In 2012, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy had come to closure with The Dark Knight Rises. In this final chapter of the trilogy, there was a remarkable scene where Christian Bale (Batman) escaped from a terrifying underground prison. That underground prison was actually shot in Rajasthan, at Chand Baori of Abhaneri. Consisted of 3500 steps over 13 stories, and with a depth of about 30m, Chand Baori is one of the biggest stepped wells in India. The oldest parts of Chand Baori date back to the 8th century. For centuries, the well served as a community water cistern outside of the monsoon months.
We have long been fascinated by the beautiful stepped wells of India. Visiting Chand Baori of Abhaneri was one of the first attractions we selected for our travel itinerary. Despite visitors can no longer walk down the well, seeing the well from the top edge is still more than worthwhile to appreciate its ancient engineering marvel and sheer beauty of the stair arrangement.
We arrived at Chand Baori before 1pm.
It wasn’t the best time of the day to appreciate the shadow of the stairs.
But the sheer grandeur of the stepped well was really overwhelming.
One side of the well is occupied by a temple and resting spaces for the royal family.
The intricate carvings of jharokhas (windows), balconies and rooms reveal the significance of Chand Baori in the medieval time.
Like many attractions in India, pigeons are inevitable at Chand Baori.
Details of the architecture.
Dressed in blue, the staff of Chand Baori stood out from the earthy background.
Full view of Chand Baori.
Full view of Chand Baori.
Full view of Chand Baori.
The scale of Chand Baori is truly amazing.
The 3500 steps of the stepped well constitute a surreal picture as if an etched painting by Maurits Escher.
Similar to Bhangarh, Chand Baori was popular with local school groups as well.
Without protective railings, the stepped well can be dangerous when the place becomes too crowded.
The staff in blue really stood out at the stepped well.
The entire stepped well was like an open air museum.
There was a small Hindu shrine at the exit of the stepped well.
Panorama of Chand Baori.
Adjacent to Sariska Tiger Reserve, the ruined fort in the village of Bhangarh is well known in India, not just for its impressive 17th century ruins but for its fame as the most haunted attraction in the country. It is common for visitors with their own wheels to stop by the ruins during the journey between Jaipur and Agra. Some adventure seekers go as far as hiding in the fort and staying the night illegally to challenge their courage when everybody is gone. But they are truly risking their lives as tigers from the nearby reserve have been known for occasional visits in the wee hours.
We spent roughly an hour at the ruins. Knowing that we still had two more places to go after Bhangarh, we had to be disciplined with time management. While many visitors come to Bhangarh for its haunted legends, the site was in fact worth visiting also for its well preserved ruins. Legend has it that a black magician fell in love with the beautiful Princess Ratnavati of Bhangarh. The princess saw through the magician’s wicked plot of tricking her to fall in love with him. The sour consequence led to the magician putting a curse over the entire fort. The troubled fort had since then became deserted and haunted.
We passed by the Hanumaan Temple as soon as we stepped into the site of Bhangarh.
Flanked both sides by ruined stone houses, walking on the main street into the site allowed us to imagine its former glory.
Beyond the street of ruined houses, we arrived at the inner core of Bhangarh.
We were delighted to find a large open space at the heart of the site.
The open space was flanked by a number of buildings, including the Gopinath Temple.
From the open space it was another short walk uphill to the fort complex.
We were delighted to see how well preserved the fort was.
On our way up to the fort, we encountered several groups of local students.
They were really interested in us. Perhaps it wasn’t common for them to see foreigners.
Groups after groups of local students urged us to take them pictures.
The laughter of the school children was a big bonus for our Bhangarh visit.
Looking down to the open space from the fort.
The fort was built cascading up the hill.
Most of the buildings had collapsed after centuries of abandonment.
Monkey were everywhere in the site, especially at the entrance of Somnath Temple.
Local visitors stepping out the Somnath Temple.
Gray langur monkeys are native to the Indian subcontinent.
Before leaving the site, we had encountered several different groups of monkeys, some of which were devouring fruits given by local visitors.
240km of travel distance, almost ten hours on the road including three major sights we stopped by along the way: Bhangarh (ruins), Abhaneri (stepped well), and Fatehpur Sikri (historical capital). Hiring a car from Jaipur to Agra provided us the flexibility to make detours in the countryside at the eastern edge of Rajasthan. After a week in the desert state, it was time for us continue en-route to complete the “golden triangle” of Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. Our hired car was booked through Jaipur’s Arya Niwas Hotel. The driver for the day turned out to be experienced and gentle. The journey was smooth and rather comfortable despite we ventured into villages and sights away from the main expressway. Throughout the journey, we passed by villages and farms, giving us an opportunity to see another side of Rajasthan away from historical palaces and fortresses.
Always wearing his flat cap, our driver was experienced and gentle.
We passed by a village dominated with small stone carving workshops.
Colourful clothing of local Rajasthan women often stood out from the otherwise earthy background.
Along the dusty road, we passed by numerous makeshift petrol filling facilities for motorbikes.
An eye-catching motorbike and a woman with a marvelous outfit standing confidently looked as if a scene from a sci-fi movie.
No matter in cities or the countryside, street food remained popular among the locals.
Disregarded of their age, local Rajasthan women always cover themselves with clothing in vivid colours.
In rural India, cars and trucks are often utilized to their limits.
Throughout the day, we constantly crossed path with an elevated expressway under construction.
Simple hair salon.
In rural India, dried cow dung are commonly used as fuel.
Locals embarking on a motorbike journey.
Occasional sighting of camels on the expressway reminded us that we were still traveling in the desert state.
Shared tuk-tuk or auto rickshaws are everywhere.
Wheat, barley, pulses, sugarcane, oilseeds, cotton, tobacco, mustard, rapeseed, soy bean are some of the main crops in Rajasthan.
End of school day.
Construction site of a multi storey concrete building.
The smiles and laughter of Rajasthani locals would live long in our heart as we left the desert state for Agra.
Standing at the edge of the City Palace of Jaipur, the Hawa Mahal was part of the women’s chambers of the former royal palace. Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the sandstone facade with a honeycomb of latticed bay windows is the most recognizable building in Jaipur. The splendid facade is actually the back side of the palace building, where royal ladies were able to watch the activities and occasional festival events on the street through one of the 953 small windows. Today, the five-storey palace building is open to visitors. With narrow stairways and passageways and shallow rooms, the top three floors can get a little crowded during the tourist high season.
All tourists in Jaipur would take pictures of the famous facade from the main street, while not every one would actually visit the building interior. We were curious to experience how it might feel to peek back at the main street through one the small windows, and thus decided to pay a brief visit of the palace. Finding the entrance of Hawa Mahal required a bit of research. Entered through a retail side street, we arrived at a back lane where the real entrance and ticket office of Hawa Mahal were located.
The splendid facade of Hawa Mahal is the most recognizable building in Jaipur.
To enter the building, visitors must find their way into the back alleyway where the main entrance is located.
Through a series of doors and gateways, we arrived at the primary courtyard of Hawa Mahal.
A feature water fountain dominated the primary courtyard of Hawa Mahal.
We had little interest on the water feature. Instead, our primary aim was to check out the small windows and the views from the top two levels of the palace.
We walked up a level at a time. Colourful stained glass windows were everywhere, providing a pleasant visual effects for the interiors.
While many small windows were locked up, some were opened for visitors to check out the street views.
It wasn’t difficult for visitors to imagine the elusive lives of the royal ladies behind the small windows.
The ramp tower led us to the top floor. From the top floor, we could enjoy the view back into the royal palace.
The pink facade of Hawa Mahal matches perfectly with shops across the street.
There was another courtyard complex connected to the Hawa Mahal on the ground level.
Looking straight down the iconic facade was a little frightening.
Across the street, restaurant patios lined up on the roof and top terraces for anyone who might have the time and mood to sit down with a drink, and take in views of the romantic sunset and iconic facade.
Stairs and hallways on the top floors were really narrow.
By the time we reached the top level it was almost sunset time.
Before leaving Hawa Mahal, we found our way to check out a corner pavilion at the terrace level.
We stopped by a rooftop cafe across the street to enjoy the sunset scenery of the iconic Hawa Mahal.
Before the sun disappeared below the horizon, flood lights at the base of Hawa Mahal were turned on for the night view. We bid farewell to Hawa Mahal and returned to the Peacock Restaurant for our final dinner in Jaipur.
In 2010, Jaipur’s astronomical experiment ground, Jantar Mantar, with what many referred as the “world’s largest sundial” was inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage. The world’s largest sundial Vrihat Samrat Yantra was said to provide time with an accuracy of 2 seconds. Built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1734 as one of the five Jantar Mantars (Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Ujjain, Mathura) in India, Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar was used to observe the movement of the sun, moon and planets, and compile astronomical tables.
We are no astronomical experts, but were curious to check out the 18th century observatory. Even without any astronomical knowledge, the splendid instruments can be appreciated purely for their physical beauty and historic values. From Amber Fort, it took us a while to bargain with different tuk tuk driver to take us back with the same price that we paid in the morning. In Jaipur, we get off at the entrance of Jantar Mantar, directly across the street from the City Palace.
The moment we entered the compound, we were immediately overwhelmed by the sight of the huge sundial, Vrihat Samrat Yantra.
Right by the entrance, we started from something much smaller, the Unnatamsa Yantra, an instrument to measure the altitude of celestial bodies.
After several smaller instruments, we arrived at the biggest of them all, the Vrihat Samrat Yantra.
With 27m (88 ft) in height, Vrihat Samrat Yantra literally means the “king of all instruments”.
Its shadow moves visibly 1mm per second. Its face is angled at 27 degrees, the latitude of Jaipur.
Rashi Valaya Yantra is comprised of twelve gnomon dial to measure ecliptic coordinates of stars and planets.
They were also used to measure the coordinates of the 12 constellations.
A small piece of artwork indicates the corresponding constellation.
All instruments were made of stone and marble, with astronomical scale marked on a marble lining.
It must be delightful to witness the gentle movement of shadows across the astronomical scale.
Planet study was also a popular subject at Jantar Mantar.
The last instrument we encountered was Jai Prakash Yantra.
Jai Prakash Yantra is consisted of two bowl shaped marble slabs with inverted map of the sky. it allows astronomers to move inside the slab to measure altitudes, azimuths, hour angles of celestial bodies.
The nearby Kapali Yantra is also consited of two sunken bowls with a map of the heaven carved on the bowl.
At the exit of Amber Fort, we asked a local visitor for directions to the Jaigarh Fort, the mighty fortress overlooking the Amber Fort atop the Cheel ka Teela (Hill of Eagles) of the Aravalli Range. Built by Jai Singh II in 1726, the main function of Jaigarh Fort was to protect the Amber Fort. Many visitors make the effort up to Jaigarh to check out Jaivana, the super large cannon cast in 1720 by Sawai Raja Jai Singh II of Jaipur. We opted for its supreme views of Amber Fort and Maota Lake. The local visitor advised us to return into Amber Fort and search for the “Tunnel”, a sub-terrain passage below Amber Fort connecting to the trail of Jaigarh Fort. We reentered Amber Fort and descended into the “Tunnel”. The “Tunnel” was dark but full of curious tourists. There were no signage to confirm the destination but we were told that it would eventually lead us to Jaigarh Fort. After several minutes in the dark, the “Tunnel” opened to an outdoor archway passage going uphill.
The “Tunnel” exited to an archway passage between Amber and Jaigarh Fort. The passage was concealed below grade probably for defensive purpose.
The archway passage eventually merged with an uphill path leading to Jaigarh Fort.
Not that many tourists were around on the path. The path was quite exposed. We were a little hot despite it was winter.
After ten minutes of ascending, Jaigarh Fort was right ahead of us.
Looking down, we could see the winding path that brought us up to the fort.
After walking through a tunnel, archway passage, and uphill path, we finally reached Jaigarh Fort, the defense citadel for Amber.
Compared with Amber Fort, Jaigarh was relatively bare and empty.
Most of the interior spaces were off limit for visitors. We wandered around the courtyards before reaching the back gardens.
Despite all furniture were gone, we could still imagine what the spaces would be like when filled with generals and military personnel.
At various lookouts, we could truly appreciate the defensive structure and ramparts that extended way beyond the fort.
As an defensive complex, the back garden of Jaigarh Fort was surprisingly elegant.
We walked on the rampart walls around the garden to enjoy the surrounding landscape.
From the wall, we could also see the Amber Fort down below.
We could also see a number of temples in the town of Amber down below.
From distance, the protective ramparts surrounding Amber seemed like a small version of China’s Great Wall.
Delicate latticeworks seemed to exist everywhere no matter where visited in Rajasthan.
At the other end of Jaigarh Fort, we finally found Jaivana, the large 18th-century cannon cast by Sawai Raja Jai Singh II of Jaipur. After a test-fire in 1720, the cannon had never fired twice.
Getting up early was the key to beat the crowds. Our goal was to reach Amber Fort (or Amer Fort) before 8:30am. From our hotel in Jaipur, we had no problem flagging down an auto-rickshaw to cover the 10+ km to the valley of Kalikho Hills. The trip took roughly half an hour. At 8:15am, the majestic Amber Fort bathed in the morning glow came in sight while our auto-rickshaw approached Maota Lake. After getting off, we had the option of walking uphill to the fort or riding one of the 103 elephants to approach the hill fort in the maharaja’s way. Dozens of Indian elephants carrying foreign tourists on crimson howdahs zigzagged their way up to the arrival courtyard is a common sight at Amber Fort every morning. Yet, recently complaints filed in court had exposed the ill treatment of the elephants. We decided not to support the elephant owner. Walking uphill to the main gate Suraj Pol was a causal 15-minute walk. At the arrival courtyard Jalebi Chowk, we were soon overwhelmed by the enormous scale and exquisite details of the architecture. First built in 1592 by Man Singh I on earlier fort structures, the citadel was further expanded by Jai Singh I in the 17th century. The fort and its palace complex remained as the political centre of the region until 1727, when the capital was moved to Jaipur.
We get off the auto rickshaw right by Maota Lake, the main source of water for the Amber Fort. The fort and its reflection glowed under the morning sunlight.
We gave up the idea of riding the elephants and walked uphill on the same path as the elephants.
Many tourists preferred to take the exotic elephant ride to reach the fort.
Amber Fort is situated in a valley of Kalikho Hills, 11km northeast of Jaipur.
The progression of elephants making their way up and down the fort has become a common scene at Amber everyday.
We entered through Suraj Pol Gate into Jalebi Chowk, the arrival courtyard of Amber Fort.
We got our admission tickets at Jalebi Chowk and headed up a grand stair to the Singh Pol (Lion Gate). Through the gate we entered into the first palace courtyard that was dominated by Diwan-i-aam or Hall of Public Audience.
Built in 1639, the elegant Diwan-i-Aam or Hall of Public Audience is an open pavilion that served as an audience hall.
The Diwan-i-Aam or Hall of Public Audience is a beautiful piece of Rajput architecture.
From the courtyard of Diwan-i-Aam, we entered the inner palace through the beautiful Ganesh Pol Gate.
The three storey Ganesh Pol was built in 1640. It marks the main gateway into the inner palace.
Beyond Ganesh Pol lies the Aram Bagh or Pleasure Garden. The garden is flanked one end by the Sukh Niwas or Hall of Pleasure and the other by Sheesh Mahal or the Mirror Hall at lower level and Jas Mandir or Hall of Private Audience at upper.
The Sukh Niwas or Hall of Pleasure marble rooms of Sukh Mahal were cooled by water channeled in the walls and floor.
Across the courtyard from Sukh Niwas stands the Sheesh Mahal or Mirror Hall.
The Sheesh Mahal or Mirror Hall was the private chambers of the maharaja and his queen. Small pieces of mirrors and glasses filled the ceiling and walls. The space was particularly atmospheric at night under candle light.
The last courtyard we came to was Man Singh I Palace Square, where the Zenana once lived. This is the oldest part of the palace. The Baradari pavilion in the middle was the meeting place of the royal ladies.
From the Suhag Mandir at the upper level of Ganesh Pol, royal ladies could look out into the Diwan-i-Aam or Hall of Public Audience.
A cleaning staff at Man Singh I Palace Square.
The Baradari pavilion at the centre of Man Singh I Palace Square.
From Amber Fort, we entered a tunnel and path that was supposed leading to the ramparts of Jaigarh Fort further uphill.