INDIA

Jaipur

Amber Fort Formidable Outside, Ostentatious Inside

Silver-laden dining room in Amber Fort

The silver-laden dining room in the Amber Fort gives an idea of the sort of ostentation rulers in the many kingdoms of India in past centuries favoured.
ALLAN LYNCH/Meridian Writers’ Group

THE RAJASTHAN region of India was ruled for more than 1,000 years by the Rajputs, warrior kings who carved out dozens of small fiefdoms and defended them with fortified palaces. One of the most impressive to visit, inside and out, is the Amber Fort, 12 kilometres north of Jaipur.

The heavily fortified palace is strung along a rocky ridge that has one lowland approach. Running out from it, up the hillsides and across hilltops are walls, like small versions of China’s Great Wall. The Amber Fort seems pretty much impenetrable. If someone did lay siege, the Maota Lake at its base would provide a constant water supply.

There has been some form of fort here since the 10th century. The current complex was begun in the 16th century by Rajput Man Singh I. Built around four main courtyards, it is as luxurious once you’re inside as it is forbidding from without. The first courtyard, and largest, is the Jaleb Chowk. This vast space was where merchants set up stalls and military ceremonies were held. Now it houses the ticket offices, gift shop and museum. Decorated elephants offer rides to the lake below.

The second courtyard contains the Diwan-i-Am, the Hall of Public Audience, a colonnaded pavilion where the rajput would meet his subjects. At the back of this courtyard is the Ganesh Pole, a gate to the family quarters. Above the Ganesh Pole is a sheltered perch where the royal women, who lived in a type of gilded cage, could watch the events in the first two courtyards.

The third courtyard is smaller and more elaborate. This is where the rajput met with senior officials, nobles and friends in the highly decorated Hall of Private Audience, the Dawn-i-Khaas.

The fourth and final courtyard is the most intimate. Its Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace) was the private quarters of the ruler and his queen. Mirrored mosaics and coloured glass embedded in the walls and vaulted ceiling reflect day and candlelight. Opposite is the Sukh Mahal (Pleasure Palace), cooled by water coursing through small channels carved into the marble walls, countering the oppressive heat.

The rajputs spared no expense in building, decoration and ornamentation. After covering themselves in layers of silk, pearls and gems, they favoured silver for a décor theme. In the Amber Fort, an excellent example is off the first courtyard, the Jaleb Chowk: a long set of steps leads to a walled terrace on the outer wall. At one end is the 1135 AD restaurant. Above it is a large dining room now used for VIP events. The walls are covered in panels of silver. The furniture is solid silver: a 10-seat dining room suite, sofa, armchairs, footstools, coffee and side tables, floor-sized hookah, picture frames, sculpture and other ornaments. To amplify the glittering impact, rooms are lit by large, crystal chandeliers.

When over 700 princely states existed in what is now India, ostentation was a way to be noticed. Centuries later at the Amber Fort, the results are still mightily impressive.

 

ACCESS

For more information on the Amber Fort visit its website at www.amberfort.org.

 

For information on travel in India visit the Ministry of Tourism’s website at www.incredibleindia.org.