I am going back to the trip I and my wife made to Rajasthan in December. Our first destination was Jaisalmer and we were enthralled by its antiquity, mesmerized by intricate work on sandstone which prevails all across this small desert town and truly delighted to spend a cold winter night out in the desert. After two days full of memorable experiences it was time to move on to the next location on the itinerary, Jodhpur.
A tourist’s itinerary in Jodhpur is bound to start from the majestic Mehrangarh Fort which overlooks this erstwhile capital of Marwar, from top of a small hill. I had caught a glimpse of it earlier, when I had alighted on the Jodhpur Railway Station. Even from that far it looked imposing and hence visiting Mehrangarh was first on our list. The sheer stature of this fort is overwhelming as you stare at its enormously high walls emerging seamlessly out of the hill below. It took us a while to overcome the amazement we had at its first sight. It was a chilly morning with a fairly cold breeze blowing and the crowd had already started swelling so we moved on. We got ourselves entry tickets and for a change resorted to the prerecorded audio tour to guide us through the passages of the huge citadel. Jaipol is the main entrance of Mehrangarh Fort. It was built after Jodhpur went through a bloody battle with Jaipur, a commonplace in an era when kings were in an unending quest of a larger kingdom. Loha Pol, which was the main entrance gate when this battle took place, had taken the brunt of the onslaught. The marks of the cannon balls which hit it during the long drawn battle can still be seen. A little further up the hillock we came to a turn from where the famed Blue City of Jodhpur could be seen. Although it now has fragments of other colours too but originally all houses were painted in blue to signify that they were occupied by Brahmins, an epitome of how the dogmas of class and caste have almost forever been present in our society. It is not a surprise that this system, which came into place ages ago, still dominates different aspects of our socio-political structure. At that very turn a Rajasthani man sporting a colourful turban played Ravanhatta, a simple string instrument made of bamboo and coconut shell. The soulful melodies emanating from his instrument with the backdrop of the huge fort gave us a feeling of having travelled back in time. Within the confines of all our historical legacies we come across stories and legends which have been told for generations and Mehrangarh has its own share of stories which still continue to be told. It is said that to overcome a curse and ensure fort’s invincibility the King had to make a human sacrifice. One of the subjects “Rajaram Medhwal” offered himself for this ultimate sacrifice and was buried in the foundation of this fort. His descendants to this date are taken care of by the royal family and on one of the walls an inscription ensures that his sacrifice doesn’t go unnoticed. Suraj Pol, where we had reached having been deeply engrossed in the history, had another story associated with it which illustrates the pride and honor of Rajput. One of the kings had run of from a battle having realized that his defeat was imminent but when he returned this door were not opened for him, the orders coming from the queen herself. Once we were through the Suraj Pol our entry tickets to the inner precincts of the fort, which now have been converted into a museum by the royal family, were checked. Mehrangarh is full of courtyards at different levels and the first one we came across was where erstwhile kings used to be anointed on the Shringar Chowki. The rooms around this courtyard have now been converted into galleries which display choicest belongings of many Maharajas of Jodhpur. In the room which displayed spectacular Howdahs on which kings rode their elephants, there was a notable one gifted by Shahjahan, an indication of Jodhpur’s ties with the Mughals. The next courtyard faced the Daulatkhana which now displays beautiful miniature paintings and exquisite palanquins which used to carry ladies of the royal family. We kept following the audio guide and step by step legacies of this majestic Mehrangarh fort unfolded. There was so much to marvel as we kept climbing up to upper levels, whether be it the mesmerizing colours of Phool Mahal, intricate Jaalis of Jhanki Mahal shielded by which women could see the proceedings below, huge arsenal which Jodhpur clan had at their disposal or the story of Veer Das. By the time we came to Zenana Deodi, the private quarters where only women were allowed, we had been impressed with of one of the most magnificent forts we would ever visit. Our rendezvous with Mehrangarh came to an end with a delicious lunch at Café Mehran, a decent restaurant within the premises of Mehrangarh fort.
A visit to Mehrangarh Fort should also be coupled with a visit to Jaswant Thada. It is only a few minutes away from the fort and stands next to a small lake. It was built, as a tribute to a deceased king by his queen, with same white Makrana marble from which the Taj Mahal is made. In a way it too is a symbol of love and dedication although its name may not be revered across the world. Apart from the main structure the premises also consisted of smaller Chhattris dedicated to other deceased kings. A beautiful lawn surrounding the monument and a peaceful environment made it a soothing place to be at.
By the time we got done with Jaswant Thada we were well in to the day and a little behind the schedule. A quick stop at one of the Rajasthali stores, to get some souvenirs for our home and also let our cabbie earn his commission, was made. We then headed towards the Clock Tower, another important landmark in the heart of Jodhpur city. This is where you need to be if you have to go on a shopping spree. Even if your shopping list is empty a walk around the Clock Tower and the Sardar Marketis definitely a must to really absorb the local flavour of this historic city. The narrow streets near Sardar Market have an array of shops selling leather footwear, accessories, clothes and souvenirs, enough to keep you busy for hours. Our main agenda was to cover the legendary food shops in this area as recommended by a well acclaimed travel guide. Shahi Samosa famous for its assortment of samosas, kachoris was where we had a round of Pyaaz Kachori (now a familiar thing for me).The main attraction though was Mishrilal Hotel where we had their famous Makhania Lassi. It definitely is a popular stop in city’s tourist circuit, while we enjoyed being at this small restaurant two groups of foreigners came to have a taste of the Indian soother, their expressions ranging from that of delight to an utter shock at the small enclosure they were brought to. As night set in the bazaar came alive with the glitter of lights at stalls selling a wide variety of items. We took a round of this old market set around the iconic Clock Tower and got out in one of the narrow alleys. Only a short walk from there was Pal Haveli, home of Pal family now converted into a heritage hotel. Their rooftop restaurant Indique was an appropriate setting to end an amazing day. We sat on a candle lit table. On one side was the Clock Tower with its buzzing bazaar and on the other side Mehrangarh Fort glowed under the spotlights. What ensued was a beautiful evening in a setting which encapsulated almost everything which you come to see in Jodhpur.