Amer town

The Walk. There has been rapid, unplanned activity in Amber in recent years. Yet, some vestiges of its past remain. Walk on the few cobbled streets that still remain, going past ruined havelies and old temples, and it will be as if one is walking into the past. There are many other minor ruins of havelies and temples scattered all over the old township. Some are being reused while others have just been left untouched. This town is best explored on foot; the lanes are narrow and comparatively free of traffic. Things may change drastically in a few years, so see it now before all traces of its history are lost forever.

Walk down from the rear entrance of the fort and as you get to the base of the hill, turn left. Located behind the fort is the abandoned palace of the Kachchawa rulers, commonly known as the Narsinghji temple. It is one of the few protected monuments in this area but do not expect too much from it. It's importance is more historical than architectural, as this was the first palace of the Kachchawas. This was their home before they moved to the larger, more elegant Amber Palace.

Built by Raja Narsingh Dev (1388-1428) in the early fifteenth century, the temple occupies a small portion of the structure. Within the rooms that were once used for ceremonial purposes are the Rajtilak ki Chhatri, where the rulers were anointed, and the Balabai ki Saal where important rituals connected to marriages took place.

Get the caretaker who is on duty here, to show you around.

Come out of the temple and go straight on the road heading eastwards. When you get to the T-junction, turn left first and go up the slope to the Sanwalaji ka Mandir better known as the Digambar Jain Mandir.

This seventeenth century temple can be seen mainly for its design and location because thoroughly modern restoration has taken away quite a bit of its beauty.

Walk down from this temple and you will see a ruined temple on the left. Go past this and when you get to the lane from where you turned left, see the building on the right corner. This is one of the most beautiful temples in Amber - the Jagat Shiromani temple.

Take off your shoes and walk up the stairs for a closer look because this temple, more than any other, deserves a closer look.

The Jagat Shiromani Temple is famous for its architectural beauty. It was constructed in the sixteenth century by Man Singh I in memory of his eldest son, Jagat Singh. The temple has images of lord Vishnu as well as Radha and Krishna. Legend has it that in the sixteenth century, the saint-poetess Mira Bai, a devotee of lord Krishna, brought this idol with her from Chittaurgarh. The temple has a remarkable toran, or gateway, with elaborate carvings on its marble pillars and columns.

Walk back to the street and take the straight narrow lane going northwards. A few remnants of the old buildings can be seen here. Keep to the road until it gets you to a large open area known as Ambikeshwar Chowk.

This is a community space for the town, with a well, huge trees and two temples close to each other. The one on the left is Rameshwarji ka Mandir, a seventeenth century temple dedicated to lord Ram. Next to it is the sixteenth century Ambikeshwar Mahadev temple, one of Amber's oldest temples.

Ambikeshwar Mahadev. The origins of this temple, dedicated to lord Shiva, are obscure. It has carved marble pillars and marble flooring. The temple lies ten feet below ground level and if local legend is to be believed, then the temple is sinking and may not be around for too long. Legend also has it that Amber got its name from this temple. If you want to have a closer look, take off your shoes at the entrance and go in. It is not crowded like other temples but attracts a large number of devotees during Shivratri, lord Shiva's birth celebrations.

To the north, and overlooking the quiet and peaceful courtyard where the Ambikeshwar temple is located, lies the Panna Miah Ka Kund. Come out of the temple and walk towards the narrow lane on the left. Just after the turning, the lane widens and the entrance to the kund is on the right. Go in through this arched gateway and climb the few steps on the left.

Panna Miah Ka Kund. Built in the seventeenth century by Panna Miah, a eunuch and leading official at the court of Raja Jai Singh II, it is square shaped with octagonal kiosks at the four corners and a double storied veranda.

These step-wells are unique to this side of the country where water was always in short supply. This is one of the better-preserved wells in this area and this huge man-made water reservoir was used for both drinking and bathing purposes and has a flight of steps leading down to the water level. This tank has been partly restored and is still used by the local people and their animals. Soon after rains, this becomes a swimming pool for the local boys who dare each other to jump from the highest point possible.

From the kund if you walk eastwards, the cobbled path will take you past some more ruined temples and havelies and then out through the Kheri Gate, one of the old gates of Amber. The Sagar is a popular picnic spot and located just behind Jaigarh fort, in a depression formed by the surrounding hills. It consists of two terraced lakes that were once important sources of water supply at times of siege. The stepped fortification walls descend to the lake and there are traces of an elaborate water transport system here, through which the water was taken up by elephants. There is a small nondescript temple here but the lush green hilly slopes between Kheri Gate and Sagar are a walker's delight.

Come back the same way, and go towards the Jagat Shiromani temple and turn left when you get to the T-junction. This is the road that will lead you towards the bus stand. Further on the road, on the left is another protected monument - the Sanghi Juntharam temple.

Sanghi Juntharam temple. This is one of Amber's more important temples. It was originally a Jain temple but was later converted into a Saivite one. Mohandas, the prime minister of Mirza Raja Singh I, built it in AD 1657. Juntharam, a descendant of Mohandas, made additions in later years and hence the name. It stands on a high platform and has some very fine carving on its inner walls. At one time, it had a beautiful twelve-sided well, a small garden and several chĐ°mbers. Today, most of it is ruined but one can catch a glimpse of its past glory.

Carry on the same road and you will be out of the town on the Jaipur-Delhi road.

The main market and the Amber bus stand are located on this road. Hidden behind shops selling mementoes, teashops and restaurants selling bottled soft drinks and local sweets, is the beautiful Laxmi Narayan temple. There is also a kos minar located here. There is encroachment all around but worth a look.

When you come out on this busy road, keep to the left and you will find another lane turning in to the left. A few steps in and you will find an imposing Jain temple on the left. It is in fairly good condition and has many carved panels and pillars.

Come back and continue your walk towards another major monument - The Akbari Mosque.

It was built in AD 1569. Akbar is believed to have stopped here to pray while he was on his way to the Dargah in Ajmer. The mosque has been repaired several times in the past but the basic structure remains unchanged.

Come out on to the main road and further down this road, again towards the west, is a walled enclosure that was the old burial ground for the rulers of Amber - Bharmal ki Chhatri.

Chhatris. There is a group of 'chhatris' or cenotaphs in different shapes and sizes. Some are twelve sided, some circular and others square with porticos on their four sides. All of them have domes crowned by finials. Their ceilings are very interesting - concentric rings of overlapping stones, with beautiful pendants hanging from their centres.

After the seat of power was moved to Jaipur, this was abandoned and a new spot established at Gaitor. Though one can still see a carved pillar here and a hint of wall painting there, most of the cenotaphs lie in ruins. They are neither dated nor is it known which chhatri belongs to which ruler.

Walk a little more on this road, and then cross over to the other side of the road. This area would be of special interest to animal lovers. This is a colony of elephant owners. Watch them being fed and bathed and painted if it is a special occasion. Elephants from here take the tourists up to Amber, go as part of marriage processions, and participate in the elephant festival.

It may interest you to know that there are around eighty-eight elephants in Jaipur, and this is just one of the colonies where they live. While you are here, ask for the elephant that greeted former US president, Bill Clinton!

Amer town