For an avid forts-addict, it was a moment of history. A sharp turn out of a downtown alley and I was on the slope leading to the fort I had always wanted to see--the Mehrangarh Fort atop Jodhpur, the blue city of Rajasthan.
Forts have always had a special fascination for me and travelling through the length and breadth of this country, I have gone out of my way to visit even the most neglected of them. Agra, Delhi, Golconda, Gwalior, Jhansi or even Singhdurg and Kalinjar etc have had me enthralled. The Sonar Kella of Jaisalmer holds a special place in my fort travel diary but Jodhpur had eluded me over the years. It is said that Mehrangarh has never fallen to a siege. But today I wanted to capture it during my day-long siege on its ramparts, battlements and its many palaces.
The rock base of the fort rises sharply from the flats of Jodhpur. It is over 410 feet high, crowned with the outer walls of the fort. Standing at the main gateway to the fort, Jaipol, one can only agree with Rudyard Kipling's description of the fort as being 'a creation of angels, fairies and giants.'
It indeed looks gigantic with the walls, 118 feet high and 70 feet wide, rising perpendicularly from the rock base. The Jaipol entry sets the mood of entering from a Giant Causeway into a world which has the delicacy of fairies and the genteelness of angels. Mehrangarh does in fact combines the romance of Rajputana living with the audacity of royal design.
The story of building Mehrangarh, or the Sun Fort, starts in the 1000-year old fort of Rathores located in Mandore. Ranmal was the ruler of Mandore and, believe it or not, he had 24 sons. One of his sons, perhaps the eldest, Rao Jodha, succeeded him to the throne in 1438 and within a year decided to shift the seat of power to a rock formation towering over the horizon. On May 12, 1459, Rao Jodha laid the foundation of the fort at a site which was then known as the mountain of birds or Bhaurcheeria, just 9 km from Mandore.
According to folklore, Rao Jodha displaced the hill's sole human occupant, a hermit called Cheeria Nathji, the lord of birds. Upset at being forced to move, Cheeria Nathji cursed Rao Jodha. The king appeased the hermit by building a house and a temple in the fort and in order to ensure that the new site proved propitious even buried a man called Rajiya Bhambi alive in the foundations. Rajiya was promised that in return his family would be looked after by the Rathores. To this day his descendants still live in Raj Bagh, Rajiya's Garden, an estate bequeathed them by Jodha.
Though the fortress was originally started in 1459 by Rao Jodha, after whom Jodhpur is named, most of the fort which stands today dates from the period of Jaswant Singh (1638-78). History apart the only way to enjoy the fort is to amble through it at a very leisurely pace. Of course, the management has made an effort to provide audio history to tourists and even a lift to take the weak kneed directly to the ramparts of the fort but unless you meander through its alleys with the occasional sarangi player or a drummer evoking the sounds typical of Rajputana, the experience is unfulfilled. Indeed, it's not only the rolling ramparts with their legendary canons, panoramic city views, chambers, palaces and museums that make the Mehrangarh experience truly memorable but its sounds, its chatter, and its silence.
But to quickly list the highlights of the fort and the must dos, stand and stare at:
Jai Pol, Victory Gate, built by Maharaja Man Singh in 1806 to celebrate his victory over Jaipur and Bikaner estates.
- Fateh Pol, built to celebrate a victory over the Mughals in 1707;
- Dedh Kamgra Pol, which still bears the scars of bombardment by cannonballs;
- Loha Pol, which is the final gate into the main part of the fort complex. Immediately to the left are the handprints of the queens, who in 1843, immolated themselves at the funeral pyre of their husband, Maharaja Man Singh.
Several brilliantly crafted and decorated palaces dot Mehrangarh. Do not forget to visit
- Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) used to be the private meeting place for the king. Its ceiling is decorated with mirrors, gold leaves and rushed sea shells giving it a rich luster.
Phool Mahal (Flower Palace) is Mehrangarh's most p[ulent chamber, richly gilded and painted and was used for royal celebrations.
- Sheesha Mahal (Mirror Palace) has intricate and beautiful mirror work.
- Sileh Khana contains an extra ordinary collection of weapons, including Mughal time dagger, gem-studded shields and armour for elephants
- Shringar Chowk is the courtyard with a coronation throne. Every ruler after Rao Jodha was crowned in it.
- Takhat Mahal is extravagant and laced with British time influence. Maharaja Takhat Singh spent much of his time here in company of his 30 queens and a large collection of concubines.
The Mehrangarh museum houses an exquisite collection of palanquins, howdahs, royal cradles, miniatures, musical instruments, costumes and furniture.
Apart from the sheer majesty and tallness of the Mehrangarh experience, visit some of the curio shops in the fort and in the city to take back with you
- Some of the most ornate handicraft items from small keepsakes (T-shirts) to huge doors, palanquins and even complete rooms!
- Antiques too sell like hot cakes in Jodhpur with a priced item that you may not find
- Anywhere else in the world, easily available at throwaway prices
- If you have a fondness for footwear, there are the beautiful Mojris that come in every shape, size and color
- Ladies, also buy yourself the famous leheriyaa sarees or odhnis. They can be useful as stoles.
- A visit to Jodhpur and no jodhpuris in your shopping bag? Custom-made riding breech known the world over as jodhpurs were actually designed here.
Ashwini is a Lucknow-based media professional who culls out travel experiences while on mundane assignments