Jaipur and the Amber Fort
The Amber Fort is one of the iconic structures in India just outside of Jaipur. The Amber Fort was built in the 16th century and served as the capital before they moved it to Jaipur in the 1750’s. During the drive, the highway opens up to Maota Lake with the Amber Fort looming high above it.
The first thing you will notice are the numbers of elephants being used to transport tourists up the winding steep path, through the front gate of the Amber Fort. Please DO NOT partake in this tourist activity. These elephants are being overworked and not taken care of properly. Because of my experience at an elephant rescue farm in Thailand, I was disappointed by this use of elephants in India. The use of bench seating rubs their skin off and creates sores, not including the long hours they work. Apparently, the Indian government has inspected these elephants and found them to be in very poor health. According to our guide, Vikram, the Indian government is trying to come up with a solution but has yet to be successful. Vikram was very pleased to have our driver take us up the back roads and entrance to the Amber Fort. The drive was interesting and less crowded as well. So don’t think you have to traverse the steep hill on foot if you refuse to take an elephant. All right, public service announcement is over…moving on.
The views from the Amber fort are plenty and varied. We could see Maota Lake and Amber Village below us, and the imposing Jaigarh military fort that towers above. The Amber Fort has a beautiful mirrored building that served as the House of lords, as well as a proper Persian garden. One of the most interesting aspects of the Amber Fort was the use of water channels within the walls as ancient air conditioning. The winds across the wall openings would provide cool air during the summer.
Because of an earlier request, our guide made an appointment so that we could have Henna done. So we sat in the outer courtyard of the Amber Fort while a young lady put Henna on our hands and wrists. She had a book of examples to choose from. She had been doing Henna for 12 years, and looked like she was maybe 28 years old. The intricate details that she accomplished in mere minutes was nothing short of amazing. Henna is actually a vegetable dye that is applied to the skin. It has to dry for 30 minutes to an hour. So make sure you get out your cash to pay her first. Our guide was helpful and took photos while we became works of art.
While our henna dried, we visited a nearby stepwell. The Meena stepwell is a short drive into the village from the Amber Fort. A stepwell is a pond or storage area for water that helped the Indian people deal with the seasonal changes and water availability. They built stairwells that led down to the water level. Some of them have major structural and architectural features to them. While the Meena stepwell is relatively basic, it is still a beautiful place. I’d highly recommend that you try to visit a stepwell during a trip to India. Vikram shared that most stepwells are only used for small ceremonies these days.
Lastly, we visited the Anokhi museum of hand printing. The museum is a beautifully restored building on its own. It houses a collection of fabrics and shows the process in detail. Printing the fabric with paint on a carved wooden block by hand makes it so special. They even have a demonstration area where everyone can take a turn with the wooden block. It’s really hard to get the block to line up just right, especially when multiple colors are involved.
That seems like a lot of activity packed into one day on the outskirts of Jaipur. But truthfully, every place was quite close to the other. It helped that our guide had arranged for the Henna lady to meet us in the outside courtyard of the Amber Fort at a specific time. However, the stepwell and museum were just down in the village from the fort. It made for a interesting and full day. It’s easy to see why Jaipur was one of my favorite places in India.