There are many great fortresses all over Rajasthan, but very few can compare with Mehrangarh Fort. Perched on a ricky cliff 400 feet about the plain, it has a commanding view of the surrounding landscape. In fact, you can see from here all the way to the fort of Kumbhalgarh, 80 miles away. Mehrangarh Fort seems to grow out of the living rock itself, and, indeed, in parts the rock face was hewn to form its ramparts. The approach to Mehrangarh Fort, up a zigzag pathway and through seven fortified gateways, is an arduous one. You enter through the towering Jai Pol (Gate of Victory). At Dedh Kangra Pol, you can see the marks of cannon balls once fired by the Jaipur armies in their attempt to capture Jodhpur in 1807. After Dedh Kangra Pol, there is a sharp U-turn to thwart would-be attackers, and finally you come to Loha Pol, the 15th-century Iron Gate, beside which you can see the handprints of 15 royal satis, Jodhpur widows who immolated themselves on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands. On the Mehrangarh Fort ramparts, which are 130 feet high in some places, you can see a battery of fine medieval cannons.
Mehrangarh Fort itself is divided broadly into three areas: the outer court, with its old stables and kitchens; the durbar hall, reception rooms, and maharaja’s palaces; and, finally, the zenana, or queens’ palaces. This palace complex, constructed around a series of interconnecting courtyards and adorned with breathtakingly carved sandstone filigree work, was first built in 1459 and added to, over the centuries, by successive generations of maharajas. It is one of the most impressive palace complexes in Rajasthan. On your right, as you enter, is the white marble coronation throne, where every ruler of Jodhpur has been crowned since the 15th century.
Mehrangarh Fort’s museum is one of the finest museums in Rajasthan and certainly the best laid out. In the palanquin section of the fort museum you can see an interesting collection of old royal palanquins, including the elaborate domed gilt mahadola palanquin, which was won in battle from the Governor of Gujarat in 1730. Next comes the howdah section, with perhaps one of the finest collections of ornate elephant howdahs in the world. Continue on to Maan Vilas, housing one of the finest collections of weapons in India: everything from medieval mortars shaped like crocodiles to shields decorated with semi-precious stones. The swords here are particularly noteworthy. They range from exquisite Mughal swords (including the sword of Emperor Akbar himself) to Rao Jodha’s enormous khanda sabre with a straight blade, weighing over seven pounds.
As you pass into Umaid Vilas you will see an excellent collection of miniature paintings from all the major schools of Rajasthan. From here you enter Takhat Mahal, a huge royal bedchamber with exquisitely lacquered walls depicting scenes of dancing girls and legendary lovers. Going up the stairs you come to Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), which is perhaps more impressive than Moti Mahal. Built in the 18th century as a Hall of Private Audience, it has magnificently painted walls depicting the various musical ragas (classical Indian patterns of melody and rhythm) and their changing moods. In Sardar Vilas there are some classic examples of Jodhpur’s celebrated traditional woodwork, including an array of doors in a variety of styles, superbly carved, lacquered, ornamented with gilt and inlaid with ivory.
Through Khab ka Mahal, which used to house the office of the Prime Minister, and an old conference room for Rathor’s nobles, you come to Jhanki Mahal (Palace of the Glimpses). This palace got its name from the exquisitely carved sandstone lattice windows, thought which the ladies used to view the world outside, without themselves being seen by prying eyes. The stone latticework here is so fine, it actually resembles lace. There are nearly 250 latticework patterns used all over the palace complex, each of which has its own name. Here there is also a fascinating display of royal infants’ cradles, which range from the exotic to the idiosyncratic. Do not miss the splendidly mirrored cradle with the peacock motifs.
Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) is a throne room built in the late 16th century. Judging from its magnificence and size, it was originally conceived as a Hall of Public Audience. Its ceiling is gorgeously embellished with mirror-work and gilt. Its wall are lustrously polished, and decorated with a triple band of ornate niches in which lamps once flickered, reflecting off the polished walls. At the far end is an octagonal silver throne, a rare and priceless heirloom dating back to the 17th century. A museum houses a very interesting collection of over a hundred different types of turbans from the different parts of Rajasthan, including a strange hunting turban with a visor and a backflap, as well as traditional musical instruments and potteries.