bit of all the delicious dishes.  I had some spiced chicken, some lamb curry with saag aloo and some lime- and mixed-pickle, as well as rice and thin, crispy naan bread.  The mixed pickle packed quite a punch!  Then I just had a small crème brûlée for dessert as I couldn’t eat any more.   🙂

We were trying not to think about the fact that our fantastic Indian tour was fast coming to an end.  Tomorrow we’d have to pack up and make our way back to Delhi, where we’d have one more night in a hotel before our flight home on Sunday.   😦

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