Today’s main attraction was to visit Amber Fort, which is not in Jaipur city but in the nearby town of Amber (it’s pronounced “amer”). For this I had hired a driver through my hotel, supposedly to take me on a tour of Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal and Jal Mahal -although when he picked me up at the hotel he went “Where to, sir?” so I don’t think he was very up-to-date on the program!
I was disappointed to see that the visit to Hawa Mahal consisted of a literal drive-by of the facade I saw yesterday. I thought he’d drop me off so I could go inside. Still, I wanted to reserve my strength for the fort so I nodded along and next we stopped at the Jal Mahal. On the road we crossed camels and even an elephant, a real elephant just walking down the road.
The Jal Mahal is an odd palace that is built right in the middle of a lake, and I don’t mean on an island in a lake, I mean the building itself juts out of the water. It’s closed to the public, so I have no idea what’s inside, but I think it’s from the 18th century so it’s weird to me that it isn’t visitable. As it is, I just looked at it from the shore, where it paints a peculiar picture.
So then, somehow Amber was the last stop, but also kind of the only stop.
I got dropped off right outside the main entrance, which is at the foot of the steep hill on which the fort is perched. From there it’s about a 5-10 min climb to the top, depending on how tired you are and how quickly you navigate all the steps. (They offer elephant rides to take you up top, but you should never ride elephants: it’s bad for them and anyway elephants who accept human riders have been mistreated to submission.)
At the top of the hill is the first courtyard of the fort, which holds the ticket office where I paid 500 rupees (€6.3) for my ticket. Of course, the ticket office and the entry being all the way up here means that there’s lots of hawkers selling their wares and guides offering their services all the way from the bottom, which is annoying.
Like Agra Fort, this one was built in the 16th century with a defensive military purpose but also as a residential palace for the maharajahs. This can be seen in the architecture, which is all large stone walls on the outside and then transforms into delicate marble and painted stone inside.
There are two main courtyards inside the fort, not counting the one with the ticket office. The first has a small geometrical garden and a spectacular hall of audiences, profusely decorated with mirrored tiles and mosaics. I learned that, in addition to running water, another technique used at the time to combat the high temperatures was to hang woven screens that they regularly doused with water: the air cooled down when passing through them.
It was uncomfortably packed here, at 10:30; it was manageable in the courtyard (although difficult to take good pictures), but it became troublesome when the only way to progress to the second courtyard was to go through a single, narrow corridor that acted as a bottleneck for people trying to get in and out.
The second courtyard was less showy than the first, although it had a regal elegance in its faded pink walls, soberly decorated with paintings of blue plants. Although it wasn’t enormous in itself, here the visit opened up considerably because there were dozens of doors, archways, paths, stairs, and corridors everywhere, and no maps or signs anywhere. So I started exploring and was completely lost within seconds. Still, the place was so massive that even though I had no clue where I was going, I never retraced my steps or come out at a spot I had already visited.
At some point I started climbing stairs, and was rewarded with a visit to the ramparts and balconies of the fort. This is where the women lived, in rooms on the upper levels that overlooked the deserted hills. I can’t overstate just how many empty rooms I saw; really, the entire palace seemed to be open to the public, every nook and cranny, every staff stairway, every door. The rooms are all empty and most undecorated, but it really drove home the impression that this used to be a full citadel, home to hundreds of people. I noticed that there was a big wall all around the hills, kind of like the Great Wall of China.
I went up and down several times and in total I must have circled the whole structure like four times before I became satisfied that I had seen most, if not all, of the sections in the palace. It was noon and the sun hit harder now, so I made my way back down the hill and to my waiting driver.
I considered asking him to drop me off at the city, but I decided I could use a pitstop and went back to the hotel for lunch and a rest.
In the afternoon, I went back to the Hawa Mahal, the building with all the windows, aka the Wind Palace. I had some trouble finding the entrance, because it’s not on the front side. It’s through an archway right past the corner of the Hawa Mahal and the big intersection closest to it. If you pay attention, there’s a hand-painted sign on the archway.
The ticket to go inside is 200R (€2.52). I think there’s a thing called a “composite ticket” that could have saved me some money by buying a pass for multiple sites, but they’re not that expensive anyway.
I was surprised by how big the inside of the Wind Palace is; honestly I expected it’d be the windows and little else, but in fact there are multiple floors and also ramparts and verandas and a courtyard, and several cute pavilions in them.
It’s not a wonder of the world, obviously -it’s a pity that all these places are left empty, imagine what they would look like restored with period-appropriate furniture- but it’s cheap and it’s right next to the City Palace, so if you have the time it’s a nice visit to go up and look at the street the way the ladies of the 18th century must have. There’s something very Grand Budapest Hotel about it. If nothing else, you do get a view of the pink city from its tallest tower!
So I was done with my visit, and it was the afternoon, and there was only one thing left to do before returning to my hotel… I couldn’t very well say goodbye to Jaipur without more ice cream! You see, now that I was in the old city, the palace is right next to yesterday’s ice cream parlor! (It’s not really next to it) It’s just a short walk! (It’s not really a short walk) It’s on the way! (It’s not on the way)
Still, I don’t know when I’ll taste mango ice cream like this again, so I made the most of it and went back in. It’s a bit bizarre because different flavors have different prices, so you have to tell your order to the cashier to pay, and then you have to tell your order again to the server to get your ice cream. I would have been happy to tell my order to the entire parlor!
I made sure I took a picture this time. It’s bigger than it appears! And it was as delicious as yesterday! These trips really are ruining a lot of food for me back home. All the more reason to keep traveling.
Anyway, that’s it for Jaipur. I enjoyed this city infinitely more than Agra, which was a polluted, inhospitable hellscape (but still worth it for the Taj Mahal alone -just, one day or even a day trip from Delhi is enough). While being more developed and thriving, Jaipur still feels a bit like a desert city, with its dusty hills and its camels and its pink houses.
Tomorrow I get up bright and early to get to the airport, and from there to my last destination before circling back to Delhi and then Paris: Varanasi, home of Lord Shiva, the holy city on the Ganges!