The Maharajas once ruled Rajasthan with bejeweled fists from the security of their imposing forts. The passionate monarchs had an affinity for all things exquisite and the splendor and extravagance of these erstwhile rulers lives on in the forts of this fabled land.
The castles of Europe have nothing on the forts of Rajasthan. If you’re after truly massive structures with enough opulence to please the king and queen of any country, Rajasthan is the spot.
Built of burnished sandstone and marble, these architectural marvels contain intricate carvings, elegant facades, majestic domes, and elaborate balconies.
The great Rajput rulers of Rajasthan fought off the Arabs, Turks, and, most notably, the great warriors of the Mughal Empire. It was not until the British came in and offered their protection that the maharajas slowly lost their power.
When the leaders struck deals with the rulers of the British East India Company, the maharajas were reduced to puppet rulers. Rajasthan soon became a part of the newly independent India in 1948 when the “desert kingdoms” were incorporated.
The role of the Maharaja continued its slow fade until the title itself was officially squashed in 1971 when royal entitlements were abolished along with privy purses through a constitutional amendment.
Today, the erstwhile Maharajas are considered political, cultural, and religious icons in modern Rajasthan. They play the role of philanthropist, conservationist, and keeper of traditions.
Here’s a look at three of the Maharajas’ great forts of Rajasthan:
The muscular fort at Jodhpur is a beautiful beacon on the flat landscape. The formidable walls grow organically out of its rocky perch. From the top, the view over the city of Brahmin-blue buildings is striking. The decadence of Jodhpur’s fort is unmatched. Behind Mehrangarh’s seven gates is a terra-cotta-colored palace complex dotted with elegant courtyards and lined with intricate carvings. The 15th century fort is truly the most impressive example of Rajput grandeur in Rajasthan and the theatrical, award-winning audio tour may be one of the best on the planet.
A lighthouse on the edge of the desert, 99 colossal bastions encircle the still-inhabited streets of this massive fort. Within the fort walls are seven meticulously carved Jain temples dating from the 12th to 16th centuries. There are also several lavish Havelis and the elegant seven-storey Maharaja’s Palace. Sadly, the fort at Jaisalmer is an example of what can happen with unchecked development. Unlike Rajasthan’s other historical monuments, the narrow alleyways of the fort now house numerous gift shops, restaurants, and guesthouses. Overcrowding and poor drainage have seen the fort sinking into Trikuta hill.
Nestled 1100 meters skyward in the Aravalli Hills, this 15th century fort is perhaps the least visited of the forts of Rajasthan – and that’s a shame. Kumbalgarh was the most important Mewar fort after Chittor. Kumbalgarh was only taken once in history and it took the combined forces of Mughal emperor Akbar and of Amber and Marwar to breach its defenses. Even then, they only managed to hold onto the fort for two days. Understandably, rulers would retreat within the massive stone fort in times of danger. It is a testament to the romantic expectations of Rajput grandeur. The massive fort walls stretch some 36 kilometers and enclose roughly 360 temples, palaces, gardens, and bunkers.