June 15, 2016 by
“Kesariya Balam aawo ni padharo mhare des ni Kesariya Balam aawo sa padharo mhare des”
These beautiful words of an old rajasthani folk song are the ones that echo in my mind whenever I think of Rajasthan. Boasting of a glorious history, The Land of Maharajas with its vibrant culture, splendour and the rugged yet beautiful desert terrain it has to offer is undoubtedly one of The-Places-To-Visit when in India.
One of its greatest Gem is Jodhpur. Oh what a beautiful city it is! Be it the people, the food or its never-ending by-lanes
So this time I had gone to Jodhpur with 10-12 people as a Travel Photography group under a professional travel photographer. While most of them were photographers, some were there to enjoy, travel and have a good time. The agenda of our group was to cover “Holi” and “The Blue City”.
The Arrival
After an excruciatingly long 12 hour Train journey from New Delhi we arrived at our destination. Jodhpur at first felt, to me, like any other small city in India where life started at 6 am and would end by the evening, but man was I in for a surprise.
We arrived at our hotel Kuchaman Haveli in a short while and along with me were 5 more people who with their brilliant jokes, experience and knowledge made the journey better. After moving in to our rooms we retired for the night as the organiser had a long day planned ahead for us.
The Mehrangarh Fort
The first day, our group of 5 was joined in by more and we were given a brief on how our day was scheduled. After a light breakfast of Omelette, Bread and Coffee, we were escorted to the main hall of the Haveli where each one of us was given a traditional Rajasthani Welcome.
A local was called in to tie and make Rajasthani Safas ( Rajasthani Turbans) for us. The speed at which he made those was incredible and was surely a great sight to watch. I wont be lying if I said that I did feel like a King when he put the Turban on me. Not missing in on the moment, I flipped out my phone and took a Selfie.
Fun Fact: According to him, there are more than 5 tribes in Rajasthan and each tribe has a different way of making their turbans. This helps in distinguishing each tribe and creating a unique identity of their own.
After the turban tying and the whole tikka ceremony, we sat in a bus and left for The Mehrangarh Fort.
As a child, I was always curious about why my parents named me what they did and what the name itself meant. They say they got the idea of naming their firstborn child Mehran Singh Katoch when they visited the Mehrangarh Fort while on their honeymoon to Jodhpur sometime in the 90’s. My avid interest in History, Kingdoms, Forts and the Royalty from a very young age, I made promise to myself that one day, I will visit this fort and get to know the history behind it.
As destiny would have it I came across this opportunity to visit Jodhpur with a famous travel photographer and I grabbed it at the first chance I got.
Situated in the heart of the city, Mehrangarh Fort is one massive structure made atop a hill that rises 400 feet above the ground and is one of the largest forts in Rajasthan. Belonging to the Rathore Clan, it also holds the honor of never being conquered by any enemy forces. A quote by Rudyard Kipling, “A palace that has been built by Titans and colored by the morning sun” stands true for this beautiful fort.
My first visit here was with the whole group where we did a quick tour of the palace. I was caught by surprise and was in awe when I entered the fort and saw a Cafe by the name Cafe Mehran. Nothing could make me more happy than this and it gave me a good reason to boast around about it. And yes, I did boast about it with the group saying, ” All of you are treated to free food here, in my own cafe😀 “.
After a few tips and tricks on photography we came out of the fort and headed to a location in the outskirts of Jodhpur. Here we learnt how to shoot portraits, in a controlled environment. Like the ones below.
Holi – Day
Holi, the festival of colors is a hindu festival widely celebrated all over which marks the triumph of good over evil. It is celebrated with much enthusiasm and same happened here in Jodhpur.
So on the second day, our group went out to cover holi in the by-lanes of Jodhpur, the Old City as it is collectively known with a special focus on the Blue Houses. While going around looking for stories, we came across the same location where the famed photographer Steve McCurry took his famous picture of a boy running through the alleyway. Seeing this group of photographers, the parents of that boy came out and told us everything about that day when Steve McCurry took a picture of their child and how they got a little taste of fame after that.
Going further, I saw this excited group of people, all smeared in red color, dancing merrily to loud Bollywood songs. Seeing this as an opportunity to get some cool pictures, I went in closer. After getting a few shots, as I was about to go away, one of them came in and requested me to dance!! Well it was my first Holi away from home and I kind of missed it, so I said yes and joined that group managing to bust a few laughable moves. :-p
That’s that and this is how I spent majority of my “Holi-Day”.
Salawas
The third day was pretty exciting as we all headed to Salawas Village and a bunch of others to see the real Rajasthan. Heading out some 20 km from Jodhpur we reached this barren land with no human life but just some odd desert trees and foliage for company. After some time we arrived at this small little place inside Salawas where a Bishnoi family stayed. The family had a small land with a few Khejri Trees growing near their huts in their land.
The surrounding area, although mostly sandy and desolate, had something mysteriously calm and serene about it
An interesting thing here were the customs practiced by the Bishnois. They are all a very eco-friendly community. For instance, by religion all of them follow Hinduism but choose not cremate any dead bodies and rather bury them. The reason behind this is that trees, especially the Khejri tree, are sacred to them. Another interesting fact is they only keep cows and buffalos as domesticated animals. Foremost reason being it is a great source of milk and cannot be butchered. They value animal and plant life a lot and this why they don’t raise animals like hens or goats which can be bought for their meat and even practice conservation of the khejri tree which is sacred to them and provides them with fuits (sangria), wood for fire, feed for the animals and a lot more.
A few meters ahead from here was an area were a few Dari makers lived and worked. It was a treat watching them work so effortlessly and create a beautiful piece of carpet from threads of different colors.
After this, we went to a few more neighboring villages like Kakashni ( famous for earthen products), Chota Guda and Chalamand.
The Last area on tour was the one place that ill never forget. It left me speechless then and now too, so I’ll just let the photographs do all the talking.
Mehrangarh Fort – II
After an amazing tour of the villages, we came to the last day of our trip. This was a day without any plans and all of us were left to do whatever we wanted. Without thinking much I planned to go to Mehrangarh once again to feel and explore it on my own.
Roaming around the castle, reading up on its history, marveling at its architecture made me appreciate this magnificent palace more.
But the real connection developed during a conversation with the employees of Café Mehran. After completing the tour of the palace I once again came across the cafe. Still amazed at its name and seeing it empty, I decided to go in and meet the manager.
The manager and two of the waiters there was amazed as I told them my name and story behind it. One of the waiters, Kamal Ji, got a bit emotional hearing this and told me, ” sir main yahaan 35 saal se kaam kar raha hoon aur aisa pehli baar hua hai ki meri aise insaan se mulakat hui jiska naam iss behtareen kile pe rakha hua ho. Bohot hi achaa laga aap se milke, aapke mata-pita ko mera namskar jaroor kijega” ( Sir I have been working here for the past 35 years and it has happened for the first time that I have met someone whose name has been kept from this castle. It was good to meet you, my regards to your parents). This conversation was extremely overwhelming and put a permanent smile on my face for the rest of the day.
We had a long talk after this and an interesting thing I got to know about the Palace was the meaning behind the name. The name Mehrangarh translates to “SunFort” where “Mehran”( originating from the word Mihir) means Sun-God and “Garh” means “Fort”.
This reminded me of Rudyard Kiplings quote where he says about the fort being colored by the morning sun. Happy, Proud and fully content I headed down, back to blue city.
The End?
Coming back down and roaming these streets again, I suddenly remembered how today was the last day here. It invoked the same indescribable feeling I get when it’s time to leave a place. I still can’t forget the last night of mine in Jodhpur. Sitting on a rooftop restaurant under a Full Moon night throwing its light on the glorious Mehrangarh with four great people for company (Aman, Anjum, Roger and Puneet), it was nothing but truly magical.
But was it the end? Definitely not! as I promised myself to visit this beautiful city once again just to relive the charm it has in all its organized chaos.