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Amer Fort

Mesmerizing is an understatement. Awe-inspiring inadequate. So let me just tell you what Amer Fort is all about.

There was a group of people called the "Meenas". They lived in Amer and created beautiful jewelry with meena work. Iranian craftsman of the Sasaneid era promoted this art form on enamel. The work is intricate and involves the artist - meenakar - engraving the surface of metal (originally gold) with fabulous and detailed designs of birds and flowers using a metal stylus and then filling it with vibrant colors. The Meenas built an abode in Amer in 967 CE. Sawai Man Singh, the ruler of Amer in 1550-1614, built Amer Fort on the remnants of what the Meenas had built.

Amer Fort sits atop a hill on the Aravalli range. It's brown, barren and dry. The way to the fort is a steep, one-way, winding, stone road in between the homes of the Meenas and the people who supported the fort. Amer is within the walls that house two sister forts - Jaigarh and Nahargarh. The royals lived in Amer and the other two housed the army. For that reason, Amer is the eye-catching one. From the street level, the three forts stretch as wide as the horizon. Amer Fort is an imposing brown stucco structure visible from afar. We were told that subterranean tunnels connect the forts, allowing the royals to flee, if needed. As we meandered up the winding road to the fort, our driver enigmatically stopped at a corner and a guide appeared from thin air. A few minutes of negotiations followed and then Vijay, our newfound guide, took over to tell us all about the Meenas and the history of the fort.

When you enter the fort, you realize that you are standing in a structure built hundreds of years ago without modern day machinery, on top of a steep hill. The height of the structure is rather imposing and then you get into the area where the king held court and you gasp at the downhill views from the edge. The city of Jaipur lay within the crevices of the mountain, while the royals safely harbored in the fort. At the entrance of the fort we were met with ginormous woks, meters across and deep. We were told that food was cooked in these woks for the denizens of the fort. My cooking responsibilities instantly paled in comparison.

On the right side of the courtyard is a tall structure with lattice windows. The royal women observed the court proceedings from behind these windows. The walls of the doorway are covered with intricate paintings of flowers. The colors are from organic dyes from turmeric, spinach, indgo flowers. No restoration work has been undertaken and the walls, barring a some wear and tear looked stunning.

From the royal court we made our way to the Sheesha Mahal - the palace of glass. The lore is that the queen asked to see stars in the daytime. Dutifully, the king imported glass from Belgium - no mean feat back in the day - and had millions of pieces embedded in the art work in the walls and ceilings. Rugs were hung vertically in the hallways and candles were lit every few feet to have the lights dance and render stars in the daylight. Our guide shone my iPhone light and we got a glimpse of what must have thrilled the queen.

Running short on time, our guide whisked us through the queen's private quarters and Turkish baths. We learned about the intricate motions through which water heated under marble floors, made its way to the baths.

We departed the fort through the largest door I have ever see in my entire life. It was easily 20 feet high. I imagined how many people it took to open and close that door every day. On the way down through another set of meandering streets, our driver stopped at "Rajasthalli" a handicraft store.

Artisans showed us how to do block printing and we watched weavers working on a rug. The dexterity, speed, and repititions were stunning. Their eyes darted from the large and puzzle-like printout of the design at their feet to their hands. With a rhythmic swish and a clop, they wove and cut the thread, and put us in a trance. We were relieved to know that the weavers stop for the day when their hands hurt. I have incredible appreciation for hand-woven rugs now.

Rajasthalli was a bonanza of cushion covers, jewelry, saris, kurtas, fabric, wall hangings, purses, and rugs. Four floors of wares and the friendliest sales people. Two hours later, with a lighter wallet, a sari, kurta, and cushion covers in hand, we headed back to the hotel with a promise that the store would deliver custom made clothes to the us in a few hours. True to their word, the order arrived on time. On the way down from the Fort, we stopped to take pictures of Jal Mahal - the palace on Man Sagar Lake. King Man Singh II built this palace in the middle of the lake and when the water rises, the bottom four floors are submerged.

A wonderfully surreal day of oscillating between the past and present, awash in an exotic dance of colors, textures, and sounds.

Some details of the day trip to Amer Fort.

Time to Amer Fort from hotel: about 45 minutes

Time at Amer Fort: We spent about 45 minutes and saw the highlights. Your guide will show you around longer if you have the time. We paid our guide about 700 rupees and he seemed pleased.

Rajasthalli prices: in comparison to shops elsewhere in Jaipur the prices were reasonable and there was no need to haggle.

Take plenty of water. The terrain in and around Amer is steep. Good walking shoes recommended.

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