Tag Archives: Marwar

It’s the time to Fresco: Painted Havelis of Shekhawati

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore a region north of Jaipur often described as the ‘largest open air gallery of Rajasthan’

Mahansar Fort heritage hotel owner IMG_0328Anurag Priya

Origin of Shekhawati and its havelis
The haveli was to the baniya (merchant) what the gadh (fort) was to the Rajput. In 15th century, Rao Shekhaji (1433-88), baron of the Shekhawat sub-clan of the Kachhwaha dynasty conquered a vast region north of Amber, which was called Shekhawati. Over time, his descendants set up smaller thikanas (fiefdoms). However, the birth of the haveli (palatial home) can be traced to the rise of the Marwaris. After the decline of the Silk Route, this merchant community migrated from the desert region of Marwar around 1820 to the ports of Calcutta and Bombay, amassing huge fortunes. Though Marwaris ventured far for business, they always returned for three things – weddings, religious ceremonies and buildings. Strewn across 13,784 sq km, hundreds of painted havelis vied to outdo the other, making Shekhawati the largest open-air gallery in Rajasthan.

Bagar Piramal Haveli renovated by Neemrana into a hotel IMG_0125_Anurag Priya

The land of millionaires
As per oral folklore, Shekhawati once had 22 crorepatis. Some of India’s biggest business houses have their roots here – Oswal, Mittal, Ruia, Lohia, Birla, Dalmia, Goenka, Singhania, Agarwal, Khetan, Modi, Kothari, Jalan, Poddar, Morarka, Jhunjhunuwala, Piramal… Built in 1928, The Piramal Haveli in Bagar was the home of Seth Piramal Chaturbhuj Makhania who made a fortune in Bombay, trading in cotton, silver and opium. Renovated by Neemrana and the closest Shekhawati hotel from Delhi, the haveli has a large garden and two pillared courtyards with colourful wall tiles and kitsch frescoes of flying angels and gods in motorcars. Presence of the British in Jaipur since 1803 finds ample reflection in the murals. Ph 01592 221220-21, 9310630386 http://www.neemranahotels.com

Ramgarh frescos - even undersides of domed chhatris serve as a canvas IMG_0630_Anurag Priya

Myriad themes
Mural painting was an elaborate process that involved application of different materials and techniques in multiple layers. The laborious task of grinding sandela or kara, a smooth paste was left for women or boys. Scenes depicted cover ten broad themes – decorative designs, daily life, religion, raga mala, folk mythology, historical events or personalities, flora and fauna, erotica, maps or places and the British and their contraptions. Most chhatris or domes include a rasamandala in the ceiling – a dancing circle in which Krishna miraculously replicates himself so each Gopi finds him dancing next to her.

Mahansar IMG_0214_Anurag Priya

Tales of romance
Besides popular love stories like Laila-Majnu and Heer-Ranjha, Shekhawati’s murals have a recurrent theme of a couple astride a camel portraying Rajasthan’s most popular romantic tale – Dhola-Maru. Married off as kids, Dhola returns as an adolescent to fetch his wife. En route they encounter bandits Umra-Sumra and like a true Rajput wife, Maru repels the attackers while Dhola urges his camel onward. Paintings also represent lesser-known folk tales of Binjo-Sorath; Binjo mesmerizes his young aunt Sorath with his veena as she dances to his tunes. Sassi-Punu recounts the legend of Punu, a prince who weds Sassi, an abandoned princess raised among washermen. Tragically, Punu is kidnapped and Sassi dies in search of him in the desert…

Nawalgarh-Rajasthanis in a steamer IMG_2011_Anurag Priya

United Colours of Shekhawati
Long before 19th century natural colours like lampblack and red, green and yellow ochres were in use. Lime was a substitute for white and to lighten other hues, while indigo, ultramarine, vermilion, verdigris, gold and silver were reserved for puja rooms and bedrooms. Indian Yellow, made from gomutra or urine collected from cows fed on mango leaves, was rarely used. In 1860, German chemical pigments like artificial ultramarine, chrome red and emerald green reached India and remained popular till World War I, until supplies were hit. Inspired by ‘Made in Germany’ paint tins, many painters randomly emblazoned the word “Germany” to depict anything English! Maroon was popular between 1820-65, red and blue held sway between 1860-1910 while multi-coloured paintings using cheap European paints dominated 1900-50.

Dundlod-Fort interiors IMG_1585Anurag Priya

Dundlod: The Far Pavilions
In 1750, Thakur Kesri Singhji chose the site for Shivgarh Fort at the behest of local saint Dundlu Maharaj and named the village Dundlod. The beautiful diwankhana (assembly hall) has paintings of maharajas astride famous horses. Current owner Kanwar Raghavendra Singh (Bonnie Bana), who sourced 25 Marwari horses for the 1978 TV series The Far Pavilions, ended up buying them after the shoot! With partner Francesca Kelly, he runs Royal Equestrian & Polo Centre, organizing riding holidays across Rajasthan. The old well Sethon ka Kua and town square doubled up as a Partition era market in Pinjar. JP Dutta’s film Ghulami too was shot here and in Fatehpur, where most recently Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan was filmed. Ph 9829212176, 9414208518 http://www.dundlod.com

Dundlod Seth Arjun Das Goenka Haveli Museum IMG_1457_Anurag Priya

Mansions with museums
Seth Arjundas Goenka Haveli Museum in Dundlod is a beautifully restored 1875 haveli showcasing merchant life in 19th century displaying old artefacts in 20 rooms. The richly carved fortified gate leads to the mardana (men’s quarter), an outer courtyard for visitors. Life-size clay figures depict the merchant, customers and punkha-walla, who manually swung the cloth ceiling fans. He was usually deaf and mute to ensure that business dealings remained secret. The inner courtyard or zenana recreates household scenes with large vessels, ladies at the chakki (stone wheel), cooks rolling out chapatis in the rasoi (kitchen) and earthen pitchers in a paniyada (narrow water storage room). Ph 9884053841 Mohan Goenka (Caretaker)

Nawalgarh Roop Niwas Kothi horse safaris IMG_1745_Anurag Priya

Far from the madding crowd
Founded by Thakur Nawal Singhji in 1737, Nawalgarh stands on an erstwhile grazing ground for horses, but is among the most modern towns in Shekhawati. Wrapped by a parkota (high wall), the town is marked by four pols (gates) – Bawadi, Mandi, Agoona and Nansa Darwajas. When the town outgrew these confines, Roop Niwas Kothi or ‘Rawal sab ki Kothi’ an old country house on a 100-acre patch became the family’s favoured retreat. The heritage resort has an impressive stable of Marwari horses and is owned by Bhanwar Devendra Singh who runs Royal Riding Holidays. Ph 01594-222008 http://www.roopniwaskothi.com

Nawalgarh-Dr Ramnath A Poddar Haveli Museum IMG_1977Anurag Priya

The art of haveli restoration
Nawalgarh’s Morarka Haveli was built by Jairam Dasji Morarka in the latter half of 18th century. After years of disuse, its renovation began in 2004 under conservation expert Dr Hotchand. Instead of cement, limestone, lal mitti (red mud) and river sand were used to strengthen surfaces. Marble dust and slaked lime replaced synthetic resins to reinforce plaster. Over 700 frescoes and 160 sculpted doors and windows, charred by smoke, dust and dirt were restored using traditional methods. Another renovated mansion nearby, Uttara Haveli was built in 1890 by Kesardev Morarka. Since the family did not dwell here long, it was opened for transiting relatives during functions. It was dubbed Uttaron ki Haveli (house of those who come and go), which morphed into Uttara Haveli. Ph 9649578317 http://www.morarkahavelimuseum.com

Nawalgarh-Dr Ramnath A Poddar Haveli Museum IMG_1940_Anurag Priya

Dr Ramnath A Podar Haveli Museum, a window to Rajasthan
Philanthropist Anandilal Podar built the haveli in 1902, which was converted into a museum and a centre for art, culture and heritage by his grandson Kantikumar R Podar. Restoring 750 frescoes spread over 11,200 sq m, he named the museum in memory of his father Ramnath A Podar. It has several interesting galleries on Rajasthani lifestyle, musical instruments, festivals, jewellery, miniature paintings, handicrafts, forts, palaces, bridal costumes, artworks in stone, wood and marble, besides turbans! Ph 01594-225446, 223138 http://www.podarhavelimuseum.org

Ramgarh Freco Hotel IMG_0665Anurag Priya

There are Ramgarhs, and there’s Ramgarh Sethan
Excessive taxation by Bikaner state led to the decline of Churu and the formation of Ramgarh. To protest the harsh taxes imposed by Thakur Sheo Singh of Churu, the Agrawal community of Podars left his territory in 1791 and founded a new town 16km south, with help from the Rao Raja of Sikar. In order to differentiate it from other Ramgarhs, they called it Ramgarh Sethan or Sethon ka Ramgarh (Ramgarh of wealthy merchants), vowing to outshine their former home. True to their word, Ramgarh reflects the wealth they amassed and spent to beautify their havelis. Today, Ramgarh holds the largest number of frescoes in Shekhawati. The Khandelwal family renovated the century old Khemka Haveli into the Ramgarh Fresco Hotel and organizes walking tours around the painted town. Ph 9971133230 http://www.ramgarhfresco.com

Ramgarh Shani Mandir IMG_0496Anurag Priya

Mirror mirror on the wall
Ironically, Ramgarh’s biggest mansion Sawalka Haveli was built in defiance of the Podars. Being old settlers, the Podars didn’t allow the Sawalkas into their territory, so Motilal Sawalika built a magnificent abode just outside the city gates! A short walk away is the Shani temple built by Gurudayal Khemka in 1840. The porch ceiling depicts mythological themes while mirror work on the interior walls is done using glass brought from Belgium and Persia around 1850.

Mahansar fresco-train IMG_0274_Anurag Priya

Weird contraptions of the Western world
The earliest depictions of Europeans in the frescoes are as army officers and troops. By mid 19th century their strange machines began to appear – paddle steamers and cargo boats that plied along the Ganga. While the railway was introduced in India in the 1850s, the first mural featuring a locomotive dates to 1872. Being the perfect frieze to divide a wall horizontally, the train fad caught on, sometimes even showing erotica in the carriages! By end 19th century, modern age contraptions shared wall space with camels and elephants – bicycles, cars, manned balloons and aeroplanes, locally called cheel-gadi (eagle craft). Western women were depicted listening to gramophones or playing netball.

Alsisar-Jhunjhunu wala ki Haveli  IMG_2163Anurag Priya

The Golden Room of Mahansar
The lofty Narain Niwas Castle in Mahansar was built in 1768 by Nawalgarh’s founder Thakur Nawal Singh for his second son Thakur Nahar Singh. Thakur Maheshwar Singh, the eighth generation scion, runs it as a simple heritage hotel with great sunset views from the terrace. Nearby, is one of the best painted havelis in Shekhawati – Sone Chandi ki Dukan or Golden Room built in 1846 inside a Podar haveli. Named after the gold and silver leaf used to decorate its walls, the vibrant frescoes show intricately rendered scenes from the Ramayana, the life of Krishna and incarnations of Vishnu. Ph 01595-264761, 99282 76998 http://www.mahansarfort.com

Castle Mandawa hall IMG_7193_Anurag Priya

Mandawa, the heart of trade
Being an old trading outpost on the Delhi-Bikaner route, Mandawa prospered greatly; its 175 havelis are ample proof. Perhaps the best specimens are Gulab Rai Ladia Haveli and Murmuria Haveli with its bizarre East-meets-West theme. Thakur Nawal Singh built Castle Mandawa in 1755 and rooms in its zenana display antique murals to objects in marble with antique armour and family portraits showcased in the diwankhana (drawing room). Ph 0141-2374112 http://www.mandawahotels.com

Fatehpur-Haveli Nadine le Prince IMG_0798Anurag Priya

Fatehpur’s French connection
Originally built in 1802 by the Devras, the richest family of silk traders at the court of the local ruler, the Nandlal Devra Haveli was purchased in 1998 by artist Nadine le Prince, a descendant of French painter Jean-Baptiste le Prince. Nadine restored its frescoes using local artists and opened a cultural center that exhibits her artwork alongside French and Indian modern artists covering contemporary to tribal art. Next door the 200-year old Saraf Haveli has original paintings with Belgian glass inlay but marred by a provision store run by the caretaker inside! Jwala Prasad Bhartia Haveli built in 1925 displays stunning wall murals and exquisite teak doorways chiseled by jangids or traditional wood carvers. Ph 01571-233024 http://www.cultural-centre.com

Alsisar Mahal IMG_2114Anurag Priya

Alsisar: Thirst for honour
Alsisar recounts the legend of two sisters Alsi and Malsi. Unable to bear a taunt faced by his sisters who went to draw water from the village well at lunch, Nawal Singh abandoned his field and vowed to consume water and food only after digging his own well. The Bhan siblings dug through the night until they struck water. Alsi settled down at this sar (water source) which was called Alsisar, while Malsi moved to a nearby place, thus named Malsisar. Besides Alsisar Mahal, site of the Magnetic Fields festival, the town has numerous temples, wells, cenotaphs, dharamsalas and mansions like Indra Vilas, a 100-room haveli set in a ten-acre compound built by Indrachand Kejriwal in 1595. Jhunjhunuwala ki haveli, built by Seth Kasturimal 170 years ago has two rooms with inimitable mural paintings. Ph 0141-2364652 http://www.alsisarmahal.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 19 May 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at www.cntraveller.in/story/inside-painted-havelis-shekhawati

Deogarh: Escape to royalty

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY indulge in the royal pleasures of Deogarh, a tiny fiefdom in Rajasthan with a fairy-tale castle, rugged forts, village jaunts and ancient cave shrines.

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In another era, we would have ambled up the slope on an elephant’s back, swaying past bazaars before entering the regal gates of Deogarh Mahal. But given the century we found ourselves in, we resigned ourselves to the modest backseat of a taxi, secretly ruing that it wasn’t a vintage classic. The first thing that strikes you when you enter these precincts is its overwhelming grandness and antique appeal. Tons of stone and lime had been procured to create this massive ochre and white palace that served as the residence of Rawat Sangaji, great grandson of the legendary Chunda Sisodia, one of the 16 Umraos (feudal lords) of Mewar.

The history of Deogarh is inextricably linked to pride and honour. Story goes, when the powerful Rathors of Marwar consolidated their position by capturing the forts of Ajmer and Nagaur, they made Mandore their capital and decided to forge ties with the Sisodias of Mewar. Ranmal, fierce heir apparent to the Marwar throne came to Chittor with a wedding proposal. He hoped that the eligible heir to Mewar’s throne Chunda Sisodia, would agree to marry Rathor princess Hansabai. But destiny has its twists.

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Since Chunda Sisodia was away, his father, Rana Lakha joked that the proposal could not have been for an old man like himself. When Chundaji heard this, his bristling Rajput pride forbade him from accepting a bride ‘spurned’ by his father. To avert a revenge drama between the two clans, old Rana Lakha agreed to marry the young Hansabai, but on the condition that Chundaji abdicates the right to the throne. In true Bhisma style, Chunda Sisodia renounced his birthright, left Chittor and shaped a new dominion for himself in the lawless lands north.

We sailed past the old katcheri (court) and stepped through an impressive entrance decorated with wall murals of horses into the inner courtyard. Niches, windows and doors were beautified by scalloped arches while walls studded with decorative mirrors twinkled in silvery collages of floral and peacock themes… We threw our bags and were off to explore the palace.

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Stairways led up to bastions, balconies and pumpkin-shaped turrets in the terrace offering alluring views of the Aravallis. In an otherwise rugged corner of Rajasthan, Deogarh’s altitude (2100 ft) and location amidst lakes and forests made it comparatively cooler and a natural choice for a regal residence. A little gasp escaped our lips as we entered each room. True to its name Sheesh Mahal was a royal chamber adorned with mirrors and stained glass windows. Sunlight streamed in to impart a sparkling jewel-like radiance to the room. Named Ranjit Prakash, the room was dedicated to Ranjit Singhji (1847-1867) who oversaw the renovation of this section. His regal portrait adorned the bedroom wall.

The Maharana and Royal Suites opened in a profusion of low divans, cushions and carpets accentuated by stunning carved furniture, coloured glass and intricate mirror inlays with nature motifs and plush bathrooms; all of which added characteristic grandeur and enviable opulence. A maze of corridors led past rooms with themes from Lord Krishna’s life and the Mahabharata. A piazza displayed the royal marble throne while the Chitrashala or Artist’s wing showcased the distinct miniature painting style of Deogarh. A rear lattice screen looked like an uncanny prototype of the famous Hawa Mahal. Legend has it that Pratap Singh, younger son of Maharaja Madho Singh I of Jaipur and Princess Kundan Kunwar of Deogarh sought sanctuary here as a child, when his life was threatened by Jaipur’s scheming aristocracy. He built the Hawa Mahal in 1799 as a nostalgic reminder of his happy days in Deogarh.

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We learnt that the bathroom in Room 201 was once an open arched gallery for Bijay Singh ji (1900-1943), who loved to bathe thrice a day, pouring a hundred pitchers of water each time. It is said that when he went to attend his son Sangram Singh’s wedding in Bihar, the journey stretched to seven days because the train had to keep halting for his daily triple ablutions! Being the first Rawat who went to Europe, Bijay Singh was so enamoured by their trains that he installed railway-style sash windows and a matching washbasin in his bathroom!

The Chundawats have inherited some eccentricities that continue to infuse Deogarh with quirky irreverence. We noticed the tongue-in-cheek “Duck or Grouse” warning on low doors and the crazy signboards that we passed earlier, “London Raining, New York Snowing, Deogarh Fine Weather, Only 3 km”. With a treasure of around 30 cars, we were taken around the garage and introduced to the sturdy army trucks named Thapero, Dhamero and Bhachero (a pun on Pajero). A fancy Austin had been renovated into Car-o-Bar (a bar on wheels).

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It wasn’t long before we were summoned for an open-air supper on the terrace with wine and an arresting spread of Rajasthani fare. The kebab and tikka starters kept on coming until we realized our folly – we had forgotten to give the signal! Only after we removed the little flag carried by a tiny elephant curio on the table and put it horizontally in its trunk did we graduate to the main course!

The next day we set out on a rural ramble, preferring a jeep ride through the village instead of the horse carriage! We rolled past the busy bazaar and huts where women in colourful skirts and veils balanced columns of water pots on their heads with graceful ease, groups of old men in colourful turbans enjoyed their smoke and royal cenotaphs stood in quietude. We halted to watch a blindfolded ox merry-go-around a strange contraption; it was the traditional method of oil extraction from oilseeds. The blindfolds were to ensure the ox didn’t get dizzy!

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We headed towards Seengh Sagar, the erstwhile royal hunting lodge overlooking a lake, another family property 5km away. Gazing at an old map and the album that documented its renovation, we could only marvel at how the ruins of this lake fort had been transformed into a swish villa with a central courtyard entwined in creepers, a pool, open-air dining and three lavish bedrooms (named after musical ragas) with enticing bathrooms. Warm décor, silk furnishings, and attentive staff to take care of every need, Seengh Sagar blends luxury and solitude in the midst of nature. Another experience in the wilderness was the tented camp at Deogarh Khayyam. The woods are a haven for several species of birds and post-monsoon, the moats and lakes brim with water.

A trip to Deogarh wouldn’t be complete without visiting the desolate ruins of Anjana Fort and the Anjaneshwar Mahadev cave temple. According to Shatrunjai Singh, “Anjana in Rajasthan means a rock with a water hole, though most wrongly deduce that Lord Hanuman’s mother Anjana performed penance here.” Strangely, a huge rock near the entrance bore a bizarre resemblance to a monkey’s face! Shatrunjai ji explained “Sixteen maharajas have taken Samadhi in the fort… All of them lived as austere bramacharyas and were given the status of kings and permitted to keep elephants, a royal perk! Two were live samadhis; which means they could decide when to descend.” That was our cue to leave…

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We drove to the ancient cave shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. A large step well signaled the 9th century temple tucked in the rocky hillside. We bent down to avoid the low ceiling studded with tiny bats to reach a wide inner chamber where a lone linga was decorated with flowers and statues of nandi nearby. Outside, it was dusk and the air was thick with the continuous twitter of birds flying to their nests. We clambered into the jeep once more to return to our palace for another night of royal pleasures. A buffet feast simmered on a long table as we supped to the tune of haunting folk songs on a moonlit night. After being royally pampered, we slipped under the quilted coverlet preparing ourselves for the heartbreak of returning to the humdrum of city life as commoners.

Getting There 
Located 135 km from Udaipur, Deogarh is strategically located near Kumbalgarh (85 km) and Ranakpur (100 km)

Deogarh Mahal
Deogarh Madaria Devgarh, Rajasthan 313331
Ph 9928834777 http://www.deogarhmahal.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 1 September 2013 in the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald.

 

Jodhpur: Jewel of Marwar

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY visit the Rathore capitals of Mandore and Jodhpur in Rajasthan to find out what makes Mehrangarh Fort so invincible and other secrets of the walled city

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No matter where you are in Jodhpur, you cannot escape the looming presence of the citadel of Mehrangarh, which dominates the city’s skyline. Perched at 400 ft on a rocky hill, the intricacy of its jharokhas (windows) and architectural grandeur moved Rudyard Kipling to call it ‘the work of angels and giants’. From Indique, the rooftop restaurant at Pal Haveli, a stunning 18th century heritage hotel, the red sandstone fort gleamed like a ruby in the early morning sun. By night, halogen lights transformed it into a bejeweled tiara resting upon Jodhpur’s proud forehead. But under all its glitter, Mehrangarh hides a grim tale of sacrifice.

When Rao Jodha chose to move the Rathore citadel from nearby Mandore in 1459, he selected the hillock of Bhaurcheeria (Mountain of Birds), the dwelling of an ascetic called Mehran Baba or Cheeria Nathji. The moment the king’s men evicted the sage, the constructed walls collapsed. Though a temple was built at his dhuni (place of penance), the sage cursed that the place would be drought-ridden and to make the fort unassailable, a man had to be buried alive in its foundations!

A humble skinner Rajaram Meghwal (or Rajiya Bhambi) volunteered on the condition that his family would be looked after till perpetuity by the king. True to his wish, even today, his descendants live in Raj Bagh and a stone tablet opposite Rao Jodha ji’s Phalsa (the original fort entrance) commemorates the incident. Every year on Jodhpur’s founding day (May 12), the Maharaja worships the skinner’s tools and felicitates Rajiya’s kin.

A guided tour or an audio guide, available in 7 languages, is the best way to explore the marvelous fort, which spills onto many levels. Legend has it that after a foreign dignitary grumbled about the effort required to see the fort, the Maharaja promptly installed an elevator, making Mehrangarh one of the rare forts in India with a lift! Tourists usually buy a 1-way ticket to reach the seventh floor and then amble down its wide cobbled pathways through a series of pols (gateways).

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Cheeky signs like ‘Lungs at Work, Please Don’t Smoke’ caution visitors while the gold filigree ceiling at Phool Mahal, the wall-to-wall paintings at Takhat Vilas and view of the famed Blue City behind the fort are sure to leave one breathless. Contrary to popular belief, the houses were painted blue not to ward off mosquitoes but given a fresh coat of paint every time a family member returned from a pilgrimage. Since most inhabitants of the old city were Vaishnavites, the colour represented their blue-skinned god.

With well-displayed exhibits showcased by the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, a library of rare manuscripts, an art conservation centre, museum shop and café, it’s easy to understand why Time Magazine chose Mehrangarh as the Best Fortress in Asia in 2007. No trip would be complete without a royal dinner at Chokelao Bagh, a restored 200-year-old garden at the base of the fort. At night, the white chandni flowers and the sweet-smelling kamini infuse the Mehtab Bagh or Moonlight Garden in the lower terrace with heavenly perfumes while the restaurant on the upper terrace comes alive with folk performances. Nearby, the royal cenotaph at Jaswant Thada, built in memory of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II in 1899, is a beautiful structure in white marble where the kings were laid to rest. The distinct silhouette of Ajit Bhavan can also be seen in the distance.

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But there are other ways to experience the fort – take a zipline with Flying Fox or do a heritage Mehrangarh walk with Virasat Journeys, down Jodhpur’s historic galis (streets) dotted with temples and shops. Within the precincts of the walled city in the shadow of the Clock Tower built by Maharaja Sardar Singh are antique stores and legendary shops selling sweets, itar (perfumes), grains and garments. Mishrilal at Ghanta Ghar have been churning out their signature ‘Makhaniya lassi’, special rabdi and doodh-jalebi for over five generations. Under the Sardar Market arch is Vicky’s famous ‘Amalate (omelette) Shop – Recommended by Lonely Planet’! And when you’ve had your fill of Jodhpur, head to Mandore, the old battle-scarred capital of Marwar, which most visitors tend to overlook.

Popularly believed to be the birthplace of Ravana’s wife Mandodari, though no historical evidence supports the theory, Mandore was once the ancient Mandavyapura, an important centre of art and architecture. The old fort that caps the hill was acquired by the Gurjar Pratiharas, captured repeatedly by the sultans of Delhi and eventually received as a gift in marriage by the Rathore ruler Rao Chunda. Fine monuments like the cenotaphs dedicated to the members of the royal family, the Janana Mahal built as a summer palace for the royal ladies during the reign of Maharaja Ajit Singh ji (1707-1724) and the Government Museum are definitely worth a look.

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South of Jodhpur, just off the busy NH-65 lie the Bishnoi villages of Khejarli, Guda Bishnoiya and Rohet where centuries-old tradition still survives. After the customary opium ceremony, the local equivalent of smoking a peace pipe, our host, Jodha Ram Bishnoi elaborated on the Bishnois. In late 15th century Guru Jambhoji laid down 29 (bish-noi) conservation principles as per which all life forms were considered sacred. Bishnois revere the blackbuck and protect it with their life, as a leading Bollywood star found out.

At Tal Chhapar, every Bishnoi family donates a kilo of bajra (pearl millet) each month to a community store. After wandering the plains all day, herds of blackbuck assemble around Bishnoi hamlets, to be lovingly fed at dusk. At Khejarli village a sacred grove of khejri trees is another living reminder of the inextricable link between Bishnois and nature. In 1730, a Bishnoi lady called Amrita Devi clung to a khejri tree, which was being cut to provide fuel for the lime kilns to build the Maharaja’s palace. Following her example, her two daughters, husband and 359 other villagers clung to the trees and gave up their lives.

The very land of Rajasthan was soaked in the blood and toil of its proud, fearless people. After hearing fantastic tales and visiting strange temples (like the Deshnok Temple where locals worship rats as their reincarnated ancestors), we thought we had seen it all, until we discovered a shrine dedicated to the Bullet motorcycle!

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The roadside temple of Motorcycle Baba or Bullet Banna near Rohet is easy to miss. Dedicated to Om Singh Rathore of Chotilla village, who died here in a accident in 1988, the 350 cc Bullet is enshrined alongside Om Banna’s garlanded photo. Local folklore contends that after the cops impounded the bike, it disappeared from the police station and was found parked at the crash site the next morning. Each time the bike was seized, it magically returned to the accident-prone spot.

Recognizing it as divine will, a temple was built at the site where travelers stop to pray for a safe passage. We joined a small group of worshippers lighting incense. There was no prayer on their lips, nor any incredulity in their eyes; just a brief ritual, before they drove off into the dead of the night…

Where to Stay:

Pal Haveli
Gulab Sagar, Near Clock Tower, Jodhpur 342001
Ph 0291-3293328, 2638344, 93504 08034
E-mail info@palhaveli.com http://www.palhaveli.com
Tariff Rs.3,000-8,000

Where to Eat:

Shri Mishrilal Hotel
Clock Tower, Jodhpur
Ph 0291-2540049

Author: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 8 January, 2012 in Deccan Herald (Sunday edition).