Palace of Winds
The peach, honeycombed and latticed façade of the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) is the iconic image of Jaipur City; it is on postcards and merchandise, and everyone wants a photo op. Which makes it the perfect place for hawkers to offer the tourist those essential services – an abundance of tuk tuk and rickshaw drivers all eager to get their lucky first client of the day awaited, snake charmers demonstrated their magic (and yes, it is a real snake and they are being ‘charmed’), and cheap, colourful, plastic toys thrust forward to grab your attention and hopefully charm you of your money.
Our driver, Anand, ensured that our visit was early in the morning when the sun was hitting the palace in full golden force. We hopped out of the car, deftly avoiding the aforementioned stream of offers, winding our way through the cars, bikes and tuk tuks to the other side of the road for a wider angle shot, then darted back and jumped into the car. We also managed to capture a glimpse of one of the legendary snake charmers, but were not game enough to get too close.
This essence of ‘rushed tourist’ was all about getting to the ‘big one’ of the day before the hordes of other tourists – the Amber Fort awaited.
Driving north out of Jaipur old city we were headed towards Amber City. On this road you regularly see not only the fauna sightings that you get around all of the country, such as piglets sharing a pile of rubbish with some laid back cows, families of water buffalo, goats, dogs, but also colourfully painted elephants who are doing the tourist run up to Amber Fort. This is a very popular method of tourists approaching Amber City – on the back of elephants. The appeal lies in the majestic climb to the top of the hill and romance of entering the fort through the Sun Gate (Suraj Pol), just like the powerful and important maharajah and his guests once did. However, in this day and age, with what we know about these magnificent creatures and the trauma of their ‘training’, we had no intention whatsoever of participating in this method of travel. An elephant ride is something that I have done in the past, but intend never to do again.
Before making our less glamorous, but more animal friendly, entrance through the back gate of the fort, we stopped off at a lesser known temple favourite of our driver, Anand. Houses and shops pressed up against the 400 year old Srijagat Siromanji Temple, so unless you knew to turn down this narrow street to find it, you would walk past, oblivious. There were no other tourists at this very beautiful temple, just one local who came to pray, and the resident Hindu priest. He seemed very happy to see us and gave us a big smiling blessing before we left. Unfortunately this didn’t keep us from being harangued by the hawkers and touters of the fort!
The rear entrance to the fort included another challenging gauntlet run. But by this stage we were much more adept at the stony-faced-forward, shaded eyes unseeing walk through the insistent voices and pushy displays.
This was the first day that we had really be been hit with the heat (albeit winter warmth, but it was still India!), so we were constantly seeking shady spots in the courtyards. We decided to go with an audio guide, rather than a ‘live’ one. This was a recommendation of the guidebooks, but I soon tired of the aural theatrical recreation (which is a good engaging tool for a certain audience), and just wanted to listen to the facts at the beginning of each track.
The entire site was packed with tourists, mainly nationals – Sunday is the busiest day for these places. One woman perched her baby on the top of a very high wall for a photo, completely ignoring the whistle blasts from the guards, only removing the child when the guard approached to make her. Seriously??
Climbing to the top level of the fort, we were intrigued by the two corner pavilions, quite a distance from each other. Soon discovered that they were apparently where the maharaja would watch elephants charging and fighting in a barbaric jousting corridor. Ewwww.
From these pavilions, there is also a good view of the wall surrounding the fort – very reminiscent of the Great Wall of China, but on a smaller scale!
The big drawcards of this fort are its fine architectural features, such as the elaborate tile work and marble inlay, the delicate lattice screens, and the intricate stone carvings. But the largest gathering of people in one spot was to see the shiny, bright, silver and mirror-adorned private quarters of the Maharaja. The creaky necks from staring at the ceiling were worth it!
Descending some narrow stairs into the sunlight and an expansive courtyard, we were amongst several clumps of teenagers. One brave, smiling girl approached me and asked for a photo. Within moments of the nod of my head, we were mobbed by young adults with beaming smiles, all wanting selfies. One particularly insistent and large group of boys wanted to turn the momentary ‘snap’ opportunity into a full on photo shoot. I was positioned so my back was to the sun, which shone through my mess of blonde frizz, creating a not so angelic halo! We laughed and tore ourselves away to get on with our day.
Our Indian journey continues…
Tour Company: Intense India Tours
Read our full Jaipur story here:
Part 1 (current): Amber City & Fort