Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mandore - Rich Historical Relics Neglected

Mandore is a mere 9 kilometers north of central Jodhpur. It is officially part of the district. But way before the accession of Jodhpur and the rise of the Rathore clan, the capital of the Marwari state was Mandore! It dates back to the 6th century. If there was ever an existing ancient town, this would be it. And the structures that still stand on its grounds have been sturdy witnesses to its past glory.

The name Mandore has an interesting origin. A Sri Lankan king named Ravan had a wife named Queen Mandodri. Their marital union happened here when it was then called Mandavyapur . It has been renamed as such to honor the queen. King Ravana was the most powerful Tamil king of Lankapuri in the Ramayana epic. It seems like a long way from Sri Lanka though, considering the antiquities of travel of the ancient past, but Ramayana is steeped with mysticism making such displacements possible!

My auto rickshaw drove past ordinary looking abodes. I’ve read about this ancient capital’s garden and rock terraces, but they all seem footnotes, lost in the voluble clutter of magnificent Rajasthan. In fact, it’s basically an inconsequential two-paragraph item in my old LP. But I wanted to see vestiges of what should be a glorious past. We parked in front of the gate leading to the Mandore Garden. Had this been treated with an iota of significance, there would have been payment for entrance. This one was free. There was no fan fare at all. In fact, what greeted me was a gardener down on his knees picking weeds; a monkey that was practically uninterested with my presence; a friendly horde of Boy Scouts (see photo above) and a little boy in white playing his ravanhatha (a guitar-like string instrument) for a few rupees.


A block or so from the gate, I gasped when I saw some of the most beautiful structures this side of India. Dark red stupas (sacred Buddhist spot) rise beside each other, most of which house cenotaphs (sepulchral monuments that honor deceased persons) of a few of the kings who ruled the region for 700 years or so. Seven hundred years can’t be inconsequential, as it is several lifetimes and piles of generations! Unfortunately, most of these solitary temples are left to “rot” and crumble, it made me wistful walking around seeing rubbles and proof of gradual disintegration. Such neglect feels like a mystery to me. If we had these temples in the Philippines, they’d all be declared cultural gems. Maybe India has lots of these, thus the Mandore structures are mere leftovers? Was there really a vibrant ancient kingdom here?


It was indeed the seat of a branch of the Parihar Dynasty which ruled the region in 6th century A.D. lead by King Nahar Rao Parihar. Sometime 1395, Mohil, a princess from the Parihar rulers of Mandore, married Chundaji, a scion of the Rathore clan of the Rajputs. In 1459, Rao Jodha (chief of the Rathore clan), in an effort to unite the irresolute region under his rule, shifted the capital to Jodhpur. Mandore has since been relegated as an afterthought, underlining the decline of an ancient capital.

Despite this, it’s hard to ignore the staggering beauty of these rock terraces, built on a stony hill. Yes, you’d need wide steps to climb up the temples. The pillars are imposing, and the designs are intricate – many of which depict plants, birds, animals and even interplanetary objects! The devals (cenotaphs) of Maharaja Jaswant Singh (of “Jaswant Thada”) and Maharaja Ajit Singh are housed here. Some of these reddish structures have turned almost black, further adding character to these domed edifices. There are no guards manning these “temples”, and visitors are few.

There is a Hall of Heroes somewhere in the garden, as well as a Hall of Demigods. There’s also a small Mandore Museum in the compound (photography not allowed) as well as a spare temple. We shall feature the Hall of Heroes in our succeeding posts. Right now, we shall bask in the ancient beauty of these rock terraces.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Up next: More photos of temples in Mandore - Splendors of the Past -

My rickshaw driver poses for posterity.

Animal magnetism. Gray langurs are large and fairly terrestrial, inhabiting forest, open lightly wooded habitats, and urban areas on the Indian subcontinent. They are primarily herbivores, with leaves of trees and shrubs as their preferred choice of food. They have less aggressive behavior compared to other primates, thus they are not considered pests in India.

From the gate, this is the view towards the cluster of rock terraced temples.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Umaid Bhawan Palace - Last Great Palace Built in India

There are present day royalties living in India. And they live in palaces.

From Girdikot, I hired an auto rickshaw near my guest house and after profuse haggling; we arrived at an acceptable deal that would take me to Umaid Bhawan Palace – and back! The palace is located a mere 5 kilometer from the center of town. I was able to pull it down from 500 rupees down to 200 rupees, and if others don’t think it’s sufficient, I was pleased with that.

This took me out of the narrow seemingly aimless alleys of the old city to a wide highway called Circuit House Road. I saw camels pulling carts by the road side. Getting there felt farther than 5 kilometers. After all, the desert terrain of the place is further accentuated by the upward sloping that leads to Chittar Hills where the palace stands.

We finally reached the gated compound. The large bars outside didn’t provide access. Every vehicle that came took the road to the right wing of the compound where another gate welcomed visitors. But access is limited to the palace’s museum which isn’t really much. But you can’t complain when the entrance fee is a mere 3 rupees, can you? It is a private residence – one of the world’s largest

Umaid Bhawan Palace is an architectural wonder made of golden yellow – with a dash of light pink – sandstones. It’s named after Maharaja Umaid Singh, grandfather of the present owner, Gaj Singh. The maharaja (supposedly, the “a” suffix at the end of the word is rightfully silent, thus “maharadz”) employed sandstones from Chittar thus its other pen name, Chittar Palace! Chittar Hill is the highest point in Jodhpur, thus it provides amazing views of the town down below!

Gaj Singh, Maharaja of Jodhpur. He's Eton and Oxford educated - he obtained a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford's Christ Church. He became maharaja at age 4 when his father died from a plane crash!


Umaid Bhawan Palace started construction in November 18, 1929 at a time when India and the region was bristling from severe drought! They employed 3,000 workers and took 15 years to finish (1943). What’s even more notable is the architect who designed it – Edwardian architect Henry Lanchester, the president of the British Royal Institute of Architects no less! East meets West in architectural style; its 105-foot cupola is a throwback from the Renaissance, while the towers are Rajput influenced. The interiors had contributions from self-exiled and controversial Polish artist Stefan Norblin (he escaped Poland during the war; won huge commissions for works on maharaja’s projects; migrated to the US and committed suicide when he started to go blind)!

The palace boasts of 347 rooms. And most of this behemoth has been turned into a luxury hotel – the Taj Palace Hotel, where their cheapest room would cost you close to $400 a night! The palace is divided into 3 parts: a residence of the royal family, a hotel, and a museum (the only accessible place to visit for tourists).

The rooms to visit are rather limited, as mentioned. But I'm able to walk a few deserted hallways between rooms. The rest has been cordoned off. There were old weapons, decorative items and gadgets that reflected the opulence of the era. Beautiful painted murals are also on display in some hallways. The compound covers 26 acres (10.5 hectares) of land, 15 of them are gardens. Construction cost 94,051,561 rupees ($1.88 million) at that time which included loads of Makrana marbles.

Though the whole structure was impressive, it felt less than fulfilling because of all the limitations. I know I’m not supposed to complain. It's more of an impression of a planned travel undertaking. It is a private institution, that much is clear. Still, as a destination, it was a bit of a disappointment. It was like finding oneself inside Buckingham Palace (I’ve been fortunate to visit the interiors) only to view the green drawing room.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Impressive murals (above and below)

Umaid Bhawan Palace's luxurious Taj Palace Hotel (started 1972). This photo only courtesy of flickr's twiga_swala.

Resplendent halls at the Taj Palace Hotel. This photo only courtesy of

Photo of the wide sprawl of the palace here:

Up Next: Mandore

Jodhpur as seen from the parking lot at the side of the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Chittar Hill, away from the old blue city.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Jaswant Thada - More Delightful Images from a Memorial

People from the distant past foresaw a predictable future of men who easily forget. And when you’re king, fought a hundred battles, sacrificed a lot of kins to push some causes, you don’t want to be an inconsequential, albeit easily forgettable speck in history. Jaswant Singh maybe a faceless maharaja ruler to me, but his might and influence soar high in my consciousness when I see these immaculate architectural structures. It’s an uncanny deal for remembrances.

I must have sat on a spot for an hour, just enjoying the uphill breeze, helplessly cogitating about immortality. This is one of the pleasures of solitary travels, little pieces of sadness, little snippets of introspection. They help clear my mind, and though they may not make me a better person, I feel smarter and more informed. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I could see the fortifications, the sturdy walls that enclose the old city. Boy, these people lived in a very paranoid period. I wouldn’t mind traveling back on a Time Machine, but I’ve no intentions of staying in such volatile atmosphere.

I stood from where I sat and made my way out. It was time to move on and head elsewhere. I couldn’t exactly decide how to get back to town. The sinewy walk I earlier took to climb up the hill looked daunting after seeing the hundreds of blue houses down the path. I knew I’d get lost, and I wasn’t too keen of happening since I still have an itinerary in mind: Umaid Bhawan Palace, touted as the last great palace ever built in India.

At the entrance of Jaswant Thada stood the same auto rickshaw driver who hounded me from Meherangarh Fort! Imagine him asking me 500 rupees for the 1 kilometer distance that covered from the fort to Jaswant Thada? It should be a mere 20 rupees! Such shameless commerce. And you wonder why I despised the guy? I was surprised to see him there. He knew he needed to offer a better deal this time because I would probably walk to the moon than ride in his rickshaw. He offered me 100 rupees back to my guest house, Ganpati Guest House near Sardar Market. I needed to freshen up, take a late lunch before proceeding to Umaid Bhawan Palace. I had to eventually say yes.

The ride down the east road was rather pleasant. It would have taken me forever to walk, and with the sun blazing its heat, it wouldn’t have been that pleasant either. The view down below was a pretty sight. I saw the Clock Tower from afar – and I saw, in smoggy vista, Umaid Bhawan Palace barely peeping though what could be dusty air, smog or pollution. I was excited.

Jaswant Thada

Jaswant Thada: cenotaph and crematorium

Pigeons house themselves in slabs of marble.

After a fast shower, I went to have my lunch at Shivan Paying Guest House’s restaurant. It was relaxing. The waiter kept stealing glances at me. What am I, a movie star now? LOL. After placing my order, he bashfully asked if I was Korean. I laughed. It’s your eyes, he explained. My meal was half fried chicken (110 rupees), a plate of rice served in one of those delightful silver platters that’s typically Indian (35 rupees) and a bottle of Pepsi (15 rupees). At 160 rupees ($3.20 or P138.50), it would be one of my better meals. I carefully checked out the chicken and noticed it had brownish powders sprinkled on it; and its skin orangey. Interesting. I was glad it wasn’t too spicy.

I’m already living with my spicy adventure.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Fortifications surrounding the Meherangarh Fort!

Serenity at the Jaswant Thada Lake

Marbled gazebos

Clock Tower

Umaid Bhawan Palace, The last great palace ever built in India.

Half chicken, rice and Pepsi at 160 rupees from Shivan Paying Guest House.

Please check out 1st part of Jaswant Thada: history and more information -

Up next: Umaid Bhawan Palace

Friday, October 21, 2011

Jaswant Thada – Beauty & Tranquility in Jodhpur


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.

Beautiful gazebos made of white marbles.

One of the few inhabitants in the memorial.

Up next: More Delightful Images from Jaswant Thada

A chhatri standing near the entrance.