FORTS OF RAJASTHAN
It is particularly fascinating to explore the widespread area of Neelkanth, preferably over a day culminating perhaps with a visit to the fort, Rajor. Around the Shiva temple, scattered all over are mounds still unexplored and plinths in terraces indicating the multiplicity of temples. One has only to remove the shrubbery and dig away the earth to find fragments of anamalak or stambha and sculptures on religious themes and musicians.
The jeep clings to the hill as we make our way down the steep, rough road to the Tehla fort. Once again the landscape undergoes a great transformation. The green, wooded and grassy floor where herds of deer feed give way to cultivated fields ripe with mustard flowers and picturesque stills of village life, and further on to rough, dry plains. Bhangarh and Ajabgarh have an altogether different story to tell.
On the road to Bhangarh are herds of cows, goats and camel who travel with their nomadic owners every year away from the arid west to the more fertile east in search of grazing land. Tiny cots for babies are tied onto the backs of donkeys and the cute faces of lamb peep out from bags slung over the side. These people from the Thar are perhaps descendants of those seasonal migrants who once collected firewood to help Naraini perform her act of sati when her husband died of snakebite. She promised them in return, water to quench their animals’ thirst. And after she immolated herself, from the same spot emerged an evergreen spring from where animals could drink. A popular meta is held in her honour at the Naraini mats temple nearby and the hot spring there is reputed to have healing qualities.
Scattered chattris and remnants of buildings suggest what is to come. A bend in the road, entry through a stone gate, and we come upon a beautiful kingdom in ruins. Over nearly half a kilometre’s distance are the crumbling vemnants of amarketplace—sometimes an entire room or its arched entrance or maybe, only a pillar but nevertheless, one long continuous line of shops on either side of the road. Ancient ruins and ancient trees often coexist. Four banyan trees shade an entire area, their roots stretching several yards across, entwining with crumbling structures, and perhaps preventing their disintegration.
We move out from under the grove and into a marvellous valley of temples and more ruins. Against a backdrop of hills a stream trickles quiet into a large tank beside a temple. Structured along the hillside is the palace protected behind a fort wall.
We spend the entire afternoon exploring the fascinating ruins of this kingdom. The temples are structures carved from stone or cream and red sandstone. Here might have been a haveli where a princess or noble lived, there a kitchen or shelter for vehicles.
Rare and infrequent visitors come here, to view what was once a flourishing capital founded by Madho Singh, younger brother of Man Singh. Bhangarh was not only a gem in a beautiful setting but also said to be the richest tract in the area. For a century perhaps it thrived as a highly populated, fertile and active commercial centre. Bhangarh now seems like Sleeping Beauty’s kingdom where all the inhabitants have gone to sleep and where enchantment reigns. The shadows lengthen and we leave Bhangarh enveloped in silence—the silence of centuries.
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