Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur dominates the skyline of the "Blue City" from its lofty central position on a rugged cliff, where it seems to have sprouted up out of the rock. The fort is one of the most impressive and best preserved forts in India. It has been thoughtfully turned into a superb tourist destination that will delight everyone from photographers to history buffs. The illustrious fort has also featured in the writings of Rudyard Kipling and Aldous Huxley, and was named Best Fortress in Asia by Time magazine in 2007.
However, it wasn't always in such great condition. Prior to being restored, it was lying vacant and inhabited by bats. Find out all you need to know about Mehrangarh Fort in this complete guide.
Mehrangarh Fort is located in the center of Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan. Jodhpur can readily be reached by air, road or rail. By road, Jodhpur is four and half hours from Udaipur, five hours from Jaisalmer, and about six hours from Jaipur.
History of the Fort
Rathore Rajput king Rao Jodha started building Mehrangarh Fort in 1459, when he established Jodhpur as his new capital. Legend has it that the fort had a rather gruesome beginning, with the voluntary live burial of a man named Raja Ram Meghwal in it. This was carried out to lift a curse, which had been placed on the land by a hermit who Rao Jodha forced to leave.
To ensure the prosperity of the fort, Rao Jodha called the powerful female warrior sage Karni Mata of Deshnok (regarded as an incarnation of Goddess Durga) to lay the foundation stone and bless it.
This is believed to have been successful because, unlike other Rajput forts that ended up abandoned, Mehrangarh Fort still remains in the hands of the royal family.
The fort has remarkably diverse architecture from different periods, right up to the 20th century, due to the various phases of its construction by subsequent rulers.
These phases were commonly linked to the tumultuous timeline of the rulers' defeat and victory. Upon regaining control of the fort, they would expand and upgrade it to meet their needs.
About a century after the fort was founded, Rao Maldeo extensively strengthened its gates and walls to make it more secure. This was felt to be necessary after Sher Shah Sur, who briefly ruled India under the Afghan Sur Dynasty, held the fort for a year. Unfortunately, it didn't stop the Mughals from later occupying the fort.
Following the death of Rao Maldeo in 1562, Mughal Emperor Akbar strategically got hold of the fort by taking advantage of a dispute over succession to the throne. He eventually gave it back to the Rajputs when matrimonial alliances strengthened their relationship. Nevertheless, the Mughals again claimed Jodhpur while treacherous Emperor Aurangzeb was in power.
After Aurangzeb died in 1707, the Mughals were finally driven out. The fort needed to be repaired, and that prompted the next major phase of construction during the reign of Maharaja Ajit Singh. The Maharaja made a victory gate, Fateh Pol, and many palace apartments. This included the sparkling Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) where he slept.
It's also said that Maharaja Ajit Singh may have given the fort, earlier known as Chintamani, its current name. Mehrangarh means Sun Fort, in reference to the Rathore dynasty's deity, the sun.
By the turn of the 20th century, it wasn't considered fashionable or prestigious to live in an old fort. The presence of the British in India called for a modern and westernized abode. The royal family built an opulent palace, Umaid Bhawan, for themselves (a section of which is now a luxury hotel) and moved into it in 1943. Mehrangarh Fort remained empty after that, except for the short period when Hanwant Singh lived there (he left the palace when the royal family disowned him for marrying a Muslim actress).
India's independence from the British in 1947 spelled the end of royalty, as the kings had to give up their ruling rights after India became a republic.
In return, the Indian government provided them with an allowance. When the government suddenly abolished this allowance in 1971, the royals were left without an income. In order to make money, Maharaja Gaj Singh II decided to embrace heritage tourism. He breathed new life into the crumbling and neglected fort, which he'd inherited, by throwing it open to tourists.
How to Visit Mehrangarh Fort
While it's possible to go inside Mehrangarh Fort for free, you'll need to buy a ticket to access the important attractions. Tickets are available from the counter near the fort's main entrance, Jai Pol, on the northeast side.
It's possible to walk up to the entrance, along an evocative path from the Old City, in about 15 minutes. The incline is quite steep though. If this is a concern, it's much easier to take a taxi or auto rickshaw from the road. However, walking is really recommended to fully appreciate the fort's magnificence and enormous size. A series of gates, of which Jai Pol is the first, lead into the fort. If you're feeling low on energy, take the elevator near the ticket counter to the top instead.
Fateh Pol, at the back of the fort on the southwest side, is an alternative lesser-used entrance. It's close to the Old City's Navchokiya neighborhood, where most of the blue houses are.
Mehrangarh Fort is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets cost 600 rupees for foreigners (including an excellent audio guide with headphones) and 100 rupees for Indians. Indians who want the audio guide can pay an additional 180 rupees for it. Entry to the fort is free every year on May 12, in celebration of Jodhpur Foundation Day.
To visit the fort after dark, join one of the special "Mehrangarh by Night" guided tours led by the museum curator. There are two slots: 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Another option is to have dinner at one of the fort's restaurants. Chokelao Mahal Terrace is a romantic fine-dining restaurant with a garden setting. Mehran Terrace, on the rooftop, is less expensive but still atmospheric.
Do note that food isn't allowed to be taken into the fort. You can leave it at the storage counter outside.
What to See
Mehrangarh Fort was restored with the aim of telling its story and that of the people who lived in it. The main attractions, within the ticketed part of the fort, are a museum and series of palaces.
The captivating museum is stocked with an array of royal memorabilia, including around 15,000 items from Maharaja Gaj Singh II's personal collection. There are all kinds of weapons (Emperor Akbar's sword one of them), arms, paintings, costumes, fine textiles, turbans, thrones, palanquins, howdahs (seats for riding on elephants) and baby cradles. There's even a massive Mughal tent! One of the most exquisite and priceless pieces is the silver howdah that Mughal Emperor Shahjahan presented to honor Maharaja Jaswant Singh I.
The museum lies beyond an ornately carved courtyard with a white marble seat, where all the kings were crowned.
Phool Mahal (Flower Palace) is the most ostentatious of the fort's palaces. Decked out in gold, it was built for pleasure by Maharaja Abhay Singh in the 18th century. Dancing girls are believed to have entertained the royal men in this private party room.
Adjacent to Phool Mahal, Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) is the largest palace room. It was completed by Raja Sur Singh in the early 17th century. He used to sit on his throne and meet visitors there.
Takhat Singh lived in the copiously decorated Takhat Vilas during his reign in the 19th century. It gives serious competition to the Sheeh Mahal bedroom of Maharaja Ajit Singh, which is covered in intricate glass and mirror inlay work.
Jhanki Mahal, where the royal women used to peer down at the proceedings in the courtyard, is known for its lattice windows.
After visiting the museum and palaces, you can head on up to the fort's panoramic ramparts. Access to this area is now restricted because of a fatal selfie accident in 2016. It's possible to see the row of cannons on display though.
The fort also has two ancient temples. Nagnechiji temple is the royal family's personal temple. Its idol dates back to the 14th century. Chamunda Mataji temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga, who is widely worshiped in Jodhpur.
Other notable features to keep an eye out for while visiting the fort are the hit marks from cannonballs at Dodh Kangra Pol, and the symbolic hand-prints of royal wives at Loha Pol who committed sati (immolated themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands).
Batman fans may recognize scenes from the 2012 movie "The Dark Knight Rises," which were filmed at the fort.
However, what really distinguishes Mehrangarh Fort from other forts in Rajasthan is the special focus on folk art and music. Cultural performances take place every day at various locations in the fort. In addition, the fort provides the backdrop for acclaimed music festivals such as the annual World Sacred Spirit Festival and Rajasthan International Folk Festival.
What Else to Do Nearby
There are a number of popular places to visit in the vicinity of the fort. Rao Jodha Desert Park extends across 170 acres of ecologically restored rocky wasteland next to the fort. Chokelao Bagh, a 200-year-old Rajput garden at the foot of the fort, is an ideal spot to relax. You'll get an outstanding view of the fort from Jaswant Tanda, a 19th century cenotaph (empty commemorative tomb) built to honor Maharaja Jaswant Singh II.
If you enjoy adventure activities, don't miss going zip-lining around the fort.
The old blue neighborhood of Navchokiya at the back of the fort is worth exploring. Exit the fort at Fateh Pol to reach it.