Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – India chapter Rajasthan has to say about Mehrangarh’s Zenana:
“You then enter the extensive zenana, the lovely latticed windows of which are said to feature over 250 different designs (and through which the women could watch the goings-on in the courtyards).
Here you’ll also find the Cradle Gallery, exhibiting the elaborate cradles of infant princes.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
After admiring the views in three directions, we moved through a hallway that led us into a large open courtyard. It didn’t look familiar to me at all. We were greeted by an elderly turbaned gentleman, I suppose he might be called a guard, but he acted more like an ambassador for incoming guests. He was seated in front of a small alcove with open doors, and an interesting painting caught my eye on the back wall of the alcove.
It was a portrait of a figure, seated on a leopard skin rug with a trident on one hand, and what looked like a golden plate loaded with precious jewels, in the other. The figure was divided down the middle, with the left half painted blue, and only the lower half of the body clothed. The figure appeared to be that of a man. His head was swathed in a turban and there was a snake dangling from his shoulder. It was arching itself out and away from the figure’s right hand.
The right side of the seated figure looked definitely more female. She was completely swathed in golden robes, had a crown on her head, bracelets on her arm, her face was fair-skinned and there was a ring in her nose.
Now I’m not an expert in Indian art by no means, but I’ve learned that blue skin represents the divine, a god, if you will. Since we were entering the women’s quarters, the zenana, it would seem that this might indicate that the royal women were ‘touched’ by the gods, that they were nothing like other women in the society.
I was about to look around the beautiful courtyard and examine the designs on the latticed windows, but the gentleman rose quickly from the stool where he was sitting, and directed us into an adjoining room. It was here that we were able to stroll though a beautiful white room, with an elaborately decorated blue-tiled ceiling. The room was filled with a substantial collection of royal cradles, once used to sooth infant princes to sleep. I had a laugh to myself, because there was no mention of what kind of cradles were used for royal princesses.
We returned to the large courtyard, and while I stood and admired the incredible architecture of the windows above my head, my sister Donna slipped into a small room at one end to have her palm read. I was a little concerned because she once told me she’d never had her fortune told. Not after hearing a tale our mother told us about a tea cup reader telling her fortune, both good and tragic, and it all came to pass, just as the reader foretold.
Donna emerged quite pleased with the things she’d learned, and said she wanted her first palm reading to be done in a memorable place, and that a sign indicated that the fee she paid went to the maintenance of the fort. I didn’t get a chance to talk to her about what she’d learned as my attention was drawn back to the sight-seeing. I’ll have to ask her about it now that my memory has been jogged as I write about the event.
I took a few photos of local women visiting the zenana, in their traditional dress and then Anil and I posed for photos with yet another turbaned man, this one much taller, and with a more substantial moustache. Then it was time to move onto a smaller, courtyard, with was constructed with much darker stone. Now, for some reason, I remembered this courtyard rather well. Perhaps it was because of the contrast between the two colours of the stone, and the fact that it had a flight of stairs that led up to a raised pavilion.
However, there was one big change that I noticed immediately. A lovely little café had been opened on the top of the pavilion, and additional seating had been located at the bottom of the stairs. I remembered moving quickly through this area in the past, but this time I suggested we stop and have a cold drink and a snack, and give ourselves a chance to take in all that we’d seen. We could enjoy the zenana a little longer, before we were expected to step outside the royal palace and back into the fort.
Everyone agreed it was a brilliant plan, and we found a table on the raised section, away from the visitors who were just passing through. Duncan order a cold beer with an interesting label, and the three of us went for the cold coffee with ice cream. I was all very filling but we managed to have something savoury to eat as well.
Thus fortified, we carried on through the small doorway to the side and found ourselves entering the Gift Shop. I remembered this part of Mehrangar immediately, because I bought a few items as gifts for others on our last visit. One was a fabulous T-shirt that I never did find just the right person to give it so, and I had recently donated it to our Iyengar Yoga Centre’s Annual Spring Tea Silent Auction.
This time, we were surprised to see that the gift shop had doubled or tripled in size and the selection of items for sale had expanded exponentially. The quality of the items on display was very high-end, certain to appeal to foreign visitors and wealthy Indian tourists. I wasn’t interested in making a purchase this time, until I spotted a lovely key chain near the sales counter.
I used to purchase bookmarks as souvenirs for the longest time. They were easy to carry when one wants to travel light, and were inexpensive. For me, the minute I put one to use, I was taken back to its place of origin and it would help me travel again in my mind. However, more and more I find I’m reading books on my iPad and I’ve changed to buying e-versions of my favourite Lonely Planet guidebooks. The bookmarks yet to be used are sitting in a drawer in my writing desk, gathering dust.
Some time ago, I began to purchase high-quality key rings as mementos of our travels. I don’t have a lot of keys these days, but I’ve used them on my luggage and on the zippered packing cubes I use inside the suitcases. I have one in particular that I especially love. I found it in Catania, the city at the foot of Mt. Etna, the city that has been engulfed several times by lava during major eruptions. The key chain has a piece of black lava and a small swatch of traditional woven wool fabric attached to it.
The keychain that I thought would be a fitting souvenir of our third visit to Mehrangarh, featured a miniature portrait of a past maharajah. The keychain was in a small gift box, with a plastic cover. There were two on display, one had a blue background, the other red. Oh dear, now I had to choose, there was no sense in buying two. I eventually selected the blue one because it matched the new suitcase I had purchased before leaving home. I had a great laugh when I opened the package back at the hotel, the keychain turned out to be two-sided, one was blue, the other red!
After paying for my little purchase we stepped out into the sunshine and found ourselves back near the Suraj Pol, and steps where we had previously entered the royal apartments. A large ramp led off to the right, towards the ramparts, and an area that was more focused on the military aspects of the fort. It was roped off, closed to visitors.
We turned to the left and made our way towards the Loha Pol, the original entrance to the fort, and now the last of the four entrance gates. This was the way back out of the fort, and we headed in that direction.