Rising out of a perpendicular clifftop, 410ft above the skyline of the city of Jodhpur, the Mehrangarh Fort is among the most iconic sights in India. But if the imposing appearance was engineered to inspire awe, it’s the view from the inside out that lingers longest in the memory. Looking out from the fort’s ramparts, the famous ‘Blue City’ of Jodhpur stretches out below, the cool cerulean of the painted houses contrasting against the earthy tones of the arid landscape. This is India at its most spectacular.
“The Meherangarh Fort is the best preserved, and in my opinion, the best-curated fort of India,” says Philippa Kaye, our local expert. “It inspires you with a remarkable history, straight out of the story books.” Built around 1460 by the Rao Jodha, the monumental complex has been the setting of centuries of history, with evocative reminders written into its fortified fabric – cannon ball impact marks are still visible on the second gate, a vivid reminder of a fortress that was frequently exposed to the violence of siege warfare, but crucially never fell. But these aren’t the only evocative remnants of its tumultuous past: “Loha Pol, the fort’s original entrance, is studded with iron spikes in order to deter enemy elephants,” explains Kaye. “And just inside the gate are two sets of small hand prints, the sati (self-immolation) marks of royal widows who threw themselves on their maharajas’ funeral pyres.”
Although the fort is still run by the Jodhpur royal family, it has long ceded its defensive role. On the other side of the 68ft-thick walls, the sprawl of palaces and gardens are now home to a series of museums displaying historically significant and eye-catchingly beautiful cultural artefacts. According to Kaye, the highlight of these is The Elephant Howdah Gallery. “It showcases a display of elephant seats from the Royal Collection; the most impressive being the priceless, unique howdah made out of silver and presented to the Maharaja Jaswant Singh I (1638-78) by the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan.”
Though it dominates its skyline, there’s much more to Jodhpur than the Mehrangarh Fort. According to Kaye, visitors should make time to visit the surrounding villages to see the tribal communities who make the inhospitable landscape their home: “The colour of their vibrant saris and turbans flash brilliantly against the surrounding desert.” For those looking to purchase gifts, the city also offers ample choice. “Juttis, which are footwear with different patterns, colours, sequin work and embroidery, can be found at Mochi Bazaar along with handicrafts and jewellery,” Kaye reveals. “And, Jodhpur is also famous for its durries, which are rugs woven on a loom using cotton or silk yarn – and also rugs made from camel wool.”
But what of the greatest souvenir of all – that famed view from the fort’s ramparts. When would be the best time to take a photo? “Early morning and early evening are the best times,” Kaye advises, and with good reason too: “Early morning was the time when Kipling wrote, ‘A palace that might have been built by Titans and coloured by the morning sun.’” It’s difficult to argue with that.