Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A bigger, fatter fort.

The journey north from Pushkar invited a change in scenery. The temperate areas of southern Rajasthan gave way to desert, not dissimilar to the landscapes between Adelaide and Alice Springs, but with a golden colour rather than the red sands of the Australian desert.

I arrived in Jodhpur around lunchtime, and as always was approached by various touts and rickshaw drivers promising me the best hotel and free rides in their clapped-out vehicles. But a couple of groovers stood out; Darpan and Arpan. Looking ulta cool in their tight denim flares, even tighter T-shirts and Dior-inspired sunnies, their perfect but hesitant English persuaded me to head to the Singvi Haveli, the family home for the last five hundred years.

A pleasant place to be for a few days, and from the terrace rose a fort so massive that I knew I was going to like this place. The old city was not much to speak of; the usual mix of twisted and contorted lanes and alleys, defecating cows and bulls, moribund dogs, and people who all look like they could do with a few year's worth of non-Indian homecooking. [I noticed too that I have started to shed the pounds ... my once huge muscular frame has been reduced to the body of a pre-pubescent twelve year old ... Still, as a wise woman once said, you can never be too thin or too rich].

Meherengarh is the reason to visit this town - an appoximate translation, Citadel of the Sun. The fortified walls stand at least a hundred metres above the city, towering over the squalor and grime below and looking every bit like the imposing home of a very important dude.

Construction commenced in 1459 and continued right up until recent times, with each Maharaja adding to a formidably whimsical mass of havelis, towers, temples and the like.

The original site had been the abode of a hermit, who cursed the Maharaja who decided to take the plot for his own, and predicted a continuous lack of water that would stall the growth of the town and its people. The Maharaja, like all good religious persons, consulted a sage who came up with the very sensible idea to bury a volunteer live into the foundations of the fort. Seems to have worked a treat, and as I passed the plaque to the unfortunate victim, I couldn't help but be in awe at such stupidity. It surpasses even the dumbest of things that I have done to date.

Both exterior and interior take the breath away. Intricate lattice work carved in red sandstone, fabulously carved doors and archways, balconies and turrets. And the armoury is spectaular. So much fine workmanship in each piece, for an instrument designed to maim and kill. These guys must've been seriously bloodthirsty. I would love to have been able to go out and play with them on the sportsfield, mashing a few heads with my solid silver jousting sticks. Not sure what you'd pay for 'em though.

The entry price of the ticket included a set of headphones and a funky little contraption that contained recorded information on the fort's highlights. It describes the Maharaja's private rooms as 'the epitomy of European opulence' Nope, only Napoleon's apartment in the Louvre or the very worst of Italian rococco comes anyway near the amount of gaudiness that the designers achieved here. I mean, where in Europe did you ever encounter an enitre ceiling with eave to eave multicoloured Christmas baubles, a ton of gold and Guy Mitchell blue paint? And stained glass windows? And in a bedroom.

A very satisfactory visit. I was now mentally armed with a cornucopia of interior design tips for my next abode in Coogee, and wandered contentedly back to the guesthouse to shove my gob full of spicy Indian fare.

Very excited about the next destination - Jaisalmer. We're talking big fort and big desert here.

No comments: