In the cool foggy morning we waited in a short queue for our elephant ride up to the Amber Fort, batting hawkers away. And there we were, two to an elephant, riding up a steep stone walkway swaying a bit precariously and looking out at the small manmade lake, the geometric garden island in its midst, a high distant ridge toped by a winding stone wall, and, when we turned forward, at the rolling, lumbering head of our elephant and the red turban of his “driver.” (I know there is a term for this man other than driver, but I’m too tired and lazy to look it up.)
Every few minutes an elephant came down, empty of guests, and every few minutes young men singly and in groups shouted at us to look their way as they waved cameras around–taking pictures which we would be hawked at the top, on the way down, and, amazingly, many hours later in central Jaipur.
At the top is the Amber Fort, a huge complex of plazas, palace rooms, meeting areas, baths, concubine quarters, a tiny and exquisite Hindu temple, monkeys, birds, and, visible on lower levels, goats.
We wandered for several hours with our guide who patiently explained the complex history of the families, rivals, marriages, and ambitions. He also told us that until the last few years the area around the fort had been essentially abandoned, buildings many hundreds of years old allowed to crumble. And the rubble was visible from the top, as were foraging pigs and goats, dogs, and, still, children flying kites.
About the elephants–they work from 8am until 11am, when, by law, they are given the rest of the day off. And we did see several walking along the road back toward Jaipur, heading home.
Today was a shopping day in large part–and after the fort we went to a large jewelry store where they make much of their high end wares (and of course we had a tour and demonstration), and where gifts were purchased; had a lovely lunch in a former palace; visited a school for miniature painters (where more money was spent by all); and, not intending to buy anything, a small bazaar which included wholesalers and manufacturers where the women all managed to find things we had to have. I fell in love with a piece of fabric the size of a small blanket, 50-100 years old and from Afghanistan, an item I did not even remotely need. Somewhat frayed, in muted colors, hand woven and hand stitched together of three pieces–holding it I felt a connection that I could not resist. And so I did not.
Oh, yes–the Palace, with the Observatory, a large outdoor plaza filled with astrological and astronomical devices (see one half of the sundial below) and, both coming and going to the Amber fort, views of the abandoned floating palace.
Dinner at the hotel where we waited for our miniatures to be delivered, because while the paintings were not inexpensive, they sweeten the deal by framing them on the spot for $30. Irresistible.