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by Subhasish Chakraborty
The penchant of the average Bengalees for travel is legion and they appreciate the stark and desolate landscapes that are far removed from the rather supple topography of Bengal. For close to two decades, if not more, Bengalee tourists have been visiting the desert state of Rajasthan in ever increasing numbers, thanks to some aggressive publicity by Rajasthan Tourism.
A group of life members of the local Kalyani Adventure Club decided to do something unusual rather than embarking on the usual Golden Triangle circuit of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, which has off late been the standard itinerary for the average Bengalee tourist. Instead we chalked out an interesting itinerary and bargained with one of Jodhpur’s most renowned heritage hotel- Fort Chanwa Luni that offered us an unputdownable package complete with boarding, lodging, desert escapades and other miscellaneous activities.
Why Jodhpur? Well, first of all it is the largest city of Rajasthan after Jaipur and the city is an interesting jumble of winding streets with the formidable Meherangarh fort being the most impressive fort in the whole of Rajasthan. Secondly, Jodhpur is the home of the Rajputs, a group of warrior clans who have controlled this part of India for more than a thousand years with a code of chivalry and honor akin to that of the medieval European knights. And last but not the least, the heady concoction of royal history, colorful people and superb scenery along with its authentic Rajasthani architecture makes Jodhpur an ideal destination to explore in the desert state of Rajasthan.
From Kolkata we traveled by an Indian Airlines flight to Delhi and thereafter by train to Jodhpur. There was a cab waiting to pick us up from Jodhpur Railway Station and the first sights of this marvelous city with its narrow lanes and alleyways, its bustling bazaars replete with unusual Rajasthani handicrafts and the quintessential Jodhpur Tongas provided us with a Rajasthan we never knew existed.
In 15 minutes we reached our hotel – Chanwa Luni and were ceremonially welcomed by the hotel’s charming lady escorts, dressed in all their finery. After exchanging pleasantries with the hotel’s warm and friendly staff, we were escorted to our rooms. Each of the rooms of this outstanding hotel breathes with a dignified royal Rajasthani ambience. The rooms exude with the elegance of Rajasthani architecture and the entire hotel has been built of the finest variety of Red Sandstone.
Legend has it that the erstwhile king of Jodhpur – Maharaja Jaswant Singh II was principally responsible for making the Marwar region of Rajasthan prosperous through his visionary approach. The Maharaja was ably assisted by Kaviraj Muraridanji – one of his trusted lieutenants known for his shrewd administrative zeal and foresight. In the year 1894, Kaviraj was bestowed with the “jagirdari”or ownership of the remote and secluded hamlet of Chanwa and the visionary in him took the decision of building a magnificent fortress, which today is known as Fort Chanwa Luni.
If historical records are anything to go by, in the year 1948, the hamlet of Chanwa was bequeathed to Maharaja Dalip Singh and unfortunately due to lack of patronage, the impregnable fortress was left uncared for and in utter ruins until the year 1992 when the desert state of Rajasthan saw an unprecedented mushrooming of heritage properties, which led Maharaja Dalip Singh to convert the fortress into a heritage hotel, thereby offering the discerning international traveler with the option of staying in one of Jodhpur’s most awesome royal fort.
The hotel owes a lot to the visionary zeal the present Maharaja – Dalip Singhji, who happens to be the youngest son of Maharaja Umaid Singhji. The manner in which the hotel’s courtyards and impeccably landscaped gardens have been laid out deserves kudos. The quintessential Rajasthani “Jharokas” here are particularly very eye-catching and recreates the royal magic of Jodhpur’s rich virile past.
What makes the hotel so exceptional is the splendid and elaborate Rajasthani architecture and its total compliance with local Jodhpuri sensitivities, so much so that the age-old Jodhpuri architectural heritage have been replicated and embellished extensively both inside and outside this magnificent heritage hotel. All the minute details like the antique wooden furnishings, the curtains and the overall ambience in each room reverberate with a regal Rajasthani charm, thereby making the entire hotel experience a harmonious one.
The unprejudiced eye of the architect echoes in every nook and corner of the hotel. Here at the Fort Chanwa Luni Hotel the virtually impossible seem graceful and easy and I think that’s what architecture is all about. Be it the towers, the stables, passageways and out of the blue stairways to the surreptitious pavilions and breathtaking roof top views of the adjoining village, the hotel is a supreme adjustment to opportunity and local conditions. All attention has been concentrated on, not collecting art, but on creating art, like one beautiful picture.
For the connoisseurs of art, the innovative manner in which the traditional Rajasthani paintings have been arranged inside the hotel not only offers a peek into Jodhpur’s regal past but is also reflective of the high degree of craftsmanship.
Surrounded by royal designs, designs that are unusual and brilliant, designs that celebrate, which do not necessarily conform to any set pattern, finishes that are playful – is the joy that this outstanding heritage hotel breathes into her spaces. Be it the floors, walls, ceilings, doors or even the simple framed windows, the hotel manages to evoke in the most mundane things a vibrancy and a happy mood, that reaches out to greet you the moment you step inside.
I wasn’t surprised when the hotel’s suave and courteous manager shared a few praiseworthy references of the hotel viz-a-viz publications like the Tatler, Le Guide Du Routard, Society and Saison magazines, all of which heaped praises and raved about the hotel’s sense of innovation in blending traditional Rajasthani architecture with the contemporary hospitality landscape.
During an impromptu conversation with Maharaja Dalip Singhji over a sip of my favorite tipple at the hotel’s central courtyard, I was told that the Government of India stood as the watchdog during the course of the hotel’s renovation, which meant that much of the original façade of this stupendous heritage property remained unchanged. As we conversed at the courtyard, the ramparts wore a dazzling look with the floodlights coming on. Also, the fact that it was a full moon night and with the hotel’s band playing some soul-stirring ballads made for a truly ethereal setting.
The hotel in its bid to entice the discerning international traveler had come up with a novel entertainment product in the form of traditional Rajput weddings and we were fortunate to witness the marriage ceremony of a Canadian couple from far away Toronto who after a lot of soul searching decided to conduct the ceremony in the fascinating backdrop of Fort Chanwa Luni.
The ceremony was an exact imitation of a traditional Rajput marriage ceremony with an equal number of guests being allotted to form the bride and groom’s side. From our entourage, which numbered around ten, a majority of guests choose to be on the groom’s side as most of them were male and the fact that guests from the groom’s side are treated royally as per Rajasthani customs.
The hotel’s ever-attentive support staff dressed us up in all the regalia of a Rajput wedding complete with spotless white “Kurta Pyjama” and the quintessential Rajput turban. The women guests wore traditionally embroidered Rajasthani “Salwar Kameez” with tiny mirrors skillfully embroidered on the fabric.
The entire hotel was splendidly lit up at dusk and the “Barat” or groom’s cavalcade with the groom riding on horseback followed by other guests on camelback with their quintessential blazing torches and native musicians performing soul stirring Rajasthani melodies made for a kaleidoscopic vignette. As we (groom’s cavalcade) made an entry into the marriage venue, each of the guests were royally welcomed by absolutely gorgeous looking Rajasthani ladies.
The hotel’s impeccably landscaped garden was the main venue of the wedding and the manner in which the entire area was decorated – complete with royal tents, flowers and other Rajasthani paraphernalia was to be seen to be believed. As our Canadian groom – John Gloster, looking cherubic in his heavily decorated Rajasthani wedding attire was escorted by a group of ladies to the main “Mandap”, his stunningly beautiful wife –Katherine followed him and waited with bated breath for the “Pundit”(priest) to arrive.
Over the next hour or so, all the rituals associated with a Rajput wedding was conducted by the “Pundit” and we guests sat encircling the “Mandap” in a cross legged fashion on comfortable “Gaddis” or seating mattresses and were served the choicest of liqueurs and snacks. Once the ceremony was over, we were escorted to the dining hall where a gala dinner was served with enough variety – Continental, Indian and the very best of Rajasthani cuisine. The grand finale was in the form of a spectacular fireworks display that lit up the night sky and the bride and groom were then escorted to their private suite.
Among the many activities that the hotel encourages, the traditional Indian Mehfil celebrations are an outright hit with the hotel’s guests, particularly the foreign visitors who find this entertainment truly mesmerizing due to the inherent passion that permeates the Mehfil party. To entice the hotel’s discerning guests, the entire hotel premise is innovatively illuminated by expert electricians, which transports the guests to a make belief world of fantasy.
Guests are provided with traditional Rajput attires and welcome drinks are offered to guests, while the Mehfil artists and dancers take the center stage. The party begins on a somber note, gradually reaching the crescendo with every passing hour. Hats off to Maharaja Dalip Singh, the present owner of the Chanwa Luni hotel, who has been instrumental in reviving the Mehfil theme parties.
An exclusive dining zone is set up and guests can choose from a wide array of culinary delights. From Rice Specialties to Chicken Entrees and Tandoori Breads to Lamb Specialties, the very best of India’s gastronomic delights are on offer at the hotel’s Mehfil parties. The resident chefs rely on fresh ingredients and from my own experience I can vouch for the fact that the spices that are used are amongst the best that India has to offer.
From the regal confines of Fort Chanwa Luni to the fascinating city sights of Jodhpur in itself is a once-in-a-lifetime’s experience. Jodhpur actually stands at the edge of the Thar Desert and the colossal fort topping a sheer rocky promontory, which rises right in the middle of the town, totally dominates the city of Jodhpur. Maharaja Dalip Singh was courteous enough to provide us with 10-seater cab along with a well-informed guide for our city sightseeing trip. From many of us in the group, it was their first encounter with the Desert city of Rajasthan and naturally they were all very excited.
We ventured to the old city precincts, which is conspicuous by a wall 10 Kms. long reportedly built about a century after the city was founded. We climbed to the top and from a vantage position saw glimpses of the Old City.
Next on our sightseeing agenda was the iconic Meherangarh Fort, which is regarded as one of Rajasthan’s most formidable nay impregnable fort. We took the meandering road that leads all the way up to the fort’s entrance. Inside the fort, there are a whole series of courtyards and palaces. You will be stupefied by the rather evocative names given to the palace apartments like the Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), the Sukh Mahal (Pleasure Palace), the Phool Mahal (Flower Palace) etc…
To make the atmosphere joyful, a couple of native musicians struck up a merry Rajasthani folk number to herald our arrival. On the hindsight, this really set the mood for a visit this outstanding fort.
As we advanced further ahead, we entered a museum-like room, which was well stocked by a rich collection of trappings belonging not just to the Jodhpur’s royalty but India as a whole. As far as I am concerned, the most outstanding collection must be the Elephant Howdahs used by the erstwhile Maharajas who traversed past the city in glittering processions in the days of yore.
For the art connoisseurs, the collection of miniature paintings belonging to varied schools are on display in the fort’s parapets that still hypnotizes art lovers from across the globe.
Basically the stupendous Meherangarh Fort is kind of a one-stop shop for everything Rajput. Be it the traditional musical instruments, the ubiquitous Rajput armoury, antique palanquins, furniture and costumes, this impregnable fort is a must visit site for every visitor to Jodhpur.
Time permitting, you would do well to venture to the southern part of the fort where a collection of old cannons are still impeccably preserved on the ramparts. What makes the southern part of the fort so magical is that you can clearly hear voices and shouts carrying up from the houses far below you. The sight of hundreds of blue colored houses that essentially means houses belonging to Brahmins is very conspicuous.
Even as we recuperated from the sheer grandeur of the Meherangarh Fort and took the downhill road, the majestic sight of “Jaswant Thada” made us spellbound with its magnificence. It is basically a memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, one of Jodhpur’s favorite son of the soil. Inside the cenotaph one can view a collection of portraits of the erstwhile rulers of Jodhpur.
Since it was a sunny day and unbearably hot, we decided to venture to the colorful Sardar Market and on the expert advise of our well-informed guide – Suresh Jhunjhunwala, decided to have glassful of chilled “Makhania Lassi”, which happens to be Jodhpur’s signature drink. This variety of “Lassi” is churned out of thick cream and is known for its ultra refreshing quality, particularly in the scorching heat of Jodhpur. A few of us even indulged in the “Mawa Kachori” and “Mawa Ladoo”, two of Jodhpur’s trademark desserts.
After filling our belly and with renewed zest we headed for the magnificent Umaid Bhawan Palace. This stupendous palace is built of the finest variety of red sandstone and according to our guide the architectural design of this palace was done by the British Royal Institute of Architects. This palace is also popularly referred to as the “Chittar Palace” because of the extensive use of the locally available “Chittar” sandstone that has gone into the making of this magnificent palace.
If you are looking for some idyllic retreat that would take you out of the confines of the city, you would do well venture 7 Kms. to the outskirts of Jodhpur where the magnificent Balsamand Lake Palace is located. This lake dates back to 1159 and the palace was built in the year 1936 that stands on the lakeside.
On the penultimate day of our eventful stay at Fort Chanwa Luni, the hotel’s courteous manager arranged for an out-of-the-world outdoor experience – the experience of a direct encounter with the pastoral tribes of Rajasthan. We woke up early and after refreshing ourselves, hopped into the cab that led us to the outskirts of Jodhpur city where the fascinating Bishnoi, Moila and Prajapat tribes dwell.
The landscape was desolate, no doubt, but our tribal hosts more than made up for any discomfort we might have experienced from the elements. Each of us lived the life of the natives, at least from dawn to dusk and took part in the daily grind – washing utensils, preparing breakfast, looking after the camel herds and even bathing the tiny tots just like their mothers would do.
I would never forget the joy of a cherubic nine-year-old Bishnoi child – Samiran, when I dangled before his eyes a crisply packaged 5 Star chocolate bar. Probably he had never even seen the stuff before, leave alone relish it. At first he didn’t know what to do with the chocolate bar and so in utter innocence he began flinging the stuff amongst his friends. By the time I intervened, the chocolate bar was no longer crunchy and became somewhat soggy. I carefully opened the packet and distributed it amongst Samiran’s friends and once the thing melted in their mouth, there was a an unbelievable gasp. They wanted more and I had to comply.
Here in the stark and desolate desert landscape, we found there was more authentic innocence, as compared to the cities, which look Dickensian. From this eventful trip, we took back home memories that will linger on for a lifetime and not just snapshots.
Traveler’s Fact File:
If You Go:
Spice Jet operates regular flights to the capital city of Rajasthan – Jaipur from cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabd and Ahmedabad. If you are traveling by road, the distance from Delhi is 627 Kms. and from Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan, the distance is 370 Kms. You need not be perturbed about the condition of the road, which is excellent throughout.
Many visitors to Jodhpur also travel by train from Delhi and other cities of India. Some of the important trains that can be availed are Jodhpur-Jammu Exp, Jodhpur-Kalka Exp, Jodhpur-Kota Pass, Jodhpur-Bhatinda Exp, Jodhpur-Bikaner Pass etc
For any further information and reservations, please feel free to contact –
Fort Chanwa Luni
VPO: Luni, Distt. Jodhpur
Tel-Fax: 91-2931284216,91-2931-277246, 0291-5131233
Darjeeling may be known for their tea but there’s nothing as thirst quenching as having it served at The Windamere Hotel