Jodhpur

The Old City

The Old City is surrounded by a huge 9.5-km-long wall which has 101 bastions and seven gates, above which are inscribed the names of the places to which the roads underneath them lead. It comprises a labyrinthine maze of narrow streets and lively markets, a great place to wander round and get lost. Some of the houses and temples are of richly carved stone, in particular the red sandstone buildings of the Siré (Sardar) Bazar. Here the
Taleti Mahal
(early 17th century), one of three concubines' palaces in Jodhpur, has the unique feature of
jarokhas
decorated with temple columns.

Meherangarh

The 'Majestic Fort' sprawls along the top of a steep escarpment with a sheer drop to the south. Originally started by Rao Jodha in 1459, it has walls up to 36 m high and 21 m wide, towering above the plains. Most of what stands today is from the period of Maharajah Jaswant Singh (1638-1678). On his death in 1678, Aurangzeb occupied the fort. However, after Aurangzeb's death Meherangarh returned to Jaswant Singh's son Ajit Singh and remained the royal residence until the Umaid Bhavan was completed in 1943. It is now perhaps the best preserved and presented palace in Rajasthan, an excellent example which the others will hopefully follow.

The summit has three areas: the palace (northwest), a wide terrace to the east of the palace, and the strongly fortified area to the south. There are extensive views from the top. One approach is by a winding path up the west side, possible by rickshaw, but the main approach and car park is from the east. The climb is quite stiff; those with walking difficulties may want to use the elevator.

The gateways

There were originally seven gateways. The first, the Fateh Gate, is heavily fortified with spikes and a barbican that forces a 45° turn. The smaller Gopal Gate is followed by the Bhairon Gate, with large guardrooms. The fourth, Toati Gate, is now missing but the fifth, Dodhkangra Gate, marked with cannon shots, stands over a turn in the path and has loopholed battlements for easy defence. Next is the Marti Gate, a long passage flanked by guardrooms. The last, Loha (Iron) Gate, controls the final turn into the fort and has handprints (31 on one side and five on the other) of royal satis, the wives of maharajas . It is said that six queens and 58 concubines became satis on Ajit Singh's funeral pyre in 1724. Satis carried the Bhagavad Gita with them into the flames and legend has it that the holy book would never perish. The main entrance is through the Jay (Victory) Pol.

The palaces

From the Loha Gate the ramp leads up to the Suraj (Sun) Pol, which opens onto the Singar Choki Chowk, the main entrance to the museum. Used for royal ceremonies such as the anointing of rajas, the north, west and southwest sides of the Singar Choki Chowk date from the period immediately before the Mughal occupation in 1678. The upper storeys of the chowk were part of the  zenana, and from the Jhanki Mahal (glimpse palace) on the upper floor of the north wing the women could look down on the activities of the courtyard. Thus the chowk below has the features characteristic of much of the rest of the zenana, jarokhas surmounted by the distinctive Bengali-style eaves and beautifully ornate jali screens. These allowed cooling breezes to ventilate rooms and corridors in the often stiflingly hot desert summers.

Also typical of Mughal buildings was the use of material hung from rings below the eaves to provide roof covering, as in the columned halls of the
Daulat Khana
and the
Sileh Khana
(armoury), which date from Ajit Singh's reign. The collection of Indian weapons in the armoury is unequalled, with remarkable swords and daggers, often beautifully decorated with calligraphy. Shah Jahan's red silk and velvet tent, lavishly embroidered with gold thread and used in the Imperial Mughal campaign, is in the
Tent Room
. The
Jewel House
has a wonderful collection of jewellery, including diamond eyebrows held by hooks over the ears. There are also palanquins, howdahs and ornate royal cradles, all marvellously well preserved.

The
Phool Mahal
(Flower Palace), above the Sileh Khana, was built by Abhai Singh (1724-1749) as a hall of private audience. The stone
jali
screens are original and there are striking portraits of former rulers, a lavishly gilded ceiling and the Jodhpur coat of arms displayed above the royal couch; the murals of the 36 musical modes are a late 19th- century addition.

The
Umaid Vilas
, which houses Rajput miniatures, is linked to the
Sheesh Mahal
(Mirror Palace), built by Ajit Singh between 1707 and 1724. The room has characteristic large and regularly sized mirror work, unlike Mughal 'mirror palaces'. Immediately to its south, and above the Sardar Vilas, is the
Takhat Vilas
. Added by Maharajah Takhat Singh (1843-1873), it has wall murals of dancing girls, love legends and Krishna Lila, while its ceiling has two unusual features: massive wooden beams to provide support and the curious use of colourful Belgian Christmas tree balls.

The
Ajit Vilas
has a fascinating collection of musical instruments and costumes. On the ground floor of the Takhat Vilas is
Sardar Vilas
, and to its south the
Khabka
and
Chandan Mahals
(sleeping quarters). The
Moti Vilas
wings to the north, east and south of the Moti Mahal Chowk, date from Jaswant Singh's reign. The women could watch proceedings in the courtyard below through the
jali
screens of the surrounding wings. Tillotson suggests that the
Moti Mahal
(
Pearl Palace
) to the west, although placed in the
zenana
of the fort, was such a magnificent building that it could only have served the purpose of a Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience). The Moti Mahal is fronted by excellently carved 19th-century woodwork, while inside waist-level niches housed oil lamps whose light would have shimmered from the mirrored ceiling. A palmist reads your fortune at Moti Mahal Chowk (museum area).

Meherangarh Fort Palace Museum
is in a series of palaces with beautifully designed and decorated windows and walls. It has a magnificent collection of the maharajas' memorabilia - superbly maintained and presented.

Jaswant Thada is the cremation ground of the former rulers with distinctive memorials in white marble which commemorate Jaswant Singh II (1899) and successive rulers of Marwar. It is situated in pleasant and well- maintained gardens and is definitely worth visiting on the way back from the fort.

The new city

The new city beyond the walls is also of interest. Overlooking the Umaid Sagar is the
Umaid Bhawan Palace
on Chittar Hill. Building started in 1929 as a famine relief exercise when the monsoon failed for the third year running. Over 3000 people worked for 14 years, building this vast 347-room palace of sandstone and marble. The hand-hewn blocks are interlocked into position, and use no mortar. It was designed by HV Lanchester, with the most modern furnishing and facilities in mind, and completed in 1943. The interior decoration was left to the artist JS Norblin, a refugee from Poland; he painted the frescoes in the Throne Room (East Wing). For the architectural historian, Tillotson, it is “the finest example of Indo-Deco. The forms are crisp and precise, and the bland monochrome of the stone makes the eye concentrate on their carved shapes”. The royal family still occupy part of the palace.

The
Umaid Bhawan Palace Museum
 includes the Darbar Hall with its elegantly flaking murals plus a good collection of miniatures, armour and quirky old clocks as well as a bizarre range of household paraphernalia; if it was fashionable in the 1930s, expensive and not available in India, it's in here. Many visitors find the tour and the museum in general disappointing with not much to see (most of the china and glassware you could see in your grandma's cabinets). The palace hotel which occupies the majority of the building has been beautifully restored, but is officially inaccessible to non-residents; try sneaking in for a cold drink and a look at the magnificent domed interior, a remarkable separation from the Indian environment in which it is set .

Government Museum
, is a time-capsule from the British Raj, little added since Independence, with some moth-eaten stuffed animals and featherless birds, images of Jain Tirthankars, miniature portraits and antiquities. A small zoo in the gardens has a few rare exotic species.

Just southeast of Raikabagh Station are the
Raikabagh Palace
and the
Jubilee Buildings
, public offices designed by Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob in the Indo-Saracenic style. On the Mandore Road, 2 km to the north, is the large
Mahamandir
Temple
.

Excursions from Jodhpur

A village safari visiting a
Bishnoi village
is recommended, although they have naturally become more touristy over the years. Most tours include the hamlets of
Guda
, famous for wildlife,
Khejarali
, a well-known Bishnoi village,
Raika
cameleers' settlement and
Salawas
.

The small, semi-rural village of
Jhalamand
, 12 km south of Jodhpur, is a good alternative to staying in the city, particularly if you have your own transport. It works especially well as a base from which to explore the Bishnoi and Raika communities.

Marwar
, 8 km north of Jodhpur, is the old 14th-century capital of Mandore, situated on a plateau. Set around the old cremation ground with the red sandstone
chhatris
of the Rathore rulers, the gardens are usually crowded with Indian tourists at weekends. The
Shrine of the 33 Crore Gods
is a hall containing huge
painted rock-cut figures of heroes and gods, although some of the workmanship is a little crude. The largest deval, a combination of temple and cenotaph, is Ajit Singh's (died 1724); worth a closer look but is unkempt. The remains of an eighth-century Hindu temple is on a hilltop nearby.

Bal Samand Lake
is the oldest artificial lake in Rajasthan, 5 km north. Dating from 1159, it is surrounded by parkland laid out in 1936 where the 19th-century
Hawa Mahal
was turned into a royal summer palace. Although the interior is European in style, it has entirely traditional red sandstone filigree windows and beautifully carved balconies. The peaceful and well-maintained grounds exude calm and tranquillity, while the views over the lake are simply majestic.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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