Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – India chapter Rajasthan has to say about Jodhpur and the Mehrangarh Fortress:
“In 1459 the Rathore leader Rao Jodha chose a nearby rocky ridge as the site for a new fortress of staggering proportions, Mehrangarh, around which grew Jodha’s city: Jodhpur.
Jodhpur lay on the vital trade route between Delhi and Gujarat. The Rathore kingdom grew on the profits of sandalwood, opium, dates and copper, and controlled a large area, which became cheerily known as Marwar (the Land of Death) due to its harsh topography and climate.
Mighty Mehrangarh, the muscular fort that towers over the Blue City of Jodhpur, is a magnificent spectacle and an architectural masterpiece. Around Mehrangar’s base, the old city, a jumble of Brahmin-blue cubes, stretches out to the 16th-century city wall. The Blue City really is blue!
Inside is a tangle of winding, glittering, medieval streets, which never seem to lead where you expect them to, scented by incense, roses and sewers, with shops and bazaars selling everything from trumpets and temple decorations to snuff and saris.
Modern Jodhpur stretches well beyond the city walls, but it’s the immediacy and buzz of the old Blue City and the larger-than-life fort that capture travellers’ imaginations.
Rising perpendicular and impregnable from a rocky hill that itself stands 120m above Jodhpur’s skyline, Mehrangarh is one of the most magnificent forts in India. The battlements are 6m to 36m high, and as the building materials were chiselled from the rock on which the fort stands, the structure merges with its base.
Still run by the Jodhpur royal family, Mehrangarh is packed with history and legend.
Mehrangar’s main entrance is at the northeast gate, Jai Pol. Jai Pol was built by Maharaja Man Singh in 1808, following his defeat of invading forces from Jaipur.
Past the museum ticket office and a small cafe, the 16th-century Dodh Kangra Pol was an external gate before Jai Pol was built, and still bears the scars of 1808 cannonball hits.
Through here, the main route heads up to the left through the 16th-century Imritia Pol and then Loha Pol, the fort’s original entrance, with iron spikes to deter enemy elephants. Just inside the gate are two sets of small hand prints, the sati (self-immolation) marks of royal widows who threw themselves on their maharajas’ funeral pyres – the last to do so were Maharaja Man Singh’s widows in 1843.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
This was our third visit to Jodhpur and each time we made sure to visit the Mehrangarh fortress. It never gets old. It’s one fort I could see over and over again, and probably something different would catch my attention each time. The audio guide that is included with admission is one of the best I’ve listened to anywhere, and is particularly good for one produced in India.
For our first visit to Mehrangarh, we decided to hike up to the fort because there was a footpath that started just uphill from the Yogi Guesthouse where we were staying. Here’s what I wrote in my trip journal back in March 2008:
“After a breakfast on the terrace, we set out to climb to the fort. Most people take a taxi or an auto, or arrive by bus if they are on a tour. We were told it’s possible to walk through the old city and then climb much of the way on stairs. The last bit is over the boulders near the top but it’s not daunting. The route is not marked but everyone along the way sees our foreign faces and point to the correct lane if there is a choice of more than one.
We passed plenty of cows and nasty piles of rubbish but as soon as we were above the densest part of the city, the air was fresh and there was a gentle breeze blowing. Just as we were about to reach the rocks, three young girls called out to us at the gate of their home and asked us in English ‘What country?’. We chatted with them for a little while, I asked why there was no school that day. A neighbour woman kept a close eye on us to make sure we weren’t endangering the girls in any way. It was a great opportunity to catch our breath, but we set off again for the top. The view of the city as we climbed higher and higher was inspiring.
We had to pinch ourselves to be sure we were still in India when we arrived at the ticket office and found one of the most professional operations we have come across in the entire country. The fort was donated to a heritage foundation and they operate the tours. The foundation has done a splendid job preparing a top-notch audio tour, the cost of which is included in the foreigner’s admission charge. The headsets are the best we have seen anywhere and the commentary is available in several languages.
We spent the next two and a half hours wandering through the wonderful fortress, listening to the audio tour whenever it suited us. We were able to access detailed information about the history of the Rajputs as well as recorded comments from the present Maharaja, the Maharani, the Crown Prince and the Princess Royal. Their personal insights added tremendously to our enjoyment.
We weren’t too tired to hike back down the way we came. It was quite hot by mid-day so we downed several glasses of water with our lunch and tucked ourselves into our air-conditioned room for a nap.”
The second time we visited Mehrangarh in 2013, we were travelling with our two of our best friends, the Moreaus. I’ve known Cathy since high school. This time we were staying in a heritage hotel in a residential neighbourhood, quite a distance from the fort so there was no opportunity to hike up the rocks a second time. They would have enjoyed the effort, but not the filthy lanes along the way.
We took a taxi to the main gate and found things had remained pretty much the same from our visit five years earlier. I was excited for them to see the fort that had clearly become one of my top five forts anywhere, if not my favourite overall. I don’t usually like to return to places I’ve visited before because I love the surprise of discovering new things. However, there’s something so magical about Mehrangarh, I think I could return time and time again. It’s great to have the opportunity to see it through other people’s eyes as well.
Now here we were, coming for the third visit, this time with my sister and her husband in tow. We were staying quite far out to the south and east of Mehrangarh, so instead of our taxi taking us through the crowded centre of Jodhpur, the driver chose a route far to the east, that bypassed the populated areas for the most part. The best thing about this route was that the road climbed up onto a rocky plateau to the east of the fort, and we had a panoramic view shortly before arriving.
I asked the driver to stop at the side of the road so that I could get out and take a few photos. We’d never seen Mehrangar from this angle, it was spectacular. Back in the car, we proceed to draw closer, and then suddenly, on my right, a lovely white marble structure came into view. I immediately felt like it was something worth seeing, and perhaps we could visit it once we were done touring Mehrangarh.
I looked it up in my guidebook and learned that it was called Jaswant Thada, and that it had been built in 1899. How on earth had I missed it on both of our previous visits? Oh well, we could certainly see it this time, and the best part of discovering it was that it clearly added something new to our visit to Jodhpur this time round.
Mehrangarh did not fail to impress me once again, and it was clear that Anil, Donna and Duncan were excited to enter the main gate with me. Anil reads loads of newspapers online at home and when we travel, and he had noticed an article saying that over 350 foreigners had visited Mehrangarh the day before, and that they had been singled out to have their temperatures checked before being allowed to purchase entry tickets. We were surprised by this move, because we had been travelling in India for a month by that point, and this was the first time there we’d encountered any screening for COVID-19.
We lined up with all the other pale-faced tourists and passed with flying colours. All the people involved with the screening were wearing face masks, except for the man who appeared to be the one in charge. He wasn’t standing back watching from a distance, but was leaning in close to check that the temperatures were being assessed properly. We didn’t mind the screening, but it seemed to me that everyone entering should have been checked. It wasn’t like they were using up any disposable equipment in the process, but it would have severely slowed down the time it took for visitors to enter the fort.
We had a great time soaking in all that was on display, and I enjoyed that fact that the artifacts in the museum had been changed up slightly, so we were able to see a few new things. They are really taking care to maintain the building and especially the ornate rooms in the Royal Apartments. Fortunately, the crowds were not particularly large that afternoon, and we were able to move around unimpeded by others.
There were two major changes that I observed on this third visit, firstly the addition of a café in the courtyard terrace of the zenana (women’s quarters). I appreciated being able to stop and have a cold coffee and share a dessert with our little group. In the past, we moved pretty quickly through this courtyard, and the opportunity to sit and soak in the beautiful filigreed sandstone, was something I’ll remember for a long time to come.
Secondly, the gift shop that is situated just inside the zenana’s interior rooms, had been greatly enlarged. It was probably double or triple the size it had been in 2013. They have an amazing selection of items to purchase, but I managed to get out of there almost empty-handed. One type of souvenir I often buy, (I used to collect bookmarks from places we visited, but I read so much more online now), is an attractive key chain, distinctive to the location. I don’t have a lot of keys, but I use they has zipper pulls on all the various luggage we use, and even on the zippered packing cubes we’ve collected over the years.
It took an inordinate amount of time to select one of two different key chains with portraits of former rulers of Jodhpur. One had a blue background, and the other was red. I certainly didn’t need two, and ended up selecting the blue one because it matched more closely with my current suitcase. You can only imagine my surprise, when I took it out of its little box back at the hotel. The key chain was two-sided, one side blue, the other red!
After ‘exiting through the gift shop’ we made our way out of the fort along the same route that we’d entered. It had been a terrific afternoon, but I discovered another structure to visit and so my mind turned to what was coming, and not what we were leaving behind.