The cluster of majestic-looking structures located atop a small hill stood out in the vast expanse of the desert land. As I walked on the road leading up to the structures, I was hypnotized by the eerie calmness of the place. A solitary vendor sat on the side of the path, selling necklaces and earrings of supposedly precious stones. The minimal vegetation around swayed in the evening breeze, looking alive as the soft sun rays fell on them. Excited, I walked faster, raising clouds of dust at my feet as I let my chappals soak in the feel of the sandy earth. After 9 years, I was back at Bada Bagh.
Bada Bagh, which literally means “Big Garden”, lies about 6 km north of the city of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. It lies between the towns of Jaisalmer and famous village of Lodarva, on the way to Ramgarh. The garden complex has 22 imperial chattris which symbolize the cenotaphs of 22 Maharajas of the state of Jaisalmer, beginning with the original founder of the state, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II (1688 – 1743). Initially a dam and a water tank were constructed in the area to keep the desert green, which gave birth to a lake. Following Maharaja Jai Singh’s death, his son built a beautiful garden next to it and commissioned a cenotaph in his father’s memory, giving rise to the tradition of building the subsequent structures in memories of the rulers.
To the dreamy-eyed, the secluded cluster of royal cenotaphs is like a mystic oasis in the middle of a desert county – ruggedly beautiful, old-world and ethereal. When I visited Bada Bagh for the first time as a 9-year-old, I was mesmerized. As the tour guide droned on giving statistical facts, I walked in between the structures, wishing to go back in the time when they were built. The mausoleums are stunningly built – intricate pillars, elaborate archways and the distinct royal feel when one looked at them were hard to miss, even if a person was not an architecture and history buff. Each carving on each chattri is a reflection of the tastes of each of the Maharajas. As one walks between the chattris, one will see several Sati stones all over the place. These serve as memorials to the queens who jumped into their husband’s pyres, according to the age-old tradition in the state.
The tour guide told us the most interesting stories, including one where one of the kings’ little finger moved even after he was dead, giving rise to certain superstitions surrounding the place. Another story he told was why the building of the structures was stopped, which involved the last Maharaja whose cenotaph was being built, Maharaja Jawahar Singh (reigned 1763–1768). According to the legend, his son died within a year of his accession to the throne, which was considered as a bad omen by the family. Since then, the practice of building the cenotaphs was discontinued, but the hill with the chattris was left in memory of the glorious rulers of the great state.
The centuries–old mausoleum still sends shivers through anyone who looks at them. During my last visit, I sat on the steps of one of the crumbling structures and watched the sunset on the horizon, deciding that I was definitely coming back. Today, Bada Bagh is a dilapidated and crumbling space visited by the occasional fleecing tout and the uninformed tour guide. However, a visit to the place is a must since the peaceful place attracts only the most enthusiastic of tourists, allowing a visit in peace. A few trees dot the landscape, offering shade to the few people who come to this place to offer prayers. The giant whirring wind turbines and the harsh surroundings enhance the beauty of the place, which looks best in the evenings. As the last light of the setting sun falls on the derelict structures, Bada Bagh comes to life.