Sunday, August 15, 2010

Rajasthan by road - day 6, Jodhpur - The blue city

Day 6 of our Rajasthan trip was reserved for local sightseeing in Jodhpur.  Courtesy Travelguru, Shakti Singh, a well-learned, informative, and a former private assistant to the Rajmata of Jodhpur, accompanied us on our sightseeing.
Jodhpur - The blue city

First we visited Umaid Bhavan.  According to Wikipedia, Umaid Bhavan is one of the largest private residences in the world. The entire palace is divided into three parts.  One part of the palace is now a museum which houses various paintings, crystal collection, rare photographs, etc. belonging to the royal family of Jodhpur.  One part has now been converted into a luxury hotel while the third part still houses the royal family.  Mr. Singh told us the history behind the construction of Umaid Bhavan.  In the earlier part of the 20th century, Maharaja Umaid Singh and his Maharani were on a tour of Europe.  Being a simple man of ordinary looks, the Maharaja happened to enter a Rolls Royce showroom, where the owner refused to entertain him and had him removed from the premises without knowing his real identity.  Next day, the Maharaja sent his private assistant, a 6-foot tall man, along with a blank cheque and purchased all the 12 Rolls Royce cars occupying the showroom.  These cars were transported to Jodhpur and converted into garbage carriers.  Sometime later when a Rolls Royce mechanic visited Jodhpur to service the cars, he was shocked to see the poor state of the cars and informed his boss back home. The Rolls Royce owner promptly chartered a plane to Jodhpur but was given an appointment to meet Maharaja Umaid Singh only after three days of his arrival.  The owner who was shocked to learn that the Maharaja of Jodhpur was the same person he had evicted from his showroom, tried to convince the Maharaja to return the cars in exchange of the total money paid for them.  When Maharaja Umaid Singh refused to do so, the European tried to bring in other Maharajas of Rajasthan to try to convince Maharaja Umaid Singh. Finally Maharaja Umaid Singh agreed to part with the cars but on  two conditions.  One, he wanted the Rolls Royce company to pay him four times the total money paid for the cars, and two, he wanted the Rolls Royce company to make a gold plated car for him which would be the one and only such car in the world and never replicated.  The Rolls Royce company readily agreed and paid a total of 16 lakhs for each of the 12 cars.  It is learnt that the Rolls Royce company also swore never to sell any of its cars to the Maharaja even if offered 2 crores of rupees, while the Maharaja is alleged to have pledged never to ride a Rolls Royce again!!
This money was used the Maharaja to construct the Umaid Bhavan in an effort to provide employment to the citizens of Jodhpur who were reeling under severe famine conditions.  Each labourer was paid 25 paise per day, and on completion of the Umaid Bhavan, each labourer was gifted a bronze medal with the Maharaja's picture stamped on it.  The receiver could meet the Maharaja at any time just by presenting this medal and the medal also meant subsidized rates on rail travel etc.
Umaid Bhavan, Jodhpur
Umaid Bhavan as seen from Mehrangarh Fort

Umaid Bhavan museum also houses some rare Swiss clocks and watches.  Legend has it that when the Maharaja and the Maharani were in Europe, they happened to learn about a lady who was very ill and was in dire need of money.  The Maharani of Jodhpur exchanged her necklace for a sum total of 3 lakh rupees and had it sent to the lady for medical care.  When the lady recovered, she offered her collection of Swiss-made watches and clocks to the royals as a mark of respect and gratitude.  This Swiss collection is still displayed proudly in the museum.  
Some of the Swiss clocks

The Shyam Benegal movie, Zubeida, is based on the life of Maharaja Umaid Singh's son Maharaja Hanumanth Singh and his love affair. His wife, Maharani Krishna Kumari, who is now the Rajmata, a very beautiful lady even at the ripe age of 83, still resides at the Umaid Bhavan with the family of her son, Maharaja Gaj Singh, who was a minor when he lost his father.  

Next we visited the Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur.  Situated on a steep hill, this fort is one of the largest forts in India.  It is a well preserved fort which houses a collection of musical instruments, royal costumes, furniture, cannons etc.  Legend has it that Princess Krishna Kumari of Udaipur, renowned to be the most beautiful lady in this part of the world was engaged to be married to the Maharaja of Jodhpur.  On learning this, the Maharaja of Jaipur attacked the Mehrangarh Fort in order to defeat the Maharaja of Jodhpur and to claim Princess Krishna Kumari as his own.  The Jaipur army attacked the fort from atop a nearby hill and in spite of the war which went on for nearly six months, Jodhpur remained unconquered. The cannon ball marks are still visible on the walls of the fort.  When the princess learnt about this war, she held herself and her beauty responsible for the loss of so many lives, and committed suicide.  
Mehrangarh Fort
Mehrangarh Fort
Mehrangarh Fort atop a hill

This fort is one of the best in India with its exquisitely latticed windows, carved panels, elaborately adorned windows and walls of Moti Mahal, Phool Mahal, Sheesh Mahal.

Sheesh Mahal
Phool Mahal

Moti Mahal

On one of the walls of the fort, one can see the hand prints of the various Maharanis and Ranis of the palace who committed sati on the death pyres of their husbands.

Before embarking on their final journey, the royal ladies left a mark of their hand prints on the wall, as a final parting gift to the people to remember them by.

Jaswant Thada

Close to the fort complex, lies Jaswant Thada, a royal cenotaph which was built in white marble in memory of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II by his Maharani.  It is now the royal crematorium.
In Jodhpur, one can shop at the various National Handloom Emporiums which are present at almost every turn and corner of the city.  One can find an assortment of cosmetics, gifts, accessories, show pieces, photo frames, etc at reasonable prices.  Jodhpur is indeed a shopper's paradise as compared to the high prices in Jaipur and Jaisalmer.

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