“One of the grandest sights in India… The work of angels, fairies and giants… built by Titans and coloured by the morning sun… he who walks through it loses sense of being among buildings. It is as though he walked through mountain gorges…“- Rudyard Kipling, 1899
These words written by the world famous author, only suggests as how enormously big the fort is; what mammoth efforts were placed to shape it. It is so grand and rich in history that it deserves a separate mention. Placed among the biggest forts of the world, it stands tall since centuries. At the very first sight one can have an idea as why this fort remains invincible for many of attackers and the kings.
In 1459, Rao Jodha, the 15th of Rathore dynasty laid the foundation of what was destined to become one of the mightiest forts of all times: Mehrngarh, Citadel of Sun, soon after he shifted his capital from Mandore to Jodhpur (located at about 9 km to the south of Mandore, the erstwhile capital of Rathores, the city got it’s name after Rao Jodha). Earlier it was known as Marwar. Sun was the main deity of Rathore clan. In Hindi language, ‘Mihir’ is synonym of Sun and ‘Garh’ means castle. Hence, they named the fort as ‘Mehrangarh’. Perched on a vertical rocky cliff at an altitude of 410 feet above the city’s skyline, the fort can be seen from almost any vantage point in Jodhpur.
The name of the cliff on which the fort is perched was known as Bakhurcheeria because thousands of birds used to live on the cliff in those days (cheeria is a Hindi word for bird). According to a legend, a hermit named as Cheeria Nathji (the lord of birds) was the hill’s sole human occupant. To build the fort, Rao Jodha had to dislodge him. The hermit was not ready to move. On being getting pressurised by Karni Mata (to whom, the hermit was a follower) to vacate the cliff he got upset and cursed Rao Jodha that the fort would always suffer from water scarcity. Rao Jodha managed to appease the hermit by building a house and a temple in the fort very near the cave the hermit had used for meditation.
To avert the consequences of Cheeria Nathji’s curse, a young man named Raja Ram Meghwal came forward and agreed to be buried alive to ensure that the new fort proved propitious. In return, Raja Ram Meghwal was promised that his family and descendants would be looked after by the Rathore kings. In honour of the promise, even today his descendants continue to enjoy a special relationship with the Maharaja family.
There at Mehrangarh two different kind of rock formations are found. Dark pink rock with flat faces is ‘Welded Tuff’ which was blasted out as an ultrafine ash like material from volcanoes those were active here 745-680 million years ago. Above it lies pale ‘Sandstone’ made up of layers of sediments laid down in a shallow sea from 630-542 million years ago. The formations of Welded Tuff those are seen near Mehrangarh are so well preserved that they have been declared as a National Geological Monument (26 in all) by the Geological Survey of India.
A formation of Jodhpur’s sandstone contains faint wiggly markings which record the movement and burrows of the earliest forms of multi-cellular life on Earth. It dates from a period known as ‘Ediacaran’, a major milestone in the history of life on our planet.
The walls of Mehrangarh are up to 36 m high and 23 m wide. This majestic fort has few grand gates (Pol) namely (in order from present entrance) Jai Pol, Ded Kangra Pol, Imritia Pol, Loha Pol, Suraj Pol. Fateh Pol was the original entrance from Bramhpuri side. These gates were built in different time periods. The entire fort is kept spic and span and there are enough security personnel to maintain the order. This massive structure that covers an area over 1200 acres is carefully preserved and stands in its full glory.
Jai Pol was built by Maharaja Man Singh in 1806 to celebrate his victory in a war with Jaipur and Bikaner. Just entering the Jai Pol, there is ticket window. Taking an audio guide is highly recommended. The audio guide is available in Hindi, Gujrati, Bengali, English, German, French, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Italian languages. There are 33 points of interest narrated in the guide. Elevators are also available for elderly and handicapped people so that they don’t have to climb the steep inclines of the fort but few initial points of interests would be missed. Persons with walking disability can use the elevator free of cost. The inclines of fort were made so steep and were having sharp turns so that elephants of enemy’s army couldn’t ascent rapidly. You should be very careful and ensure firm steps while walking on the ramps.
As you progress, you can spot on your left wall, the imprints of cannonballs fired by the Jaipur army at the Dedh Kamgra Gate during war of 1808 A.D. between Jodhpur and Jaipur.
As you enter ‘Loha Gate’, you can see on left wall the hand prints of the widows of the rulers, going to be ‘Sati’. It is said that the ‘Satis’ carried the Bhagavad Gita along with them while sacrificing themselves on the funeral pyre of their husband. Just thinking about those moments still creates goosebumps.
One would think of the palaces inside to be reflecting the might of the fort and the kings. But, on the contrary, the palaces are intricately sculpted and some of them are profusely decorated and exudes an aristocratic opulence. It is this clear contradiction between the inner and outer appearance that would amaze you. Today the beautiful palaces and dazzling period rooms of this massive fort have been converted into a unique museum that houses an impressive collection of elephant howdahs, palanquins, cradles, miniature paintings, weapons, turbans, portraits etc. As you advance from Loha Gate, you will reach Fort’s museum. The museum is maintained very beautifully by Mehrangarh Museum Trust. First you can visit a collection of ‘Hawdah’ of different origin, used by kings when sitting on elephants followed by a section consisting of different ‘Palanquins’ used by the queens.
Sheesh Mahal, literally meaning the Palace of Mirrors, is exquisitely embellished with glass inlaid panels and multi-mirrored ceiling. The mirrors are of convex shape and designed with coloured foil and paint which would glitter bright under candlelight at the time it was in use. It was the bed chamber of Maharaja Ajit Singh who ruled over Jodhpur between 1679 and 1724.
The Pearl Palace is one of the oldest surviving period room in the fort. It was built in 16th century by Sawai Raja Sur Singh as a Hall of Public Audience. The wall of the room are lustrously polished with ‘Lime’ mixed with finely crushed shells and decorated with niches in which lamps once flickered. The ceiling has very intricately gold carvings.
The fort has every thing to mesmerise the visitors, the ornate red sandstone carvings of Shringar chowk, the gallery of paintings, ornate palanquins in the Daulat Khana, intricate mirror work in the Sheesh Mahal, the exquisite gold paintings of Phool Mahal, the lavish interiors of Takhat Niwas, the Jharokhas of Jhanki Mahal and the blue houses of Brahmpuri surrounding the fort. Various cafe, restaurants, museum shop selling various artefacts are also there.
Some of the notable festivals take place here include the World Sacred Spirit Festival and Rajasthan International Folk Festival. Even the film industry of India and the Hollywood couldn’t escape from it’s charm. Many blockbuster movies were shot at this magnificent fort. The famous Hollywood movie ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ has been shot here. Indian movies such as ‘Awarapan’, ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’, ‘Shudh Desi Romance’ and ‘Holiday- A Soldier Is Never Off Duty’, are amongst the few Bollywood hits that have been shot at Mehrangarh Fort. Also you can let your adrenaline boil by taking zip-line tour by Flying Fox within the fort. Access to Flying Fox is free, but this does not include the museum / audio tour.