Our next day in Jaipur we had to be up and out of the hotel by 8am in order to ride an elephant at The Amber Fort. I was really excited about the elephant ride but I really wasn't well. Something I’d eaten had meant that I’d spent most of the night in the bathroom and I was feeling incredibly week and ill. However this was our only opportunity to ride an elephant and see the Fort, so I had to pull myself together and drag myself away from my room.
We drove a short way through the pink streets of Jaipur and picked up our guide outside the Hawa Mahal where we got out of the car, crossed the very busy street and looked at it from the other side of the road. The Hawa Mahal is a unique five-storey palace made of red sandstone, carved like honeycomb, with 953 small windows called Jharokhas that are decorated with intricate lattice work. It was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh and was originally designed so that the royal ladies could retain their modesty and be hidden whilst watching and enjoying processions and other activities on the street below.
When we arrived at the base of the Amber Fort, we stopped and got out the car briefly to take photos of the Fort and the surrounding beauty. The Amber Fort is situated on a hill above the Maota Lake near Amer village, about 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) from Jaipur city. The Amber Fort, as it stands now, was built over the remnants of an earlier structure in 1592 during the reign of Raja Man Singh who was Commander in Chief of Akbar’s army and a member of the Emperor's inner circle of nine courtiers . During the reign of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh (who was the grandfather of Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh) many improvements and additional buildings were added to the Fort.
|View of The Amber Fort|
Whilst we were standing taking pictures, a man came and sat on the floor beside us. I wasn’t really paying too much attention to him until I heard him playing some kind of flute, looked over and saw him take the lid off a small basket that had a snake in it! Tom had realised what was going on and tried to stand in front of the man so my mum wouldn’t notice him, but it was too late, she had seen him and his basket and practically run away as fast as she could! The man played his flute for a little while but judging by our reaction to him, he realised finally that we didn’t like it, so he packed up his stuff and wandered off.
We drove a short way to the bottom of the hill where all the waiting elephants were but when we got out of the car, we were once again mobbed by aggressive street sellers. They even followed us up the steps to the platform where you get onto the elephants! It was all a bit hectic because we were trying to get on the elephants, pay for it and avoid the mobbing sellers all at the same time!
|Beautiful Elephants waiting for customers|
I found it quite difficult to get on the elephant because I was a bit worried I’d hurt it if I stood on it so I kind of crawled onto it on my hands and knees then awkwardly turned round onto my bum and sat on it sideways. When we started to move, I kept slipping sideways down the back of the elephant and crushing Tom!
|Just got on the elephant|
The route the elephants took us up to the Amber Fort entrance was a steep narrow walled pathway. Every time we came up against another elephant coming down, it seemed like they both weren’t going to fit past each other, but amazingly they did.
|Pathway up to The Amber Fort entrance|
The elephant in front of us had 2 Chinese men on it and all the way up the hill, they were bothered by a seller who was throwing up wooden souvenirs for them to look at and buy! The men kept throwing them down and shouting ‘No!’ but he just wouldn’t give up! He practically sprinted up the hill alongside them, luckily for us though, he was so occupied with them that he didn’t bother us at all.
When we entered the Jaleb Chowk courtyard through the main gate of The Amber Fort, the Suraj Pole (Sun Gate), the ‘driver’ asked for his tip. The elephant ride had cost us 900 rupees and we had been told to only give a tip of 50 rupees to him. We didn’t have any change so instead we gave him a 100 rupee note, but he wasn’t pleased or grateful. He kept complaining that it should be more! He turned from a sweet chirpy man to a sinister scary man that was shouting at us! We kept refusing and eventually we just had to ignore him until we got off the elephant. It was a shame really because his attitude somewhat spoiled the end of the ride for us.
|In the Jaleb Chowk, about to get off the elephant|
The Fort is divided into four main sections each with its own entry gate and courtyard. The Jaleb Chowk courtyard was the first and was originally used for military processions. Once off the elephant, we were reunited there with our guide and taken up an impressive amber sandstone staircase to the entrance of the main Fort area.
In the next courtyard was the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience) which is an open building on a raised platform with 27 colonnades, opposite this was the next gate, the Ganesh Pol. The Ganesh Pol is a beautiful three storied building covered in delicately painted frescos and intricate lattice work and is the entrance to the private palaces of the Fort. Above this gate is the Suhag Mandir (accessed from the other side) where ladies of the royal family used to comfortably watch through the latticed windows functions held in the Diwan-i-Am and once again keep their modesty.
Once through the gate, the first building to the left was the Jai Mandir or Sheesh Mahal (the Mirror Palace) which is exquisitely beautiful and has glass inlaid panels and multi-mirrored ceilings. The mirrors are of convex shape and designed with coloured foil and paint which would have glittered brightly under candle light at night at the time it was in use.
|Beautiful mirror palace|
Around this were carved marble relief panels depicting flowers on the walls. These flower reliefs are especially interesting as (apparently according to our guide) the flowers each contain seven unique designs within them, such as a fish tail, a lotus flower, a hooded cobra, an elephant trunk, a lion’s tail, a cob of corn and a scorpion. Each element can be seen more clearly when you partially cover up the other parts of the flower with your hands.
|Marble flower carving|
The Fort had many other buildings and terraces that we looked at but this is about all I can really remember of it. I still wasn’t feeling well and the whole way round I was trying to stop myself from passing out by sitting down and trying to concentrate on my breathing! We kind of rushed around the rest of the Fort as I was feeling worse and worse. It was a bit embarrassing because I felt like I was being really wimpy and pathetic and ruining mum, dad and Tom’s enjoyment of the Fort, but I really couldn’t help it, I just wanted to get out of the sun and sit down. It was awful!
|Another beautiful courtyard with a sunken garden|
|One of the terraces|
|View from the terrace|
We exited the Fort and went down the steps to the first courtyard, where there were some shops and shade to sit in. I was bought and made to drink some disgusting salty lemon drink and some full sugar coke, in order help rehydrate hopefully make me feel better. It worked a bit and after a while I was able to get up and we made our decent back down towards the car.
We were supposed to be going to see a few other places in Jaipur but decided to cut the trip short and just head back to the hotel for a few hours rest. On the way back, the guide demanded that we go to see some of the local independent handicraft sellers. We all knew that they would really be owned by friend’s of his who would then guilt us into buying something, out of politeness though we agreed to go to one place.
We were driven into a small industrial looking area where we got out of the car and were greeted by a man who led us through his factory and up some stairs to his carpet showroom. As we were walking through past the ‘poor looking hard working men’ slaving away on their knees brushing the carpets, we all noticed one man quickly try to hide his iPhone 4 (which especially, over here is not a cheap phone)! It all seemed a bit fake. We apologetically refused to look at the carpets as we had already bought one in Agra and were instead led into another small showroom where they sold textiles and ornaments. We had a quick look around and luckily the fact that I was still unwell was our perfect excuse to make a quick exit.
|Trying to hide iPhone 4!|
We dropped off our guide outside the Jawa Mahal and made our way back to the hotel where I managed to get some rest and sleep for a few hours.
I felt so much better after the rest so we decided to go out for a nice evening meal. We were taken to a place called Chokhi Dhani which was about a 30 min journey from our hotel. We were told that it was a themed restaurant but when we entered it really was something else! It was a Rajasthani themed Ethnic Village with craft and games stalls, elephant, camel and buffalo rides, folk dancing, magic shows, acrobatic shows and open air restaurants serving typical North Indian food such as Thali.
|Puppets for sale|
|Dancing and music|
|One of the restaurant's kitchens|
The atmosphere was amazing in the village, it was like we’d stepped back in time. It was full of local Indian families and everyone seemed to be having a brilliant time. We joined in the fun and watched some of the entertainment on the various stages dotted around, I bought some bangles from a craft stall and we even had a go at archery at one of the games stalls. Tom and even had a camel ride for 50 rupees! Getting on the camel was easy as it was sitting on the ground and I could cock my leg over it easily, but when it stood up and sat down, it really threw you forwards. I felt like I was going to fly off and I was a bit scared, but Tom managed to hold onto me tightly so I luckily didn’t.
|Camel getting up!|
We didn't eat in the restaurants as they were crammed with people so we decided after a few hours to head back to the hotel for some bar snacks.
It was such a brilliant end to the day and we all really enjoyed the old fashioned fun! It really showed us that you could have just as much fun, if not more, without all the high-tech rides and entertainment you get at modern fairs and theme parks.