Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Gardens at the Amber Fort, Jaipur

Early morning sun lighting up the magnificent Amber Fort on the hills behind the Maotha Lake near Jaipur in north-east India.
While in India, I got get a glimpse of a couple of magnificent gardens that I'd so far only seen in books. The Amber Fort in Jaipur was one of the most beautiful, even if the gardens there are only a shadow of what they must have been when they were built to please their original owners. The name Amber Fort (also spelled as Amer Fort) honors the Hindu goddess Amba and has nothing to do with its namesake gemstone, even if that definitely springs to one's mind when the fort glows in the soft morning light.

The Dil-e-Aaram Garden that leads to the entrance route; landscape as seen from an elephant's back on the entrance route to the fort.
Construction of the fort and palace was started in 1592 by Raja Man Singh I, a Kachhawa King of the Rajput clan of the Amber (later Jaipur) state, who also was a trusted commander in Mughal emperor Akbar's army. The work didn't stop until two centuries later, resulting in a huge, magnificent red sandstone and white marble bastion, filled with skillfully painted murals, stained-glass windows, and walls with intricate, inlaid stonework filled with precious stones and cut pieces of mirror. The gardens of the fort and palace are a fusion of Indo-Indian garden art, marrying the Islamic design traditions and iconographies of the Mughals with the corresponding Hindi ones of the Rajput clan. Jodh Bai, a Rajput princess who was one of Akbar's wives, is often mentioned as the creative force behind the gardens, but this is probably a more romantic than true version of their origin.

Elephants working their way up to the fort; they are allowed to make maximum 6 trips up to the fort in the winter, and 3 on hot summer days.
The Amber Fort stands on a steep hillside and rises above the waters of the Maotha Lake, an artificial lake that also worked as a water reservoir for the dry months. Access to the fort goes  through the Dil-e-Aaram Garden, which is - like all the other gardens in the Amber Fort - built in the traditional Mughal style based on the Islamic concept of chahar bagh (originally from Persian and also spelled charbagh), a "four garden" that represents the Islamic paradise garden with its four waterways. These gardens are defined by their central water source and their quadripartite design, in which each section is further divided into a series of geometric beds. 

The elaborate Kesar Kyari saffron garden with its planted star patterned terraces clearly visible from the Fort.
Climbing up the road to the fort, the Kesar Kyari (saffron garden) slowly comes visible, floating like a huge Persian carpet on a large stone terrace rising up from the center of the lake. According to our guide and other sources, the Kesar Kyari was planted with saffron (Crocus) plants so that their scent could waft up to the palace - a strange story for a gardener, as crocuses don't have especially strong scent, and the season of such a planting would have been only very few weeks a year...
Inside the palace, behind a a series of corridors and archways, lies another chahar bagh garden with parterresi built in n white marble that form hexagrams and other complicated patterns. Even here the most dominant motif is a star, a symbol of intellectual powers and life itself for the garden's ancient Mughal and Rajput inhabitants.
The chahar bagh paradise garden inside the palace. Unfortunately, the water works were under maintenance; usually, four sprouts of water rise from the central fountain.
According to our guide, the gardens are under restoration and will some day be planted with vibrantly colored, scented plants are they were long ago. Today, they are filled with low-maintenance shrubs in the most common hues of grey, lime green, darker green and purple. But even as like that, they are magnificent enough to make one's imagination fly to the splendor of the olden days, when the Mughal Maharajahs held their court in the Fort with their countless wives.  

The magnificent landscape seen from the Fort; a wall with several watch-towers on the high hills around circles the gardens in the lake, forming a well-suited, majestic frame for them. 


Gardener in the Distance said...

Liisa, you certainly move around alot!
The scale of these gardens is incredible. The work that's gone into them is incalculable. Your photos are real eye-openers.
I've never quite seen anything like them.

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Hello Faisal, good to hear from you!

Yes, it was a real traveling year, and it seems like this year will be one, too. All goo, but I do miss having my own garden!

India is amazing, all there amazing buildings and gardens, contrasted by a truly 3rd world poverty and pot-holed roads. There is so much to see, but the travelling can be quite rough.

I wish you a great gardening and writing year of 2013. All the best, Liisa.

James Golden said...

To repeat Faisal, you certainly are traveling a lot, Liisa. This is a very strange garden, not at all what I've come to expect of chahar bagh gardens (at least from books).

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Hello James, and Happy New year to you, too! Yes, it is an extraordinary garden, and fort/palace, as it is such a marriage between the Hindu influences and traditions of the Rajputs, and the Islamic ones of the Mughals. I was so impressed of these old, magnificent sites of India, and was wondering how my kids will ever be impressed by the European ones after having seen all this... Amazing, but such a tough environment with so much poverty contrasting with all the splendour. I've just ordered a couple of real "treatises" about Indian and Mughal gardens, and can't wait to learn more.

Unknown said...

beautiful pictures..Keep it up