Amber Fort Jaipur
28.04.2011 - 28.06.2011 40 °C
After two days of being complete slobs we decided it was time to brave the heat and head to Amber Fort. This honey coloured fairytale fort lies 11km North of Jaipur and so it was a debate whether to travel by rampaging rickshaw or like a sweltering sardine in a tin can local bus. The price was the decider; 300 rupees by rickshaw or 7 each by bus. Bus it was.
It was the perfect opportunity to take a stroll through the Pink city. Here between the crenellated walls of the old city it was still possible to enjoy a walk in relative comfort, as the miniature shops were shielded from the sun by a continuous concrete canopy.
Colorful street sellers spilled into the roads with their makeshift stalls on floors, selling mostly fresh produce and sacks of chilli. The odd camel and wagon laden with goods trundled past amongst the endless flow of vehicles inching their way along to a cacophony of horn blasts.
Under the canopy the wonderful warm fragrance of spices emanating from huge hessian sacks filled our noses. All along this street, the locals were purchasing the raw ingredients for their fiery cooking, including red chillis! These little devils that lay basking in the heat of the day, were felt long before they were seen and had us spluttering and covering our faces at intervals. Their sting must have been further intensified under direct sun, as some of the sacks outside the canopy were almost unbearable to walk past. I was mystified to how the shop keepers were plunging their arms into these sacks, like you would a bran-tub at a local fate and not shedding so much as a single tear!
img=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/361768/IMG_9018.jpg caption=Chillies, Too Much for Even the Locals to Bear!]
When we reached the end of the canopy we were immediately shepherded onto a miniature bus “Amber Fort?” the man enquired “Err Yes” we replied looking for the catch. But no, for once there was no catch, just a local bus for local people, where we sat and sweated for a good 10 minutes before leaving. It was torture every time the bus stopped even for a second and I could feel myself sticking to the seat. I peered about the bus, curious as to whether locals were also suffering, but as far as I could see Indian people don’t even sweat! I mean some of them were even wearing jeans!
We finally arrived and there stood Amber far above us (pronounced Amer) with its silky sides rising up from the rugged rock. There were other battlements scattered about the place and even a large fort wall that disappeared off over the hills in the distance. The walls and these craggy rocks had an uncanny likeness to the Great Wall of China of all places. But the rounded turrets and and grassy gardens gave the feel of a fairy story castle.
Now, Lonely Planet estimates the walk up to the Fort entrance at 10 mintues and so we purchased a 1 litre bottle of water for the journey. Well I’m guessing whoever offered this advice was not researching at the peak of the Indian summer. The walk is actually 1.5km up a steep slope and in forty degree heat we were barely able make to 20 steps before having to seek shade. We were only part way up, with a seriously depleted bottle of hot water and resting in the shade when we saw a woman who was with a tour group looking very worse for wear. She had run completely out of water and was looking on the brink of sunstroke. The group she was with seemed pretty unconcerned and only one person was at her aid. At this point I felt as though Lonely Planet should have made its readers more aware of the importance of carrying water during summer months. Of course carrying enough water is common sense and it does actually state (water is available at the top) but the hike in summer is far from a 10 minute stroll and more like a 45 minute test of endurance.
When at the top we were met by a friendly uniformed man, who without asking imposed himself upon us our guide. He was so cheerful and pleasant that it made it difficult to decline his help. Firstly he took us to get a drink and then to a puppet show which we refused to watch or pay for. By this time I was getting quietly irritated. I have just hiked up a what seemed like a mountain in forty degree heat and now I was being marched about the fort against my will. “I want to sit down” I demanded and so he found us some shade. Then came the attempts to shake him off but he was persistent..”Its okay we will look by ourselves” “We want to sit down for a good hour yet”..none of this worked. Finally we told him that we weren’t interested in having a tour guide as we had no money, but he did the usual “You pay what you want” which always makes you feel like a tight fisted arse.
As we just couldn’t get rid of him we just decided to go with it. This is the thing in India they are so bolshie in their approach to offering ‘help’ sometimes there is nothing to do other than to give up. Their technique seems to be to wear you down and it works! We followed him about the place and he gave us basic English explanations of the various areas, but any questions were met with a blank face.
The most beautiful area was the ladies garden, a lush green paradise in the centre of dust and stone. The lookout points protruding from the main fort walls above the garden provided excellent air conditioning with the wind whipping through the crenellated turret walls. I could have stayed there all day.
The various rooms were also very interesting, but I found the bats hanging at eye level in the small alcoves much more of an amusement. After racing about the place for 20 minutes our ‘guide’ bid us farewell, but not before asking for a tip. We went against the signs that are in place about the entire fort stating ‘No tips must be given’ and offered him 50 rupees. This obviously wasn’t good enough as he peered into Stes open wallet while asking “have you got a 100.” Cheeky little!@#$ I thought and Ste snapped his wallet shut, unfortunately not on his big nose! With a twitch of his moustache he was gone.
We were finally free to explore the ‘World’s largest Canon.’ A long the way we passed an entire army of Langur Monkeys that were taking refuge from the sun. If there hadn’t been a giant wrought iron gate between us and the army, then their presence would have been quite intimidating. I was fascinated snapping away; Ste was apprehensive and made sure he was sensible distance from the primates. We reached the end of the wall just in time as it seemed the troop had decided on a mass relocation and 200 odd monkeys came racing past us.
Finally at the canon, the guards on the gate started demanding we pay them 200 rupees for using our video camera to film the monekys. I insisted that we weren’t paying as they pointed to a shoddily hand painted sign with various crossings out. “You’ve just painted that price on” Ste laughed! “Well, we are not paying, we will delete the video instead” I argued “We have already paid for two cameras and we aren’t paying for anymore, it ridiculous!” Eventually they gave in, telling us not to use it again.
Just when we thought we had peace and quiet, another uniformed man decided we needed to know more about the canon. We desperately tried to ignore his every word but he was like a limpet. After talking at us, he asked for a tip, Ste refused to tip him saying “I’m not allowed to tip, the signs say so” and he just kept on repeating “No you don’t understand it is up to you” over and over.
Well we escaped paying and I felt and ice lolly was definitely in order. I hid it from the relocated troop as we headed off and whipped it out once the monkeys were out of sight. We had been walking a good 10 minutes when from nowhere appeared a HUGE Langur directly in my path; a langur with a taste for ice lollies! It started to back me towards the wall bearing its teeth and I hid the lolly behind my back. Ste was too much of a coward to come to my aid so I was faced with trying to fend it off with my bottle of water, swinging it towards its face.
I’m sure any right minded person would have surrendered the lolly by now, but I was determined to win. As I backed away swinging the bottle, it continued to pursue me. “Grab a stone!” I shouted to Ste, who was not exactly being the knight in shining armor “There are no stones!” was his useless reply “FIND ONE!” I shouted and the moment Ste made the gesture of bending down to pick up a stone, the monkey scarpered. “Winners!” I shouted and “You are useless!” were my next words. I’d had about enough of the Amber fort for one day and we headed back down.
It was easy to catch a bus back into Jaipur and we were soon back on the busy streets. By this time the sun was setting and we were just in time to catch the orange hue spreading across the pink walls of Hawa Mahal. Hawa Mahal built n 1799 is Jaipurs most distinctive landmark, primarily due to its honeycomb structure. It was built by Maharaja Sawaj Pratap singh, so that ladies of the royal household could basically people watch. Of course it was impressive but everything seems to pale in comparison to the mighty Taj.
We had in mind finding a local restaurant to eat that night , but ended up getting lost down god knows where. The traffic through the narrow streets was insane and at one point even pedestrians were blocked from making any progress due to huge congestion at a junction. We had ventured off the typical tourist streets and there was a man who offered me a drink while pointing to a huge cow with voluptuous udders tethered to a wall! I politely declined before whipping out the Lonely Planet. People started to gather, including a young lad who insisted he was “So excited, you are the first English people I have met” He then started scrolling through his phone showing us the numbers of various acquaintances he had from different countries, before insisting he was going to the same place as us and must go and visit his father in his silver shop! We would have declined but he had already flagged down a tuk tuk.
The next thing we knew we were sitting in a silver shop being talked at, but it didn’t last long as we had reached our limit for the day. We managed to make a sharp exit and wandered aimlessly before catching an auto rickshaw back to the safety of the hotel. WHAT A DAY! GET ME AN ALOO GOBI!