3. Jaipur, India: Amer Palace
I have to admit I've never been a big fan of the Taj Mahal. Maybe it's too symmetrically perfect. Maybe its overexposure on a zillion travel posters, TV ads and magazine covers has reduced it to cliche. Or maybe it's the mushy, slushy love story that underlies it. What can I say? I'm not the sentimental type.
A couple of years ago, while travelling through Northern India, I saw the Taj up close. Or, rather, the part of it that was visible through air so polluted you'd need a hacksaw to cut through it. I still wasn't impressed.
Fortunately, in a land of dazzling architecture and amazing spectacle, I saw a number of structures that made a far deeper imprint on my aesthetic psyche .
Like the Palace of Winds:
And the Baha'i Temple on the outskirts of Delhi:
Construction of the Amber Fort began in 1592, during the reign of the Moghul (Muslim) Emperor Akbar the Great. It was built of red sandstone and white marble, and blends together Moghul and Hindu styles.
For those not into architecture or history, what you mostly need to know is that it's the kind of classic fort that we would have loved to run around in as kids. It's full of ramparts, exotic gates, cobblestone paths, and colourful lookout points like this:
Which in my own still childish mind I reimagine as looking like this:
The Fort is built around four courtyards. At the rear of the first courtyard is the highly ornate Ganesha Gate.
Lord Ganesha is one of the 330 million Hindu deities, but a particularly popular one since he's regarded as "the remover of obstacles". He has the body of a man and the head of an elephant, as you can see from the image near the top
of this archway:
He's also cute as the dickens:
At the top of the Ganesha Gate are beautiful lattices behind which the ladies of the Palace would sit, out of sight, looking down at the troops gathering for battle or celebrating victory:
From the other side of the Ganesha Gate the observation perch looks like this:
Also near the Ganesha Gate are embossed double-leaf silver doors that lead to the small Sila Devi temple where the Maharajas worshiped:
The Sheesh Mahal, or Hall of Mirrors, is generally regarded as the most beautiful part of the fort -- although I'm more of a Ganesha Gate man myself.
The ornamentation is impressive whether viewed from afar:
Or up close:
One of the stories behind the Hall of Mirrors is that in ancient days the King's wife wasn't allowed to sleep in the open air, but she loved to see the stars. The King's architects designed the hall such that if two candles were lit, the multiple reflections would convert that light into thousands of "stars".
The Sheesh Mahal also contains a formal garden with a star-shaped fountain, typical features of an Islamic garden.