Highlights of Bishop’s Palace

Bishop’s Palace dates back to early 13th century, when the first Bishop of Bath and Wells – Bishop Jocelin Trotman – received permission to build a residence near the cathedral. I decided to visit the palace, after attending the morning service at Wells cathedral and exploring the area around the cathedral.

IMG_1097.JPG

Since there was some time before the palace opened for visitors, I decided to walk around the moat area. What caught my attention first was the sleeping pigeons on the branches of a tree. IMG_1104.JPG

As I walked further along the moat, I came upon the famous swans of the palace. Since a Bishop’s daughter had taught the swans to ring the bell for food in 1870, a tradition of training the resident swans to ring the bell has been followed. I came upon this little herd gliding by. They didn’t ring the bell during my walk though. Visitors interested in feeding the swans, or other birds, can purchase bird food from the palace shop.

IMG_1066.JPG

The view of the cathedral and the palace from a garden near the moat was lovely, despite the heavy clouds in the sky.

IMG_1089.JPG

I was back at the gatehouse at 10am and was the first visitor of the day. From one end of the croquet lawn, there was a lovely view of the main entrance of the palace as well as the entrance to the chapel.

img_1110

I decided to leave the interior of the palace for last and turned towards the ruins of the Great Hall, through which I stepped into the south lawn.

IMG_1119.JPG

Walking through the lawn, I reached the ramparts and climbed up the steps. I had read that the Glastonbury Tor could be seen from the ramparts. Perhaps because it was a cloudy day, I could not see the Tor, though I thought I had spotted the hill in the distance. The land behind the palace had been the Bishop’s deer park in the past.

img_1127

I walked across the length of the rampart and climbed down to the formal gardens behind the palace.

IMG_1132.JPG

Walking past the gardens, I came to a little wooden bridge that crossed the moat and led to the most important part of the city.

IMG_1138.JPG

I took one of the paths curving around the well pool, which gave the city its name, and whose water fed the moat around the palace.

IMG_1148.JPG

IMG_1151.JPG

After walking around the garden of reflection, I decided to explore the interior of the palace. I first visited the lovely little chapel.

IMG_1170.JPG

img_1174

img_1175

After spending some time in the quiet chapel, I made my way to the entrance porch of the palace and entered the entrance hall. One of the Bishops had a habit of dining with 12 poor men and women at the table at the centre. While the entrance hall is part of the original 13th century construction, the fireplace near the table is a later addition.

IMG_1191.JPG

Through a door at the end of the hall, I entered the Undercroft, which had also been part of the original medieval palace.  It is now available for hire for events.

IMG_1183.JPG

Climbing up the Jacobean stairs, I came upon the long gallery which had the portraits of the different Bishops of Wells. The long gallery led to the drawing room, where there were some objects on exhibit. I found the Abbots chair and the Glastonbury chair of interest. According to the information sheet by the oak chair, the Glastonbury chair was a term used to refer to wooden chairs in the 19th century. However, this particular Glastonbury chair was made for John Thorne, who was a monk and a treasurer at Glastonbury abbey during the dissolution and who was subsequently executed at Glastonbury Tor in 1539.

The room next to the drawing room is currently used as a conference room and during my visit, had an art exhibition going on. Both rooms together used to be the great hall.

IMG_1207.JPG

The last room open for visitors on this floor was the solar, which had an art installation of an angel during my visit.

IMG_1211.JPG

I walked back down the steps and lingered by the croquet lawn, for my last snaps of the palace, before I left Wells.

IMG_1113.JPG

What feature of the Wells Bishop’s palace fascinates you the most?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #68 and Wanderful Wednesday]

MummyTravels

Wanderful Wednesday

Special Six: Morning at Wells Cathedral

Wells, the second smallest city of England in terms of its population size and geographical area, has been a city since medieval times due to the cathedral. I had been fascinated by Clare’s (Suitcases and Sandcastles) mention of the oldest complete medieval street left in England on her post on Wells city. So, I asked my sister, during my weekend stay with her, whether we could visit Wells. She decided that we would go for the Sunday Holy Communion service at Wells Cathedral.

IMG_1019.JPG

When we arrived at the cathedral around 7.30am, the entrance was closed. Someone pointed out a door on its West Front that had been left open for those coming for the service.

IMG_0973.JPG

At the end of the hour long service, my sister and I decided that we would meet up on the cathedral green near the entrance in a few hours as I had wanted to wander around. Since it was a Sunday, the daily cathedral tours by volunteers was not available. I asked permission to take a few photos of the Quire area from a church staff preparing for the next service. While I would have loved to explore the rest of the cathedral, especially its chained library, I did appreciate having been part of the morning service which I would not have been able to had I visited on a weekday.

What catches one’s attention as you walk into the cathedral through the west front are the Scissor arches which, according to the cathedral website, had been added in 1338, when a new spire added to the top of the tower threatened to collapse the whole structure.

IMG_0970.JPG

The 14th century stained glass windows of the Jesse window was impressive. While the windows narrowly escaped destruction during the English civil war and was protected during the second world war, the windows have been deteriorating over time. A protective glazing has been added to the exterior of the window and conservation work undertaken to preserve the beautiful window.

IMG_0965.JPG

The Quire area, where the morning service had been held, is one of the oldest part of the cathedral and is beautiful.

IMG_0967.JPG

The present organ was rebuilt in the 1970s, with the original instrument having been built in mid 19th century, with pipework from late 18th century.

IMG_0966.JPG

While I had been eager to see the famous 14th century astronomical clock at the cathedral, considered the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain, and its two famous jousting knights and Quarter Jack, I could not see it within the cathedral as I could not wander around. However, there was a clock on the exterior face of the wall, facing the Vicar’s Hall, that was connected to the same mechanism as that of the clock inside.

IMG_1009.JPG

I walked further and came upon the Vicar’s close, the medieval street that had intrigued me.

IMG_0986.JPG

Built to house the Vicar’s Choral, which is an all male group, it still continues to be inhabited by successive choral groups.

IMG_0984.JPG

At the end of the close is the Vicar’s chapel and library.

IMG_0989.JPG

Returning to the Cathedral green, I sat on one of the benches overlooking the west front and admired the cathedral while taking a break.

IMG_1026.JPG

Have you visited Wells Cathedral? What aspect of the cathedral intrigues you?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #67 and Faraway Files #22]

Wander Mum
Suitcases and Sandcastles

A couple of hours in Castle Combe

One of the mornings during my stay at Lacock village, I had walked around the village a few times and was passing the bus stop, when I decided to check the bus times on a whim. I found that there would be one passing by, in a few minutes, in the direction of Chippenham. As there were still a few hours before the abbey or any of the stores in the village opened, I decided to take the bus and transfer to the Castle Combe bus in Chippenham. I had been intrigued by this village in the Cotswolds but had decided to make the decision on whether to visit it, once I was in Lacock. Decision made, I made my way to Chippenham and transferred to the Castle Combe bus.

Reaching Castle Combe, I found that I would have two hours to roam around before the next bus came to the village. So, I started my walk at the centre of the village, where the bus had dropped me off, at the market square.

IMG_1816.JPG

The 14th century market cross was installed when the village was granted the privilege of a weekly market. Near the market cross, the remains of the 19th century butter cross can be seen.

IMG_1673.JPG

Facing the market cross was St. Andrew’s church. Some parts of the church are from the 13th century while others, like the tower, was built in the 15th century.

IMG_1682.JPG

IMG_1698.JPG

At the entrance of the church, there was a sheet with explanatory notes for parents and teachers. It was from the sheet that I learnt that the East window above the altar was a Jesse window showing the ancestry of Jesus.The only female figure in the sixteen figures portrayed in the window was that of Mary.

IMG_1684.JPG

I also learnt that the tomb within the church was that of Walter de Dunstanville, Baron Castlecomb and lord of the manor in 12th century. The monument is the oldest within the church.

IMG_1687.JPG

There is an interesting 15th century clock in the church, which was an hour clock whose bells the farmers working in the fields would listen to.

After my visit to the church, I decided to walk past Castle Inn and under an interesting arch, onto Park lane. The archway cottage is actually part of the accommodation facilities of the Manor House hotel. I had been told that I could access the gardens of the Manor House hotel, which was open to the public, through a pathway off Park lane but I couldn’t find the path and it looked like as if it was a private residential area so I turned back.

IMG_1674.JPG

I decided to drop into Castle Inn for a hot cup of coffee. I was the only customer at that time and I made myself comfortable by the fireplace, as I enjoyed my coffee.

IMG_1745.JPG

After the refreshing hot drink, I walked out of the inn and took the second road away from the market square. The White Hart pub had been open in the village for the past five centuries.

IMG_1748.JPG

This second road, that I was walking along, was the road that the bus had entered the village. There were two buildings that caught my attention on this road. I looked them up later and learnt that one was called the Castle house. This building was originally built as an alehouse called the St George and had been built by Nathanial Elver in 1672.

IMG_1753.JPG

Right next to the Castle house is the Dower house, which has the shield of the Scope family, above the door. This house was featured in the 1967 musical Dr. Dolittle. More recently, Downtown Abbey was filmed in the village.

IMG_1773.JPG

There was a footpath leading upwards, away from the road, opposite the Dower house and I took that path.

IMG_1759.JPG

IMG_1766.JPG

After a very short distance, I decided to turn back as I had wanted to explore the third street in the village and I thought the forest trail would be a lengthy one.

Walking back to the market cross, I looked at the famous view of the third street that I had seen in so many photos.

IMG_1801.JPG

At the start of the street is the Court house, where proceedings were held in medieval times. I think it is someone’s home now as I saw a family coming in and going out of the building, while I was waiting for my bus later.

Opposite the court house and next to the bus stop is a memorial for villagers who died in the first world war.

Walking down that street, I reached the Bybrook bridge. I kept taking many photos, as I admired the pretty buildings overlooking the brook.

IMG_1700.JPG

img_1702

IMG_1713.JPG

IMG_1789.JPG

I continued along that street, until I came across another little bridge, and then decided to turn back as it was nearing the time for my bus.

IMG_1719.JPG

IMG_1729.JPG

The old village is tiny and basically has three streets going away from its centre, where the church and the market cross are located. If I had stayed overnight in the village at the lovely Castle Inn, I might have had time to explore the village away from its centre and especially its fascinating forest trails as well as looked for the Roman bridge. As it was, I had a lovely walk around the village’s three main streets for a couple of hours before I headed back to Lacock village.

For ideas on other pretty villages in the Cotswolds to visit, do check out Katy of Untold Morsels’ suggestions for a weekend in the Cotswolds.

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #20]
Wanderful Wednesday

Oregon Girl Around the World

Walking around Lacock village

A couple of months ago, I visited Wiltshire on holiday and decided to stay at the lovely village of Lacock for a couple of days. The key museum highlight of the village is of course Lacock Abbey and the Fox and Talbot museum, which I have shared in a separate post. In this post, I am focusing on the special highlights of my stay in the village and my morning walks around the village.

Each morning, I woke up to a view of a private garden that I had labelled the secret garden. I would have loved to explore that garden, if I had had the permission of its owner.

IMG_2123.JPG

After making myself a hot cup of tea, I would go out for my much treasured morning walks, exploring the village without a soul in sight. The village is tiny with just four main streets in a grid like pattern, so I invariably ended up walking around several times during my stay.

The medieval village of Lacock was built around St. Cyriac’s chuch. The base of the current church was built in the 11th century, though there has been renovations made across the centuries.

IMG_2210.JPG

IMG_2185.JPG

Close to the church is King John’s hunting lodge, said to have been used by the King when hunting in the Melksham forest that surrounded the village then. The 13th century hunting lodge, which still has some of its original beam structure, is now a tea room. It was closed for renovations during my visit.

IMG_2181.JPG

I took the tiny street near the church, leading towards Nethercote hill, and came upon the packhorse bridge over Bide brook. The packhorse bridge was the first bridge of its kind that I had seen. So, while I guessed that the path leading into and out of the brook was for carts carrying market goods, I had to read about it to learn that it had been used for packhorses during the wool trade heydays of the village.

Instead of continuing down Nethercote hill or taking the Lover’s walk footpath trail, I turned back and walked back along Church street. I passed Lacock bakery, which I had visited during the afternoon of the previous day to indulge in a sweet pastry.

IMG_1613.JPG

Near the end of Church street, close to the main road, I came upon the Sign of the Angel, which had been a 15th century inn and was now a restaurant with rooms to board. Later in the day, when I was walking along the street, I saw tour groups gathering outside the inn and the tour leader was referencing Harry Potter so I guess this place must have been one of the many places in Lacock that was used in the movie. I was more interested in the fact that the village was used to depict Meryton village in Pride and Prejudice (the 1995 BBC miniseries).

IMG_1607.JPG

From the corner of Church street and West Street, it was lovely to see my rooms above Quintessentially English and I wished that the cars had not been parked on the road, so I could imagine that I had traveled back in time.

IMG_2242.JPG

Walking along West Street, I passed George Inn, which had been highly recommended for their food by Ollie and where I had planned to have one of my dinners but never did get around to it. George Inn has continued to be a bustling inn since it obtained its license in 1361.

IMG_2132.JPG

Turning on to High Street, I passed the National Trust shop and Red Lion inn.

IMG_2143.JPG

IMG_2146.JPG

While I did not try out all three main inns in Lacock as I had originally planned to, I did have a lovely meal at the Red Lion. I am a fan of the chunky chips that is served in England.

Opposite Red Lion, at the start of East Street was the medieval tithe barn. This was the place where taxes was collected in the form of 10% of farm produce.

IMG_2156.JPG

At one end of the barn was a small holding cell, which had been used to hold people overnight, who had too much to drink.

IMG_2169.JPG

The next door village hall is used for community events.

IMG_2170.JPG

Returning to High Street and walking further in the direction of the abbey, one passes the playing field managed by the Lacock Parish council.

IMG_1617.JPG

The High Street curves around the low walls and perimeter fence of the abbey grounds and onto Hither Way. I enjoyed my views of Lacock Abbey and its grounds, from the road.

IMG_1634.JPG

IMG_1658.JPG

I walked up to the Wharf and Lacock bridge. This bridge has been in use since the 14th century and I read that it is sometimes inaccessible due to floods.

I became fond of the little village from my morning walk explorations during the two days that I stayed there and would highly recommend an overnight stay or more, rather than a day trip to the village. It adds to the experience of exploring Lacock Abbey.

A special highlight of my stay in the village was my accommodation. From the moment I saw Snoozums on AirBnB, I knew I had to stay there when I visited Lacock. Fortunately, the place was available on the days I planned to visit and it was right in the heart of the village,  above a shop opposite the bus stop.

IMG_2134.JPG

Quintessentially English is a delightful shop that Jacqui Sheard founded, so that she could make her passion for crafting handmade organic soaps her profession. The lovely scents of different bath products greeted me as I entered the shop upon arrival. I was soon ushered next door and up the stairs, to Snoozums, the apartment I would be staying at.

IMG_2128.JPG

It was a lovely space with a living area, cosy bedroom and a private bathroom. Jacqui left a huge breakfast basket for me as well as some of the bath product goodies in the welcome tray.

IMG_2250.JPG

In addition to my delight at staying at the cosy and comfortable apartment in a historic building, I enjoyed interacting with Jacqui and her husband, David. I also enjoyed helping Ollie with packing some of their Christmas orders and learnt about different bath products, in the process. Jacqui was very generous that she gave me an extra night’s stay free of cost, for helping them out with the Christmas orders, and dropped me at Chippenham for my onward journey at the end of my stay.

[Linking this post to Faraway Files #19 and The Weekly Postcard]

Suitcases and Sandcastles
Travel Notes & Beyond

En-route to Udaipur and the City Palace

The last city that we visited on this trip was Udaipur, or the lake city. The best part of this leg of the trip was the scenic drive from Jodhpur to Udaipur, through forested areas. We stopped at a durry weaver’s cottage to observe the weaving and decided to buy a small hand-woven carpet, though we had not planned to buy one or even heard of durry weaving before visiting that cottage.

Durry Weavers.JPG

We then stopped at a small restaurant for a light lunch of chappathis and Marwari vadi. We drove past breathtaking hills, past natural reserves, at one time the adivasi (indigenous people) settlement area. Our driver recommended us visiting a 15th century Jain temple in Ranakpur, even though it was not part of our itinerary. We agreed and found our first visit to a Jain temple fascinating. The religion is based on the three principles of non-violence, non-absolutism and non-possessiveness and has an emphasis on vegetarianism. There were some people walking about the temple, with pieces of white cloth tied over their mouth. I thought it was to maintain silence but I read that it was to prevent the killing of insects or other micro organisms unknowingly, while breathing. Yes, this religion is a tough one to practice because one needs to even watch carefully where they walk so they don’t harm an ant.

Jain temple.JPG
There were numerous picturesque villages along the way, which fired one’s imagination and I wish we had spent more time in some of those villages. At one point, our driver stopped the car and said, ‘old way of irrigation. you take picture’. I observed a bullock team walking around in circles, turning a wheel which in turn drew water out of a well.

Drawing water for irrigation.JPG
By the time we reached Hotel Rajdharshan in Udaipur, it was evening and we decided that we would prefer to go on a boat ride on Lake Pichola that evening and go on the guided tour the next day. The boat bookings was however full that evening so we ended up exploring the bazaar area around our hotel.

Lake Pichola.JPG

The next morning, we drove to the City Palace. We entered through the Sun door and came across a board hung at the entrance with the names of the different rulers of Udaipur and their reigning period. A line had been drawn under the name of the Maharana who had been responsible for building the palace. Maharana Udai Singh II is credited with beginning the construction of the palace in the 16th century and the expansion was continued over the centuries, through his successors.

entrance-to-palace
The city palace is considered the second biggest palace in India, after Mysore Palace.

thoran pol at Udaipur Palace.JPGThe Maharana of Udaipur, Maharana Bhupal Singh, was the first ruler to have handed over his property to the Indian Government at the time of Independence. He was actively involved in the politics of the time and one can visit the room where Nehru and others gathered at Udaipur palace to discuss political issues. Maharana Bhupal Singh became the first Chief of State of Rajasthan. Due to a spinal disorder, the Maharana was disabled from a young age and therefore had an elevator installed to enable him to move from his chambers to the public area. As the Mewars liked symmetry, another door was built alongside the elevator door, but which was a dummy.

Udaipur Palace.JPG
After the city palace tour, we visited Sahelion Ki Bari, an early 18th century summer garden for the royal women and had been built so that they would have a relaxing place away from the court.

Sahelion Ki Bar.JPG

It was soon time to check out of our hotel and take the flight to Delhi, for a final evening in the city at our own leisure.

This Golden Triangle trip, which gave my mother and I a first glimpse of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, still remains my best travel memory.

[Linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration]

Lacock Abbey and grounds

It was a photo tour of Lacock abbey, by Clare at Suitcases and Sandcastles, that inspired me to add the abbey to the list of places I planned to visit during my trip to England last year.

IMG_1625.JPG

Lacock abbey has a very fascinating history. Ela, the Countess of Salisbury, was a wealthy heiress who became the countess suo jure or in her own right, and not by marriage, in 1196. She did marry that same year, at the age of 9, and her husband became the Earl of Salisbury by marriage. A few years after her husband’s death, Ela founded Lacock Abbey in 1229 and laid its first stone in 1232. She joined the abbey as a nun in 1238 and became its first Abbess in 1242. To ensure that the village around the abbey thrived, she obtained a charter from the King which allowed a weekly market to be held in Lacock.

IMG_1824.JPG

During the dissolution of the monasteries, Sir William Sharington bought the abbey and converted it into a house in the mid 16th century. Despite the demolition and construction work that took place, the cloisters remained as it was in Ela’s time. The Abbey soon passed into the Talbot family, when Sharington’s niece, to whom the property was willed, married John Talbot. In the mid 18th century, the house underwent alterations in the Gothic revival style.

IMG_1830.JPG

The abbey was gifted to the National Trust in 1944 by Matilda Gilchrist-Clark, who inherited it from her uncle Henry Talbot, the son of William Henry Fox Talbot, who contributed to the history of photography by developing the photographic negative process. A museum on photography is housed at the barn at the abbey gates and you can see the copy of the world’s first negative taken by Talbot in 1835 here. The negative is of a window at Lacock Abbey.

IMG_1831.JPG

My visit to the Abbey was in winter and so only the cloisters and the grounds was open to visitors, and not the house. However, as my primary fascination about the place was centered around its medieval history, it worked out well for me.

IMG_1834.JPG

The entrance to the cloisters was adorned with Christmas decorations and the staff were at work decorating the passageways, as I explored it.

IMG_1836.JPG

The Chapter House is a section of the cloisters, which has been well preserved. This room was where the nuns gathered every day and read a chapter from the Rule of St. Benedict for Benedictines and Cistercians.

IMG_1853.JPG

If not for Septimus, the kid’s guide to the cloisters, urging one to watch out for the creatures that came alive at night, I might have missed out a closer look of the ceiling bosses. I spotted the swan but not the seahorse or the mermaid. It would have been fun had the adult’s guide also included ‘spot the object’ games.

IMG_1855.JPG

The niche in the wall, which once held books, was also interesting. Since books were very expensive during the Middle ages, they were often locked or chained to the shelves.

IMG_1860.JPG

The warming house was one of two places at the abbey, which had a fireplace. Visitors were therefore shown to this room, after being received in the parlour. The nuns’ dormitory was above this room so that the warmth from the room would reach them. The huge cauldron, dated 1500, was originally a cooking cauldron before becoming a garden ornament in the 18th century.

IMG_1865.JPG

With the quiet surrounding the cloisters, it was very easy to imagine how it must have been like during the time that the nuns were in residence at the abbey.

IMG_1868.JPG

Emerging from the cloisters, I decided to walk around the abbey grounds, circling the abbey. The grounds were well maintained and a beautiful place to walk around.

IMG_1908.JPG

I passed a deep and still pool, as I walked along the grounds carpeted with the fallen leaves.

IMG_1915.JPG

The Rockworks was a mid 18th century creation, built as a mock ruin for those walking the grounds to come upon.

IMG_1952.JPG

Other highlights of the abbey grounds was the rose garden, the botanic gardens and the kitchen gardens. The kitchen gardens were used, since the time of the nuns, to produce food for the abbey residents. The botanic gardens were a special endeavour of Henry Fox Talbot, who was a keen botanist in addition to being a keen photographer.

Walking back to the entrance gate, I stepped into the Fox Talbot museum, which was opened in 1975 in the barn, used as stables in the 16th century. The ground floor gallery showcases the history of photography, while the first floor displays temporary photography exhibitions.

IMG_1973.JPG

Henry Talbot became interested in photography when he became frustrated with his artistic efforts to capture the scenes he and his wife saw on their honeymoon travel across Europe in 1833. Returning to Lacock, he started thinking about how the image reflected onto ground glass from a camera lucida could be permanently captured, without having to trace its outlines. His chemistry experiments led him to develop light sensitive papers which could be used to leave contact prints of opaque objects, which he called sciagraphs. It was in 1835 that his experiments of using sensitive coated paper and a modified camera obscura led to the development of the world’s first negative. However, he did not publish his results and in 1839, Louis Daguerre announced his independent findings and came to be known as the father of photography.

IMG_1986.JPG

While I had heard of a daguerrotype, which was the first commercially successful photographic process, I had not heard of the calotype, Talbot’s invention and modification of his earlier work in 1835, and which he had patented in 1841. So, it was with interest that I explored the Fox Talbot museum in Lacock.

The Lacock Abbey has certainly had a very interesting history from its medieval beginning as an abbey for nuns and then as a site for early photography experiments.

What features of Lacock Abbey is of most interest to you? 

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #18]

An overnight stay in Jodhpur

Driving along the grand National Highway 8, connecting Delhi to Mumbai, we passed Ajmer on the way to Jodhpur. Ajmer is home to the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Dev, our driver, mentioned that the city was also famous for its nearby marble market in Makrana. It was marble from this region that was used in the building of the Taj Mahal.

The sun was beating down on us as we moved further towards the Thar desert. The landscape being drier, though still without the sand dunes that would have been prevalent in Jaisalmer. We had difficulty keeping our eyes open and we were worried that our driver might also doze off. I was keen on not getting into a road traffic accident a second time and kept checking in the mirror to confirm Dev was awake as well. My mother was finding the heat very taxing for her eyes and I was wishing the car windows had been tinted or had some shades to provide some relief from the desert heat.

We stopped midway for a lunch of vegetable pilau and spinach and paneer curry under a tent. We eventually reached Jodhpur and were taken to Meharangarh fort.

Meharanngarh Fort.JPG
We met our Rajput guide at the entrance of the fort, which was built in 1459. It was a steep climb to enter the fort and by the time we came to what looked like the entrance, the guide told us that we were on the 15th floor of the fort. Gasping for breath, we were thankful for the guide’s lecture to give us a minute of rest. The guide paused by a plaque and pointed to the opposite side of the fort wall, where it looked as if someone had patched up a square hole in the wall of the fort. The guide said that at the time that the fort was built, the King had been adviced that if a man was buried alive in the foundation of the fort, the fort would withstand the test of time and onslaught of enemies. The King’s Meharan (palanquin-bearer) volunteered to be the sacrificial being and the patch was the last stone placed as he was buried alive. While the story of the sacrificed man is true, it is not clear whether the fort derived its name from the buried man or the Rajasthani word for sun, which the ruling clan was connected with. It was a ghastly tale of origin for such a magnificent fort that still stood strong and powerful.

Meharanngarh Fort2.JPG

Walking up the ramparts, we had a partial view of the city below and we saw the reason why it was also known as the blue city. Most houses were painted in dark blue as the high caste brahmins of Jodhpur liked painting their houses blue.

View of blue city from fort.JPG

We first visited the fort museum. In one section, there was a display of palanquins that had been used over time. The one that stood out was a more recent one specially made for the King’s mother, for her visit to England. Her palanquin was fashioned as a telephone booth. I can’t imagine how she could have been comfortable travelling in that booth though.

Grandmother's specially designed palanquin.JPG

The next section was the royal cradle museum, in the former women’s section of the palace, which had some of the cradles that had been used in the royal family. A more recent contraption was the electric cradle that was gifted, by the Department of Public Health, to the newborn Maharajah in 1948. The cradle was designed such that it would automatically swing, when it was switched on.

1948 electric cradle.JPG

It was also from this room that the married women, who still had living husbands, threw rose petals at the Maharajah and his retinue, when he left for or returned successfully from a war. Women whose husbands had passed away were considered inauspicious. Among the exhibits in this room, another interesting exhibit was a display of dumbbells, which the guide mentioned had been provided by the Maharajah to the royal women so that they could exercise and keep fit, despite being confined to their zenana. There was also a painting of the women exercising with the dumbbells.

Mehaangarh fort Women's section.JPG
We visited a couple of apartments open to the public: the Phool Mahal, or the entertainment hall of the Maharajah; the Maharajah’s apartment and the hall of public audience. The artist who had designed Phool Mahal had died midway and the King had left the hall unfinished as it was, in memory of the artist.

Hall of Public Audience_Fort.JPG

Inside palace.JPG

Meharangah fort King's bedroom.JPG

Doorway.JPG

From the fort, we saw a smaller monument a slight distance away, which we were told was Jaswant Thada or the crematorium of the royal family. As we left the fort, we saw at the entrance gateway, small hands imprinted into the wall. The guide said that they were the hands of the women who had committed sati and that sati originated in Rajasthan, during the Mughal invasion era. The practice was initiated to prevent the abuse of the women at the hands of invading armies, once their King had been killed. While the suicide practice had been initially a voluntary one, it soon became part of the culture, especially among the nobility, and women who had lost their husbands were expected to commit suicide. The practice was only banned in 1952. It was horrible to think of the women, who had placed their hands on the wall as a last imprint of their existence before burning themselves on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands.

View of Jaswant Thada.JPG

The tour operator had booked Mandore Guesthouse in Jodhpur, which had been one of the places I had specifically requested for during this tour. I was interested in Mandore guesthouse for two reasons: that it offered a traditional Rajasthani hut-style accommodation at a family-run guesthouse and secondly, because the guesthouse owners ran a  community volunteer programme in the nearby Bishnoi village.

Mandore, the former Marwar capital, is about half-an-hour away from the city area. Myth has it that it is the birthplace of Princess Mandodri, the wife of King Ravana of Sri Lanka, in the Ramayana. We visited the nearby Mandore gardens, where the cenotaphs of the Maharanis were. In front of the entrance to the garden, there were many stalls set up. It being the day after Eid, the festivities were still continuing in the neighbourhood. The gardens seemed a popular hang-out place for the locals as much as it was for the langurs.

Mandore Gardens.JPG

After our short walk in the gardens as we were not too keen to be wandering around the cenotaphs at dusk, we returned to the entrance area. We spotted a boy playing some lovely folk music on a traditional Rajasthani musical instrument. My mother was very much taken by the music and the string instrument so we asked the boy where we could get a similar instrument. The boy replied that the instrument was 500 rupees but he wouldn’t sell it, as it was his living. We weren’t able to make him understand that we were not trying to buy it from him but from the place he had it made or had bought from, so we gave up and returned to the guesthouse.

We were a little early as we had requested dinner at the guesthouse around 7-7.30p.m. so we decided to sit in the garden till it was ready. The proprietor of the guesthouse introduced himself and spoke to us about the village and his days growing up there. As a poor boy growing up in the village, he said he dreamt of speaking English and wearing trendy clothes and had to endure jokes made by his college mates, when he went there on a bicycle. He was proud of all he had achieved since then and especially of his initiative of giving back to his community. The idea for the guesthouse and tourism venture, he said, sprung from his strong feeling that the palaces and forts though a great testament to the past were not where life was and that India, the current, living India was found elsewhere among the rural communities. It was with this opinion that he had founded his tour company, which offered tours to rural villages. He added that he felt that tourism should be a two-way process, not just tourists coming and enjoying sites but contributing meaningfully to the communities they visit. He felt that his venture provided that by combining short volunteer programmes in surrounding villages, which enabled the voluntourist to experience village life first hand and get to know the residents. He said that to make it more attractive for the volunteer, he incorporated special interest themes, like learning puppet-making or henna designs or cooking into the volunteer programme, to enable a cultural learning as well.

When he initially started his community tourism concept, he said it had been difficult to sell the idea to major travel operators in Delhi. However, over the years, his venture had built its own name for the volunteering programmes and had even been mentioned in the previous year’s Lonely Planet guide (2005) and he had been invited to attend a conference organized by ILO and UNCDF on responsible tourism in Bangkok. Most of the people who visited the place, he said, were those who had been recommended the place by others who had come earlier.

Dinner was announced and he invited us over to the table that had been set up for us in the garden. His lovely daughter-in-law served us the home-cooked dinner which did not taste like the Rajasthani meals we had on the road or at the hotels, but very much Sri Lankan (rice with dhal, okra curry, potatoes, pappadam). The garden was lovely but full of mosquitoes and we were slightly worried with all the dengue news going about in India.

Finishing our dinner, we went back to our cottage. The accommodation was as described in the webpage, but the only drawback was that in the middle of the night, the a/c stopped working and it became extremely uncomfortable, as there was no window. The walls seemed to have absorbed the heat of the day and were releasing it in the night.

Room at Mandore Guesthouse.JPG

Despite the air conditioning system that stopped working and the uncomfortable, sleepless night, it was a lovely stay due to the wonderful hospitality of the family and their responsible tourism venture, which I enjoyed more than my visit to the fort.

[Linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration, City Tripping #66 and Faraway Files #21]

MummyTravels

Untold Morsels