Rajasthan – The land of deserts, majestic forts and  kings of great valor. From time to time Rajasthan has enchanted flocks of tourists with its beauty and diversity. Our decision to travel to this marvellous place came during a meeting with my friend Ms. Anupama T V IAS, the current tourism additional director of Kerala. She described her experiences during a short visit to Rajasthan and knowing that I am a traveler, she urged me to plan a trip to Rajasthan. The spark had fallen, and the wanderlust ignited it!
As with every trip, planning and  exploration started in the early phase of October 2014. We planned the trip around the Republic day from January 21st to 26th 2015. We decided to give Agra a miss, as we wanted to concentrate on Rajasthan. Flight tickets were booked to Jaipur and back to Bangalore. The next step was to decide the itinerary. We had just five days and when I took the list of places to visit, I was dazzled and perplexed. There are countless attractions in the cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Pushkar, Mount-Abu and Jaisalmer. To skip some and choose others were a tough task. A middle class person with a regular job can never indulge in roaming around for months like foreigners. We live under strict timelines. So, we decided to limit the visit to Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. The itinerary was ready by the end of November. The flight tickets from Bangalore to Jaipur and back were booked. Roughly the itinerary was as below.
21st Jan 17:00hrs Flight from Bangalore to Jaipur
22nd Jan Jaipur City
22nd Jan night train to Jaisalmer
23rd Jan 11:15hrs Reaching Jaisalmer and a night in desert camp
24th Jan Jaisalmer City
24th Jan night train to Jodhpur
25th Jan Jodhpur City
26th Jan One more day in Jaipur
Train tickets and hotels were booked by the end of December. As usual, the train tickets have high demand and usually get full just after the booking starts. As I was a bit late to book, we got seats in variety of classes ranging from 2nd class sleeper to 1st AC for our various journeys. However, it was a good thing as we could explore the different classes in Indian trains. I would say the quality drastically increase from 2nd Sleeper to 1st AC. We purchased woolen cloths as it was a heavy winter throughout north India. The days did not seem to move as we waited with excitement and slight anxiety.
We were a bit worried as only two of us were traveling and it was our first journey to North India. Even though we had planned each day thoroughly, we were a bit anxious about the new place and how would the people treat us. Also we needed to do long train journeys. As a precaution we bought a pepper spray. Wishing that we would never have to use it, I packed it with the rest of our luggage. When I look back now, our anxieties were pointless as we met highly courteous people in Rajasthan who welcomed us warmly. The rest of this travelogue is also a story about their hospitality and honesty.
The trip officially started on 21st January 2015, 2:30 in the afternoon. We got caught in the notorious traffic jam of Bangalore and reached the airport by 4:00pm. The flight took off and I stared outside the window looking at the astonishing view. The evening sun had turned the sky into a color palette mixing up blue, orange and red colors.
During the 2.5  hour flight, I did not feel bored at all as I was busy looking outside at the view and also entertaining the tomboy kid named Gauri who was in my neighboring seat. The aircraft touched Jaipur and we wore all the woollen cloths as it was pretty chilly outside. It was 8:00 in the night and we needed to go to our hotel named Nahargarh Haveli in the Gopalbari area. The word Nahargarh means the dwelling of lions. We had a tough time making the driver understand where we needed to go. Google maps saved the night and we were in hotel by 9:00. After an ample dinner, I hit bed with the anticipation of the next day.
22nd January 2015
It was 7:00 in the morning and was drizzling outside. We had a nice breakfast and by that time our taxi arrived. We had booked the taxi through an online booking site called savaari.com. Unlike the other trips we had, the online taxi booking and google maps had made a great contribution towards the success of the journey. For once in a lifetime I was happy about being a so-called techie. Our first destination was Amber fort, which is located around 11km from Jaipur city. We crossed the pink city and headed towards the Amber fort. Amber fort was founded by the Kachwa king Raja Man Singh 1 in 1592. Much before that, there was a small fort that belonged a group called “The Meenas” and a temple dedicated to Goddess Amba. Hence the village was named Amber and it gradually became Amer. Both the names are in use now. The Kachwas conquered the Amber village from the Meenas and expanded the Amber fort till the mid of 18th century when they finally moved the capital to Jaipur city in 1727. The huge fort viewed from the approaching road is below.
Amber fort - Rajasthan India - Pick, Pack, Go - - UNESCO Heritage Site
Amber Fort

It was still raining when we reached the Amber fort. The car driver arranged a tour guide for us. His name is Anil. Even though not very fluent in English, he was a witty person with impeccable knowledge of the Amber fort. The traditional and fun way of entering the Amber fort is by riding  an elephant. Tourists get to relive the lives of the Maharajas for a short while, who made grand entrance to the Amber for through the Suraj Pole (or Sun gate) riding their decorated elephants. We waited in the queue for a while to get an elephant. I noticed that most of the tourists are foreigners; especially French. It is really sad that most of the Indians don’t get opportunity to see the great monuments in their very own country. On the other hand the foreigners flock to these places and wait in pouring rain to have a glimpse of the marvelous piece of history. The street vendors were roaming around throwing in a few French words to attract the tourists. Our elephant arrived in fifteen minutes. Getting on it was tough and it was difficult to adjust to the rhythm of the elephant. Our friendly mahout sang Rajathani folk songs and cracked jokes in an attempt to make us comfortable.
Elelphant ride in  Amber fort - Rajasthan India - Pick, Pack, Go
Through the “Sooraj Pole(sun gate)” we entered the central courtyard called the “Jaleb Chowk”. This entrance is faced  east and hence named the sun gate. We had become expert elephant riders by fifteen minutes and we comfortably descended the elephant. The view of the “Jaleb Chow” is as below.
Jaleb Chowk, Courtyard of Amber fort - Rajasthan India - Pick, Pack, Go

Jaleb Chowk is a public area of the fort. It was a place where soldiers assembled after a war victory or to offer the guard of honour to the king. The sides of this courtyard have two story buildings, the lower level was horse stables and the upper level housed the soldiers. On one side of the Jaleb Chowk there are stairs leading to the next level of the fort. Near the stairs, the Sila Devi temple is located. As we climbed the stairs, we heard the bells ringing - marking the commencement of Aarthi. Goddess Kaali is the deity of the Sila Devi temple. The idol of the Sila Devi was obtained by Raja Man Singh, defeating the king of Jassore.( Jassore is in Bangladesh now). Guide Anil told an interesting anecdote about the idol of Sila Devi. The Goddess had asked the king to sacrifice a human every day. However, as the time passed by, the king stopped human sacrifice and started to sacrifice animals. In dissatisfaction the Goddess turned her head sideways. As we entered the temple, we saw that the head of the idol is indeed turned sideways. Camera is not allowed inside the temple. The temple is made of pure white marble. The purest of marbles were only used to build temples in olden days. To build other structures like palaces, marbles with slight impurities were used.
We climbed the stairs and reached the second courtyard of Amber fort. This courtyard houses the Diwaan-E-Aam ( hall of public audience). Diwaan-E-Aam is built with red sand stone and has 40 beautifully carved pillars. Sitting  in Diwaan-E-Aam the king used to receive the public petitions and conducted conference with the nobles.
Diwaan-E-Aam - Red Sand Stone Hall Amber fort - Rajasthan India - Pick, Pack, Go
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On the other side of the second courtyard, a colourful entrance named Ganesh Pole(A gate dedicated to Lord Ganesha) is located. It is an entrance to the more beautiful and delicate areas of the fort. Ganesh Pole is beautifully painted in a Rajput-Mughal fusion style. Plant dyes and turmeric are used as colours along with gold amalgam. Ganesh Pole was built circa 1667. It is really amazing how the painting stay so bright even after centuries. It is indeed the brilliance of the ancient Indian artists. We spent quite a lot of time around Ganesh Pole, clicking photos.
Ganesh Pole - Mural paintings  Amber fort - Rajasthan India - Pick, Pack, Go
Ganesh Pole
Ganesh Pole - Mural paintings  Amber fort - Rajasthan India - Pick, Pack, Go

Guide Anil asked us to pay attention to the windows on the Ganesh Pole, which has intricate lattice designs. It is called "Jaali" in Hindi. In olden days, royal ladies used to observe Purdah- a tradition by which they never showed their faces to the outsiders. These latticed windows helped the women folk in the Fort to observe the proceedings in the courtyard, without being seen by the public.
Jaali - Latticed Window of Amber fort - Rajasthan India - Pick, Pack, Go
Jaali - Latticed Window of Amber fort - Rajasthan India - Pick, Pack, Go

From Ganesh Pole, we entered into a tunnel way, and ended up in the 3rd courtyard. This is the most beautiful part of Amber fort, housing two marvellous constructions called the Jai Mahal(Seesh Mahal/ Mirror Palace) and Sukh Niwas( the House of pleasure) separated by a Mughal styled garden. We entered the Seesh Mahal(Mirror Palace) first. As the name suggests, Seesh Mahal is decorated with thousands of convex Belgian mirrors. When the first ray of the sun touches these mirrors, Sheesh Mahal glitters like gold. Our guide Anil demonstrated this using his Mobile phone’s flash light. The roof was lit up with the light reflecting on thousands of mirror bits. It was indeed a glorious sight.
The Mirror Palace - Sheesh Mahal Amber fort - Rajasthan India - Pick, Pack, Go
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 Apart from beatification, the mirrors on Seesh Mahal had another function. They used to keep this palace warm during the winter season. The heat from the lamps fitted on the walls were reflected by the mirrors and kept the palace warm. When we looked closely, we saw iron hooks on the roof, which were used to hang woolen curtains around the Mahal . These curtains prevented the heat dissipation. There is an interesting piece of art work on the pillars of the Seesh Mahal. It is a flower vase carved in white marble. On a closer look, it reveals much more than a simple flower vase. It has at least a dozen of animals hidden inside the innocent flower vase. There is a mirror image of the same on the second pillar of Seesh Mahal. It is known as the Magic Flower of Seesh mahal. But for us it was the testimony of the craftsmanship of Indian artists.
Palace of Pleasures - Sukh Niwas  Amber fort - Rajasthan India - Pick, Pack, Go
 Across the Sheesh Mahal, beyond the Mughal garden, stands the summer home called Sukh-Niwas(the palace of pleasure). The walls of Sukh-Niwas is painted white with simple but elegant wall paintings. The Sukh-Niwas has many amenities to fight the scorching heat. There was even an artificial water fall inside the Mahal. The water was recycled through the glass water ducts on the floor. Sukh Niwas also has iron hooks fitted on the roofs. These hooks were used to hang wet khas-khas curtains. These curtains, the specific shape of the latticed windows and the continuous flow of water made sure that Sukh Niwas stayed cool during the summers.
We entered the fourth courtyard of the Amber fort. The fourth courtyard is the oldest part of the fort. It was built by Raja Man Singh in 1599. This area is known as the Palace of Raja Man Singh and there are various rooms around the courtyard known as the Zenani Deorhi or the ladies apartment. This courtyard has also appeared in Jodha Akbar movie. We roamed around a while in the fourth courtyard and it was almost time to bid farewell to Amber fort. We exited through the Moon Gate of the Amber fort and reached the parking lot. We also visited the showrooms of Rajasthan Small Scale Cottage Industries (RSSCI). The main attraction in the RSSCI is the miniature model of the Taj Mahal made in white marble. It was time to say good byes to our guide Anil. We wished if all the tourist guides were like Anil who considers his job as a way to introduce the majestic culture and history of his land to the visitors. Indian tourism does need people like him!
The car started and I peeked out of the window to catch the last glimpses of Amber fort . The below photograh is a sky view of the Amber fort captured from the Jaigarh fort. Jaigarh fort is located in the Aravalli mountain ranges, above the Amber fort. We would travel through Jaigarh fort, City palace and Hawa Mahal in the next part.

View of Amber fort - Rajasthan India - Pick, Pack, Go

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