Up and out this morning at 8:30 a.m. First stop was a photo stop at the Palace of the Winds. We had driven by this building yesterday but you really can't take a good photograph from a moving bus. So this time we double parked and crossed three lanes of crazy traffic, braved some crafty hawkers ("Where are you from?") all in order to take a good photograph of just a facade (there is no palace behind the Palace of the Winds).
Our destination this morning was the Amber Fortress whose name has nothing to do with "amber" as in the honey-colored substance from which jewelry is made. Instead, the name "Amber" is a shortened version of the name of a Hindu goddess. Anyhow, this Amber fortress is a pretty large complex. It consists of an extensive wall, an artificial lake, two or three military forts (at least one of which is a foundry also) and a palace for the Maharajah and his family/retinue. We concerned ourselves primarily with the palace complex. But first in order to get there we had to board jeeps (4 people per jeep) and ride to the top of a rather steep hill. Although this was a short drive it was packed with a typically large dose of Indian flavor including elephants (transporting other visitors), smoke, sewer smell, exhaust, hawkers (riding the bumper while simultaneously trying to sell us stuff), stray dogs, begging children and of course the ubiquitous honking horns.
Once atop the hill we entered a courtyard where we waited for the tickets to be purchased while hawkers assaulted us from all directions. Vendors are a nearly continuous annoyance when traveling in a big group. We've had them at almost every port we've visited. They vary in degree of persistence with the Indian vendors taking top prize. This persistence is highly irritating to some. I personally don't enjoy it but have discovered that the best way to deal with it is to avoid eye contact. You mustn't look at the merchandise either -- not even a glance because they will take that as an opportunity to continue with renewed vigor.
Our visit to the palace featured frescoes done with vegetable dyes, scalloped archways (love those), Venetian plaster walls, lovely screens with geometric patterns, lots of balconies and views of the lake, walls, other forts, town, garden and scrubby, dry landscape. The highlight was the Hall of Mirrors which featured some 2 million mirrors arranged in decorative patterns with a distinctly Mughal (that is Indian Islamic) flair.
Frescoes done with vegetable dyes
After returning in our jeeps to the bus we headed off to our next stop. We drove for awhile and even finished with a long stretch on an unpaved road before arriving at a lodge/camp. Here we went for an elephant ride. Our mahout (elephant handler) was friendly enough but not nearly as gentle with his elephant as the one we had in Phuket. Plus our elephant kept clearing his nose/sneezing by blowing "elephant perfume" (mostly, please God, just water) all over us. Not fun. Also the platform put us back-to-back making conversation difficult. Still it was fun (not everyday do you get to go on an elephant ride) and the Indian lunch afterward, served al fresco was very tasty.
The group was split into two buses: those who wanted to go back to the hotel and those who wanted to go shopping. We were among the non-shoppers. Back at the hotel we quickly to take showers to get the "elephant perfume" off. Later we did some shopping at the hotel in a gift shop/English language bookstore (wahoo!). Of course I bought some books! Dumb but there you have it. It was straight to bed after dinner because tomorrow we return to the ship and must get up at five in the morning. Bummer.