KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We set aside a good part of our final day in Jaipur to travel the 11km outside the city to the Amber Fort. Amber was the ancient capital of Jaipur state and construction of the fort on a rocky hillside was begun in 1592 by the Rajput commander of the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s army. The original fortress was later extended by subsequent Maharajas, before the capital was moved to Jaipur.
Anil wasn’t particularly keen on seeing yet another fort, but I was prepared to go on my own if need be. You’d think that seeing one fort after another would become rather tiring, but it seems no two are alike and I never seem to tire of their beauty. I remember being enchanted by stories of King Arthur in my childhood and was not disappointed when I saw my first fort on the coast of Ghana, in Africa. It was a small white fort used during the slave trading period and nothing like the magnificent structures in India. In the end, Anil agreed to come along and he was happy that he did.
We found ourselves using cycle rickshaws in Jaipur as they seem to be everywhere and are in good condition. One of the rickshaw drivers wanted to take us to Amber Fort but I wasn’t about to put him through that uphill climb using only his legs to pedal us. Instead, we hailed an auto rickshaw and once we were clear of the traffic congestion of the city, we enjoyed the fresh breezes as we puttered along the highway. When we turned off the main road and starting climbing a hill, I was delighted to see both sides of the road lined with vibrant red bougainvillea bushes. We rounded a corner and through a break in the flowers, we spotted the stunning fort above us.
The next thing we saw were the rows and rows of white tourist buses lined up at the parking lot. I had read that it was possible to ride elephants up to Amber fort, but I wasn’t prepared for the sight of dozens of my favorite pachyderms lumbering up the steep incline to the fort. I came pretty close to falling for this highly organized tourist trap, but realized that the experience would be tainted by the fact that you were just one more in a long line of foreigners trudging up the route staring at the backside of the elephant in front. How was I to feel like a Maharani arriving for my wedding feast with so many other foreigners wearing khaki shorts and hiking boots? Instead we walked on stairs that crisscrossed the other route, but I stopped at several places and saluted the elephants as they passed.
I won’t go into detail about the Amber Fort/Palace as I think the photographs tell the story well. There is a movie just released in India called Jodhaa Akbar about the marriage of a Rajput (Hindu) princess with a Mughal (Muslim) emperor. There has been a lots of controversy about the film; in fact, it was banned briefly in some states including Rajasthan, because it is purported to distort historical facts. Much of the film was shot in Rajasthan. The scene where Jodhaa arrives in a howdah atop an elephant for her marriage to Akbar is filmed at Amber, the location of the actual marriage. I saw the movie just after it opened in Nagpur and now, I must see it again and pay special attention to this particular reenactment. The most special aspects of the film are the costumes and set decorations. It’s wonderful to see the palaces filled with carpets, tapestries, sheer curtains and flowing fountains. It’s like a step back to another time; I loved every minute of the three and a half hours of this typically long Hindi film.
After leaving the fort and returning to Jaipur, we spent the remainder of the day wandering through the colourful bazaars of the old city and admiring the unending array of handicrafts on display. It was hard to resist making purchases; our suitcases are small but we will remember the colours of Rajasthan for years to come.