Exploring Amber (the Old Capital)

February 8, 2014 Comments Off
Exploring Amber (the Old Capital)

CROWNING THE CREST OF A HILLAMBR FORT and its ramparts offer a panoramic view of  Maota Lake, two exquisite formal gardens, and the historic old town at the base of the hill, dotted with the remains of an older capital before it shifted to the precincts of the fort. Some of the old hlvelis and numerous temples here are remarkably well-preserved, while stepwells and lakes point to the existence of a self sufficient township where even the great Mughal emperor Akbar stopped on his annual pilgrimage to Ajmer.

THE FORT COMPLEX

The main entrance to the historic Amber Fort is through the imposing Suraj Pol (“sun gate”), so called  because it faces the direction of the rising sun, the Kachhawaha family emblem. This gate leads into a huge flagged courtyard, Jaleb Chowk, literally, “the square where elephants and horses are tethered”. Originally the fort’s parade ground, its central area is surrounded on three sides by guard rooms, now souvenir and refreshment shops. A flight of steps leads to the Shila Devi Temple, which contains the image of the  Kachhawaha family deity a stone (shill) goddess Kali, brought here by Man Singh I from Bengal in 1604. The temple has ornately carved silver doors presented by the second wife of the last maharaja in 1939, silver oil lamps and grand pillars of green marble carved to look like banana trees. The next courtyard has the Diwan-i-Aam, the space for public audience. Near it are 27 (sattais) airy colonnades, called the Sattais Katcherl , where scribes once sat to record revenue petitions. The magnificent Ganesh Pole is the gateway to three private palaces built around a Mughal-style garden , Aram Bagh.

Each of these pleasure-palaces has some special feature. Sukh Niwas has doors carved from fragrant sandalwood, and water cascades over  marble chutes to cool the interior. The marble Jai Mandir, at the other end of the garden, has the superb Sheesh Mahal studded with mirrors. The adjoining Jas Mandir has a marble screen across its eastern facade that overlooks the Maota Lake. The lake, which provided water to the fort, is surrounded by two exquisite gardens. The Kesar Kyari Bagh has star-shaped flower beds once planted with saffron (kesar) flowers, while Dilaram Bagh, built in 1568 as a resting place for Emperor Akbar on his way to Ajmer, is a clever pun on the name of its architect, Dilaram (“heart’s ease”). A small archaeological museum is located near Dilaram Bagh. The furthermost end of the fort, which was also its oldest section, was converted into the Zenana (“women’s quarters”) by Man Singh Ito house his 12 wives and concubines. The apartments bear the distinct stamp of Mughal zenana architecture, with screens and covered balconies for the protection and  purdah of the royal ladies. Faint traces of frescoes are still visible on the walls. In the centre of the courtyard is a colonnaded pavilion called the Baradari.

THE TOWNSHIP

The Chand Pole (“moon gate”), directly opposite SurajPol, leads to the old town outside the fort. The Narsianha Temple, built in the early 15th century by the Kachhawaha king Narsingh Dev, is the first of many on this route. The temple itself is only a small part of a derelict palace complex which was the site of past coronations before the Amber rulers abandoned it for the fort. East of this lies the beautiful Jagat Shiromani Temple, erected in the early 17th century by Man Singh I in memory of his eldest son, Jagat Singh. A remarkable toran (carved lintel) adorns the doorway of the temple which has images of Vishnu, Radha and Krishna. Legend says that in the 16th century, the saint-poetess Mira Bai, famous for her devotion to Lord Krishna, brought an image of Krishna with her from Chittaurgarh, her home in southern Rajasthan.

Moving further east is the Sandhi Jutharam Temple which at one time had a beautiful 12-sided well, a small garden and several chambers. It is now protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). To its northeastlies the Ambikeshwar Mahadev   Temple, dedicated to a manifestation of Shiva. One of the oldest temples here, it now stands 3 m (10 ft) below ground level and it said to be slowly sinking. North of the Ambikeshwar Temple is Panna Mian ka Kund, built in the 17th central by a eunuch Panna Misn , a leading figure at the court of Raja Jai Singh I. From here, there is a cobbled path winding eastwardspast further ruins and out through Kheri Gate, one of the old gates of Amber, leading to a popular picnic spot called Sagar, with its two terraced lakes.

These were once important sources of water supply during times of siege. Located in a depression formed by the surrounding hills, just behind Jaigarh Fort, the sitestill bears traces of an elaborate water transport system in which elephants were used to carry water up to the fort. hese monuments lie to the west of the main Jaipur-Delhi highway that cuts across the town. The main market and the Amber bus stand are also located along this road, which isnow almost entirely occupied by tiny wayside eateries and souvenir shops. Further along this road, to the north, stands the Akbari Mosque, built by Emperor Akbar in 1569 at one of the spots where he stopped to pray on his way to Ajmer . The ’basic structure of the mosque remains intact even though it has been often repaired. Further westwards clown this road is Bharmal ki Chhatri , a walled enclosure containing a group of memorials. This was the old cremation site for the rulers of Amber until a new spot was established at Gaitor after the capitalmoved from Amber to Jaipur.

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