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Published: December 29th 2019
For the next twelve days, we have the luxury of our own private driver and car, something we’ve been looking forward too. No more haggling with taxi and rickshaw drivers or airport runs for nearly two weeks...... Bliss!
Hariom was waiting outside the hotel at 8.30am as arranged. His car, an SUV as I requested, was immaculate, with white covers on our two buckets seats, free water/wipes and onboard wifi. After introductions, we planned the days activities with him and headed away.
Our first stop was in the town of Amer, 11klm from Jaipur, to see Panna Meena ka Kund, one of the stepwells responsible for sparking my interest in these structures. The water at the bottom of the stepwell was bright green, obviously full of algae. All it took was a Pinterest photo and I knew I had to see this for myself...
Built during the 16th-century reign of Maharaja Jai Singh, the baori’s geometric staircases, plunging eight stories into the earth, are a stunning combination of ingenious engineering and architectural beauty. The symmetrical criss-cross diamond shaped arrangement of 1800 steps, is said to make it impossible to go up the same stairs that you came down.
There is no written or confirmed history about how Panna Meena ka Kund came into existence, not even a Wikipedia page. In the absence of those, local people have taken the liberty to forge folklores of their own. This stepwell is featured in The Very Best Marigold Hotel movie.
From here we back tracked to Amber Fort. I had visited here in 2013 with Intrepid Tours but am happy to have another look around this amazing place.
Located high on a hill, it’s a principal tourist attraction in Jaipur. With its large ramparts and series of gates and cobbled paths, the fort overlooks Maota Lake, it’s main water source.
Constructed of red sandstone and marble, the attractive, opulent fort/palace is laid out on four levels, each with a courtyard, and was the residence of the Rajput Maharajas and their families. The palace and nearby Jaigarh Fort are considered one complex, as the two are connected by a subterranean passage. This passage was used as an escape route in times of war for royal family members.
There is a small but elegant temple called the Sila Devi temple near the entrance to the first courtyard, with
beautiful double doors with embossed silver designs. The main deity inside the sanctum is flanked by two lions, also made of silver. At the entrance to the temple, there is a carving of Lord Ganesha, which is made from a single piece of coral.
The second courtyard, up the main stairway of the first level courtyard, houses the Diwan-i-Aam or the Public Audience Hall. Built with a double row of columns, 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 audience here to receive petitions from the public.
Ganesh Pol, or the Ganesh Gate, named after the Hindu god Lord Ganesh, leads into the third courtyard where the private quarters of the Maharajas was located. It’s three storeys high and embellished with mosaics, sculptures and frescoes. Above this gate is the Suhag Mandir where ladies of the royal family used to watch functions held in the courtyard through latticed marble windows.
The building to the left of the entrance gate is called the Jai Mandir or Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace) which is exquisitely embellished with glass inlaid panels
Tourist Elephant at Amber Fort
We didn’t ride them, just so you know..
and multi-mirrored ceilings. The mirrors are of convex shape and designed with colored foil and paint which would glitter under candlelight.
The fourth courtyard is where the Zenana (Royal family women, including concubines or mistresses) lived. This courtyard has many living rooms, all of which opened onto a common corridor, so when the king visited no one knew which room he entered or which woman he spent his time with.
South of this courtyard lies the Palace of Man Singh I, which is the oldest part of the fort. In the central courtyard is the pillared baradari or pavilion. Frescoes and coloured tiles decorate the rooms on the ground and upper floors. This pavilion (which used to be curtained for privacy) was used as a meeting place by the queens of the royal family. The palace took 25 years to build and was completed in 1599.
We walked through the tunnel to Jaigrah Fort (2klm) when we were ready to leave Amber Fort. The first section was underground with rather steep steps but eventually opened into a pathway with high walls on either side, then to a stony, and rather steep road to Jaigarh Fort. It cost
another R200 ($4) admittance here. There wasn’t much to see in the fort itself as it’s in ruins, though it’s higher than Amber Fort with great views. We found an ice cream seller which was a bonus. We had phoned Hariom and asked him to collect us from Naigrah Fort, and he was there waiting for us.
Next we headed back into Amber and enjoyed a visit to the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing. Located in a magnificently restored haveli or mansion, the museum displays a varied selection of block printed textiles alongside images, tools and related objects – all chosen to provide an in-depth look into the complexity of this ancient tradition.
Like crafts worldwide, the block printing industry faces serious challenges trying to keep pace with modern manufacturing. This museum addresses this fragile situation primarily through education. Dedicated to the art of block printing, It strives to inform both textile specialists and the general public alike; but more importantly, the artisans themselves are encouraged to visit and view their craft in a unique and inspirational way.
It’s mid afternoon by now and no one has eaten. Hariom headed back to Jaipur, and we had a
photo stop at Jal Mahal, often called The Water Palace as it stands in the centre of Man Sagar Lake. Only one storey of this five storey building is visible, the other four are submerged. It was once the hunting lodge of the Mararajah, and no visitors are allowed there, so it’s photos from the footpath only.
Hariom dropped us outside Rainbow Restaurant For a meal. It’a family style restaurant with a very ordinary menu and very poor service. Not somewhere we’ll be returning to soon. We ended up ordering drinks and snacks from the bar in our hotel later in the evening before heading to bed. Another big day tomorrow...
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