I stare at the two forts facing each other. Amer Fort and Palace rises above the highway, splayed on a hillock in leisurely multilayered splendour. Jaigarh Fort is far away, yet it looks severe and forbidding atop a hill. It’s hard to believe that the expanse of land between the two is riddled with underground passages. In 2012, one of these was opened to the public, though few visitors know this. I impatiently pass the crowds in the Amer Fort premises, making my way to an innocuous, arched opening in a wall.
Images of dark, damp walls crowd my mind. I imagine a deliciously whimsical passage with sharp bends and turns, widening then narrowing to a crawl. As a child, I believed tunnels held all the adventures, hidden treasure, and glorious forbidden pleasures of children’s storybooks. As I grew older, this illusion was replaced by a gritty reality. Tunnels came to symbolise a desperate human act—an attempt to escape, to hoodwink oppressors.
Standing at the entrance of the passage, I feel like I finally have the chance to see and feel all this for myself. I descend dimly lit stairs and blink in surprise.
The 18th-century tunnel is brightly lit and spanking clean. The rock walls are smoothened with plaster and the interiors are roomy and cheerful, almost festive. The administration has spruced it up, even added a touch of drama: Light fixtures resemble old-fashioned fire torches, or mashaals. I half-expect a waiter to pop up and usher me to my table for a “theme dining experience”. Gravel does not crunch underfoot—the tunnel has uniform proportions, neat stairs, and a stone-paved floor. It runs fairly straight too. I suppose a passage meant to whisk away royals in case of an attack would have to be, well, regal.
Given the countless tales of subversion, plotting and royal intrigue, this undercover channel must have been used often. I wonder how it must have felt being escorted by the royal guard centuries ago, moving urgently in the echoing silence, heart pounding, ears strained for the sound of approaching feet.
Soon enough the tunnel opens up and runs roofless, like a giant paved pit with walls so high they block all views save for the sky. There is no landmark visible to help me get my bearings but the ascent indicates the pit is going up Jaigarh hill. In about 20 minutes the 400-metre-long tunnel has safely taken me under Amer Fort. Golf carts stand ready at Ganesh Pol, where the pit ends, to ferry visitors the last 400-odd metres to the gate of Jaigarh Fort.
The tricolour flutters above the fort’s stern military garrison. It is stark and has an actual cannon foundry and the dusty Jaivana, the world’s largest cannon on wheels. It also has a bird’s-eye view of the surroundings, from where I spot the toy-sized Amer Fort and count the many other pits snaking up the hill. The aura that tunnels have held for me has acquired another attribute: They’ve now come to represent the human spirit and its yearning for freedom and fresh air.
Appeared in the July 2014 issue as “Tunnel Vision”. This story has been updated in March 2016.
Jaigarh Fort is open daily from 9.30a.m.-4.30p.m. and Amer Fort welcomes visitors from 8a.m.-6p.m., except on national holidays. The tunnel is open through the day. Entry to Jaigarh Fort costs ₹35 for Indians and ₹85 for foreigners, while the fee for Amer Fort is ₹25 for Indians and ₹200 for foreigners. There is no additional charge for the tunnel. The golf carts that ferry visitors between Ganesh Pol and Jaigarh’s entry gate charge ₹100 for a one-way trip.