MEHRANGARH FORT With its sheer majesty and hidden stories, this piece of history floors KAUSALYA SANTHANAM

M ehrangarh is sheer majesty. As I stand high above the city looking down from the Fort, the past and present seem to fuse seamlessly. Below are the painted houses of the old Brahmin quarter that make Jodhpur a blue city, in contrast to the pink of Jaipur. The Mehrangarh Fort has an allure all its own — the massive citadel reaches out to you with its mixture of history, aesthetics and legend; and, the fact the kingdom it once defended is uniquely situated at the edge of the Thar Desert. Jodhpur owed its legendary wealth to being located on the famed Silk Route — it is easy to stand here and imagine camel caravans carrying silk, spices and gems.

The Fort, whose construction was begun by Rao Jodha in the mid 15th Century, is excellently maintained, thanks to Gaj Singh, the present scion of this ancient dynasty. The floors are spic and span, and there is no trace of cobwebs on the beautifully-latticed jharokhas. There are so many of these balconies, looking like finely-crocheted lace, sculpted painstakingly from the sandstone that is unique to the historic buildings of Rajasthan.

Only in India!

The entrance to the fort brings memories of the cobbled path leading to the Tower of London. But then, only in India will you have an elephant gate! A few chambers have been converted into well-maintained museums to house the splendid possessions of this dynasty — a variety of hookahs, cradles, arms, Ragamala paintings. “This is a three-in-one — gun, sword and spear,” says our turbaned, angrakha-clad guide pointing to a deadly weapon. Another famed exhibit is Emperor Akbar's sword. The fort was witness to the changing relationship between the Mughals and the Rathore rulers — often allies and sometimes adversaries. Palanquins are in plenty as are elephant howdahs with images of bemused-looking tigers flanking the seats. “This palanquin was gifted by the Queen of England to the then maharani when she visited London.” We see an odd-shaped carriage showing an unfamiliarity with the idiom of palanquin-making.

A documentary explains how Gaj Singh managed to turn adversity into advantage after the abolition of the privy purses. He turned to tourism and helped generate revenues for Rajasthan. Also touched upon are his efforts to bring water to a water-starved area.

Climbing stairs is never more profitable than in Rajasthan. We enter glittering glass walled and painted chambers — Sheesh Mahal, Rang Mahal, Phool Mahal, Moti Mahal, Takhat Vilas… The fort and the palaces with their seven gates ( pols) were built over a period of 500 years. The Zenana Deodhi, the women's quarters, is the oldest surviving part of the palace. Pointing to a tiny chamber, the guide says: “Here is where the royal births would take place; the midwife would drop a lemon to the ground below to indicate the arrival of a new royal.”

Do you want to visit the temple of Goddess Chamundi, we are asked. We nod sombrely — it was here that many people lost their lives in a stampede recently. The goddess is the tutelary deity of the Rathore rulers.

We return via the Loha Pol, which has palms carved on the walls. These commemorate the women who passed through the gate on the way to the funeral pyres of their husbands. We make our way down gloomily, and our spirits rise only when we turn back from our vehicle to see the majestic Mehrangarh outlined against the sky.

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