The Quest for Golden Fort – #3: Jodhpur

With the tunes of the Qawwali still echoing in my mind and the stomach full of the trademark tandoori roti of Karim’s, I rode the bus. The Bus came from Jaipur and is destined to go to Barmer – I will get down at Jodhpur. It was 10:30 in the night and I am scheduled to reach Jodhpur very early in the morning – at around 2:30. I was little worried about getting any safe place to stay in the night. My life membership for Youth Hostel Association of India (#YHAI) came handi then. I looked for the address of the Jodhpur Youth Hostel and found it to be close to the bus station. In fact, the conductor of the bus promised me to drop in front of the hostel. I was sleepless last night and the whole day’s travel was enough for me to fall asleep as soon as the bus started. I opened my eyes on the call of the conductor – grateful to him – he remembered to drop me at the right place. It was not a difficult task getting a single bedroom at the hostel. I jumped on the bed and it was a good night’s sleep for me.

Just like Ajmer was the seat of the Chauhan Rajputs, Jodhpur was the centre of Rathod rulers of Marwar. Rao Jodha, a Rathod ruler from Mandor conquered and accumulated the surrounding regions and formed a new state named Marwar. Feeling lack of safety in his mandor fort, he shifted his base southwards to the Bhakurchiriya Hills and built a magnificent and gigantic fort – The Mehrangarh Fort. The city was built at the foots of the hill and walled for protection. Built in 1460, Jodhpur soon became a very rich state. With its excellent connection with Delhi & the ports of Gujarat, Jodhpur became an important trade hub and the legacy is still continued as the Marwaris becoming the most influential business and trade community all over the country. With the rise of Mughal power in the later part of the sixteenth century, Jodhpur became a fief. Aurangzeb, the last major Mughal ruler briefly brought Jodhpur directly under his rule but with his death, Jodhpur again went under the rule of Marathas – the growing power in that time. In 1818, Jodhpur signed a treaty with the British and became one of the most productive princely states in the empire.

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I was awake as the first ray of sun entered my room. The first thing I had to do was to get a booking for the overnight Jodhpur-Jaisalmer Express (14810). This is the same train Feluda (sorry! this piece is only for my Bengali readers) boarded while chasing the Golden Fort. It was easy to get the tickets online. After having a heavy breakfast (Aloo Parantha with Dahi and Achaar) I started at around 8:30. The Umaid Bhawan Palace was within walking distance and I decided to visit it first. It opens at 9:00 o’clock and I was among the first few to enter.

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Umaid Bhawan Palace – named after Maharaja Umaid Singh of Jodhpur – is the largest royal residence in the world and a part of it houses one of India’s finest & most expensive hotels managed by the Taj Hotels & Resorts. The descendants of the Royal Rathod family are still inhabitants of the palace which has 347 rooms in total. Maharaja Umaid Singh, a direct descendant of the Rao Jodha, hailed the crown of the State of Jodhpur in 1818. Within a decade of his succession to the throne, his state faced severe drought and to support the livelihood of his citizens, he decided to build a palace – thus, construction of Umaid Bhawan Palace started in 1928. Henry Vaughn Lanchester, a British architect contemporary to Edward Luytens was hired and he created a masterpiece. Magnificent integration of domes, columns and arches, the building became an amazing example of Beaux-Arts Architecture. The bright yellow sandstone of the building makes it a shining jewel. I was really astonished to see the grandeur of the palace.

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I came to know that the palace basically has three parts – 1. a museum which displays the royal heritage, 2. the royal residence and 3. the taj palace hotel. Among these only the first part is open to a common visitor like me – so I entered. The museum is spread over a large part of the ground floor surrounding a courtyard. I found a detailed 3D model of the building which shows that the building has many interconnected courtyards. The museum has a huge collection of items used by the royals, paintings & photographs.

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To me, the building, though I could see only a part of it, itself is a piece on exhibition. I loved the way, stone jaali work has been introduced in different components.

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Rest of the important places lie in the central part of the city. The Umaid Bhawan Palace is located on the outskirts so I took an auto which took me to the city core – the Ghantaghar (Clock Tower). The famous clock tower is located at the centre of a beautiful rectangular plaza or market complex. Though the place is dirty and unorganised at present, I can feel the lovely ambience I created at some point in time. This is a lovely example of proper urban design. I guess the authority will rise some time and preserve the area properly. Built around 1911 by Maharaja Sardar Singh the clock tower is a beautiful piece of architecture. The Sardar Market, which surrounds the tower is also a lovely architectural piece but the shops block almost the entire view of it.

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Built with an appropriate combination of red & yellow sandstone, the clock tower has five tires of which the topmost is an open balcony. Beautifully carved brackets, balustrades, pillars and windows create a magnificent display of architecture. I had the most delicious lassi at a shop near the clocktower. The lassi, trademark of this area, was thick in intensity very unlike the traditional Punjabi one. Practically, you cannot drink this lassi, rather you have to eat it with the help of a spoon.

Delighted with the taste of lassi, I headed towards the nearby Toor Ji Ki Bauli or Toor Ji Ki Jhalra. Bauli or stepwell is a trademark feature in the western and northwestern states of India. Rajasthan, Gujrat, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi have many such baulis. Since these are not very common the eastern part, from where I belong, they have always attracted me. I could not resist myself from visiting it. The Bauli, surrounded by buildings have become hidden but once I entered I found it to be in good shape. I don’t know how many levels are there down the stepwell but It seemed to be really deep.

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The stepwell, built in 1740 by the queen of Maharaja Abhay Singh, is more than 200 feet deep. Built with red sandstone, the stepwell is a lovely place for photography. Though I had spent an entire morning in the blue city of Jodhpur, I could find the blueness in the buildings. from the main roads, the city does not seem to be very blue – as I have seen in the movies. So, I decided to take a narrow lane. After a while, I was really surprised that the buildings are actually painted blue and everything around looks so lovely.

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What surprised me most is that they have painted the buildings, from top to bottom, entirely with blue. There are variations in the tones of blue, but the blueness of the lanes is truly heavenly.

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It was not just past noon so I decided to head towards the fort. The fascinatingly high walls of Mehrangarh Fort is visible from the entire city, but after walking some distance they seemed to be very close. The Jai Pol entrance gate was about a kilometre from the clock tower so I walked. The Jaswant Thada mausoleum was en route but I decided to come to this place later.

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Mehrangarh Fort is huge – practically the walls seem to be touching the sky from below. A straight wall so high on the edge of a hill was really a tough a job to execute for the workers of that time. Not only the walls but the building on top of it are equally fascinating. Decorated with intricate jaali work, jharokhas and chhatris, Mehrangarh Fort is an amazing example of Rajput architecture. What I liked most about the buildings is that they are placed over a cantilever projection from the side wall – this certainly increased its safety. Moti Mahal, Phool Mahal and Sheesh Mahal are three extremely well-decorated halls in the fort. The grand interiors of the halls had completely mesmerised me. The museum inside the fort has a fantastic collection of Royal Howdahs (the royal seat on the back of the elephant), palanquins, cradles, costumes, instruments, weapons and utensils – all used by the royal family once. The most fascinating part is the view of the city from the top. I went through the blue alleys but from here, to my surprise, the city looks totally blue. The Kikila canon with the city in the backdrop gives an awesome view.

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Another very interesting part of the museum is the turban gallery where they have showcased a wide variety of turbans – an important component in the dress code of Rajasthan which varies according to place, cast and occasion.

It took me more than two hours to completely cover Mehrangarh. The lassi kept my stomach full and I decided to head towards the Jaswant Thada mausoleum. Built by Sardar Singh in memory of his father Jaswant Singh, the Thada or the cenotaph is the cremation ground for the royal family. The beautiful gazebos made of carved white marble looks like glowing under the sun. The buildings along with the garden spread in different level is a really nice and serene place to be in.

At the end, I headed towards the Mandore Garden – The place where the state of Marwar was formed. It is at some distance from the city and I had to take an auto for that. The Madore garden really surprised me. The lovely atmosphere of the place is worth a visit for everybody. The series of ancient monuments have been preserved by creating a beautiful garden in the open areas. Mandore or Mandavyapura was a very ancient city in India. The Gurjara Pratihara clan (a mighty power in India between 7th-11th century) belonged to this city. A branch of this clan eventually emerged as the Rathod Rajputs and created Marwar. The buildings in Mandore Garden are the lovely examples of Rajput architecture in red sandstone. The Ravan temple is the one fascinated me most. It is believed that the name of the place originated from the name of Manodari -wife of Ravan and the local brahmins worship Ravan as their son in law. The Ek Thamba Mahal, Royal Cenotaph, Temple of 33 Crore Hindu Gods and Chhatris of various Rajas are beautiful pieces of architecture.

With a bunch of lovely memories from the blue city of Jodhpur, I headed towards the railway station – my final journey towards the ultimate destination – Jaisalmer – was to begin in the night.

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