Amber Fort

The following morning I asked around for Lucky and he was happy to take us to the Amber Fort (pronounced Amher) and back for 125 Rupees, about $3.  As it is early in the morning, the traffic isn’t too bad and we were able to have a relaxing ride to the fort.

As we near the mountain pass where the fort sits, Carol notices elephants on the side of the road.  She’s a real sucker for all animals, and the bigger the better.  She convinced the driver and I to pull over to feed them.  We negotiated with the banana vendor, bought a few bananas, and then fed the huge grey creatures.

I remember a joke that I heard in the 3rd grade.  She’s from England so I’m sure she’s never heard it:

Why do Elephants have so many wrinkles?

I don’t know, why?

Have you ever tried to iron one?

She laughs heartily, probably because she didn’t expect such a corny punch line.  The elephants are very gentle with their trunks, delicately taking the bananas and then guiding them to their mouths.

Further up the road, we pull over at the base of the mountain to take pictures of the fort we are approached by a junior magician.  This little boy is able to make a rock disappear before our eyes.  We ask him to do the trick again and again and I was still not able to figure out where he put the rock.  He certainly has crafted his trade.  We tip him 20 Rupees and continue down the road.

At Amber Fort, the tourists pay a few dollars to ride the elephants to the top of the hill.  I don’t like the idea of keeping these majestic creatures around as taxis and Carol agrees so we decided to head up the trail on foot.

The hills around Rajastan are covered in forts and hilltop castles.  It reminds me of the coast of Oman and Yemen where every hilltop is covered by a Portuguese fort from the 16th or 15th Century.  These forts were built by the Raj, known for their fierce warrior tradition.

The Raj were rarely subdued by the Muslim Moguls or later, by the British rulers.  Most of the Raj princes were allowed autonomy within a confederation of states in India.  To this day the Raj princes exist in some form while their castles and forts serve as museums.  The photo above is shot above the main Palace complex but is still part of the Fort’s defenses.  Further down the hill along the hill ridge I could see fortifications that reminded me of the Great Wall of China (below).

At the top of the hill we were able to tour the palace and its gardens.  The cool breeze blew through the palace as we enjoyed the view from the top of the hill.  Below we could see down into the town and I imagined the Raj Prince as he looked down on his subjects during his reign.

The Palace was decorated in a similar style as the White Palace inside of the Red Fort; small pieces of glass and mirror were embedded into the plaster.  This decorative effect is quite beautiful and I imagined what it must look like when it is illuminated by hundreds of candles.  Inside the courtyard near the Palace stood lush gardens.  The weather was dry and warm and with the brown hills, it reminded me of the hills in California.


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Jaipur

… one of the many beautiful gates leading into the heart of Jaipur…

Jaipur, the capital of Rajastan seems so much more orderly than Delhi and Agra.  There is a lot less horn honking and more of a respect for the traffic laws.  My hotel is very nice and runs me about $12 per night.  It is a far cry from the $187 I paid for one night at the airport hotel in Dubai during a layover a few days ago, and that was just to sleep for 6 hours!  In my Jaipur Hotel, named Hotel Atithi, I have a lovely balcony, there is room service, a restaurant and internet on the premises, a roof top patio, and a lovely lawn out front where you can read and enjoy a cup of Chai Tea.  On my first morning I have breakfast with my German friends and we discuss our plans for the day.

… my hotel balcony and garden…

I decide to take the day off and just relax and read.  Rainer and Tanya have referred me to a great book about India and I read in the garden and learn more about India, its culture(s), and religion(s).  I am intrigued and fascinated to learn about Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Islam, India’s Christianity, and many others.  I knew very little about Hinduism.  I tried reading the Vedic texts in the early 90’s, but they were pretty hard to follow, I think because so many of the names sound the same in English.

… lunch on the roof of the Pearl Palace Hotel gives a wonderful bird’s-eye view of Jaipur…

… nearby, the century’s old Raj fortress stands lookout…

Looking at the Hindu religion now, from an outsider’s perspective, it reminds me quite a bit of Catholicism.  I didn’t expect that at all.  To me, growing up, Hinduism was completely taboo as I’m sure it is to the Jews and Muslims.  The whole idea of worshiping statues and graven images was “verboten” as I grew up in a Christian household.  My understanding of Hinduism was that they all worshiped different Gods.  And this is true, to an extent.  What I did not realize about Hinduism was that they believe in an all present, omniscient, omnipotent God, Brahman.  He, or it, depending on how you look at it, is everywhere and in everything.  But, Brahman is manifested in many ways and in many forms.  All of the Gods that we imagine when we think of India, Vishnu for example, is a manifestation of Brahman.

The dictionary defines Brahman as:

The holy or sacred power that is the source and sustainer of the universe.  The single absolute being pervading the universe and found within each thing and individual.

When I compare many Catholics praying to Mother Mary and so many of the Saints, I can see a lot of parallels with Hinduism.  But, in the mind of a pious Catholic praying to a Saint to intercede for them to God, in much the same ways do Hindus pray to different Gods for different things; health, fortune, fertility, etc.

Since the concept of praying to a picture or statue was so “foreign” to me, looking at it now, I never really took it seriously myself.  Somewhere in the back of my head, I didn’t think of Hindus as “religious” people because, hey, how can you pray to a human with an elephant nose, or a monkey face, or with dozens of arms, or that is painted blue?  I had the notion of Hinduism, as I am sure many Christians, Muslims, & Jews have, as much less than serious.  My views have certainly changed on this trip.  I was impressed with the devotion of the Hindus towards their Gods (or manifestations of God) and to the religious rituals associated with the religion.

One drive that I had in a taxi going through the hills in the Rajastan desert around Pushkar come to mind.  Every time we passed a Hindu temple or roadside statue of a particular God, my driver would take his hands off the wheel, steer with his knees, place his palms together in front of his chest, the tips of his fingers beneath his chin, and then he would nod his head and say a prayer.  I am not sure what he was praying for, but I was praying that he wouldn’t crash while praying to his God(s).

I can definitely say that I have gained a much broader respect for this religion than I previously had.  Mark Twain’s quote that travel is fatal to prejudice and bigotry is proven once again.

Near lunchtime, I went downstairs to the garden to continue reading my book “Holy Cow,” when I met a Swiss man who paints his own postcards.  I am a die-hard post card aficionado, but when I saw this young man’s work, I was most impressed.  I watched as he hand-painted a half-dozen post cards.  After they dried, he filled them out, placed a stamp on them, and then readied them to go to the post office.  He told me that he will paint about 25 or 30 cards and mail them to friends and family.  Later, I tried to paint a post card of the Taj Mahal; it looked like a broken stick figure building.

Later, in Jaipur, I ventured into town to buy some post cards and take the day off.  My taxi driver/guide is named “Lucky.”  He will come to be a “regular” for the next 3 days.

That night at the hotel, I meet Carol.  She is from England but lives in Italy where she works as an English teacher.  She’s volunteered teaching English in India for the last two months and is now taking her last 4 weeks to tour around India.  We agree to split a cab to Amber (pronounced Amer) Fort about 15km to the north the following morning.


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