Heightened heritage

Heightened heritage

Heightened heritage
Five hours southwest from Jaipur leads you to the arid, blue-tinted city of Jodhpur. Though entrenched in culture and close to Jaipur, Jodhpur falls short of being a part of India’s famous tourist circuit, the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. However, the city has benefitted from being in the shadows of the tourist circuit and has thus retained most of the old city, fortunately, protected from the unchecked commercial growth that is rampant in Jaipur. Nonetheless, in recent times, it has come under the spotlight for its heritage, backed by the efforts of Maharaja Gaj Singh II of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust.

Built in the mid-15th century, the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur is known as the Fort of the Sun and is representative of the royal family’s descent from Surya, the Sun God. The current custodian of the fort is Maharaja Gaj Singh II, who has been integral to its heritage conservation works.

Built by Rao Jodha, head of the Rajputana clan of Rathore in Jodhpur, the fort sprawls across an area of 500 by 250 yards with a wall of up to 70-feet thick, and sprouts out of a 400-feet-high rock outcrop over the old city of Jodhpur.

It has a burnished red sandstone exterior, the colour of the rising sun, and subtly camouflages itself into the landscape and stands in stark contrast to the blue-hued city of Jodhpur below. The rocky outcrop is locally known as ‘bahucheeria’ or the ‘mountain of birds’.

A steep winding road takes you up to the main entrance and here you are met with spectacular views of Jodhpur. The fort has two main entrances — one in the northeast corner, and the other in the southwest corner, which leads up from the city.

Entering through the Jai Pol gate, you are led into an open area with a carefully designed visitors’ office where you can purchase tickets and the audio guides that have been recently introduced. The audio guide explains the fort architecture and offers some anecdotes about the royal family. The fort has a museum as well.

These are some of the new additions made by the Mehrangarh Trust that help interpret the heritage of the fort to its increasing number of visitors. The enclosure within the fort houses various palaces built by successive maharajas, and the barracks. The fort visit ends with a new architectural intervention in the form of Hotel Raas Jodhpur, beautifully designed by architect Ambrish Arora of Delhi, where a historic building has been converted into a luxury hotel. This beautiful structure uses local red sandstone craftsmanship throughout the premises.

Adjacent to this, a discreet lane leads you to the recently renovated Toorji ka Jhalra, a magnificent red sandstone stepwell pristinely restored with the help of Maharaja Gaj Singh II. Next to it is a three-levelled cafe where you can sit and enjoy the views into the beautifully carved stepwell.

Within the old city, however, life goes on. As we wander around the surreal blue city, we are encountered by scenes of a bygone era, with locals sitting casually in front of their centuries-old blue homes under intricately carved stone arches and going about their day.

Though much has been restored, the old city of Jodhpur, just below the fort surrounding the stepwell, remains in a decrepit state, lacking basic facilities like water and sanitary connections.

Of late, Jodhpur has become a popular destination for music festivals. The Mehrangarh Museum Trust hosts the Rajasthan International Folk Festival in October, the World Sufi Festival in February, and other local festivals of Gangaur and Dussehra during the year.

Gone are the days of sleepy visits to museums and rundown palaces. We are now in the world of private heritage building owners coming to the forefront of heritage conservation. Jodhpur is well aware of its heritage and proudly displays it. It takes you deep into the winds of the Thar Desert and offers a different experience, one that is closer to the desert lands of Rajasthan.
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