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Amber Fort, Jaipur

  Situated about 11 km from Jaipur on the Delhi-Jaipur road, Amber was once the capital of the Jaipur state and attracts thousands of tourists every day, thanks to its famous Sheesh Mahal, the hall of mirrors, and other attractions. It was constructed by the Kachhwahas, who originally hailed from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. The clan, which ruled over Gwalior for over 800 years, first got the Daosa area close to Amber as a gift from a Rajput king when his daughter got married to Kachhwaha prince Tajkaran. The descendents of Tajkaran coveted the hilltop on which the fort was later built, recognizing its potential to be a military stronghold. The Kachhwahas built the fort with the handsome rewards they got from the Mughals whom they fought for in various battles as part of a military alliance. They also cemented their relationship with the Mughals through marital alliances.

As is common with most ancient monuments, there are many legends about the origin of Amber's name. According to one belief, the fort was named after goddess Amba Mata and originally the place was named Ambavati. Another legend says it is named after Ambikeshwara - another form of Lord Shiva. This view get credence from the fact that there is an ancient Ambikeshwara temple within the fort. The elegant and luxurious style of the palace reflects the influence of Mughal architecture while the buildings are a subtle mix of Rajput and Mughal styles, taking the best elements of both to create a beautiful harmony that still charms visitors.

The climb up the fort starts near a lake along which are Mohanbari and Kesar Kyari, two well laid out gardens with geometrically designed flowerbeds. The steep climb can be traversed in royal style on elephant back.

The royal entrance to Amber is through the Surajpol, the east-facing 'sun gate' symbolising the belief that the Kachhwahas descended from the sun. The huge gate also catches the first ray of light at daybreak. Beyond it is the Jaleb Chowk, the grand courtyard where the army assembled for the king to review in the days of yore.

Near it is the double-arched gateway of the Singh pol, or the 'lion gate', beyond which stands a Kali temple where the martial goddess is called Shila Mata. Ahead of the Jaleb Chowk, past the Chandpol - the 'moon gate' -- is main complex of palaces. The first building is Diwan-I-Aam, which follows the Mughal tradition of a palace. The open pavilion, set in a sparkling white courtyard, has 40 red sand stone pillars with beautifully carved lotus and elephant heads as brackets.

Raja Jai Singh, whose contribution towards making the fort a legendary beauty is known to everyone, built the Ganesh Pol, the most ornate ceremonial gateway for royal processions and parades.Going past the Ganesh Pol, visitors wander through a Mughal garden with the Sukh Niwas palace and the Jai Mandir beyond it. The Jai Mandir was Jai Singh's personal palace and has a highly-decorated interior.

The next palace is the Sheesh Mahal, the greatest attraction of Amber. The Mughal style structure has a ceiling encrusted with mirrors in such a way that a single candle flame gets reflected in hundreds of dancing flickers of light like a fairy tale. The ground floor of the palace houses the the Diwan-I-Khas, a room where the king met his ministers.

With its palaces and ambience, Amber still continues to enchant visitors, as it has been doing through ages.

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