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February - March 2009
Jodhpur - Pushkar
In December we were in India for the third time in one year. Our itinerary included Delhi-Chandigarh-Jodhpur-Mumbai. Mumbai was cancelled at the last minute; and a short trip to Patiala was added.
Rajasthan has also been a great attraction for us. To my wife, it is a visit to her alma mater, Maharani College Jaipur from where she graduated. To me, a student of history, Rajasthan has always been a fascinating land. Its history and heritage is steeped with valour, romance and human frailties that caused tragedies of immense proportions.
We boarded Mandore Express for our one-night journey to Jodhpur from New Delhi. Mandore was the ancient capital of Marwar before Jodhpur was founded by Rao Jodha in 1459. It was Mandore (could you guess it?) that gave legendry King Rawana of Sri Lanka his beautiful, intelligent and devoted wife Mandodri. No wonder, Akbar the Great Mughal won Jodhabai as his bride. Her influence on the future of Mughal Empire is yet to be ackowledged by historians.
Jodhpur today, like any other urban metropolis in India, can be divided into old and new city. The old city is fortified as the wall surrounding it is nearly 10km long with eight gates facing in various directions. The old city at the foothill of a hillock can be seen from the top where is situated the magnificent Mehrangarh fort built in 1459. The fort epitomises the rich heritage and culture of Marwar. It is a standing sentinel to the grandeur of the past of Marwar. The huge palace (turned into a museum) within the fort is intricately adorned with long carved panels and latticed windows, exquisitely wrought from red sandstone. The apartments within have magic of their own. The Moti Mahal, Phool Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, Sileh Khana and Daulat Khana exhibit a rich and varied collection of palanquins, howdas, royal cradles, miniature paintings, folk music instruments, costumes, furniture and an impressive armoury. At the bottom of the fort there is a small but beautiful garden with various spice plants, flower shrubs and fruit trees. The panoramic view of the old city from the top of the fort is breath-taking. A lot of the houses are painted in blue. We were told by the guide that in olden times these were the havelis of Brahmins who used indigo to give colour. Now, of course, blue is the common colour of houses as opposed to pink of Jaipur. Perhaps a symbol of old rivalry with Jodhpur and Jaipur.
Next day we went to Umaid Bhawan Palace, exquisitely built by Maharaja Umaid Singh (1929-1949). The palace is a spendid example of Indo-colonial and art deco style of 30’s. The unique feature of this grand palace is the fact that hand chiselled sandstone blocks have been put together in a special system of interlocking. There is no mortar binding. Within the palace there is a museum, the Maharaja’s residence and the five-star hotel. The construction began in 1929 and the architect appointed was HV Lanchester who, as Aline Dobbie, our Travel writer reveals in one of her books, “had lost out on the commission to design Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. He was also known for the Central Hall building in Westminster in London.”
The Umaid Bhavan Palace is marvellous to behold; but from the heritage point of view; and by its sheer grandeur, Mehrangarh Fort Palace should take precedence.
We had lunch at Balsamand Lake Palace which is about 9km northeast of Jodhpur. This lovely summer palace was built on the end of a dam which was first constructed in 1159 by Balak Rao Parihar as water was scarce in those days. This delightful rainwater lake in the midst of rocky hills is beautiful to view from the terrace of the Palace. The Palace hotel was laid out as a summer retreat for Jodhpur’s royal family in 1936. We were taken on a tour of the Balsamand Lake Palace by the receptionist who also became our guide.
We were staying at Karni Bhavan hotel belonging to Thakur Sunder Singh and managed by his son Aditya and daughter-in-law Gayatri. This lovely small heritage hotel is reasonable priced. The hotel rooms, dining room and the small squarish lawns are the eating areas made to look like a village - ‘dhani’ are kept meticulously clean. We were impressed with the staff who were always so keen to please and enthusiastic in service at all hours.
Mandore Garden, the ancient capital of Marwar is about 9km from Jodhpur. The extensive gardens are beautifully laid with high rock terraces. The ‘Hall of Heroes’ houses sixteen gigantic figures, chiselled out of one single rock and the nearby cenotaphs are fine examples of architecture in mediaeval India.
We were saddened to note that this ancient heritage was neither maintained nor kept clean by the present owners ie. the Government of India. The people of Jodhpur should ensure that the government looks after this symbol of rich heritage of Marwar. After all there is no justification to have a ‘Hall of Heroes’ with pigeons sitting on them and soiling the place. Stray dogs were roaming around and the rubbish thrown around by careless tourists is left to rot.
A feeling of frustration filled my heart again while on a walking tour of the old city starting from the Fateh Pol (The Victory Gate), built by Maharajah Ajit Singh to commemorate the great victory against the Mughal Emperor in 1707. Such a milestone of history needs particular care. In worse condition were the gates and temples we came across on our tour of the old city. Lovely havelis are now in almost uninhabitable conditions.
In those narrow winding streets there are human beings living side by side with stray cows, dogs and increasingly more autorickshaws, motor cycles and scooters bellowing out carbon monoxide. The old city could be clean and worth visiting by tourists if the local municipal committee bans animals and autorickshaws from the old city and clean it up regularly.
Our decision to visit Pushkar rather than Jaiselmer was almost a divine call, as this great place of pilgrimmage is considered the ‘holiest of holy’ Teerathsthan. A visit to Pushkar ought to be taken after visiting other holy places. As we had already visited Haridwar and Rishikesh earlier in February, a visit to Pushkar seemed quite appropriate. We were lucky to have a taxi driver who knew history of Rajasthan so well that he made a drive of four hours long like a guided tour. Pushkar is surrounded from three sides by Arravali Hill strip. Pushkar lake has 52 ghats. There are almost 500 temples in Pushkar. The foremost of them is the Brahma temple. This is the only temple in the whole world dedicated to Lord Brahma. It was reconstructed in the 14th Century and stands on a high plinth with marble steps leading up to it. Pushkar gets its name from Pushp and Kar ie. Brahma threw a lotus flower with his hand and it fell at the place which is now fresh water lake. The famous Pushkar Fair begins after ten days of Diwali festival.
After our holy dip at Pushkar we drove back to Jodhpur; and that very evening boarded Mandore Express to Delhi, an extremely comfortable and pleasant journey, in a two-sleeper first class cabin.