Amter Palace, Himachal Pradesh
No pick-up guide, no refreshment stall and definitely no gift shop awaits visitors to Amter Palace. Stuck somewhere between Sujanpur Tira and Nadaun, Himachal Pradesh, the best days of this palace are sadly, long gone. However, with a little imagination and long pants, historical purists will enjoy rummaging around the ruins of this one time regal residence. Backside, residence portion of Amter Palace
It took the help of several locals to pinpoint the location of what does remain. And each time my driver and I stopped for help, we received the same quizzical retort, “why do you want to see that?” Eventually, wayward tourists can find an entrance down a back road. Interestingly enough, part of the original building has been restored and houses a member of the royal family. I rang the bell several times (to no avail) in hopes of speaking with anyone for more information. For the next 20 minutes, I poked around, snapping photos and listening to the sounds. Rakesh, a trusted friend and driver, was growing anxious and left me in search of some entertainment.
Soon the only sound heard was his engine revving and tires spinning. Yes, he managed to get the vehicle stuck in the muck, in what seemed the middle of nowhere, with no help in sight. For the next hour, we scooped sand while shoved sticks and stones under the tires with not so much as an inch gained. Finally, we resorted to walking through the tiny village built along the narrow road that leads to the former palace. Parked outside a small house was a rather rugged looking, 4 x 4, Mahindra jeep. The owner, a tall but impossibly thin man, agreed to help us as soon as his breakfast was finished. Like the circus, Rakesh’s misfortune was a show designed to entertain a village. From nowhere, small kids, women, and a couple of teens appeared in time to watch one truck pull another from the ditch. Five minutes, Rs 100 to the truck driver, and soaked shirts from the unforgiving morning sun provided us a vehicle caked in mud yet free to leave.
The royal residence of Amter Palace
That is until we discovered one of the teens helping to push our vehicle-free, knew of a back entrance to a deserted area of the palace. He hopped in to direct us along the confusing, overgrown gravel strip of road that supposedly led to our destination. Just a short ride put us in front of what would have been the royal living quarters of Amter Palace. Three stories of crumbling brickwork stood in a patch of greenery surrounded by beautiful shade trees. Laden with graffiti, the impressive amount of building remaining was wide open to any visitors. Simple paintings along the ceilings and walls lead me to believe they were a botched effort to renovate this palace decades ago. The elementary designs are not worthy of a heritage property such as this. My only comparison within Himachal Pradesh is of the Sujanpur Tira Fort, where the revered paintings inside the temple there rival those seen in Rajasthan.
Our teen tour guide was also surprised by my interest in the property. Like Rakesh and the other locals, they had no use for this building or its history. This young man watched me marvel in the perfectly symmetrical architecture. I spent an hour slowly climbing the steps, canvasing each room, imagining what would have been just 50 years ago. Some detail was still seen in archways but anything of significant value or appeal had been stripped or buried too long ago.
After my slow-paced exploration of the building, the young man, whose name I never caught, led us all down a rocky path, through some brush and ultimately onto the sandy shores of the River Beas. Because the top floor was caved in, we could not see the river hiding behind a small, tree-covered mound. Our short walk put the orientation of the palace into perspective. From the shore, I could make out the royal residence faced the cooler, breezy effects of the river; What Rakesh and I had stumbled onto earlier was the backside, where staff and any farm life would have resided.
As the three of us walked along the sandy, beach-like ground, the young teen pointed out a cave entrance thought to connect somewhere in the lower levels of the palace. This tunnel would have been used by the servants to fetch water and run laundry back and forth. Amazing.
Amret Palace is a fascinating example of the remaining heritage spots of Himachal Pradesh. Visitors looking for a simple photo opp need only plan an hour at most. But for those history buffs looking to get beyond the surface, be sure to plan a half-day. This is an excellent extension trip from Hamirpur, Jwalaji, or Palampur, where several lodging & meal options exist.