Posted by: Anna | March 18, 2011

“Elephants have never breached this gate…”

One of the memorable phrases from the Jodhpur Fort audio guide – a point of pride, indeed. I believe most castles in Europe could make the same claim, but then, I also suspect an elephant never tried to breach their gates. Here, the gate is equipped with special elephant charge defenses. The Jodhpur Fort must be one of the most impressive attractions in all of India – imposing, old, historically interesting, architecturally interesting, and big, towering over the blue city of Jodhpur.

Wherever you are in Jodhpur, you can see the fort looking down over you, serving as a constant reminder of the power of the maharajah of Jodhpur. We made the twenty minute climb up to the fort, paid our foreigner entrance fee (five times the fee for Indians), and started in. The audio guide was one of the best I’ve ever used, full of anecdotes and historical information. It really brought the palace to life for me and gave me the necessary context to feel that I left with an understanding.

One of the most interesting parts of the guide was hearing the royal family talk about aspects of the fort, and life in the fort (only the current maharajah’s mother actually ever lived there). Yes, even though India is a democracy, Jodhpur still has a royal family, who still live in a castle – the other castle in town, not the one in the fort. In order to stay modern, and because the government stop subsidizing them in the 1970s, they have converted part of their castle into a five star hotel and restaurants. They converted the fort into a museum trust, opening it to the public for tourism. Today, the royal family still performs traditional festivals and rites, and works to help the people of Jodhpur. They focus on clean water and water conservation and on preserving traditional culture, music, and arts.

During our tour, we learned a little about the life of the women who lived in the Fort. I can’t say I envy them. Traditionally, the wives of the king would participate in their husband’s funeral by following their husband’s body in a procession through town, singing the whole way. They would ceremonially touch the gate for the last time as they left the palace. And then it gets a little sad. They (all of them, as the king would have multiple wives) would join his dead body on the funeral pyre and sit silently as they burned to death. It’s horrible. Thankfully, that tradition stopped in the 19th century.

The women were also secluded away from the eyes of men, except for the king and specially admitted merchants. They had a separate section of the palace with grated windows so they could look out but could not be seen. When they did leave the palace, they traveled in curtained palanquins so they would not be seen. Additionally, they would have their faces covered with veils and their legs covered all the way to their ankles. In the early 20th century, the wife of the king went to England for a visit. She traveled in a curtained car at all times, and was carried in a curtained chair (on display at the Fort) that could load her directly into the car. This created great curiosity about her appearance. Once, a tabloid managed to snap a photo of her ankle (!) and published it. The royal family purchased all the copies of the tabloid that were sold in India to ensure that no one would see her ankle.

This makes me think of two things: one, a more modest time where anyone‘s ankle could excite curiosity, and two, what a strange way to live. I admit, I do not enjoy the oogling and comments from strange men. However, I do enjoy and appreciate having unobstructed access to the world – the smells, the sights, the sounds. It seems a pale life to live hidden.

Opium played an important role in the life of the royal family. Sweets laced with opium, opium tea, and other methods of ingesting opium were common parts of daily life and ceremonial life. Opium was used to provide warriors with courage before battle and to provide relief from injuries sustained during battle. Apparently opium is still common in the region today, although I haven’t yet had anyone come up and try to sell me any (we somewhat frequently get approached or offered marijuana in various places on our trip – not my thing).

The interior is sumptuous, full of elaborate painting, mosaics, tile work, and glass.

Talking to an Indian guy we met, he proudly explained that Jodhpur is the only Indian city that still has a maharajah. I don’t know if that is true. He talked about how his family helped to build the fort and the current palace. As an American without royalty and with a short history, I find it fascinating to think about how royalty still exists, even in ceremonial form.

Of course, there is always more than one story. Flipping through a book on the history of Rajasthan (the state of Jodhpur), I read about how the maharajah’s made themselves increasingly irrelevant in the time leading up to Indian Independence (1940s) by spending their time playing polo, shopping, and generally being wealthy people of leisure in an English fashion.


Jodhpur - city view from the fort (blue filter on the camera to bring out the blue)





    i have been TRYINg 2 teach tata 2 dance………….MISSION IMPOSSIBLE!!!!!


  2. The fort almost reminds me of palaces in Sevilla and the south of Spain. Maybe it is just the photos.

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