After the crowds at Jaipur’s Amber Fort, we were surprised to find Jaigarh Fort almost deserted.
NOTE: this is STILL the same day described in Part 1 here. (image credit: all photos unless otherwise noted are ©Janine Smith & Jayalakshmy Ayyer)
We’d seen Jaigarh Fort looming above us as we explored Amber Fort that morning.
Now we looked down to see Amber Fort spread out below.
Built in the eighteenth century by Jai Singh II to protect Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort is an engineering feat whose walls enclose over three kilometers, including Amber Fort with Maota Lake gleaming like a jewel so far below, and the artificial Man Sagar Lake, water supply for Jaigarh fort.
The fort’s water, we learned, was originally transported in pouches loaded on elephants. Later, a water harvesting system was installed which included 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) of narrow canal ending in three huge underground storage tanks below the central courtyard of the fort.
One of the fort guards came over and asked if we would like to see where treasure was buried under one of the ancient water tanks. Guarded by dedicated ghosts, the treasure had never been retrieved. Jaya looked at him as though he’d offered to murder a puppy for our entertainment. Follow a total stranger down a rickety ladder to an underground relic of dubious structural integrity? I think not!
Before we could answer, several buses pulled up and suddenly the empty courtyard was full of tourists.
A trio of giggling ladies asked if they could take a selfie with us. Normally we would say no, but their enthusiasm was irresistible. A nanosecond later, the entire busload of ladies were crowding into the shot while their menfolk snapped photo after photo. Apparently they needed digital proof of selfie-with-westerner for everyone back home in Karnataka. When the men started crowding in too, Jaya put a stop by offering to have us take their photos. But without the prize of chubby western ladies, selfies were abandoned in favor of the enterprising guard’s dubiously ghost-guarded buried treasure.
NOTE: Apparently the busloads of tourists weren’t the only imaginations captured by the thought of a maharaja’s buried treasure. During the declared State of Emergency in 1976, Prime Minister Indira Ghandi ordered a complete search of Jaigarh for the treasures rumored to have been placed there by the Kachhwaha rulers, presumably to protect them from invading Mughals.
This search and a subsequent one by Income Tax Authorities armed with metal detectors didn’t turn up any treasure. But it did lead to yet another rumor when a Parliament Question was raised about whether the road had been closed for days to allow army vehicles to secretly carry the treasure to the Prime Minister’s residence.
Since nobody is owning up to actual treasure possession, the guard might be right about it still being down there. But when we saw him collecting fees from the tourists, it was clear where the real treasure of Jaigarh Fort is located.
Thanks to the geological good fortune of abundant iron ore coupled with a wind tunnel capable of sucking air from the high reaches to heat furnaces as high as 2400°F (1320°C), Jaigarh was ideally situated to become a cannon foundry. They specialized in cannons at least 16-feet long. The fort offers a museum highlighting their foundry prowess. (And yes–this photo is only here because we liked the sign.)
It had been a long day and we wanted to head back to Jaipur. But our driver, Dashrath, said we couldn’t possibly leave without seeing the world’s biggest cannon. (Translation: he wanted to see the world’s biggest cannon.) So we drove further into the hills.
The Jaigarh foundry’s masterpiece was the Jai Van Cannon, the world’s largest wheeled cannon when it was cast in 1720. With its 20-foot barrel, it weighs over 50 tons. The barrel itself is stunning, embossed with a floral design. An elephant rests at the tip of the barrel, and peacocks are carved in the center. This beautiful weapon has been fired exactly once. The guard told us they didn’t know what the range would be, so they aimed it at a lake ten miles away. They packed the barrel with 100 kilograms (220 lb) of gunpowder. The cannonball was said to have traveled over 35 kilometers (22 miles), turning the town where it landed into a small lake. It was never fired again.
It was late in the day and we were exhausted. We could, Jaya explained, skip Man Segar Lake with its summer pleasure palace. “But…” Jaya was elaborately casual. “They have birds there.”
Janine looked up from her camera. “Birds?”
Jaya went for the kill. “Lots of birds.”
Janine said one word. “Flamingos?”
Jaya shrugged. “Maybe.”
Obviously, we were going to Man Segar Lake.
When we arrived, we didn’t see the nature preserve we’d been expecting. Instead we crossed trash-strewn roads to reach the shores of the lake.
We could see the beautiful Jai Mahal palace shimmering in the distance like a mirage.
We each spared it a glance, then looked down.
Janine: “Um… Look at all the wild pigs!”
Barb: “Forget the pigs. Look at all the rats!”
Jaya: “Is that a Great Egret?”
Barb (whimpering): “But… RATS!“
Jaya (offhand): “Rats are the special vehicle of Lord Ganesha. Remember that statue you liked at the temple? Oh look! A Stilt!”
After an astonishing number of bird photos—each of which had latin and common names for Janine and Jaya, and were classified by Barb as “ducks” or “not ducks”—we finally headed back to the hotel. But Dashrath was sketchy on the directions, and passersby seemed equally confused. Finally we consulted the maps program on my phone. In cheerful British accents, my traitorous phone proceeded to guide us along back alleys and lanes no wider than footpaths, hugging the ancient walls of Jaipur before narrowing into dead ends. After MUCH backing and turning, we finally arrived at the hotel.
And yes, we knew we could feast at the magical roof restaurants. We could enjoy traditional music and dance. Or we could (and did!) have granola bars and tea before collapsing into bed in the well-earned coma of a completely successful day of touring India. There was always tomorrow.
Our room in Jaipur’s Umaid Bhawan Heritage hotel. Although we were familiar with Jaya’s mad skills when it comes to trip planning—with her trademark combination of trip credits, inside knowledge, and luck—nothing prepared us for being shown into a huge antique-filled suite in a 5-star palace-turned-hotel. If you got to sleep in an antique bed in a maharaja’s (former) palace, you might skip dinner too!