off the travel radar: the secret treasures of historic nagaur

Some 145 kilometres north-east of Jodhpur, translated to a three-hour car ride away, is Nagaur. Tourists are few and far between here. The most you may come across are a handful in a whole day. They are the ones who decide to do a pit-stop in Nagaur en-route from Jaipur or Pushkar to Bikaner.

Yet, its treasures are no less majestic and larger than life than any other city in Rajasthan. And maybe, because of it being off the tourist radar, it is that much more appealing.

Nagaur, the sleepy, quiet town on the ancient trade routes linking Gujarat, Sindh and Multan, is named after the Nagavanshi kings who ruled this area from the 4th to 7th centuries. Nagavanshis claimed descent from Nagas, a semi-divine race of part-serpent part-human beings who resided in the underworld.

It was crucial for Nagaur’s rulers to defend their trading hub since the town was surrounded by miles of flat ground. The Nagavanshis, followed by the Chauhans, Muslims, and from the 18th Century onward, the Rathore Rajputs all built and rebuilt the city’s most impressive and prominent landmark: the Nagaur Fort or Ahhichatragarh meaning the Fort of the Hooded Cobra.

What one sees today was built in the 12th Century, in its role as one of the first Muslim strongholds in northern India, and added on to in the 16th to 18th Centuries—a far cry from cobras or its likes. Instead, there are murals of winged ladies circling the ceilings and an innovative water harvesting system which is as much a part of the architecture as the palaces and gazebos.

A series of seven successive gates lead to a spread of five mahals or palaces, 90 fountains, pavilions, placid pools, and lush geometric gardens in the 36 acres hemmed in by double walls and 28 towers.

In Hadi Rani Mahal, the first palace one encounters, don’t forget to look up for that is where its wonders are. Colossal elephants romp by whilst dainty winged women float in circles. Abha Mahal reveals a sophisticated and complicated water system comprising water features such as chadars, channels, hammams, and fountains to enhance built space. Which it does beautifully!

With two storeys and a mezzanine floor, the Bakht Singh Mahal is one of the tallest buildings in the complex. Maharaja Bakht Singh of Jodhpur had absolute power from 1725 to 1751, a period during which he built several buildings, often by demolishing older ones. Deepak Mahal, meanwhile, celebrates the humble yet sacred diya or deepak [oil lamp] with multiple niches on its walls.

And finally, there’s Sheesh Mahal or Akbari Mahal, one of the oldest buildings in the complex and which had the privilege of housing Akbar, hence the name. It is a small palace, in the lines of a king’s personal ornate chamber back then. Mirror work, which reflected thousands of images of the emperor and oil lamps, along with seductive murals of women fondling each other, decorate its walls and ceilings.

Till the 1980s, the fort was in a sad state of neglect, its glorious art buried under swaths of concrete. After its inclusion into the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in 1985, it has received four grants towards its restoration and conservation. These include the Getty Foundation, Courtauld Institute of Art [University of London], and Leon Levy Foundation.

Every year, the otherwise deserted, poignant fort comes alive when it hosts the World Sacred Spirit Festival. Musicians from across the world perform in its open and built spaces to rapt audiences, showcasing the spiritual significance of music which cuts across race, class, and creed. After which, the fort goes into hibernation again. No, I have not attended the festival yet, but after visiting Nagaur Fort, I am determined I do so. 😊

[Note: Click on any image below to enlarge it and read the caption. Use the arrow keys to navigate through the set.]

My next stop is Nagaur’s Kanch ka Mandir or Jain Glass Temple, deep in the heart of the old city, surrounded by a convoluted maze of pedestrian-only lanes and by-lanes. There are different accounts or rather no accounts whatsoever of when the Jain temple was actually built and by whom.

The unanimous belief is that it is very old and very holy. It is also usually closed. But a bit of asking around led me to the gentleman who had the temple keys. He, accompanied with his chirpy young daughter who was thrilled that they had a visitor, opened it for me and gosh, what a stunning sight met me.

Dedicated to the 24th Jain Tirthankara, Mahavira, it is covered in glass, ceramic tiles and images of the 23 other Tirthankaras from top to toe. Not an inch spared for mundane, everyday plaster. I looked harder, and stories from Jain religion’s rich mythology leapt out through the countless glass paintings.

After gaping and clicking away to my heart’s content, I was ready to leave. I still had a long journey back to Jodhpur. I had no idea where my car and driver were. And I just realised I had not had lunch. Did it matter? Not one bit. Travel off the radar is the most rewarding. Now why would I want to compromise on it. ❤

[Note: Click on any image below to enlarge it and read the caption. Use the arrow keys to navigate through the set.]

Travel tips:

  • Exploring Nagaur: I explored Nagaur as an independent full day trip from Jodhpur. I hired a car and driver from Rajputana Cabs for my trip.
  • Uniformed guides from the Mehrangarh Museum Trust do a splendid job in showing one around the Nagaur Fort at no charge.
  • A group of havelis for the 16 wives of Maharaja Bakht Singh in Nagaur Fort’s Zenana have been converted into a hotel, the Ranvas.

[Note: This blog post is part of a series from my 35-day solo and independent road trip through Rajasthan from 17 October to 20 November, 2021. To read more posts in my Rajasthan series, click here.]

10 thoughts on “off the travel radar: the secret treasures of historic nagaur

    • I hope you do! It is a fascinating town that truly deserves more attention, but then I feel it would lose its current poignant charm if hordes of tourists were to clamber all over it. Catch 22. 🙂

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  1. The water collection system of the Naguar fort is indeed well known. I have heard that the fort has been converted into a hotel and I presumed it is no more accessible to the public. As for your quest for determination of the temple’s age and who built it, here is what I could make from the pictures. The temple was built by Sri Labh Chand Ji Janwari Chand Ji. It is likely to have been built in the early 1800s.

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  2. I believe this is the first time I’ve heard and read about Nagaur. Such an interesting place! I really love the mural in your opening shot. There’s something ethereal about it — probably its simple colors help accentuate the lines better. Seeing places like this is among the reasons why I travel. However, I’m fully aware of the impact of tourism if too many people visit such places. The dilemma!

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    • Nagaur is indeed one of Rajasthan’s hidden gems. Its fort is beautiful, and the frescoes, thanks to the extensive conservation, are stunning. They are very different from those across the State, making them that much more appealing. I feel so long as true blue travellers, passionate about travel, are allowed to travel, our beautiful world is safe. 🙂 Hehe, I guess I sound like a travel snob here, but when I see hordes of tourists rush through places without giving them their due respect, I get a little miffed.

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  3. Pingback: 36 hours in royal jodhpur | rama toshi arya's blog

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