Bada Bagh Jaisalmer – the name translates to Big Garden of Jaisalmer. Having completed the tour of Jaisalmer Fort, and seen most of the top tourist attractions of Jaisalmer, I was keen to visit Bada Bagh Jaisalmer too. I had read Bada Bagh is a place full of cenotaphs, chhatri as they are known locally, but I was curious why they would name it as a garden. I had planned to spend an hour to explore Bada Bagh, and it was worth it.
Barabagh, another name to Bada Bagh, the garden complex is situated about 13.3 km north of Lodurva Temple via NH 68. It fitted well to our one day itinerary of Jaisalmer that covered the Jaisalmer fort in the morning, visit to Lodurva Jain Temple, then Bada Bagh and finally sunset point in Sam sand dunes. Frankly one day isn’t sufficient to see Jaisalmer. You need at least 3D/3N to explore all places to visit in Jaisalmer, the golden city of India.
As I walked into the Grand Garden complex, I was struck by the architectural grandeur of the cenotaphs. I didn’t know till then that cenotaphs could be so beautiful. They had to be; after all they belonged to royal Bhatti family of Jaisalmer Rajasthan. Popular Bollywood movie – Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam – was shot here among the grand cenotaphs.
A guide here shared very interesting facts about Bada Bagh Jaisalmer as we made our way through the cluster of cenotaphs.
History of Bada Bagh dates back to 16th century when the first chhatri was constructed during the reign of Maharaja Jai Singh II. He in fact did the noble deed, among many other deeds, of commissioning a dam, Jait Bandh, to create a water tank. This turned the barren desert area green.
When Maharaja Jai Singh II passed away on September 21, 1743, his son Lunkaran constructed a chhatri in his memory. Thus the new tradition of building chhatri started.
The tradition of building chhatri continued for years, where a son built the cenotaph of his father. Sadly in the 20th century the last cenotaph for Maharawal Jawahar Singh was left incomplete as his son who ascended the throne after him died within one year of his ascension. This incompletion was considered to be bad luck. It brought an abrupt end to the tradition.
Don’t be mistaken that chhatri have mortal remains of the dead. It is not so. They are just empty tombs that are built to commemorate and respect the dead. There are such group of chhatri in other cities of Rajasthan. If you are interested you can visit Ahar Centaphs in Udaipur and Jaswant Thada in Jodhpur, Gaitore cenotaphs in Jaipur, royal cenotaphs of Devikund Sagar in Bikaner, and more.
The name chhatri is attributed to dome structure, an umbrella shape which is called chhatri in local language – the guide explained. “In Bengali it is called chhata,” I chipped in. The guide encouraged to climb up and take pictures if I wished. (Always remove your footwear if you intend to climb a chhatri here.)
The architecture of Bada Bagh cenotaphs are worth studying. The unique blend of Paliwal, Mughal, and Rajput styles of architecture make them stunning. Observe carefully to see the cenotaphs bear inscribed tablets with names of the respective King and Queen. These are pyramidal and dome shape; stand on rectangular or hexagonal platforms. They have beautiful carved ceilings and equestrian statues of the rulers.
The varying sizes of the chhatri silently speak about the, gender, age and how wealthy or renowned the dead were. The biggest ones were of the popular Kings, the next size would be of the queens, the third largest among the chhatris would belong to prince and princesses who died young and the smallest ones were of other members of the royal family.
There is a particular order in which the chhatris are built. The one at the top of the hillock is the oldest. The climb up can be difficult for those with weak knees. There is no proper laid out path. As you come down you will cross the next generation kings and queens. The last one, which is incomplete, is near the gate of the Bada Bagh complex.
From the summit you can see windmills at a distance. I believe this is one of the best spots in Jaisalmer for sunset photography. I wanted to stay back till sunset to the see how the golden yellow cenotaphs reflected the setting rays of sun but Sam sand dunes was waiting for me!
Once you are done touring the cenotaphs, there are other interesting things to do in Bada Bagh. Take a tour of Jaitsar tank, commissioned by Maharaja Jai Singh II, which was filled with water from Jait Bandh Dam. It had proved to be very useful for people of Jaisalmer.
Jait Bandh is a huge structure, constructed using solid blocks of stone, measures over 1,200 ft. by 350 ft. Nothing much remains now, but it does give a sense of awe and wonder about the kind of engineering skills that existed then.
You can also stroll around a bit to see the Govardhan Stambh pillar that sits by the dam and a small temple dedicated to God Shiva.
I am glad I didn’t miss visiting Bada Bagh a popular tourist attraction of Jaisalmer. Probably I could have planned the trip better. Because, once at the spot, I realised the best time to visit Bada Bagh is early in the morning during winters, in the months from October end to February end, when there is no crowd and the weather is pleasant.
Bada Bagh Jaisalmer is open officially from 8 AM to 6 PM. Tickets cost 100 INR per person, 100 INR for camera. No tripods are allowed. At a distance of 8 km from Jaisalmer Railway Station and 7 km from Jaisalmer Fort, Bada Bagh is a historical garden located on Ramgarh road and halfway between Jaisalmer and Lodurva in Rajasthan. You can hire a cab from Jaisalmer.
Do plan a visit to Bada Bagh Jaisalmer if you are keen to know and understand history, architecture, and the culture of Rajasthan.