Surrounded by ramparts, this dramatically beautiful fortress is perched on a hill near the rippleless Maota Lake and grows more alluring as you approach it. The most memorable part of a trip here is standing at the fort's highest point and photographing the parade of elephants, decked in red, regally plodding into the courtyard in the morning. There's a Persian inscription at Amer, added when it was completed, that reads: "Just as the heavens should always be laden with rain, so also this stately building, the foundation of the Maharaja's longevity and wealth, be preserved from any kind of damage," and it has been preserved remarkably well.
Raja Man Singh began building it in 1592; Mirza Raja Jai Singh and Sawai Jai Singh continued the construction over a period of 125 years. For centuries the fortress was the capital of the Kachhawah Rajputs, but when the capital shifted to Jaipur in the early 18th century, the site was abandoned. Although the fort is in ruins, the interior palaces,
gardens, and temples retain much of their pristine beauty. Both the art and the architecture combine Rajput and Mughal influences in felicitous ways; the old rainwater harvesting and lifting systems have been renovated and are paricularly worth a look. You approach the palace complex by walking or, if you arrive very early, by riding an elephant (available from 7 am until 11 am only, Rs 800 for two people, but show up before 7 am) up a sloping incline to the Singh Pole gate and Jaleb Chowk, the preliminary courtyard—or you can drive up from the rear end into Jaleb Chowk. The fort-palace attracts legions of tourists, especially during high season when Indians are also traveling (summer, Diwali, Independence Day and the Christmas holidays) and sometimes the traffic volume is so high the traffic police close the roads to prevent further arrivals. You are best off exiting your hotel for Amer by 8:15 and reaching the fort entrance by 8:45 to beat both the heat and rush and see the elephant parade. You will then need to set aside just an hour to tour the fort. To get the most from your visit, pick up an audioguide at the ticket window.
Two flights of stairs lead up from Jaleb Chowk; to start, skip the one leading to the Shiladevi Temple and take the one leading directly to the palace. In the next courtyard, the pillared Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience) contains alabaster panels with fine inlay work—the kind of craftsmanship for which Jaipur is famous. Typical of the Mughal period, the rooms are small and intimate, whereas the palace's successive courtyards and narrow passages are characteristically Rajput. In one corner is an interesting hamam (Turkish bath) area.
One of the elaborately carved and painted gates is known as Ganesh Pol, after the elephant god Ganesh. From a latticed corridor above it, the queen—always in purdah, or hiding—would await the king's return from battle and sprinkle scented water and flowers down upon him. Each room shows some vestige of its former glory, especially the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors), with glittering mirror work on the ceiling. Narrow flights of stairs lead up to the lavish royal apartments, and beyond the corridors and galleries there you'll find the small, elegant Char Bagh garden. Take in the views of the valley, the palace courtyards, the formal gardens abutting the octagonal pool next to the lake, and the vast Jaigarh Fort, the ancient fortress on the crest of the hill above you. Also on the upper floor is Jas Mandir, a hall with filigreed marble jalis (screens) and delicate mirror and stuccowork.
On your way out, peek into the 16th-century Shiladevi Temple to the goddess Kali, with its silver doors and marble carvings. Raja Man Singh installed the image of the goddess after bringing it here from lower Bengal (now Bangladesh). Exit the palace by the gate near the temple, and just a few minutes down the road is the 16th-century Jagat Shiromani temple. Dedicated to Krishna, this exquisitely carved marble-and-sandstone temple was built by Raja Man Singh I in memory of his son. Amer village has several other old temples and buildings. Within the fort, before you exit, is a Coffee Cafe Day to catch a cool drink and a few legitimate government-run handicraft stores, Rajasthali, Magical Creations, and Tribes, which are worth visiting. Avoid the handicraft shops in Amer village, even if your guide or driver recommends them.