Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mehrangarh fort – The rich heritage of India

Nestling within the depths of the Thar, the imperial city of Jodhpur echoes with tales of antiquity in the nihility of the desert. Flanked on the western side by the Mehrangarh Fort and on the eastern side by the stately sandstone palace of Umaid Bhawan, its monuments, temples and gardens depict a multi-faceted grandeur. But the gravity that pulls everyone to Jodhpur, is its vicinity to a desert landscape, almost as barren as the moon. This makes the medieval fort seem more magical, a larger than life version of an idealized illustration in a child's book. The Mehrangarh Fort, which looks as if it grew organically out of the low hill on which it is built, surely puts everything else in the city, completely in shade.

Mahrangarh fort

Den of The Chivalrous Rajputs

Before you buy your ticket and enter the fort, walk to the edge of the parking lot for the first of the many panoramic vistas it affords. The view one gets from this spot probably does not have a parallel anywhere in the world, as it is one of the largest fort structure in the world. It is as if the entire Old City, with its alleyways, courtyards and terraces, lies open to your gaze, as in one of those miniature paintings of cityscapes. It is not just what you see that gives the view its intimacy, but the way it blends with the sounds rising up from the houses and streets. It is fun to hear individual voices from the vantage point and trace down where they come from.

You have to bestow an entry fee to pierce the grim, once nearly impenetrable walls, which conceal magnificent palaces spanning five centuries of Rajput glory. Get an entrance ticket from the main portico at Jaipol, built by Maharajah Man Singh. Don't forget to climb the summit (Lohapol) through the steep zigzag ascent, where there are hand prints of Raja Mansingh's widows, who committed "Sati" (traditional Hindu practice of a widow immolating herself on her husband's funeral pyre happily, no longer a custom) rather than suffer at enemy's hands. The images of the hands of Hindu widows of the Rajput reverberates the devotion of these women and the high status of the men for whom the women committed Sati.

Inside the fort, behind the lotus-patterned, lacework sandstone facade, are many places to be explored. In order to create the original fort, legend has it that, a hermit was evicted from his abode. During the eviction he lay a curse upon any future building on the hill. He stated that any building on the hill would have severe problems annexing water. To avoid the consequences of this curse, a man volunteered to be buried alive in the foundations of the fort.

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