DAY 2 (2/4): MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.25
While Jodhpur is famous for its magnificent architecture and folk music, the second largest city of the desert state is also well known for its historical water management network of reservoirs, stepwells and wells. Medieval Jodhpur inhabitants made well use of the catchment area of the Pachetia Hill where Mehrangarh Fort stood, and collected rainwater at various depressions and water bodies within the walled city. Every community in Jodhpur had its their own baori or stepwell. In fact, one of the main reasons for Rao Jodha selecting the summit of Pachetia Hill to build his capital city in the 15th century was Jodhpur’s potentials to collect rainwater.
Saving two months’ monsoon rainwater for the rest of the year, the stepwells represented the wisdom and engineering marvel of the Medieval Rajasthani inhabitants. Many stepwells survive to present day, despite being superseded by modern water systems. Although representing a unique cultural heritage of Rajasthan, many stepwells have become nothing more than a garbage dump or outlet of sewage effluent. Caron Rawnsley, an Irish environmentalist and traveler, has been staying in Jodhpur for several years. Passionate in conserving India’s historical water management network, Rawnsley has been cleaning a number of water bodies in and around Jodhpur, including stepwell Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra and reservoir Gulab Sagar.
The first water body we visited in Jodhpur was Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra. Some said the stepwell was named for Mayla, a wealthy concubine who commissioned the construction.
A few years ago, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra was filled with trash and dirt. In 2015 Irish traveler Caron Rawnsley took up the challenge of cleaning the well almost single-handedly. His effort inspired other locals to join him in maintaining the stepwells and other water bodies around Jodhpur.
Constructed with local pink sandstones, the Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra is a beautiful community stepwell just a stone throw away from the Ghanta Ghar Market.
At Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, we met a local cleaning staff who opened the gate and let us into the stepwell.
Across the street from Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar is a manmade reservoir measured 150m x 90m. It took 8 years to construct the reservoir, in which water from Balsamand Lake was transported to the reservoir via canals. For tourists, Gulab Sagar is one of the best places to photograph the reflection of the Mehrangarh Fort.
In modern times, domestic and industrial effluents have been dumped into Gulab Sagar, raising the risk of water pollution.
From the north side of Gulab Sagar, we found our way through lanes of blue houses towards our next stepwell Toorji Ka Jhalra.
Blue paint on red sandstone houses gives Jodhpur its unique visual identity.
We also passed by beautiful haveli mansions erected in the bygone era.
Out of the 100+ stepwells in Jodhpur, Toorji Ka Jhalra is probably the most well known and frequently visited for tourists.
Built by Rani Toor Ji in the 1740s by a queen of Maharaja Abhay Singh, Toorji Ka Jhalra is another prominent historical stepwell near Gulab Sagar.
A few years ago, local hotels organized efforts to restore and clean up Toorji Ka Jhalra.
Today, Toorji Ka Jhalra is widely seen as a success story of restoring a historical stepwell and maintaining acceptable water quality.
Water level at Toorji Ka Jhalra varies from season to season. The stepwell is over 200 feet deep.
After restoration and cleaning, Toorji Ka Jhalra has become a magnet for locals and tourists. Many locals would take a dip into the water during the hottest hours of the day.
The immediate area around Toorji Ka Jhalra is gradually revitalized with shops, cafes, restaurants, and hotels taking over restored heritage buildings.
“JDH is an urban regeneration project that aims to restore the walled city of Jodhpur to its former glory, breathing new life into its invaluable landmarks and livelihoods.”
After checking out the water bodies, we returned to Pal Haveli to have a quick bite at the rooftop restaurant.
From the hotel rooftop, Gulab Sagar appeared to be calm and beautiful. Our hired car arrived at 13:00 for our ongoing journey over to Jaisalmer.
It was dark by the time we left Mehrangarh Fort. We turned our gaze from the fort to the cityscape below us. We saw countless festive lights flickering in different parts of the old city, as if a citywide party awaited for our return. At the centre of Old Jodhpur, the Ghanta Ghar Clock Tower was bathed in colourful lighting like a rainbow popsicle. We followed a winding footpath going downhill, hoping to get back to the old town in time for dinner at the rooftop restaurant at Pal Haveli. Before supper, we still had one more destination to go which was the vibrant Sadar Market at the Ghanta Ghar Clock Tower.
It was getting dark when we began to walk down from Mehrangarh Fort. From afar, the clock tower in colourful lights was highly visible and served as a destination landmark to guide us for the walk.
Mehrangarh Fort looked majestic under the evening flood lights.
The path soon led us into small streets at the foothills below the fort.
It was dinner time and most shops were about to close.
We walked by many homes with their doors kept opened. From time to time, we could hear laughter of families from inside their homes.
In Jodhpur, there was a common way in which the street vendors decorate their store with bags of chips and snacks in different colourful packaging hanging vertically around the front edge of the roof. It was very eye-catching.
We kept on walking downhill and hoped that we would soon reach the Sadar Market and Ghanta Ghar Clock Tower. Behind us, the massive Mehrangarh Fort provided a mysterious background.
Soon we reached the bottom of the hill in the streets of Gulab Sagar,
It was dinner time for many families, and even bedtime for this puppy on a motorbike.
Near Sadar Market or Clock Tower Market, we passed by a small Hindu shrine along the main commercial street.
A beautiful gateway welcomed us into the vibrant Sadar Market. The market was named after Maharaja Sardar Singh, who built the market and the clock tower during his reign from 1880 to 1911.
Built by Maharaja Sardar Singh in the late 19th century, the Ghanta Ghar Clock Tower is one the most iconic monuments of old Jodhpur.
Sadar Market is one of the busiest place in Jodhpur where locals and tourists come to shop for handicrafts, souvenirs, spices, fresh produce, textiles, jewellery and clothing.
At Sadar Market, our target was to check out MV Spices Shop.
Established by Mohan Lal Verhomal years ago, MV Spices is a renowned spices shop recommended by many guidebooks and foreign media. Today, the spices shop is managed by the friendly daughters of Mohan Lal Verhomal. After a cup of chai tea and a good chat with one of the daughters, we bought a pack of Maharaja curry, and also spices to make chai tea and chicken tikka masala.
After a quick visit of Sadar Market, we returned to our hotel Pal Haveli.
We climbed up to the hotel’s rooftop restaurant Indique for dinner.
Indique is a popular rooftop restaurant in Old Jodhpur, serving decent Indian food with magnificent views of the old city.
We enjoyed the distant view of Mehrangarh Fort at one side of the rooftop. During dinner, it was a surprise to see a small firework in front of the fort. It came in a split second. We couldn’t react quick enough to capture the moment with our camera. The scene could only live in our memory.
At the other side of the rooftop restaurant, we could look down to the vibrant Sadar Market and the colourful Ghanta Ghar Clock Tower.