Singapore Adventure

Monday, March 27, 2006

Romance At The Amber Fort
by venitha

On a trip to Ireland ten years ago, Jim and I discovered an odd incompatibility that no amount of pre-marital counseling would have revealed: he has a much bigger appetite for castle ruins than I do. A boyish enthusiasm remains from a family trip to Scotland in his youth, and he imagines cauldrons of oil poured through gaps above doorways, fiery arrows shot from rampart walls, manly men in chain mail clutching greasy turkey drumsticks in their fat fists. Okay, that last one might be what I imagine, but you get the idea.

Jim has made valiant efforts to infect me with his zeal, but even his swagger and raucous shouts of Off with her head! don't distract me from the appalling lack of sanitation, the hideously uncomfortable undergarments, and my own undoubted bottom-of-the-dung-heap status.

Thankfully, our twin passions for Guinness and pubs left us with plenty of common ground in Ireland. In India, we love our lassis, but this morning indulgence leaves us plenty of time to tromp through each city's requisite fort, and it was with some trepidation that I followed Jim up the steep and winding cobblestone path to our first ruinous destination, Jaipur's Amber Fort.

Begun in 1592 by Maharaja Man Singh, the Amber Fort is a hilltop aerie, which today towers majestically over the modern pink city of Jaipur on the plains below. The streets of an ancient, yet still-inhabited, neighboring village meander haphazardly, foreshadowing the fort's maze of stately chambers, regal courtyards, and curving sloping passageways.

Up a staircase, round a corner, and through a narrow vestibule, I was astonished by an enormous brightly-tiled facade and charmed by a gaggle of uniformed schoolgirls mugging for my camera.

Within, I was completely captivated, ooh-ing in the marble-columned audience halls and aah-ing in the white-washed pleasure halls. Cooling, calming water trickles down a fish-scaled slide; Italian stained glass windows cast a rainbow of playful lights; mirrored mosaics of Belgian glass undulate with the shadows of the 's women.

Unlike the swashbuckling Henry VIII, Jaipur's maharajas practiced polygamy. Man Singh himself had twelve wives, richly-ornamented maharanis so laden by their golden and bejeweled garments that they could not move and relied on an army of fawning eunuchs to serve them. And, of course, what good are hidden corridors and secret alcoves without a harem of lovelies to tempt a manly man into them?

Seduced by the romance of the final bewitching private chamber, just as at the Taj Mahal, I was reluctant to leave. My imagination brought the enchanting room to life with the flicker of reflected candles and the soft wave of billowing curtains. I covered the cool marble floor with plush carpets and strew sumptuous pillows all about. Seriously, they should rent this place out.

But when I looked for my maharajah, he was across the courtyard with our guide, talking of elephant fights or tiger hunts or some such similarly macho topic.

I sighed along with a dozen queens and countless courtesans, then strode easily and briskly to catch up with the boys. Ah, romance.