During the medieval times, the city of Amer was known as Dhundar. It was first built by the Meena tribe of Rajasthan and lies about 11 kilometres from present-day Jaipur. From the 11th century onwards, the city came under the reign of the powerful Kachwaha Rajputs and in 1592, Raja Man Singh I, the trusted commander-in-chief of Mughal Emperor Akbar’s army, began the construction of Amber Fort.
The fort was further developed by Man Singh’s descendent, Jai Singh I, who rose to prominence when Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan ascended the throne. Two of Amber Fort’s important complexes, the Diwan-i-Khas and Ganesh Poll, were built by Jai Singh I. Over the course of 150 years and with each successive Rajput ruler, the structure underwent several renovations and expansions. Interestingly, due to the Kachwahas’ close relations with the Mughals, the Amber Fort never had to defend itself in a war.
In 1727, Raja Jai Singh II finally decided to move the capital from Amer to Jaipur in order to accommodate the ever-increasing population of his subjects and to address the gnawing problem of water scarcity in the city. Even though Amer began to gradually lose its prominence, the fort has always been well-preserved. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.
Built out of pale yellow and red sandstone and white marble, the Amber Fort combines architectural elements from both Rajput and Mughal traditions. The fort is laid out in a series of four major sections, each consisting of its own entry gate and courtyard. The main entrance to the fort is through Suraj Pol, or the Sun Gate, which leads to the primary courtyard known as Jaleb Chowk. It is here that soldiers are said to have held their victory marches and flaunted war bounties.
Being the main entrance, the cobbled streets leading up to Suraj Pol were always heavily guarded. Today, visitors can take an elephant ride up to this same street in order to reach the fort. However, animal rights activists have called for a ban on the use of elephants at Amber Fort for years. Alternately, you can opt for a golf cart, take your own car or just walk up to the fort. Walking takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
Towards the right is the Shila Devi temple, which was used by the Rajput kings as their chief place of worship. The temple is open from 6 am to noon and from 4 pm to 8 pm. The ruling kings would often conduct animal sacrifices here during the festival of Navratri in order to appease the temple goddess. The practice was stopped only in 1975.
The second courtyard can be accessed after you ascend the grand stairway from Jaleb Chowk. The leads you to the Diwan-e-Aam (Hall of Public Audience), which is distinguished by its many pillars. Diwan-e-Aam is a where the kings interacted with their subjects and heard their grievances and it is an integral part of most Mughal palaces, including the Red Fort in New Delhi and Fatehpur Sikri.
The king hosted his ministers and special guests from other princely regions in another chamber called the Diwan-e-Khaas or the Hall of Private Audience. This room is more ornately designed than the one meant for public meetings and has delicate mosaic work in glass.
To reach the third courtyard, you need to walk through the elaborately designed Ganesh Pol. The gate has been named after the Hindu god Ganesh, who is believed to eliminate obstacles from peoples’ lives. The gate is embellished with colourful mosaics and its topmost part hosts the Suhag Mandir, where the royal women watched proceedings held in the Diwan-e-Aam through latticed windows. The private quarters of the royal family await beyond this gate.
The palatial area has two main buildings with a beautiful garden standing in between them. The blueprint of the garden is based on Mughal-style architecture. The building on the left is the exquisite Sheesh Mahal (the Mirror Palace) so named because of the intricate glass work on the walls and ceilings. It is said that the queen loved gazing at the stars but she wasn’t allowed to sleep in the open air. So the glass place was built for her. When the hall is lit with candles, the mirrors reflect the light and give the impression of a thousand stars glowing in the night sky.
On the right is the Sukh Niwas (Hall of Pleasure), which consists of ornate doors made of sandalwood and ivory. A channel of water ran through this room and worked as an air-conditioner in those times helping to cool the room during hot summer months. The king spent time with his queen and his mistresses in this part of the fort.
The fourth courtyard consists of Raja Man Singh’s palace and the zenana, or the women’s quarters. This is one of the oldest sections of the fort built around 1599. The king’s consorts and their attendants lived in different rooms in the zenana. At the centre is a pavilion where the ladies would often meet with each other.
Apart from the regular tour of the Amber Fort, visitors can also enjoy a sound and light show held near Maota Lake just below the Fort. Segway tours have also been introduced here recently, which have been quite a hit with the tourists.