Garh means fort, we have already visited Mehrangarh in Jodhpur.
If you google Mehrengarh you will find “Mehrengarh Fort” several times in the first page, like the HIV virus and Gondwanaland, this is a tautology and if I’ve told you once I’ve told you a million times “Do not repeat yourself.”
But I digress, Mihir Garh is the Fort of the Sun. It stands in the Thar desert in Rajasthan, an outpost of utter luxury, so carefully constructed that it seems to belong there, more than that it almost seems to have grown there. Its form is inspired by the traditional village architecture, the building and the furniture were all completed by local craftsmen. No two guest rooms are the same.
In the stable here there are some fine Marwari horses.Legend has it …
… that in the 12th century AD, a group of people that would later be known as the Rathores, were exiled from their homeland. Sheoji, the man who would be the father of the Rathores, rode out proudly with a group of faithful pilgrims to find a new home. Their will was of iron, and their horses were strong and fast. Together, they would settle in a region called the Marwar, in Rajasthan, to start a new life.
The horses that bore them were integral to their survival and represented the pride and strength of the people. Over many years, they grew into the regal Marwari breed, and their beauty and power was known to all, represented by their distinctive inwardly pointed ears. When a Marwari horse moved through the city streets, the commoners would bow deeply before it. Yet while their heads faced the ground, their eyes would strain upward to get a glimpse of the almost mythical creature. For hundreds of years, this legendary horse would reign as the symbol of Marwari aristocracy.
They carried the feuding warlords into battle, in an area where there were plenty of warlords and no shortage of battles. They are fine looking animals.
I spent my last two nights in Rajasthan at the Mihir Garh.
When the sun rises it is back to Mumbai and then home …
Queen Marie Antoinette saw a crane that had been brought to France from the steppes of Russia. Because of its delicate and maidenly appearance she called it La Grue Demoiselle.
The village of Khishan is about 6 km west of Phalodi, Rajasthan. From August on Demoiselle Cranes arrive here to spend the winter. Their numbers build up and peak between November and February. For some years now the people of Khichan have systematically fed the cranes which now assemble in spectacular numbers.
The western population that winters in Africa is in significant decline. The eastern population is secure. Those that winter in India have to negotiate the Himalayas. They are creatures of supreme elegance and are associated in folklore, poetry and song with womanly beauty and hazardous journeys.
I was present, at dawn, on the roof of a house that overlooks the feeding area and happy to share my telescope with some local people who were on their way home from a night of wedding celebration.
India is just bursting at the seams with life, with colour and movement, noise, history, architecture. The only thing a visitor won’t find is ordinariness.
Phalodi is just a small town in Rajasthan about 140 km from Jodhpur. A quick skim through Tripadvisor reveals that the main reason for tourists to come here is for somewhere to stay close to Kichan and the famous Demoiselle Cranes. Exactly what took me there. More of them later.
The town grew up on an important trading route and if you were a prosperous merchant two or three hundred years ago you built yourself a haveli. This was a private mansion built in a style heavily influenced by the Mughals. Behind a gate like this …
… there would typically be the main courtyard, often with a fountain, and beyond that a second smaller courtyard for the women. The mansion would surround the courtyards in such a way as to give privacy from the street and carefully segregate the sexes. A large haveli might have three or even more courtyards.
Built in 1750, Lal Niwas is a splendid haveli boasting of intricate craftsmanship on red sandstone. The traditional balconies, terraces and doors add an authentic royal touch to it.
Fifteen glorious rooms await you. Not every reviewer found it glorious but I found it more than adequate. Two of the courtyards …
Phalodi has a population of about 45,000 if transplanted to Australia that would make it the fifth largest town in the state of Victoria, above Shepparton and below Bendigo. If you fired a cannon down the main street of either on a Sunday you would be lucky to hit a pedestrian. Don’t try that in Phalodi. There are no buildings in either town dating from 1750 which was twenty years prior to Captain James Cook’s encounter with the east coast of Australia.
India has a turbulent history. At a time of intrigue and assassination an ambitious man could make a name for himself or die young or both.
Rao Jodha was born in 1416. In 1427 his father secured the throne of Mandore and subsequently extended his influence by a strategic alliance that saw him administering an adjacent area. In 1438 the alliance was dissolved in the time-honoured way, assassination. The young Rao Jodha escaped and mounted a campaign to regain the throne he had expected to inherit. His attempts to retake Mandore were unsuccessful until one day, so the story goes, he stopped at a farmer’s house where he kept his identity to himself. He was given a bowl of stew, khichdi. He would have eaten this with his right hand. Unwisely he began in the middle and burnt his fingers. The farmer’s wife said “Stranger, you are making the same mistake as King Jodha, khichdi is hottest at the centre and coolest at the edge”.
Jodha saw the wisdom in this, turned his attention to the outlying forts which he took with ease. Once these were secure Mandore fell into his lap. A more secure capital had a lot to recommend it, so in 1459 Rao Jodha founded the city of Jodhpur and began to build a hilltop fort, Mehrangarh.
A combination of impregnability and luxury, Mehrangarh, enabled Rao Jodha to enjoy his kingdom until his natural death aged 73.
Our guide was very suitably clad …
Jodhpur is the second largest city in Rajasthan with a population of almost 1.3 million people. People make good use of their roof tops and also their basements.
Whenever I visit Jodhpur I stay in utter luxury at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, well I stayed there once … for one night. Up the red carpet to a trumpet fanfare, a shower of rose petals, under a canopy held aloft by a welcoming party of five to have a garland draped around my neck by a pretty young lady and anointed on the forehead with a red dot by another. It has probably sealed my fate come the revolution. But hey, it was worth it.
As always, click on any of the photos for a better look. Clicking the back arrow in your browser returns you to this page.
Walking through a small town in Rajasthan I came across a blacksmith at work. Not an uncommon sight but this man had drawn a bit of a crowd which seemed more to do with the banter which was going on than any particular interest in his work.
The lady behind the smith works a twin bellows. By alternating between them she provides a continuous blast of air. When the smith places his work on the anvil another man will deliver the necessary heavy blows with a large hammer. The smith does the fine hammering himself.
As you can see there is a smile on every face. A lady in the crowd has just called out loudly, another member of the crowd was kind enough to translate for me …
Don’t photograph that stupid piece of iron. Take photos of me!
Whilst in Rajasthan I was lucky enough to visit a Bishnoi village.
These are followers of Guru Jambheshwar who was born in Rajasthan in 1451. He enunciated bis nai, ie twenty nine, principles by which life should be led. The principles cover hygiene, social interaction, the avoidance of intoxicants and a reverance for living creatures and trees. Bishnoi people will not kill animals or cut green trees, indeed, on occasion they have given their lives to protect nature. They are vegetarian and traditionally do not wear blue clothes because blue dye was formerly made from large quantities of shrubs. They take care with the dead wood that they use as firewood to ensure it is free of insects.
In 1730 Maharajah Abhay Singh of Jodhpur required wood for the construction of his new palace. He sent his men to fell a large number of trees at Khejarli. They were resisted by Amrita Devi, a Bishnoi woman who, along with more than 363 other Bishnois, died trying to save the trees. Some are buried at Khejarli where an annual gathering of Bishnoi commemorate their sacrifice. The tradition still survives, on January 29th this year a young Bishnoi man was killed trying to defend Indian Antelope or Chinkara from poachers. He was shot dead when he grabbed hold of one of the poachers.
Siana is located on the fringes of the Thar desert in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The desert sweeps from the Rann of Kutch, Gujerat, east and north through Rajasthan and across the border with Pakistan into Sindh and Punjab. Rainfall ranges from about 10 cm or less in the west to about 50 cm in the east and varies widely from year to year. The ground water is deep and usually salty.
The great advantage of this region for the wildlife watching tourist is that it is not a national park. This makes it possible to get out and about at night to see nocturnal mammals. Over the course of two nights we caught up with the Indian Gazelle or Chinkara, Desert Cat, Desert Fox, Indian Fox, Palm Civet, Striped Hyena and Indian Hare. A couple of night birds were also encountered, Indian Eagle Owl and Indian Nightjar. Leopard are present but we were not lucky enough to see one here.
The Desert Jird is also present and with patience and a little luck you can get to see it. It is active late afternoon and early morning and lives in communal burrows in firm sand. I suspect that quite a lot of time can be wasted gazing in eager anticipation at abandoned burrows but eventually …
The Indira Ghandi canal has brought a measure of prosperity to parts of Rajasthan. It is 470 km long and enables crops to be grown in irrigated fields. In the vicinity of Siana, though, small scale livestock herding seemed to be the principle agricultural enterprise.
The red turban and white clothing is typical of Rabari men. It is the men that manage the livestock, the women take charge of the household and matters financial and are famous for being strong and shrewd. Traditionally they were nomadic but there is much less scope for this lifestyle in modern India. Most have now settled on the fringes of towns and villages.