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Cafe Sheesh Mahal
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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 chock-full of history and legend. One story tells that to secure a propitious future for the fort, its founder Rao Jodha had a man named Rajiya Bambi buried alive in its foundations; in exchange the Rathores have looked after Rajiya’s family ever since.
Mehrangarh’s main entrance, at the northeast gate, Jaipol, is a 300m walk up from Hill View Guest House in the old city. Alternatively you can take a winding 5km autorickshaw ride (around ₹80). Cast off your audio-tour prejudices, as the one included with the museum ticket here (in multiple languages and requiring a deposit of passport, credit/debit card or ₹2000) covers the whole fort and is a terrific, entertaining mix of history, information and royal reminiscinces.
The Jaipol was built by Maharaja Man Singh in 1808 following his defeat of invading forces from Jaipur. Inside here are the ticket office (tickets are needed only for the museum), and a lift (₹20) that whisks disabled or weary travellers up to the museum near the top of the fort.
Past the ticket office, the 16th-century Dodh Kangra Pol was an external gate before the Jaipol was built, and still bears the scars of 1808 cannonball hits. Through here, a path winding down to the right leads to the Chokelao Bagh (admission ₹30), a restored 18th-century Rajput garden, and the Fatehpol (Victory Gate), erected by Maharaja Ajit Singh to commemorate his defeat of the Mughals. The main route heads up to the left, through the 16th-century Imritiapol and then the Loha Pol , the fort’s original entrance, with iron spikes to deter enemy elephants. Just inside the gate are two sets of small handprints, the sati (self-immolation) marks of royal widows who threw themselves on their maharajas’ funeral pyres – the last to do so were widows of Maharaja Man Singh in 1843.
Past Loha Pol you’ll find a cafe and the Surajpol gate, which gives access to the museum. Once you’ve visited the museum, continue up to the panoramic ramparts , which are lined with impressive antique artillery. The sounds of the city below come floating up as from a separate world. At the southwest end, the Chamunda Devi Temple , dedicated to the goddess Durga in her wrathful aspect, is normally a lovely, peaceful place to sit in the window alcoves overlooking the city below. However, thousands of devotees mass at the temple for Navratri (Festival of Nine Nights) in October, and in 2008 over 240 people were killed in a stampede here.
This beautiful network of stone-latticed courtyards and halls, formerly the fort’s palace, is a superb example of Rajput architecture, so finely carved that it often looks more like sandalwood than sandstone. Its splendid collection of royal trappings shows off the wealth and power of Marwar’s rulers.
The galleries around Shringar Chowk (Anointment Courtyard) display India’s best collection of elephant howdahs and Jodhpur’s royal palanquin collection. Some of the howdahs feature exquisite repoussé (raised relief) silverwork. Some of the palanquins are covered for women in purdah (seclusion). Apparently one of these sent the British media into a frenzy during a Jodhpur royal trip to the UK – one photographer managed to catch a picture of the hidden queen’s ankle, but there was such an outcry that all the newspapers in which it was printed had to be recalled. The palanquin presented to Jaswant Singh I in 1657 by Emperor Shah Jahan is exquisitely worked in silver and gold, and has a natty little parasol to beat the heat.
One of the two galleries off Daulat Khana Chowk displays textiles, paintings, manuscripts, headgear and the curved sword of the Mughal emperor Akbar, plus some wonderful ephemera, such as ladies’ ivory-inlaid dumb-bells. The other gallery is the armoury, whose daggers, armour, rifles, spears, swords and axes are all works of art.
Upstairs are a gallery of miniature paintings from the sophisticated Marwar school and the beautiful 18th-century Phul Mahal (Flower Palace), which was used for music, poetry and dance performances. The Phul Mahal has a ceiling of gold filigree and mirrors, and 19th-century wall paintings depicting the 36 moods of classical ragas as well as royal portraits. The artist took 10 years to create the paintings using a curious concoction of gold leaf, glue and cow’s urine.
Takhat Vilas was the bedchamber of Maharaja Takhat Singh (r 1843–73), who had just 30 maharanis and numerous concubines. Its beautiful ceiling is covered with Christmas baubles. You then enter the extensive zenana (women’s quarters), whose lovely latticed windows (from which the women could watch the goings-on in the courtyards) are said to feature over 250 different designs. Here you’ll find the Cradle Gallery , exhibiting the elaborate cradles of infant princes, and the 17th-century Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), which was the palace’s main durbar hall for official meetings and receptions, with gorgeously colourful stained glass (women could listen in from secret balconies above the alcoves). The lovely courtyard outside, Moti Mahal Chowk, is also home to the office of SL Sharma, the fort’s long-time resident palm reader (normal/detailed reading ₹250/350). Remove nail polish if you intend to get a reading, as nails are used to ascertain your state of health.