We left Agra early and cold the day after visiting the Taj Mahal and Red Fort of Agra. The city was crowded, but by this point we have started to get used to chaotic traffic and the constant blowing of car horns. We left the hotel around 6am and were dropped off at the bus station to take the local bus to Jaipur, known as the Paris of India. A six hour ride on the local bus was a hip, no-frills way to travel. Riding through the small towns and villages was something we would have missed out on by train or plane. Dotted with small produce stands, crowds of people and animals moving in every direction – rural Indian towns were exciting to witness up close.
Once we arrived in Jaipur, I immediately felt more at ease. After beginning the trip in Dehli and then Agra, the behemoth current capital and tourist-packed former capital, Jaipur was a welcome change of pace and scenery. Jaipur is known as the Pink City since the majority of the city and all of the Old City is painted pink. Because pink is the color of hospitality, this was done in 1876 to welcome the Prince of Wales (after King Edward VII). Historically Jaipur has been a wealthy kingdom and is still the capital of the Rajasthan state. Cleaner and less congested – we were all happy to settle into our hotel.
We ate lunch and explored the rooftop of the hotel – okay fine, I took a nap. Then we met as a group to make a choice between seeing the Amber Fort at night or going out for an orientation walk about the Old City of Jaipur. Our guide explained that Amber Fort is the only fortified palace that is open for visitors at night and the crowds are sparse after sunset. We decided to take the Amber Fort tour with a stop at The Water Palace. I am confident that this was the best choice – both attractions were unbelievable, there were no crowds and the evening visit enhanced their beauty.
The Jal Mahal or “Water Palace” sits in the center of Man Sagar Lake. It’s a five story palace, but four stories are underwater when the lake is full.
Amber Fort didn’t get its name due to it’s color or because of the mineral amber, it’s called “Amber” because the mountain city that it was built to protect is called Amber (pronounced “Amer”) and this was the original capital of the kingdom. It was built out of white marble and pink sandstone and is divided into four sections with their own beautiful courtyards. We drove to the fort and entered through Chand Pol (Moon Gate).
Once inside, we were amazed at the sight of Jaleb Chowk, the main courtyard. This is the courtyard where returning armies would display the fruits of war. This is where we met our guide and took some time to soak in the views and snap a few pictures for the gram.
From the Main Courtyard, we ascended a beautiful staircase towards the main palace. As we climbed, we passed the ornate silver doors of Siladevi Temple.
The second courtyard is the location of the Diwan-i-Am, or hall of Public Audience. This is where the king would hear issues from his people and hand down rulings on issues of public discourse.
From here we entered the maharanja’s apartments, the royal palace and living quarters of the king. We entered through Ganesh Pol, a gorgeous door decorated with frescoed arches made more beautiful by the well-placed lighting features.
The royal apartments surround a third courtyard and the Jai Mandir, or Hall of Victory. The Jai Mandir is utterly stunning, inlaid panels and mirror features show off carved marble and stunning designs.
Across from the Jai Mandir is the Hall of Pleasures or Sukh Niwas. This features a channel that once carried water through the room to cool the area during the hot Rajasthan summers.
Finally we made our way to the zenata, the secluded women’s quarters surrounding the fourth courtyard. The layout of these rooms made it possible for the maharanja to visit his wives and concubines at night and remain undetected. Each chamber is independent, but opens into a common corridor for ease of access and abandonment.
Overall, the decision to view the Amber Fort at night was one of the best choices we made throughout the trip. The lighting effects, the virtually crowd-free exploring and the charm of the night views couldn’t have been better. The additional benefit is that the price for foreigners decreases to the standard Indian entry fee after dark, so we paid 100 rupees instead of the 500 rupee entry fee. I absolutely recommend visiting at night!