INSIDE STORY Near the famous Mehrangarh Fort are two other forgotten gems, Jaswant Thada and Mandore Gardens
The roads were still slushy after the rains but the sun was merciless that afternoon in Jodhpur. A kingfisher scooped down. I walked along the edge of a small lake that reflected the skies. The Mehrangarh Fort stood high up on a cliff but I was walking in the opposite direction, towards the memorial of King Jaswant II. Built by his son Sardar Singh in the 19th century, Jaswant Thada is a marvel in marble that stands silently surrounded by its gardens. It seemed an apt resting place for the local villagers as well. A woman was curled up in sleep on the lawns in front of the gazebo. A folk singer was sitting idle, reluctant to perform for just a couple of us. A pair of lovers holding hands disappeared behind the cenotaph.
Jaswant Thada may be overshadowed by the towering presence of the Mehrangarh Fort, but it is a place that makes you want to linger. I sat on the pristine white steps for a while and looked at the domes reflecting the sun’s glow. There were a few tombs inside. A group of foreigners entered and all of a sudden the folk singer started performing. Sensing my interest in cenotaphs, an auto driver offered to take me to Mandore Gardens to see more memorials. In that short journey of less than ten kilometres, I learnt a bit of history topped with legends. Mandore, an erstwhile capital of the princely state of Marwar, is now home to ruins, tombs and temples.
Mandore Gardens looked like another picnic spot for the local populace. A few foreigners were taken on a guided tour. I entered to see huge boards displaying a ‘Code of Conduct for Tourist and Host’. Adjacent to the board was a troop of langurs posing for us.
I walked around and saw them almost everywhere, invading every monument in the gardens. There were several cenotaphs here and some of them were built like temples and were even four storeys high. Built of red sandstone, the pillars, walls and ceilings were carved with sculptures. One of the temples, I was told, was referred to as The Shrine of the Three Hundred Million or Three Crore Gods, filled with images of deities. A hall of heroes lay near the cenotaphs, dedicated to the Rajputs. I braved the langurs to walk inside the grandest cenotaph, only to find the stench unbearable as it was filled with dirt and bats. The creatures flew around the carvings that lay mired in dust. The other monuments suffered a similar fate. There was hardly any attempt to preserve heritage here.
On the lawns, a few families were having a picnic. I watched the langurs walk around the monuments, totally ignoring the humans. Ironically, I realised that this was the condition of most of the erstwhile capitals of Indian princely states – the moment they were abandoned by their kings, even posterity seemed to care very little for them.