Jodhpur: "The Blue City"
February 28, 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
Jodhpur is blue. Yes, blue.
I am sitting astride the barrel of the cannon, ten feet long, perched on the muscular ramparts of Mehrangarh Fort. From here, 125m (410 ft) above the desert, the roofs of Brahmapuri village are a "washed blue." [*]
The bastioned walls, parts of which are hewn out of the rock itself, are in places 24m (79 ft) thick and 40m (131 ft) high. The red, shear sandstone walls, the broad, bare stone walkways and the menacing steel artillery are all in sharp contrast to the princely weaponry, ornate furnishings, and delicate artwork of the palaces and apartments that lie protected behind these towering walls of the five hundred year old fort.
The Phool Mahal is the most opulent chamber, richly gilded and painted.
The Takhat Mahal is an exuberantly painted room with a high wooden ceiling. It was the favorite retreat of Maharaja Takhat Singh who over his thirty year reign had thirty queens and numerous concubines. The Takhat Mahal is a huge and visually stimulating chamber.
The Moti Mahal was the Hall of Private Audience. Its ceiling is decorated with mirrors and golf leaf, and crushed seashells were mixed with plaster to give its walls a lustrous sheen.
The Sileh Khana's exceptional collection of weapons includes damascened Mughal daggers, gem-studded shields, and special armor for war elephants. I must admit a certain fascination with the group of elegant daggers and swords in the glass display cases.
The Mehrangarh Fort is really a museum. It is regarded as the best of the palace museums in Rajasthan as it displays a vivid portrait of royal life and culture of the region. The collection includes a golden throne, a marble throne, fine miniature paintings of the shahs riding camels or playing polo, traditional costumes, gilded palanquins, and silver howdahs.
My favorite room is the Jhanki Mahal or "Peeping Palace," so called because the women of the royal zenana (harem) could peep through its lattice stone screens to observe the ceremonies and festivities and in the courtyards below. The room now has a collection of royal cradles fit for a princess or a prince, or princesses and princes. After all, one Nineteenth Century Shah did have thirty wives, et al.
From the high walls of this castle I can zoom in on two dramatic buildings far out in the red brown desert. Each one sits in its own oasis, surrounded by large green trees. One is the creamy pink sandstone Umaid Bhavan Palace. The second is the white marble Jaswant Thada.
"The immense Umaid Palace is a prime example of princely India's opulence. Commissioned by Maharaja Umaid Singh as a public works project during a severe drought, its 347 rooms include eight dining halls, two theaters, a ballroom, several reception halls, and a vast underground swimming pool. Begun in 1929, it took three thousand men fifteen years to complete."
The Maharaja's grandson still lives in a section of the palace. The rest has been turned into a luxury hotel. The busy museum has an impressive collection of decorated weapons, paintings, furniture and porcelain." The oddly shaped clocks are my favorites.
And speaking of time, why is everyone in such a rush to go from city to city to see only the "major" attractions? If you go to New York, would you visit the Empire State Building and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but miss the United Nations and The Guggenheim? If you go to Washington, would you visit the Lincoln Memorial but miss the Jefferson Memorial? So why do visitors who travel thousands of miles to Rajasthan miss a site like the Jaswant Thada?
So once again, I am alone at another peaceful and extraordinary monument that obviously was designed and built by a genius. Jaswant Thada is a milky marble memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II who reigned from 1878 to 1895. The brilliant architecture, whimsical cupolas, fine marble lattice work, assorted cenotaphs and relaxing gardens are a bright and elegant tribute to a ruler whose innovative irrigation schemes brought water and prosperity to this parched region.
This sparkling Memorial, the majestic Mehrangarh Fort, and the enormous Umaid Palace are the proper final stops on my tour of the Three Desert Kingdoms. These Jodhpur treasures are an eloquent summary of Rajasthan art, architecture and the royal life here in western India.
And although I am taking my time in this area, I still feel rushed. Despite my best efforts there are more treasures here to unearth.
But, my itinerary and schedule are not as flexible as I would like, so I must move on, and travel over the mountains to Rajasthan's green and temperate zone.
See you at the mountain lake. Lake Pichola.
[*]India. Eyewitness Travel Guides. DK. London. 2005. (One of a series of "Eyewitness Travel Guides" published by DK. www.dk.com. This Guidebook is filled with 2400 photographs, illustrations and maps, cutaways and floor plans of all the major sights. I recommend this series of guides as a first class supplement to other more traditional guidebooks.)
I know what you are thinking, "Jan, please give us a break: "Bastion? Damascened? Palanquin? Howdah? Cenotaph?? OK. OK. I will give you a break. www.thefreedictionary.com