PRINCE OF ENGLAND
From the eastern entrance of the Meherangarh Fort, a white architectural landmark could be seen from a distance. It was 1 kilometer downhill, along the only available road for vehicles that clamber up the hill. I sauntered past billowing smokes of dust and out into an almost deserted road. An auto rickshaw driver followed me as I walked the half abandoned road. Where are the tourists that congest the fortress? Do they use a different path I wasn't told? My reverie was occasionally broken by the almost desperate pleading of the rickshaw driver. I had ignored him after he quoted a staggering rate for a ride into town? Try 500 rupees, when it should be exponentially less. Did I look like the Crown Prince of England? It should be obvious that I looked Asian – not Japanese, heavens! - with Asian currency and Asian exchange rate to speak of.
But he was tailing me all through my hike. The sun was up and vehicles passing were few and far between. At some point, I was already cursing because “no” should mean “no” when you’ve said it countless times.
In spite of my partial disgust, I was pleased to reach Jaswant Thada on foot. It's a beautiful memorial compound built in memory of a Rathore ruler named Jaswant Singh. I paid 20 rupees ($0.40) for the entrance and 25 rupees ($0.50) for my camera, hiding a smile when I realized that the persistent rickshaw driver was left outside. Since he was all alone, he would have to leave eventually. Or would he?
I took my time to commence my visit. I was in no rush. I was simply enamored by the location. My criteria for “beauty” among inanimate objects are pretty basic: a hill, a lake, blue sky, intricate designs, and few people! Jaswant checked in every element. I couldn't be happier. The ticket seller asked me where I was from, and I was tempted to say – “From poverty-stricken Philippines” – but that isn’t a very nationalistic introduction of a country, is it? I tried with a bit more verve, “Philippines!” the way beauty contestants emphatically declare the countries they represent - with a wide grin. But it was a futile exercise. He had no idea where this Pacific speck of 7,100 islands is! I might as well hail from Antananarivo and it wouldn't matter. The ticket seller then proceeded to ask if I own a ballpen from my country - and could he can have it as souvenir? Why do they keep asking for ballpens or coins? I've already given several to strangers. Soon I’d be left with nothing for personal use. Dang!
There’s a placid lake that welcomes you while finding your way towards the front lawn. From there, I could see Meherangarh Fort looking sturdy, majestic, and impersonal. It also looked far. I proceeded to the main architectural landmark rising before me – a white marble that reflected a yellowish hue as the sun’s rays deflected against its surface. It was splendid if people still use that term – with smaller chhatris adorning the roof above, gazing out like a coterie of crowns. The compound contained a cenotaph for Jaswant, a crematorium, three white gazebos at the backyard; there were other rectangular structures at the back, including a memorial for a peacock (it supposedly emolated itself - threw itself into the fire - during Jaswant’s burial, imagine that).
Maharaja Jaswant Singh was a Marwari ruler in Rajasthan (a Rajput of the Rathore clan). He lived an interesting life as he fought a nasty rivalry with Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (who killed Jaswant’s son, Prince Prithvi after Aurangzeb sent the prince a poisoned garment). Prithvi died in excruciating pain. Jaswant eventually passed away in 1680 – he was 51 years old. These royalties of old seem to live short life spans, I noticed. In 1899, Sardar Singh (from whom the familiar market down below was named after) built Jaswant a memorial made of white marbles which were extremely thin and intricately carved and polished.
The best part is the serenity that abound. The view of the blue city down below was nothing less than awe inspiring. If it’s peace you’re after, this one won’t disappoint. From the terrace, I could see the walls – the fortifications that surround the old city of Jodhpur, it reminded me of the walls of Avila in Spain; maybe of Intramuros in Manila; of Surakarta in Indonesia as well. This was an appropriate abode where souls could rest.
Eternity could be tolerable when you have this view to look at.
This is the Eye in the Sky!
Meherangarh Fort is seen at the background. It's a kilometer away, but looks far. I walked from the fort to reach Jaswant Thada with a persistent auto rickshaw driver tailing me.