In Which I Break Into the Amber Fort By Mistake

We wound our way through the brimming byways of Jaipur, sometimes driving three-abreast on two-lane roads, although most often there weren’t lanes marked at all. Periodically we picked our way around a bottleneck. Or a cow. And along the way we passed, and were passed by, rickshaws and motorcycles in a nimble low speed race that put anything I’ve seen in Italy to shame.

There’s nothing more embarrassing than being passed by a rickshaw, and such an event demands that Ramesh immediately overtake the offending vehicle.

You can see the density of the city in this photo, with buildings stacked wall to wall and stretching as far as the eye can see. I ultimately did see something similar in Delhi, on my drive out of town a few days ago, although I wasn’t afforded this view.

When Ramesh met me this morning he clearly had a plan in mind, which basically confirms what I’ve been told – that he has an idea of what I will want to see (although it has taken time for me to get him to understand what I want with regards to shopping). On some level I feel bad about him having to schlep me all across the country. He doesn’t speak much English and my Hindi is nonexistent, so I’m certain he must be bored to tears.

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, a region that seems to be dripping with forts, but getting there through the mass of humanity and navigating the overcrowded streets can be difficult, as the population of Jaipur is 3.1 million. Ramesh has shown me repeatedly that he is more than capable of surmounting the challenge, however.

We drove out of town headed north (although I couldn’t have told this at the time) and up the hills toward the Amber Fort, stopping only briefly at this stepwell. Panna Meena ka Kund is 450 years old and is mesmerizing, like an Escher print come to life.

Back on the road, we reached the fort, where I entered the main courtyard to the sight of other visitors arriving on elephant back. I didn’t have this option but wouldn’t have chosen it anyway, as I have read that the elephants aren’t treated well, and when I went to Morocco I felt badly for the camel.

Somehow I got into the Amber Fort for free. Don’t ask me, as it wasn’t intentional, but it happened. I only realized it when I was standing in the Diwan-i-Aam, or hall of public audiences and considering an audioguide which was advertised a few feet away.

I continued further up into the fort, this time without an unsolicited private guide and ultimately without an audioguide, using just the information available from the few scattered signs and in the book I had downloaded. I climbed another set of stairs, passing through the Ganesh Gate into the private palace of the Maharajas. The Hindu god Lord Ganesh is said to remove all obstacles in life. I was told in the city that passing through one of the gates would remove my obstacles, and I considered those obstacles as I passed under his image.

Without a guide I was left to explore the grand palace on my own. There were no boxes to check and there were no set agendas. There were only my two feet and my will to explore. And explore I did.

I climbed the steps near the private audience room, and entered the Mahraja’s personal living quarters.

I explored the chambers of the harem, and the views they offered.

And I even hit my head a few times. I love darting into and out of hallways, just to see what I’ll discover. The rooms are all empty now, but I look around and wonder what purpose they all served and how they were furnished. Was this a junk room? Or perhaps a tiny bedroom for some servant? And what did they do with this space beneath the stairway?

The pathway out of the fort led past a long line of vendors, who I managed to avoid. I clambered into the back of the van and we were on our way to the next fort, even higher on the hill. This was Jaigarh, built in 1726 and never captured. To my eye, the Amber Fort was more of a palace, where as this was really more of a fort.

It’s much more in disrepair, but offers breathtaking views of the region around. Mostly I circled the fort on its ramparts, taking in the few sights available.

Its biggest claim to fame is the Jaya Vana Cannon, apparently the worlds largest wheeled cannon. People gather around to gawk at it. Mostly I’m amused by the pigeons nesting in its mouth.

I continued through the fort, snapping occasional photos of unlabeled structures, wondering at their use, and just enjoying the warmth of the sun on my skin, as today has been the warmest day here by far.

In due course I found my way back to Ramesh, and we continued our tour of forts and palaces until the shadows grew long and my feet grew sore and he deposited me back at my hotel for the evening.

Tomorrow I travel again, to the South of India. Family calls.

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