Tuesday, March 31, 2009

India: Amber Fort

One of the most spectacular sights in India, just outside Jaipur, is the Amber Fort. Former palace of the maharajas, it was abandoned by Jai Singh II when its water sources dried up and he began to build his fine new vision at Jaipur.
We have hired an auto-rickshaw to take us the 11 km. there and back. Ravik, the driver, speaks good English and takes us first on a winding route through back alleys of Jaipur. "You have seen the pink city," he says, "Now I will show you the "pig city." Sure enough, pigs are everywhere. These are not pretty little pink porkers like Babe, but large, hairy boars that, according to Ravik, are food for a very low caste of Hindus. Muslims too, we suspect. As elsewhere, goats also abound.

Along the road to Amber, we pass elephants and camels decked out for tourist rides.

When Amber Fort comes into view, sprawled on its hilltop, the sheer size of its golden sandstone walls and cupolas is breath-taking. Only a panoramic viewfinder, which we don't have, could do the scene justice.

At the base of the hill, we hire an elephant for the steep climb up to the gate. This is a controversial move, as there are concerns about the welfare of these animals and the lack of facilities to provide them with water, veterinary care, etc.

Our reasoning is that, with the money we pay, the owners have a strong interest in keeping their charges in good health. There is also an organisation which works for better facilities for the elephants, but when we go later to make a contribution their office is closed! We do, however, get a good look at the elephant house and are pleased to see food, water and shade provided there.

As it turns out, the ride is not that pleasant. It is slow, there is no canopy above our heads so it's hot, and we are seated sideways on a wide cushion that means my short legs stick straight out. We do, however, get a good view down onto the terraced gardens below, once surrounded by water but now by a dry gulch.

When we reach the fort, Michael finds a convenient terrace to paint the view, soon accompanied by onlookers. His impressions, verbal and visual, are on his website.

He takes time out to oblige an Indian family who want a group portrait.

Meanwhile I wander in the vicinity, admiring the decorated portals,

and a lone drum,

and observing activity in the vast courtyard where several of the cupolas that crown the walls are being repaired.

After descending from the fort under our own steam, we head for the Anokhi textile museum, recommended to us by Val and Sue, whom we met in Delhi. Housed in a restored old haveli (mansion), it has a warren of rooms displaying fabrics from different time periods and for different occasions. They do not permit photographs, which is a pity as both building and costumes are beautiful. We do, however, manage to take a photo of the Amber fort from their windows.

Anokhi employs young women from poor villages in the district and teaches them the ancient arts of block-printing fabric, but they are not on view to visitors. Instead, a man demonstrates the process to us. Michael attempts a sample which we can take away with us.

In their small gift shop, I look for a modest purchase to contribute to their enterprise and find a handprinted handkerchief.

It's been a hot day, and tiring, so we are glad to trundle back to our hotel for beer, lime soda and fried peanuts in our cool, quiet room.

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