I’m a huge Batman fan, and someday I hope to visit the city that inspired Gotham (FYI, that would be New York City), but for now, I’m happy with the tenuous connection I’ve made with my favorite superhero by visiting Mehrangarh Fort. In case you did not know, Mehrangarh is the fort glimpsed in the background when Batman makes his escape from Bane’s underground prison in Dark Knight Rises.
The plan was to wake up early and watch the sun rise over the walls of Mehrangarh, but, well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans. Suffice to say, we left our hotel at about 8 a.m., grabbing a hurried breakfast of puri and chole on the way. The autowallahs outdid each other in quoting ridonkulous prices to take us to the fort and back (since there are no autos to be found up there), and it took all my haggling skills to get them down to a decent price of about 350 rupees. There was a slight nip in the air as the auto climbed up the hill; I was glad to get some sun when we reached the top.
Mehrangarh Fort was built by Rao Jodha in the thirteenth century, and expanded by his descendant Jaswant Singh in the seventeenth century. Legend goes that the place was cursed, and to negate the curse, Rao Jodha was told that he had to bury a man alive in the foundation of the fort. One man named Rajaram Meghwal volunteered, on the condition that his descendants would always be looked after by the royal family. Supposedly, Meghwal’s descendants still live in Raj Bagh in Jodhpur.
Would any of us do that, I wonder? Dying so that your family and descendants prosper is one thing, but being buried alive? Umm…sorry, my descendants, you will have to make your own fortune, coz I can’t make that deal, if it is ever offered to me.
There are more rooms in the fort’s palaces than there are corrupt politicians in Parliament, and it took us the better part of the morning to see them all. We took the elevator all the way to the top, from where we were rewarded with a view of the Blue City spread out below, like a patchwork quilt. We climbed down narrow staircases and peeped through small jharokhas (windows) at the expansive courtyards in each palace, much like the queens of yore did. We gaped at the rooms full of treasures- a room only for the howdahs and palanquins that carried the king, another housing swords and shields and maces and guns of different eras, another with all the musical instruments ever invented (or so it seems). There were rooms for turbans and cradles and hookahs and paintings and furniture and whatever else you can think of. I’d say there was enough history enclosed in those walls for a dozen different PhD theses.
There were two rooms that attracted tourists like fire attracts moths. The first was the Sheesh Mahal or the Mirror Palace, a room that is symbolic of Rajput grandeur and opulence. Covered from ceiling to floor and wall to wall with exquisite mirrorwork, the room is bathed in the light of a single chandelier that lends a golden aura to the place. I could not help but remember the famous song from Mughal-e-Azam, Pyaar Kiya to Darna Kya, and Madhubala’s beautiful face reflected in the mirrors of a similar Sheesh Mahal (that was based on the one in Lahore Fort).
The other room was the Moti Mahal or Pearl Palace, the durbar hall of the kings, where they conducted the proceedings of the court. Named after the pearly effect caused due to the lime plaster used, this hall had an interesting play of light and color happening, due to the light streaming in through the colored glass windows. The gold filigree on the ceiling, interspersed with mirrors, also took our breath away.
However, if I had to name one thing that awed me, out of all the treasures and architectural marvels we saw at Mehrangarh Fort, I’d say it was the latticework we saw. In the windows, in the screens of balconies, in the zenanas of the queens and the mahals of the kings, the intricate sandstone jali work was spectacular. When you think that the latticework, in some places as detailed and fine as lace, was made by hand, without AutoCAD or any other modelling or designing software, and you come to appreciate the skill of the craftsmen, and rue the industrialization that has caused the vanishing of such skills.
I wish I had an entire day to spend at Mehrangarh. I would have liked to linger over some of the places, sit in the cafe and enjoy a quiet lunch while staring up at the mighty ramparts of the fort. We all remember our firsts with fondness, and though I saw a number of majestic forts during my Rajasthan trip, this first remained my favorite.