The smell of Jaipur is quintessentially hot. It is of a blistering heat which reeks of blazing sand, hot stones and fiery wind which often burns the nostrils. Summers there smell of sour raw mangoes, watery “chaach” (buttermilk), mildly bitter kakris (curling long cucumbers) and the fearsome hot afternoon breezes called loo. Winter odours are all about silk, mothballs, garlic chutney and spring skillfully combines them both. Jaipur in monsoon smells sweet; wafting pleasant aromas of moist grass, wet earth, peacock calls and glistening acacia covered hills. However, it is the golden season of autumn which brings out the best of the famed Pink City.
Days dawn crisp and golden like fresh apples and they pass by in lingering coolness. Gorgeous sunsets bring in dewy evenings which spread happiness like delicious almond (badam) milk and nights are mostly starry. It is neither too hot nor too cold in autumn in Jaipur and string of festivities keep the city busy on its toes. It decks up in myriad lights as Dusshera and Diwali fill the skies with multitudes of fireworks and jasmine grows in intoxicating abundance. There is something about autumn in Jaipur which makes the beautiful city glow brighter. Its colours pop more, the smells become spicier and the streets hum with wide eyed tourists. The cool season brings forth the rush of tourists which continue well into spring and the city shows off its beauty to the hilt. The fuchsia bougainvillea clusters which drape the old dusty pink city walls like thick curtains create riots of colour and the skies get impossibly blue. Sunshine feels good on the shoulders and cheerful vibes fill the air.
It was on one such autumn day that I went exploring in Jaipur and the looming Amer (also known as Amber) Fort beckoned me with its crowning views. A magnificent yellow and pink sandstone fort, it sat atop a rocky hillock in Amer (a small town located 11 kilometers from Jaipur) and a green water filled Maota Lake mirrored its beautiful facade. During all my years of living in the Pink City, the Amer Fort was my favourite spot and I have spent many monsoons and sunsets in that area. Many beautiful and bitter memories forever remained entangled with the stunning site and on that autumn day I reminisced them all. With its large complex consisting of an exquisite royal palace, ramparts, cobbled paths and multiple gates, the stunning fort offered lots of empty space and it was a perfect place for retrospection. Memories flooded back as I walked in through the Suraj Pol (Sun Gate) and the expansive Jaleb Chowk (Main Courtyard) opened up a Pandora’s box. In olden days, the wide courtyard was used for returning armies to display their war spoils and the royal women used to view them from behind the discreet windows. On that day, however, happy squeals, running small feet and childish chatter from another life and time came back to me and I escaped to the Diwan-i-Aam to stop the gush of the past.
How, a city of such stupendous beauty and heritage could bring forth excruciatingly painful memories is an issue which I have been battling with, for long now and it was at the stunning Sukh Niwas (Pleasure Hall) that I finally laid the ghosts of the past to rest. After that, the rest of the fort became easy on the soul and on the eyes and I even walked back to the Jaleb Chowk to gawk at the repoussé (raised relief) work of the gorgeous silver doors of the small Siladevi Temple. Located close to the imposing stairway at the Jaleb Chowk, the shrine was dedicated to Sila Devi, a goddess of the Chaitanya cult and she was gifted to Raja Man Singh, after he had defeated the king of Jessore. Though originally built by the Meenas, the Amer Fort was ruled by the illustrious Raja Man Singh for many years and the opulent palace had been the residence of the Rajput Maharajas and their families. Known for its exquisite Hindu style elements, the Amer Fort is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is one of the most important landmarks of Jaipur.
The fabulous Ganesh Pol gate is the biggest highlight of Amer Fort and it is indeed a sight to behold. Decorated with beautiful frescoes, the gate opened into the king’s private quarters and a beautiful Mughal Garden separated its 2 buildings. Exquisitely embellished with glass inlaid panels and multi-mirrored ceilings, the lovely Jai Mandir was the pleasure room of the king and every inch of it had been designed for romance. The convex shaped mirrors were decorated with coloured foil and paint to glitter in candlelight and enchanting vistas of the shimmering Maota floated underneath. The Jai Mandir is also been noted for its stunning marble relief panels and the “Magic Flower” hid amongst sinewy flowers and strange insects carvings. The Sukh Niwas or the Hall of Pleasure with its ivory inlaid sandalwood door and natural cooling system stood opposite the Jai Mandir and I relaxed in its shadows for long.
The autumn afternoon, for me, peaked at Sukh Niwas that day and I left the fort soon after. The drive back through the winding rocky roads and familiar bends was another blast from the past experience and I left Jaipur after catching a golden autumn sun set over the dream like floating Jal Mahal. The sun burst out in its brightest light as the enveloping hills snuggled it for the night and the sky was a vision in blue. The lake reflected both the colours of the sky and the sun and in the midst of the enchanting panorama, Jal Mahal rose like a golden monument. It was a fitting sunset for a royal city in autumn and the velvetty night sky was predictably blue. Dusk dotted up the city and the surrounding hills in jewel like glittering lights and Jaipur had never looked more beautiful than in autumn.
TRAVEL TIP – Amer Fort, along with Jaigarh Fort, is located above on the Cheel ka Teela (Hill of Eagles) of the Aravalli range. The palace and Jaigarh Fort are often considered one complex and the two are connected by a subterranean passage. This tunnel was meant to be an escape route in times of war to enable the royal family members and others in the Amer Fort to shift to the Jaigarh Fort. This magnificent fort is divided into four main sections, each with its own courtyard and it is possible to walk up to the fort from the road in about 10 minutes. Riding up on elephant back is a very popular way of visiting Amer Fort and there is 4WD transfer available too.The Diwani-Aam, Jai Mandir, Sukh Niwas etc are the highlights of this palace and the “Magic Flower” is not to be missed. A carved marble panel at the base of one of the pillars around the Sheesh Mahal depicts two hovering butterflies over a flower which has seven unique designs including a fish tail, lotus, hooded cobra, elephant trunk, lion’s tail, cob of corn, and scorpion, each one of which is visible only from a special angle. The zenana (women’s quarters) is built around the fourth courtyard and the rooms were designed in such a way that the king could visit a queen or concubine of his choice in her chamber at night without being seen.
The ticket office of Amer Fort is located directly across the courtyard from Suraj Pol and hiring a guide or grabbing an audio guide is highly recommended. The visiting hours of Amer Fort is from 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM and the entry tickets cost Rs 25 for Indians (Rs 10 for students) and Rs 200 for foreigners (Rs 100 for students). There is an excellent light and sound show at Amer Fort and the timings are 7.30 pm (in English and for Rs 200 entry fee) and 8:00 PM (in Hindi and for Rs 100 entry fee). Elephant Ride at Amer Palace for two persons cost about Rs. 900/-.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE