Similar to the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri, the Agra Fort has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List since the 1980s, making it one of the three must-see attractions in Agra. Known as the Red Fort of Agra, the Agra Fort served as the royal residence of the early Mughal emperors until 1638 when the capital was moved to Delhi. It was constructed during the golden age of the Mughal Empire under two prolific builders: Emperor Akbar the Great and his grandson Shah Jahan. While Akbar is well known for founding the short lived capital Fatehpur Sikri, Shah Jahan is perhaps best known for erecting the most perfect Mughal architecture ever, the Taj Mahal. On the ruins of an earlier fort, Akbar rebuilt the Agra Fort with red sandstone. Akbar’s Agra Fort was completed in 1573 but was later transformed by Shah Jahan into its current mix of red sandstone and white marble buildings.
After visiting the Taj, we dropped by Joney’s Place, the local eatery where we had dinner the night before for breakfast. We had a few hours to spare before our walking tour at 2:30pm. Agra Fort was the obvious choice for us. An auto rickshaw brought us to the busy fort entrance in no time. Just like the Red Fort in Delhi, Agra Fort was very popular with local tourists.
Despite served as the royal residence, the Agra Fort appeared like a heavily fortified complex from its exterior.
Inside Agra Fort, Diwan-i-am was the main audience hall in the complex.
Built between 1631 to 1640, the 201′ by 67′ Diwan-i-am was the hall where Emperor Shah Jehan addressed the general public and his guests.
Constructed by Shah Jahan in 1637, the Anguri Bagh (Grape Garden) was used as a vineyard to make wine for the emperor.
Stone colonnade flanked three sides of the Anguri Bagh.
Khas Mahal was built by Shah Jahan for his daughter Jahanara and Roshanara.
Adjacent to the Khas Mahal, covered verandahs and the marble terraces offered visitors a fantastic view of the Yamuna River.
The Musamman Burj is one of the most splendidly crafted buildings in the complex.
While Akbar built his buildings with sandstone, his grandson Shah Jahan preferred white marble just like another of his other project, the Taj Mahal.
Musamman Burj, an octagonal tower with great views of the Yamuna River, was built by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Together with his daughter Jahanara Begum, It was here that Shah Jahan spent his last few years as a captive of his son Aurangzeb.
From here, Shah Jahan spent his final moments on his death bed facing the Taj Mahal, the tomb of his beloved wife.
Tourists love to take pictures against the beautiful marble lattice work. This woman didn’t even notice the approach monkey as she posed for photo.
Known as the Gem Mosque, the Nagina Masjid is a small marble mosque built by Shah Jahan.
Built by Emperor Akbar, the Jahangiri Mahal Palace was the primary zenana to house his Rajput wives. Compared to his grandson Shah Jahan’s buildings, Akbar’s buildings were mainly built with red sandstone.
Jahangiri Mahal Palace is one of the oldest surviving building in Agra Fort and also the largest part in the compound.
A beautiful dome ceiling at the Jahangiri Mahal Palace.
Only 30 out of 500 buildings of the Jahangir Mahal Palace survive to the present. Many had been destroyed by Shah Jahan and later the British.
After the visit, we returned to the main entrance and hopped on an auto rickshaw to return our hotel.
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.
DAY 4 (2/5): ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.27
Below the Golden Fort of Jaisalmer, the town flourished in the Medieval times as merchants and desert caravans brought considerable amount of activities and wealth into this remote city at the heart of the Thar Desert. Nowhere else is more convincing than Patwon Ki Haveli to see the legacy of these wealthy merchants. Built in the first half of the 19th century, Patwon Ki Haveli was the oldest and largest haveli (grand mansion) in Jaisalmer. Guman Chand Patwa, a renowned trader of his time, commissioned the construction of five multi-storey townhouses for his five sons. Splendid wall paintings, mirror mosaic, and most ostentatious of all, the amazing sandstone carving on the building facade, have made the haveli an icon for the city comparable to the Golden Fort. One operated by the government and the other privately owned, two out of five havelis are open for the public today. The first haveli we visited was the privately owned mansion located at the right side of the row.
The Patwon Ki Haveli occupies a narrow lane which can be entered at either end. We entered the lane through a beautiful archway.
Upon entering the archway, we were in awe of the intriguing stone carving on the haveli facade over our heads.
Above the archway, the Patwon Ki Haveli extends over to the opposite side of the pedestrian lane.
Along the lane, there were two open spaces across from the Patwon Ki Haveli for us to stand back and admire the beautiful sandstone facade.
Moving closer to the haveli, the balconies and facade details looked stunning.
If we looked closer, we could see the slight differences between each house.
We walked by a house with its doors opened for visitors. It turned out that this was the privately owned haveli opened to the public.
Once stepped into the entrance vestibule, we were immediately overwhelmed by the richly decorated interiors.
At the core, we could look up the lightwell to appreciate the height of the building.
Walking up the haveli, one of the first rooms we encountered was the fascinating private Hindu temple. Though small, the intriguing details of the temple interiors revealed the beautiful craftsmanship of the old Rajasthan.
Across from the small temple facing the street, another small chamber was ornately decorated with paintings and carvings.
Singing from a child musician mingled with laughter from tourists could be heard through the balcony windows.
Another level up were a series of vacant rooms. Small windows for communication and tiny wall niches for candles allowed us to imagine what the space would be like a century ago. Despite there were no furniture and paint restoration, we highly appreciated the vintage and authentic feel of the interiors.
Occasional wall paintings gave a touch of vivid colours to the generally yellowish sandstone building.
At the top level we reached what looked like to be the master bedroom with large windows facing the Jaisalmer Fort on one side.
And balconies looking down to the lightwell on the other side.
A door from the master bedroom led us to a small chamber with an attic and another small room.
We reached the roof terrace near the end of the visit. The view of Jaisalmer Fort was quite amazing.
After a fruitful tour of the old mansion, we walked downstairs and returned to the entrance vestibule, where a beautiful peacock feature guarded the house for decades, welcoming and bidding farewell to visitors.
Our second day in Jaisalmer began with flagging down a tuk tuk in front of First Gate Home Fusion Hotel to Gadsisar Sagar or Gadsisar Lake, an artificial lake that supplied water to Jaisalmer for centuries. Just like many places in the desert state of Rajasthan, maintaining water supply has been an essential aspect for the city’s survival. The peaceful artificial lake was constructed at around 1400 by the Maharaja of Jaisalmer Maharwal Gadsi Singh. As the years progressed, the lake had also become a place of pilgrimage, and venue for religious festivals and leisure boating. Temples and shrines mushroomed around the lake, and so as religious statues and the beautiful Tilon Ki Pol (Gate of Tilon) for ceremonial purposes. Today the lake has become a popular destination for anyone who wants to get away from the noisy streets inside the city walls of Jaisalmer. In winter, visitors may find themselves with surprise sighting of migratory birds (along with the lake’s more permanent residents: pigeons, dogs, and the large catfish).
A passageway connects Gadsisar Sagar with the main road. We arrived early in the morning when souvenir stall owners were busy setting up their stalls along the passageway.
Built by Tilon, a famous courtesan, the grand gate Tilon-Ki-Pol is the main gate of Gadsisar Sagar. The maharaja refused Tilon’s proposal of the construction, but Tilon built the gate while the maharaja was away. She put a Krishna temple atop the gate so that the maharaja could not tear it down.
The sky was a little grey despite it was out of the monsoon season. We were delighted with the overcast weather as there was hardly any shading trees along the waterfront.
A group of locals were taking professional photos by the waterfront.
Boating is possible at Gadsisar Sagar. During our visit, we saw one boat occupied by a group of local visitors in the lake.
The chattris (and their reflections) by the shore provided a photogenic setting to the lake.
We decided to walk along the shore for a bit.
We assed by some ghats and decks in front of temples.
No matter how far we went, the chattris near the entrance were often the focal point.
The scenery was peaceful and poetic if we could ignore the trash along the bank.
Apart from pigeons, we also saw a few other kinds of birds at the waterfront.
Just like anywhere else, the dominant type of birds that can live along with humans is always the pigeons.
As time went by, more visitors arrived at the Tilon-Ki-Pol, but hardly any would venture far beyond the entrance area.
Dogs are not uncommon in India, and some of them tend to follow people for a bit.
There are a number of Hindu temples along the shore. They are frequented by local pilgrims.
Where there is Hindu temples there would be “holy men” around.
Upon leaving Gadsisar Sagar and Tilon-Ki-Pol, a street musician caught our attention. He asked us our name and used one of our names in his singing performance.
While surveying the area near Trikuta Hill, outcast prince of the Bhati kingdom Rawal Jaisal met a sage named Eesul, who mentioned a prophesy of Jaisal’s Yaduvanshi clan would one day establish a kingdom here. Inspired by the encounter, Rawal Jaisal established his kingdom and capital city at the Trikuta Hill and called it Jaisalmer based on his own name. Built by Rawal Jaisal in 1156, the 7-storey Fort Palace was the former royal residence of the rulers. We got an official audio guide for our visit. Though there were a number of rooms under renovations when we were there. Perhaps the time was a little late, not too many tourists were around in the palace. Not as monumental as its counterpart in Jodhpur, the Palace was nonetheless a unique element of Jaisalmer Fort that no tourist coming this far into the Thar Desert should miss.
The sati handprints mark the entrance of Jaisalmer Fort Palace. Sati handprints were made by widows of the king who committed self-immolation when their husband passed away in ancient times.
The ornate balcony was the focus of the first courtyard we entered in the palace complex.
From a window on the upper level, we could have a close look at the exquisite detail of the balcony and palace facade.
The Rajasthani heritage of elaborated carvings can be seen all over the palace.
Some of these amazing stone carvings were gifts to the maharaja. This one is placed in the king’s bedroom as an interior decoration.
Stained glass is commonly used in Rajasthani palaces.
From a roof terrace, we enjoyed a “maharaja”‘s view of the fort’s bastions and the yellow sandstone city of Jaisalmer below Trikuta Hill.
The yellow tone of the city presents the perfect scenery of what a picturesque desert oasis.
Not all rooms were completely restored, but even without the original furniture, the wall tiles and wooden carvings were delights for the eye.
Some original furniture were on display behind protective glass.
The king’s bedroom opens to a beautiful courtyard where musicians and dancers would provide pleasant entertainment.
The king’s entertainment courtyard was intimate in scale and finished in beautiful floor and wall tiles.
Some palace balconies offer magnificent views of the city below.
Towards the end of our tour, we passed by a physical model of Jaisalmer Fort, offering us a good opportunity to have a better understanding of the fort layout and places that we had visited throughout the day.
It was late in the afternoon and there were hardly any tourists left in the fort.
Without audio guide and map handout, touring the Jaisalmer Fort Palace would be like walking in a maze.
Near the end of the walk, we passed by quite a few empty chambers.
The detailed ornaments of the palace offered us a glimpse of the beautiful sandstone carving of Jaisalmer. In the following day, we would continue to explore the ancient city for other amazing works of local stone craftsmen.
We returned to the Jain temples at around 11:30. We took off our shoes and placed them near the entrance before entering the temple forecourt. Just like our earlier visit of Chandraprabhu and Rikhabdev Temple (and possibly the other smaller temples interconnected in the maze-like network), we soon lose track of where we had been or which parts we had yet seen during our visit of Shantinath and Kunthunath Temple. Again temple buildings were interconnected at more than one level. For outsiders like us, it was impossible to differentiate the statues and temple chambers from one another. Except the marble statues of tirthankaras, almost everything were carved in the local yellow sandstone. Temple interiors were filled with grotto like shrines, narrow passageways, exquisite statues, and wonderful dome ceilings of sculpted apsaras (celestial nymphs). On the outside, toranas (ceremonial gateways) and shikharas (towers) packed the forecourt. The rich visual experience was coherent throughout the entire visit as we meandered through the temple complex. Given their compact sizes, it was surprising that we had spent the entire morning just to linger around the seven interconnected Jain temples until lunchtime.
Opening time varies for non-worshipers. We had to wait till 11:30 to enter the Shantinath and Kunthunath temple.
Built in 1536, the Shantinath and Kunthunath were equally impressive to the ones we saw earlier in the morning.
We didn’t come to worship so we stayed outside of the temple altar.
From the torana gate to the inner shrine, everywhere in the temple complex was full of details.
From up close, we could admire the sculpted base of the shikharas (towers).
At one end of the temple, we entered a shrine hall where locals were assisted by a holy man to perform certain worshiping rituals.
The outer facade of the hall was beautifully sculpted with what looked like to be symbols depicting religious stories.
The locals left the hall after they finished their worshiping rituals.
Soon we were all by ourselves to admire the dome ceiling of sculpted apsaras (celestial nymphs) and the other statues in the shrine hall.
Some shrines and their sculpted ceilings were not as well restored.
On the upper level, we came to a quiet area. We had the upper level pretty much all by ourselves.
We took our time to check out the different statues on the upper level.
There were a wide range of statues from human sized figures to the very small ones.
Before we left, fellow visitors finally found their way up to the upper level.
At the upper level, we also encountered a interesting footprint carving on a stone counter.
At the lower level, we spent some time examining the statues of dancing girls with large hoop earrings.
Back out to the temple forecourt, we passed by the exquisite torana one last time. Toranas are sacred gateways common in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples.
Back out at the street, we had one final look at the screened balcony connecting the upper level of the two temples. Near the end of our temple visit, we spent quite some time resting on the balcony seat.