The dawn has just broken and the air is cool and pleasant. We join a group of locals spreading grains for the flock of pigeons. Breakfast is not ready yet in any hotel. So we have a cup of tea near Tripolia in Jaipur and head straight for the famous Amer (Amber) Fort, the ancient capital of Jaipur (Dhundhar) state.
The fort is built mainly of red sandstone and white marble on a forested hill headland, Cheel ka Teela (Hill of the Eagles), in the craggy Aravallis. Its ancient Indian architecture displays a beautiful melange of Rajput and Hindu styles, while its decorative ornamentation is a confluence of Hindu and Muslim styles. The massive fort stands as a silent sentinel and its imposing appearance dominates the view for miles around, while the Maotha lake stands stretched at its feet with the fort's reflection shimmering in its crystal-clear waters.
The Kachwaha Rajputs won a small structure from the Meenas, transformed it into the grand Amer Palace, and ruled over it from the 11th century onwards.
The fort was built to the orders of Raja Man Singh I in 1592 AD. Mirza Raja Jai Singh I expanded it, but successive rulers modified and added to the structure during the next 150 years. The palace fortress was home to 28 kings of the Kachwaha dynasty until they shifted their capital to Jaipur in 1727 AD, during the reign of Sawai Jai Singh II.
We alight at the pleasant Dil Aaram Bagh, a garden full of pigeons fluttering and hovering around us. A girl kneads balls of dough and sells them to tourists as food for the fish in the lake. The tourists are getting ready for the elephant safari at the nearby stand. There are three ways to reach the palace fortress - car, elephant-back ride and walking. We opt for a trek that takes us through the Suraj Pol (Sun Gate) to Jaleb Chowk, a vast courtyard in the fort complex built during the reign of Sawai Jai Singh II (1693-1743 AD), where the king inspected his guards' contingent.
The Singh Pol, reached by a flight of steps, admits us into a court. Here we visit the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience), built to the orders of Mirza Raja Man Singh I (1589-1614 AD). It is a raised platform with many colonnades, built over a double row of columns in marble masonry and red sandstone. This was the venue for celebrating some special events like the king's victory in battles and Dussehra.
The Ganesh Pol, built by Mirza Raja Jai Singh I (1621-67 AD) and decorated with mosaics and frescoes, is the most colourfully decorated gateway in the palace, while the Suhag Mandir placed over it has latticed screens, which once allowed the royal ladies to witness the functions held in the Diwan-i-Am below.
We reach a well-spread-out garden in a sunken bed shape in a hexagonal design, flanked on both sides by two beautiful marble buildings. To our left is the Diwan-i-Khas (Jai Mandir). It is also known as Sheesh Mahal because of the many glass pieces embedded in it. It was built in 1623 AD during the reign of Mirza Raja Jai Singh I. The glass used in its decoration was imported from Belgium in the same year.
Embellished with glass-inlaid panels, glass pieces and convex multi-mirrors, this mirror palace is a beauty. It's said that even if a single candle is lit inside, it creates the impression of a thousand stars glittering in the sky, with a thousand reflections dancing around in the mirrors! The king met his special guests in this room.
We can only marvel at the artistic ingenuity of the Kachwaha craftsmen who created and left behind masterpieces for generations to come. We see a 'magic flower' carved in a panel at the base of one of the pillars of Sheesh Mahal. The design appears incoherent at first glance. But our guide partially hides different parts of the panel with his hand and reveals the seven unique designs hidden in it: a fish, a lotus, a hooded cobra, an elephant's trunk, a lion's tail, a cob of corn, and a scorpion!
At the other end of the garden, we visit the Sukh Mahal (Hall of Pleasure). It has doors made of sandalwood that are decorated with ivory. Its main chamber has a marble cascade connected to a water channel.
The water flowing through the cascade cools the room and virtually creates an air-conditioned effect in summers. We move on to the palace of Raja Man Singh I (1589-1614), the oldest part of the palace fort that took 25 years to build, that was completed in 1599 AD. There is a baradari (pillared pavilion) in the centre of the palace, where the queens used to meet.
We move from one place to another and are lost in taking photographs, not knowing how time has slipped. The sun dusts the palace with gold and sinks, leaving behind a crimson glow. An eerie silence grips the fort as it assumes an ethereal look in the enveloping darkness. We are sitting in the Kesar Kyari complex, under a star-studded sky with a half-moon, waiting for the Amer Sound and Light Show.
A grand spectacle of visual delight unfolds before our eyes - it is a colourful symphony that highlights the local legends, celebrates the maestros of Rajasthani folk music, paints the history of Amer for six centuries, and revives our feelings of patriotism. It comes to an end with the song 'Padharo Rajasthan, Padharo Rajasthan' and the audience sings in unison. We leave Amer that night, but the images of the imposing fort continue to haunt us.