Throwback in time
This wasn't a well-planned tour, last minute tickets hastily bought to view the famous cattle fair in Nagaur and its historical fort. I charted out the entire plan on my train journey and next day I was at humble Nagaur station, with my disbelieving eyes drinking in the sights, assuring myself I was still in this century.
'The town looks ancient,' I thought, and it was teeming with crowds coming to attend the cattle fair at the beginning of February. Nagaur is in the arid northwest of India's largest state, Rajasthan. Bordering the Thar desert, most of the cityscape had been painted a royal yellow, with a magnificent Fort standing in the middle of the city, and the city walls echoing legends from time immemorial and the fort reflecting its glory and valour.
I was soon drawn into a history lesson by my chauffeur as we drove to the hotel in the fort. A major draw for anyone seeking an immersion in courtly history, Nagaur grew from a strategic trading point to the centre of Rajputana power in its heyday. Naguar lived under the influence of conquerors from vastly different cultures. Over time it gained a distinct Rajput-Mughal architectural design as gardens, temples and fountains were added. Passing through the town is like passing through an age frozen or warped in time.
The city seems as unmoved by changing times as the 4th century Ahichhatragarh Fort, which was originally built by the Nagavanshi clan (hence the name that means 'Fort of the Hooded Cobra'!) but rebuilt in the 12th century by the Ghaznis to include palaces and mosques. I was at the major draw of the city, the Ahichhatragarh Fort; built in the middle of a flat land. With a not so deep moat and not very high walls, the Nagaur Fort doesn't fit very well in the Indian definition of forts. It is virtually at ground level, commanding no sweeping views of the countryside; quite maverick architecture, I would say. Nagaur was Rajput ruler Amar Singh's fiefdom, quite a maverick himself.
Having earned his father's Gaj Singh's wrath, who was ruler of Marwar, and sent into exile, all credit to his impetuous nature that Amar Singh joined hands with the Mughals.
Over time, the fort's ownership moved from the Rathores to the Mughals to the British and then back to the Rathores and then to the Government, to house sundry offices and a base for the Border Security Force (BSF). The Fort now houses the magnificent Ranvas Hotel.
In 2002, it won the UNESCO Asia Pacific Award of Excellence for Cultural Heritage Conservation tag and came under the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, run by the Rathore royals, helping this maverick fort restore itself to former glory. Nagaur's massive 12th-century Ahhichatragarh has undergone a two-decade, UNESCO award-winning restoration program. Inside the vast walls, the focal point is the central Rajput-Mughal palace group, built around beautiful pools.
You can admire the very ingenious system of channels and ducts that brought water to the fountains and bath-house of the Abha Mahal, palace of the Nagaur Maharaja Amar Singh (r 1634–44), from a well near the ramparts. The finest frescoes, depicting female courtly life, are in the Hadi Rani Mahal, palace of Amar Singh's wife.
You can see the ladies brushing their hair in mirrors, swimming in one of the palace's pools and sitting on a garden swing. The Eye of Nagaur interpretation centre displays maps and photos of the site and information on its restoration (in English). A walk through the alleys of the fort reveals that it was meant more for pleasure than planning warfare as seen in the Sheesh Mahal, the Akbari Mahal via the Zenani Deori or women's apartments and the Hawa Mahal, It's not difficult to decipher the inclinations of the artists who made the murals - the court and hunting scenes that are painted on some walls are an oddity, the constant themes are of dances, folk tales and even fairies.
Deepak Mahal with its Persian-style floral designs and several niches in the inner walls to hold lamps, the Abha Mahal with its eloquently designed water features in the form of channels, fountains and hamams and the Akbari Mahal, built to commemorate the recapture of Nagaur by the Mughals in the mid-16th century, speak of the heights to which Rajput-Mughal style architecture reached in Nagaur Fort. I took to the top floor to catch a bird's eye view of the entire complex – it looked splendid – the numerous pools to keep the fort cool in dry summers, the temples in the corners, a mosque built by Shah Jahan with its blue tiled mosaic work – all drawn in a simple geometric lines, taking you back to the Rajputana era.
There is still so much history to remember and protect here. There are also some other spots which are worth seeing in Nagaur. A handsome yellow sandstone cenotaph honors Amar Singh, the Rajput folk hero, with his footsteps inscribed in the centre, next to which incense sticks are lit.
There is a little floral carving on the pillars and ceiling, and surrounding it are cenotaphs in pink sandstone that honor the chief's wife who died before he did, and three other ranis who committed sati on his funeral pyre, as well as later members of his clan. All are well preserved. Close to the entrance is a small Hanuman shrine where puja is regularly performed.
One of the labyrinthine, narrow lanes leading out from Gandhi Chowk will take you to the Jain Kaanch ka Mandir. It houses large, marble Tirthankaras, their images multiplied a thousand times in the bits of colored glass covering the walls, pillars and ceilings. The sight is even more remarkable at dusk, by lamp light.Nagaur Cattle Fair Also known as 'Ramdeoji cattle fair', the colourful Nagaur Fair is a smaller but even more camel-and cattle-focused version of the Pushkar camel fair and it colours the town with its festivities. Every year in the first week of February, this Fort town doubles up as host to India's second largest cattle fair for over four days. Approximately 220,000 bullocks, camels and horses are traded here every year. The animals are lavishly decorated and even their owners dress up, wearing colorful turbans and twirling long moustaches.
Other wares consist of sheep, Marwari horses and spices. Some other attractions include the Mirchi bazaar (India's largest red-chilly market), wooden handicrafts, iron-crafts, jewellery and camel leather accessories. With lavishly decorated cattle, folk musicians, camel and bullock races, puppeteers, jugglers, tug-of-war, cock fights, long moustache competitions, storytellers, and delicious food, villagers find it a break from their hard lives.
Nagaur also hosts the 'World Sufi Spirit Festival' in February, with international musicians playing in the sublime setting of the fort. Baba Ram Dev of Nagaur had miraculous powers and his fame reached far and wide. Five pirs (saints) from Mecca came to test his powers, and after being convinced, paid their homage to him. Since then he is venerated by Muslims also as Ram Shah Pir and is an icon for Sufis.
Accommodation and Food:
Nagaur has few good hotels. The Ranvas is the only heritage hotel. The food they serve is delicious. RTDC also puts up a Tourist Village for tourists
visiting Nagaur fair. Jodhpur is the nearest airport. Jaipur is a 200 km drive from Nagaur.