Regal Rajasthan: Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur

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Hey guys 😀 Say “hello” to one of the most majestic forts of the western Indian state of Rajasthan…… the 15th century “Citadel of the Sun” Mehrangarh 😀

Built of red sand stone, Mehrangarh stands in splendour upon a perpendicular cliff that rises 400 feet above the centre of “the blue city” of Jodhpur, the second largest city of Rajasthan.

This awe-inspiring, impregnable citadel is built in such a way that it appears as if the hill of rhyolite columns has sprouted it. As a matter of fact, the unique geological feature on which Mehrangarh has been built has been declared a National Geological Monument by the Geological Survey of India.

Mehrangarh’s history goes like this…

Rao Jodha (1438-89), the 14th Rathore king of Rajput clan, ruled over the Marwar kingdom from Mandore. Rao Jodha’s ancestors were the rulers of Kannauj, a province in present-day Uttar Pradesh. They fled to Mandore after Muhammad of Ghazni invaded their kingdom in the 12th century. A year after his accession to the throne, Rao Jodha decided to move his capital to a safer location as the Mandore fort was no longer considered to provide sufficient security. He founded Jodhpur in 1459 and commissioned the construction of Mehrangarh on an isolated high hill, 9 KM from Mandore. He spent around 900,000 rupees to build the fort.

The foundation of the fort was laid on 12 May 1459. It is said that the fort was originally named Chintamani, after the mythological gem worn by Lod Ram which supposedly frees the owner of all worldly worries. Chintamani gave way to Mordhwaj, the flag of the peocock. Later, it became known as Mehrangarh, meaning ‘fort of the sun’ referring to the Rajput clan’s mythical descent from the sun god Surya. Over 5 km long, the fort’s imposing thick wall rises in places to a height of 120 feet and is 70 feet thick. A section of the wall still bears cannon marks it had once withstood.

In those unstable times, a formidable fort like Mehrangarh was an object of immense power and prestige. It served as a military stronghold, a magnificent royal residence, a centre of patronage for the arts, music, and literature; and a place of worship with many temples and shrines. The many palaces, courtyards, temples, and other structures within were built by several kings in the fort’s more than 550-year-old history.

The city of Jodhpur grew and developed around Mehrangarh, which was home for the Rathore royal family for nearly five centuries. Today this magnificent fort is a living testimony that recounts the chronicles and legends of Jodhpur’s rich past. The current head of the Rathore clan and custodian of the fort, Maharaja Gaj Singh II, has preserved the fort buildings and developed a world-class fort museum as a record of the lives of his predecessors.

Mehrangarh was one of the filming locations for the 2012 Hollywood blockbuster “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises”.

 

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A winding road from the city leads up to Mehrangarh. The fort is open on all days from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Besides entry fee, there is a separate fee for still and video photography. Audio Guide is available, but if you want an interactive tour, the fort has a fixed guide fee. It’s a long way up the fort. To make it short and get a nice view of the fort at the same time, there is an elevator service reaching up to the highest level. The descent, however, is on foot. On 12th May, i.e. Jodhpur’s Foundation Day, entry is free for all, but other fees are applicable.

The fort has seven gates which are called Pols in Rajasthan. Of these, four are famous: Jai Pol, Fateh Pol, Dodh Kangra Pol and Loh Pol. Entry to the fort is through Jai Pol, which is newer than the remaining gates. It was built in 1808 by Maharaja Man Singh after his victory over Jaipur and Bikaner armies.

Beautiful two-centuries-old murals adorn the walls of Jai Pol…

Passing through the gate, you enter a small courtyard with high walls. The imprints of cannon balls hits from the 1806 war are still visible on the wall at the Dodh Kangra Pol…

Old gate…

Further ahead, the reason why Jodhpur is called “the blue city” is understood after seeing the vast sea of blue-painted houses of Brahmapuri below…

It is believed that blue colour repels heat and mosquitoes. Hence, many portions of the fort are painted in blue too. In earlier times, only brahmins (or priest caste) were allowed to paint their homes blue.

Watch my video: View of blue-painted houses from Mehrangarh 

The famous Kilkila cannon, one of the oldest in the fort…

Chokelao Bagh, a 200-year-old garden that has been painstakingly restored to close to its former glory…

There is an entry fee to this beautiful lush green garden with scented and flowering plants many of which can survive long without regular watering. Among other fruit-bearing trees are desert apple, banana, orange and pomegranate. Besides the colourful flowers on the upper terrace of the garden, the lower level houses Mehtab Bagh, which comes alive with white flowers of Chandni (Tabernaemontana coronaria) and the sweet-smelling Kamini (Maurya exotia).

Watch my video: Chokelao Bagh in Mehrangarh

The most amazing activity to do in Jodhpur – zip lining over Mehrangarh – starts from Chokelao Bagh. It’s a thrilling experience, gliding along a cable at fear-inducing heights, getting amazing views of the fort and surrounding landscapes.

 

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The zip line tour of Mehrangarh is operated by Flying Fox https://www.flyingfox.asia

It’s a circuit of six spectacular zip lines over walls, bastions and lakes on the northern side of Mehrangarh. Each provides a spectacular view. The entire tour takes approximately 90 minutes (depending on the group size), which includes safety brief & assessment, practice zip, and short walks between each zip.

Take-off for the first zip, the Chokelao Challenge (115m), which goes above a boundary wall. Remember, the fort’s walls are 120 feet high….

To the right is Chokelao Bagh, and to the left, the blue carpet of Jodhpur houses…

The second zip is Ranisar Rollercoaster (170m) flying high over Ranisar Lake. The third zip is Chhota Wallah (70m), which as the name suggests is a short zip crossing a deep rocky ravine at the head of the lake.

The fourth zip, Jai Jodha (270m), buzzes the ridges and flies deep into the heart of Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park which contains distinctive volcanic rock formations such as rhyolite, with welded tuff, and breccia, sandstone formations. Spread over 72 hectares, this ecological park was created in 2006 to restore the natural ecology of a large, rocky wasteland adjoining Mehrangarh and to create a suitable home for native rock-loving plants.

Watch my videos: Zip lining in Mehrangarh – I & Zip lining in Mehrangarh – II 

Watch my video: Scenery around zip lining points in Mehrangarh

The fifth zip, Rajputs’ Revenge (160m), starts from a rocky mountain top with glorious views of Mehrangarh.

The sixth and the final zip, The Magnificent Marwar (300m),  one of Flying Fox’s most spectacular and iconic zip lines, flies over not one but two lakes and lands on the tip of a fortified tower rearing 30 metres out of Ranisar Lake.

Watch my videos: Zip lining in Mehrangarh – III                                                                                                         Zip lining in Mehrangarh – IV 

The absolutely exhilarating experience comes to an end at the lush green Chokelao Bagh.

 

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Chokelao Bagh’s uppermost terrace houses a fine dining restaurant, Chokelao Mahal Terrace, which is open only in the evenings. You can enjoy Indian and traditional Rajasthani food while basking in the spectacular views of the garden and the city beyond. Elsewhere in the fort, there are cafés too. Café Mehran is located in the inner courtyard of the fort, and offers a mix of traditional and western delicacies and light meals.

Continuing with the walking tour to the main part of the fort complex, at each of the fort’s seven gates, you will be welcomed by folk musicians…

Watch my video: Talented folk singers 

Fateh Pol built to commemorate the reclaiming of the fort from the Mughals by Ajit Singh in 1707…

Since the fort and the various buildings inside were built over 550 years, the architectural styles vary. So you will find buildings from different periods existing side by side.

Even in winter, the daytime weather in Rajasthan can be very hot. So, imagine what a tremendous task it must have been building this magnificent fort in the 15th century, with no machines, and the sun beating hard upon the labour. Walking up the cobble-stoned path and the age-old stones, will perhaps take you back to those ancient days when elephants treaded on this very path every day.

Rao Jodha’s fortress was ‘chao burja’ – a fort with four bastions. Little remains of his time here as the fort has expanded beyond his outer gates within 50 years of his death. But the spot marking the boundary of the fort as initially decided by Rao Jodha, and where his gate stood, is known as Rao Jodha Ka Falsa (Jodha’s outer limit of boundary)

Next to it is this memorial plaque of Raja Ram Meghwal…

In order to construct the fort, Rao Jodha had to displace the hill’s sole human occupant – a hermit. Upset at being forced to move, he cursed the fort to be drought-prone. Following advice, the king decided to ward off the curse with human sacrifice. A proclamation was issued throughout the kingdom to find someone willing to be buried alive in the fort foundations. In return, the volunteer’s sacrifice would be honoured with a plaque and a grant of land to his family in perpetuity. Raja Ram Meghwal agreed to make the sacrifice. Meghwal’s memorial plaque marks the spot where he was buried alive. Rao Jodha bequeathed an estate, Raj Bagh “Raja Ram Meghwal Garden”, to his family. To this day, his descendants still live in Raj Bagh.

Rao Jodha invited the famous female Hindu warrior sage, Karni Mata, to lay down the foundation stone of Mehrangarh. A famous temple dedicated to Karni Mata, in her hometown of Deshnoke, 30 KM from Bikaner, is also called the Temple of Rats, as nearly 25000 rats live and are revered in the temple.

 

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The next gate is Amriti Pol, which was built in 1549 by Raja Maldeo. For a year, Mehrangarh was occupied by the forces of Sher Shah Suri’s Delhi Sultanate. Raja Maldeo regained the fort, strengthened it, and built the Amrirti Pol. After passing this gate, it’s a steep ascent with a hair pin bend in the walkway. This was to prevent elephants of the enemy from charging towards the fort gates.

Amriti Pol and the ascending path…

Folk musicians performing outside the Loh Pol…

Loh Pol (or Iron Gate) is an important part of Mehrangarh. It is a well-preserved iron gate with protruding sharp metal spears to wound elephants of the enemy barging through the gate.

Loh Pol is the final gate into the main part of the fort complex. Immediately to the left is the sati memorial. Sati was common among Rajput nobility in the region. The royal women bedecked in their jewels and finery would leave a vermilion-stained hand imprint on the wall for posterity. A silent procession would follow them to the temple where they would give away their jewellery and proceed to join their dead husband on the funeral pyre.

The imprint of child-like small palms on the wall…

There is no dearth of stories woven around the fort. Besides its beautiful palaces and architecture, the fort has many scandals, secrets and dark tales to share. Of murders of kings and other royals… As a prince, Jaswant Singh (who ruled from 1873 to 1895) threw his mistress (who actually belonged to his father) out of the window when his father entered the room. Man Singh (who ruled from 1803 to 1843) had his Prime Minister thrown 400 feet below. Ajit Singh (who ruled from 1707 to 1724) was murdered by his own son. Later, his 6 wives and 25 concubines performed the sati ritual. Rao Ganga (who ruled from 1515 to 1532) fell to his death while enjoying an opium heightened cool breeze. It is said that he was pushed by his son Maldev (who ruled from 1532 to 1562).

In 1883, Jawant Singh had invited Swami Dayananda, renowned Vedic scholar and founder of the Arya Samaj, to Mehrangarh. The king was keen on becoming the Swami’s follower. One day, the Swami caught the Maharaja in action with a court dancer. He advised the Maharaja to forsake the girl and all unethical acts, and to follow the dharma. The girl took revenge by poisoning the Swami with his cook’s help. The Swami became bedridden and died a month later.

Mehrangarh’s ornately-carved courtyards and magnificent palaces have been built by several kings over five centuries. The first one from the entrance…

Shringar Chowk (or the Anointment Courtyard) is where the anointing of new rulers took place. During the coronation ceremony, the king-to-be-anointed would sit on this small throne.

The last coronation ceremony in Mehrangarh took place in 1953. It was the coronation ceremony of the current head of the Rathore clan, Maharaja Gaj Singh II.

The royal women followed the purdah tradition, wherein a woman covers her face from public. Only her husband, sons and maids could see her face.

Women had their own quarters where no man was allowed, except for the king. The facades of the upper storeys form a continuous perforated screen, through which the women would watch the proceedings taking place below in the courtyard…

 

Watch my videos: Shringar Chowk in Mehrangarh – I                                                                                                Shringar Chowk in Mehrangarh – II 

Mehrangarh Fort Museum is one of Rajasthan’s finest museums with beautifully laid-out galleries displaying substantial royal collections of miniature paintings, books and manuscripts, swords, arms and weapons, costumes, textiles, elephant howdahs and palanquins, musical instruments, furniture, cradles, various objects of art and beautiful period rooms. Virtually every aspect of Jodhpur culture is on display here.

The museum gives us a fine glimpse into the grandeur of the royal families starting with the gallery of elephant howdahs…

The elephant howdah was a two-compartment wooden seat (mostly covered with gold and silver embossed sheets) fastened on to the back of an elephant. This gallery displays a fine collection of elephant seats.

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One of the priceless ones is this silver howdah presented to Maharaja Jaswant Singh I (1639-78) by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan in 1657…

Palki (or palanquin) was a popular mode of travel for the ladies of the nobility, till the second quarter of the 20th century. On special occasions, the male nobility and the royals also used them. Small palki was called doli and used to carry women due to the strict purdah system of the Rajputs.

The elaborate domed gilt Mahadol palanquin won in a battle from the Governor of Gujarat in 1730…

A peacock-shaped open palanquin…

The Daulat Khana Gallery displays one of the most important and best preserved collections of armoury, decorative arts, textiles, miniature paintings, musical instruments, headgears, etc.

The armoury collection covers each period in Jodhpur. There are sword hilts in jade, silver, horn and ivory. And there are personal swords too like the Khanda of Rao Jodha, sword of Mughal emperor Akbar and Timur, the Lame.

This one inscribed to Akbar…

Shield studded with semi-precious stones, helmet with gold finish, gun with gold and silver work on barrel…

This 18th century cannon is sculpted in bronze, shaped like a stylized Makara (mythical sea creature). A composite animal-face of an alligator and a body of a wild boar…

An 18th century bamboo screen…

An 18th century painted door…

A 19th century Toran and Maud…

Toran is associated with Hindu weddings. It is placed at the entrance of the bride’s house. Before entering the house, the groom touches the toran with the image of Lord Ganesha seven times. It symbolizes an auspicious beginning. Maud is worn on side of the bride’s and groom’s eyes. According to Hindu traditions, bride and groom can see each other only after the seven sacred rounds around the fire.

A heart-shaped Chopda (or vermilion box) made of silver and a Kalamdaan (or pen case) inlayed with gold…

Nineteenth-century Mughdar (or ladies dumbbells) wood inlayed with ivory, lacquer painted from Marwar and a Shringar Peti (or cosmetic box) wooden framed, inlayed with ivory from South India…

A mid-19th century Chuski (or wine flask) used to serve wine or opium water. It is designed in the shape of a woman wearing turban, her raised hand designed to pour the liquid…

Chilam and hookah spout…

An 18th century hookah base made of zinc, copper and lead and inlayed in silver with Bidri technique…

These exhibits belong to the period when the Rathore kings had a good relationship with the Mughals. Hence the hookahs.

Eighteenth-century carpet weights, made of camel bone (left) and silver (right)…

A 19th century royal costume…

Head gear…

Coins of Marwar…

Silver idol of Goddess Gangaur dressed in traditional Rajput costume and jewellery…

One of the incarnations of Goddess Parvati – the consort of Lord Shiva, Gangaur is worshipped by married women for longevity of their husband’s life and by unmarried girls for a suitable match.

A 19th century Chhatbandi, a canopy of red silk velvet with a floral lattice and cartouches in the centre and corners. Floral border in pasteboard embroidery of gilt metal thread. This tent canopy was made for Mughal emperor Aurungzeb…

Beautiful embroidered textiles…

The gallery of paintings displays the finest examples of Marwar paintings.

Different stages of miniature painting…

Material and technique…

Materials used in miniature painting…

Watch my video: Miniature Painting 

Maharaja Man Singh playing polo with royal women (1830)…

Maharaja Abhay Singh watching a dance performance (1725)…

The Sun-deity was the chief deity of the Rathore rulers of Marwar, who considered themselves to be Kshetrapals (protectors of the domain). To defeat enemies and bring prosperity to their kingdom, they sought the blessings of their Kul Devi (or clan goddess) Naganichya. Almost all Hindu communities in India have a Kul devi whose worship is central to their devotional practice. Kul devis, like other aspects of feminine divine, are ultimately considered manifestations of Devi. If Naganichya is the Kul devi of the Rathores, Chamunda is their Istha Devi – Goddess of faith. The symbol of Marwar state – the falcon, is considered an incarnation of Goddess Chamunda.

Introducing Devi, the Mother Goddess…

Many temples were constructed in the fort by different kings during their reign. The most famous are Chamunda Mataji Temple and Nagnechiji Temple.

Goddess Chamunda was Rao Jodha’s favourite goddess. She was the Kul Devi of Parihar rulers who ruled from Mandore, before they were defeated by the Rathores. Rao Jodha brought her idol from Mandore, his previous kingdom, in 1460 and installed her in Mehrangarh. The idol was destroyed during the mutiny of 1857. It was reinstalled by Maharaja Takhat Singh (1843-1873). Chamunda Mata has remained the Istha Devi of the royal family and is worshipped by most of Jodhpur residents. Crowds throng Mehrangarh during Dussehra celebrations.

Nagnechiji temple is the family temple of Rathore kings. The idol of the deity belongs to the 13th century. The temple is located to the extreme right of the fort.

The nine forms of Devi…

Devi and demons…

The most dramatic paintings in the Durga Charit depict the great battles fought between Devi and a series of demons, including the one-on-one battle between Durga and Mahishasur, the buffalo demon.

The Turban Gallery displays many different types of turbans once prevalent in Rajasthan; where every community, region and festival had its own head-gear.

In the Folk Musical Instruments Gallery there are different kinds of folk musical instruments, some related to a group or community, and some to a region.

And there are beautiful period rooms like Sheesh Mahal (or Hall of Mirrors)…

Sheesh Mahal of Mehrangarh is different from the ones constructed by the Mughals in their forts. Under the arches are painted gesso panels of sacred subjects: Brahma, Shiva with Parvati, Devi, Krishna and Ganesh all sit enthroned; while in other panels Krishna plays the flute and lifts mount Goverdhan; and Rama and Sita confer with Hanuman. The blue, green, silver and gold Christmas tree balls suspended on the ceiling and the European glass chandelier are late additions.

Watch my video: Sheesh Mahal 

Phool Mahal (or Palace of Flowers)…

Watch my video: Phool Mahal 

This grand and highly ornamented reception room was constructed by Abhay Singh (who ruled from 1730 to 1750), son of Ajit Singh. It was probably intended as a private audience hall, where the ruler could confer with his thakurs and ministers, and perform certain personal rituals, such as the celebration of birthdays and leisure pursuits such as listening to music. The paintings of the columns and walls are original, but the ceiling and its cornice were repainted in the mid-19th century, during the reign of Takhat Singh (who ruled from 1843 to 1873).

Old cannons…

Watch my video: View from Mehrangarh  

 An exquisite staircase…

Sileh Khana or armoury is another gallery where weapons of all the periods can be seen. Rajputs took great care of their weapons as it was a warrior tribe.

Takhat Vilas, the bed-chamber of Takhat Singh, the last ruler of Jodhpur to wholly reside in Mehrangarh…

Watch my video: Takhat Vilas 

The room is decorated from ceiling to floor with paintings on a variety of subjects; from Hindu gods and goddesses to European ladies. Even the floor is painted like a carpet. Especially noteworthy are the lacquer paintings on the wooden ceiling.

The seemingly out-of-place Christmas-tree balls hanging down the ceiling made the famous English author Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) write this in his book ‘From Sea To Sea’: “Dresden China snuff-boxes, mechanical engines, electro-plated fish-slicers, musical boxes and gilt blown-glass Christmas-tree balls do not go well with the splendours of a “Palace that might have been built by Titans and coloured by the morning sun”. But…”

Sticking out like a sore thumb, these multi-coloured balls were gifts from the British. You see, the Rajput kings had a good relationship with the British.

The sword of Maharaja Ajit Singh (1707-1724)…

The Zenana (or womens quarters)…

The royal women would peer through the small chinks in the sandstone windows overlooking the courtyards…

The place is converted into a museum of royal cradles…

Watch my video: Royal cradles 

Moti Mahal…

Moti Mahal (or Pearl Palace) is one of the oldest surviving period rooms in the fort. It was built in the 16th century by Sawai Raja Sur Singh (1595-1619) as a Hall of Public Audience. The walls of the room are lustrously polished and decorated with niches in which lights once flickered. The ceiling is beautifully embellished with mirror and gilt.

Another palace above it…

Watch my video: Moti Mahal 

The fort houses restaurants, exhibitions, craft bazaars and the museum’s souvenir shop…

The Mehrangarh Museum Shop is the only professional museum store in India. It offers a wide variety of exclusive products based on the collections of Mehrangarh, and the history and culture of Jodhpur. Products include T-Shirts, caps, tote bags, books, postcards, music, jewellery, textiles, perfumes, textiles, etc. http://www.mehrangarh.org

On the way out, a small shrine of Lord Ganesha…

A parting shot of the fort…

A short distance away, the shining white Jaswant Thada is a shrine to Jaswant Singh II who ruled from 1873 to 1895…

Watch my video: Jaswant Thada 

Jaswant Thada was built in 1899. All the wives and concubines of Jaswant Singh commited sati on his funeral pyre and their memorials stand nearby. Prior to this, all the rulers were cremated at Mandore, the previous capital of Marwar. Thereafter, the complex serves as the royal cremation grounds, so chattris (or cenotaphs) of the subsequent rulers and their queens are also found here.

There is an entry fee and fixed guide fee. However photography charges have been withdrawn. A beautiful garden and fabulous views of Jodhpur and Mehrangarh make this a “must-see” place.

View of Mehrangarh…

Watch my video: View of Mehrangarh and Jodhpur city from Jaswant Thada

Mehrangarh is the best preserved of all the forts in Rajasthan and one of the best in India. From its picturesque location and amidst fabulous ancient buildings, it offers an insight into Marwar’s culture and history and at the same time creates an enjoyable atmosphere with fun and entertaining activities and entertainment shows.

The fort offers a ‘Mehrangarh by Night’ tour, which is a delightful walk with the museum curator who takes you on a tour of the collection and shares his expertise and insights on it, as well as the fort and its architecture. Tales of sacrifice and extraordinary events of adventure, etc. are a part of the tour, for which the timings are: 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM and 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM.

Image: @my_rajasthan Rajasthan Tourism

If you’re a music lover, you might want to visit Mehrangarh during the Jodhpur Riff (earlier called the Rajasthan International Folk Festival), an international music festival held over four nights — from dusk to dawn, around the Sharad full moon – under the patronage of Gaj Singh II, the titular Rathore king of Jodhpur. Mick Jagger is the international patron of this splendid musical festival. This year, it was held from 5th to 9th October.

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Coming next # Regal Rajasthan: Chittorgarh Fort

 

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