A well preserved fort that took 500 years to build, it is among the largest and most magnificent forts of India
THE SECOND LARGEST CITY in Rajasthan, Jodhpur has many popular names. It is known as the Gateway to the Thar, as it is on the edge of the desert. Others call it the Sun City, as the temperatures rise high in summer here. And the more well-known name is Blue City due to the large number of blue houses here. These homes are mostly in the north of the city in a locality known as Brahmapuri, after the many Brahmins residing there.
I was in Jodhpur for a royal wedding where the media wasn’t treated very well. And we didn’t partake in the ceremonies, but we did get to explore the famous fort.
Like all forts atop a hill, this one is more than majestic. There is a lift, if you are not keen to walk uphill to the palaces and museum. That walk is an experience in itself, which I missed as I took the lift.
Up above the world so high, it’s difficult to imagine how it was built 400 ft above the plains on this rocky cliff, called Bhaurcheeria or the mountain of birds. The foundation of the fort was laid on May 12, 1459 by Rao Jodha. The king wanted to shift the capital of Marwar or Mandore, as the old fort there wasn’t considered safe.
Well, like its location, nothing was easy. To build this gigantic structure, the Rao had to displace the only occupant of this mountain—a hermit called Cheeria Nathji, the lord of birds. He took the help of a powerful female saint, Karni Mata, and eventually she laid the foundation stone too. But the damage had been done. The livid hermit cursed the king, “Jodha! May your citadel always suffer scarcity of water’.
The good king did manage to appease this hermit by building a home and a temple for him near the cave that he used to meditate in, all within the fort’s high walls. But the curse once uttered, could not be taken back and the city faces water scarcity. It took over 500 years and many rulers to complete the ‘Citadel of the Sun’. Among the well-maintained forts in the country, it is managed by the Mehrangarh Museum Trust.
The spellbinding view and the ramparts do weave a story of the past but we did not have a guide with us. However, there is a provision of taking an audio guide at the ticket counter. There are many trails within the fort that can be booked in advance too. Jodhpur also plays host to famous festivals organized by the trust—Jodhpur Rajasthan International Folk Festival and Sacred Spirit Festival.
The fort has seven gates or pols and many palaces. Among these gates, the famous ones are: Jai Pol or the Gate of Victory built by Maharaja Man Singh in 1806 to celebrate his victory over Jaipur and Bikaner; Fateh Pol was built in 1707, celebrating the victory over the Mughals; Dedh Kamgra Pol bears the marks of bombardment by cannon balls;
Loha Pol is the final gate that leads to the main part of the fort complex.
Cannons & Palaces
As I didn’t walk up, I landed straight at the top, viewing the dotted landscape of Jodhpur from the ramparts. The old cannons are preserved along the ramparts, even the famous Kilkila cannon is there too. The notable palaces in the fort are Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), Sheesha Mahal (Mirror Palace), Sileh Khana and Daulat Khana.
While the mind boggles at the many symbols of past here, I found the best artefacts in Daulat Khana. It has pieces from the Mughal era. In the long 500-year journey of its making, the fort has been privy to many influences.
The rich repository of the past lies in the museum with its priceless artefacts and a showcase of royal life. There is an exquisite collection of palaquins (wooden transport for the rich), howdahs (seats for the privileged that was kept on elephant back), royal cradles, miniature paintings, furniture, costumes, musical instruments, weapons et al. There are decorated period rooms too within the museum.
The armory has a rare collection of weapons, preserved since the beginning of time in Jodhpur. There are sword hilts in jade and silver, rhino horns and ivory. There are shields decorated with rubies, emeralds and pearls. The gun barrels are decorated with silver and gold. Personal swords of the many rulers are on display, including the khanda of Rao Jodha which weighs over seven pounds. There is a sword that Mughal Emperor Akbar used and another one of Timur the Lame.
If you don’t feel like walking around, getting lost in time, then you could also enjoy some snacks and drinks at the cafes. I find the best way to soak in the eras long gone, is to sit in a quiet spot with a cup of coffee. And then the walls start speaking, but my trip was too short and too far back. I will probably need to go again to find more stories.
More to see in Mehrangarh Fort: Gallery of paintings, The Turban Gallery, Shahi Lal Dera, National Geological Monument which is the Jodhpur Group – Malani Igneous Suite Contact on which the Mehrangarh Fort foundation lies, Chamunda Devi Temple, Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park adjoining Mehrangarh Fort.
More attractions in Jodhpur: Jaswant Thada, Mandore—the ancient capital of Marwar before Jodhpur was built, Umaid Bhawan Palace, Balsamand Lake Kailana Lake, Ranisar Padamsar, Gulab Sagar Lake.
Where to shop in Jodhpur: Nai Sadak is lined mostly with sari and shoe shops, leading straight into Sardar Market. National Handloom shops.
Popular souvenirs: Bandhej saris, dress material, mojris or juttis.
How to reach Jodhpur: There are many flights to Jodhpur. The city is also well connected by train and road from major cities in India.
This story first appeared in Swagat (Air India’s now defunct in-flight magazine), March 2011 issue.