The forts of Jaipur, India
The forts of Jaipur, India
Balancing carefully as he stands in a small boat, the fisherman casts his net into Maota Lake. Then he sits down and, with the aid of his offsider, starts scaling some of the catch they already have hauled in.
The simplicity of this sequence of events - a routine part of one of the world’s oldest professions – contrasts starkly against their extraordinary backdrop. Reflecting in the waters of the lake are two of Jaipur’s magnificent and historic forts, Amber and Jaigarh.
On the hillside, looming above the fishermen, these ancient defensive structures are as awe-inspiring and intimidating now as they must have been when they were built in the late 16th and early 18th centuries respectively. Jaipur has become one of India’s most desirable tourist destinations to a large part because of the allure of the forts which dot the arid landscape surrounding the city.
The capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan, this city of almost seven million people has many attractions which draw travellers. Jaipur also is known as the Pink City because of the bright colour which splashes building facades in its Old City area. The architectural gems found throughout this lively and fascinating precinct beguile visitors to Jaipur.
Yet it is Jaipur’s three stunning forts which are the true icons of this bustling metropolis. Along with Amber and Jaigarh, there is Nahargarh Fort, the smallest of the three which is much closer to the city than the others, settled on a ridge in Jaipur’s north-east.
Aside from the sprawling views it affords of Jaipur, Nahargarh also hides a range of buildings which reveal the splendour of this one-time royal retreat, built in the 1730s. Behind its sandy-coloured fortifications are opulent additions constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century to house the king and queens of Jaipur.
Known as the Madhavendra Bhawan, this palace complex fused Indian and European styles of architecture to offer a stylish getaway for the royal family, as well as accommodation for visiting dignitaries. Despite being built for war, Nahargarh Fort never came under attack and is wonderfully well preserved.
As Nahargarh was not occupied by royalty as frequently as Amber and Jaigarh Forts, its royal quarters as not as sumptuous as those at the two larger forts. Like Nahargarh, Jaigarh owns a spectacular location, high on the Aravalli Range, overlooking Amber.
Its thick red sandstone walls, topped by turrets and a watch tower, stretch in a rectangle which is 3km-long on one side and 1km-long on the other, creating a huge internal space. The halls and courtyards of its palace reflect the influence of Persian architecture throughout this fort complex. The style of its two temples, Ram Haribar and Kal Bhairav, is more traditionally Indian, and both are wonderfully calm, contemplative spaces.
Although the fort is now a serene location, it cannot be forgotten that it was a fearsome military installation. Visitors are reminded of this by the giant, 6m-long barrel of its ancient Jaivana Cannon, as well as the extensive range of guns, muskets, swords and shields showcased in its armoury chamber.
While Jaigarh and Nahargarh both are beautiful structures, they cannot compare with the majesty of Amber. The most renowned tourist attraction in Jaipur, Amber is one of the Six Hill Forts of Rajasthan which were grouped together as a UNESCO Heritage Listed Site.
Constructed from striking red sandstone and large amounts of marble, Amber was built in the late 1500s and later was expanded by King Raja Jai Singh, after whom Jaipur was then named. Inside the lofty walls of the fort are a plethora of exquisite areas, including the Sheesh Mahal, also known as the Mirror Palace.
Intricate paintings and mosaics made from glass embellish the ceiling and walls of this magnificent hall. The manner in which light reflects off each of the thousands of small, perfectly-placed pieces of glass is mesmerising.
Similarly enchanting is the Diwan-e-Aam, otherwise called the Hall of Public Audience, with its forest of carved stone pillars and decorative arches. The symmetry of this structure is wonderfully pleasing to the eye and it is easy to imagine Kings sitting here in audience with their subjects, listening to their pleas and complaints. Only the lucky few were able to attend such meetings. It is hard not to feel similarly privileged while exploring the remarkable forts of Jaipur.