Jodhpur, the less celebrated of Rajasthan’s cities, founded by the lesser known Rathore king: Rao Jodha (at least, lesser lored) in 1497, still holds its own in the extravagant cultural and historic agglomerate, that is Rajasthan. The most famous of the kings who lived there is Maharaja Man Singh (reign: 1803-1843). It is usually never the primary destination of a Rajasthan tourist, especially an Indian, but many spend a day or so there on the way to Jaisalmer from Jaipur or Udaipur. While Udaipur has its grand palaces and several nearby forts, Jodhpur has only one fort: Mehrangarh. The fort’s presence dominates the ‘old-city’, the older part of Jodhpur and the only part we saw, and can be seen from almost everywhere as it billows out of the igneous hillock the city is built around. In early days the forts had inner cities inside which the workers for the fort, the soldiers and the caretakers lived. In Jodhpur, the old houses or havelis as they are called in India, used to be painted a chalky indigo. Just like Jaipur used to be characterized by the pink color of buildings (which is not that prominent anymore), old city Jodhpur still displays its classic blue.
To begin at the beginning, I was going to India for a 3 week trip in which I wanted to go somewhere with my cousins, as finally, it seemed most of them would be in the same place and most of them had time. Like most families who are close and yet perhaps not close enough, I have grown up with my cousins, and they certainly have grown up with me (I am the eldest) and yet we never did any trips together. My cousin closest to my age, also lives in the US now and as it happens the record shows I am still more likely to see him in India than here, even if he does live in Houston, Texas. My other cousins were either on a break from school or work, even if two of them could not make it right at that time. So, in the end, it was the five of us: Samrat, Rinky, Guddu, Romi and I. Those four have lived in the same neighborhood around each other most of their lives. While it is true that I was quite distanced as the youngest two were growing up, I still warrant respect being the eldest (haha) and I used it to light a fire that, in the end, burned down all the various opposition to our trip that you can only understand if you grew up in a middle class household around the 80s and 90s and have almost never flouted your parents. Rinky also picked the destination, as her mentor and friend had recently visited Jodhpur and came back enchanted. The one cousin who is the known renegade was the one not able to come. It turns out, despite being out of home for 12-15 yrs, Samrat and I had still somehow not managed to underscore our independence. He and I prevailed over the various forms of chastisement, which lasted till minutes before we left in the taxi. All heave a sigh of relief!
While I may have lit the fire, the real ground work was done by Rinky, assisted by Romi as they found a place to live, a refurbished haveli with its rustic charm and reasonable nightly rates: The Jewel Palace. A mode of transport that didn’t burn a hole in the pockets of the students and snared the rest of us by being impossibly close to adventure travel. Of course, it was a sticking point with the parents, why would we not take the air-conditioned, well ordained buses to Jodhpur and choose the sleeper buses no one we knew had ever traveled on. Exactly the reason we sort of glazed over these details while making the plans known to our parents, until they absolutely had to be told. The buses seemed fine and clean and non-smelly ( I am told we were lucky to travel in winter). Placing our luggage, and my camera (yet another sore point to my parents as they feared theft) bag on our seats, we still had room to sleep. On being questioned about safety by Rinky, the company had informed her that families traveled with them routinely and we definitely saw one with a small baby get into an adjacent sleeper seat. It all seemed well, until the bus started moving. Or let’s just say, racing the wind, which tried its best to kill us with its chill for the bus driver’s defiance. The windows didn’t close completely. While we had carried light blankets, they were nowhere near sufficient. I had carried my ear plugs, but for the other unfortunates, the blaring music accompanying the freezing wind was enough to preclude any chance for a real slumber. Samrat apparently froze in a folded-knee position and at some point took a tumble as the bus made a sharp turn. I was wearing layers and ear plugs, I think I managed a few winks, as Rinky and I were in a double seat and she was close to the window. At a stop for restroom and tea, we bought big hankerchiefs in the hope of blocking the various holes in the windows. Even worked until the vengeful wind took them off. Romi slept blissfully, he says. This was just the one chapter, later on as the bus made more short stops, passengers kept making their way in, and we had started with a nearly full bus. So, where did these new passengers, who looked like they traveled daily, go, you may ask? Well, underneath our berths (yes, the space between the seats and the floor of the bus, and somehow they fit completely inside so you won’t even see them. At least they were warmer than us! Some slept in the narrow aisle between the two rows of sleeping berths. One or two sat on modas (little stools made of bamboo and jute). I would have been slightly frightened, but since none of us were deeply sleeping, except Romi, I didn’t really worry at all. A real traveler blends in, I thought, and did (or so I imagine).
We reached bang on time, takes about 8-9 hours overnight in a bus, in fact we weren’t really prepared to get off when all of a sudden we realized the next stop was likely ours. We got off and counted our bags and people and took two autorickshaws after fixing the price. I was sure they overcharged us, so much for blending in. It did take a while though to get to our unique hotel and during the journey I was recounting the ‘places to see’ in Jodhpur. One of the places was ‘old-city’. As the driver dropped us off he said we should have chosen a hotel in the city instead, we later found out he only about asked for maybe 50% more fare. As we walked through the narrow lanes, where the autos can’t pass to find our hotel, I looked around at all the other havelis in the area. They all seemed to be several generations’ old and many were blue. We were already in the old-city. Our hotel was blue too. They had our rooms almost ready, we later met the very young and hip owner Puneet [sic] who was accomodating as we had some issues with the booking, friendly and for a change, treated the natives with equal if not better attitude than the firangs (uncommon in sycophantic, white skin worshipping Indians in general). I would recommend the hotel to anyone who wishes to get a true Jodhpur experience, but not in the lap of luxury. For the price, I thought the whole arrangement was wonderful, despite minor plumbing issues.
To continue with our story: we were chilled to the bone and starving so we headed straight up to their terrace restaurant. The view of the palace and the terraces of other, closeby havelis was a balm to our weary souls and we couldn’t help but celebrate our victory against being controlled, the wind-chill devil and self-doubt. Their ginger-honey tea saved my life. It was glorious and soothed my sore throat, even if I would struggle with it for a while. I am allergic to dust now, it is the height of irony as I have grown up in dust, but these days I can’t cope and get miserable coughing and wheezing so I had brought a face mask. And boy did I use it! The breakfast of paranthas (bread) and indian pickle was perfect, I knew our chef was gold. Our first stop was the fort, visible from the terrace and seemed to be about a 5-10 min walk, which was a pretty good estimate. We made our way there after taking showers and picking our rooms. We had two rooms, and I chose the airier one, Samrat slept on a mattress on the floor and Rinky and Guddu chose one that seemed to have housed the original owners. It had low lying roof and paintings on the doors and the walls, very typical of old havelis in Rajasthan.
The Mehrangarh fort has been used in many film shootings, including the Dark Knight (the fort behind Christian Bale when he escapes). It is beautiful with a lot of intricately carved windows in the first floor that surround the inner yards or aangans. Inside it, is the beautiful Moti Mahal with windows of stained glass and Phool Mahal with its ceilings and pillars painted with real gold. There is also a narrow ‘sheesha’ mahal, with thousands of inlaid mirror art in the wall and ceilings. The fort has a small but terrific museum that displays its original artwork, an animal shaped canon and a carriage- palanquins in which the noble women traveled.
From the top of the fort you can see the glorious panaromic view of old city Jodhpur. I don’t have much information on the history of the fort, I am sure wikipedia has most of it, as we didn’t hire a guide. I can however point to a few amazing doors by which my gorgeous cousins wanted to pose in the fort and around in a separate post, I know that the people who work for the fort wear traditional attire complete with the turban and there is a museum on types of turbans worn in Rajasthan that was completely delightful! It had the types of patterns: chunari, laheriya, mothara, darbi, khari etc.. to the typical turbans worn by community, like money lenders and soldiers, and turbans worn in different seasons. Later kings build different doors (or pols as they are called in rajasthani) to commemorate events. The Dedh Kamgra pol has the canon ball marks still. We didn’t realize that the other gateways had names as we went through them, sadly.
At one end of the fort, at the edge of the hill, is the Nagnecha Mataji (Chamunda devi) temple as she was Rao Jodha’s favored and the royal family’s patron goddess. White and striking, even seen from the village, its got several flags waving for attention and its immediate courtyard provides a great view of Jodhpur from the top. We headed back to the gate we entered from, that I believe to be Jai pol (close to the old city, less used and farther from the ticket stand). On the way we stopped for snacks at the cafe: samosas, coffee/tea and doughnut (not for me!).
We wound around to get to the other recommended tourist spot: Jaswant Thada, but it turns out that closes around 5 pm and we were well past that. So instead we stuck around the Malani Igneous Suite site that has interesting rock formation, one can use as steps to get to the statue of a rajput on the horse. I saw at least one life bird: black-winged stilt (nbd!) in a nearby creek. Romi pointed out a book on the swifts around the fort, in the rather meagre gift shop. I don’t think we have had time to ever talk about my interest, he is the youngest and even so he knew.
Then we headed back to our hotel, tried to get some chicken at another restaurant and failed, so returned to our own hotel to a sumptous dinner of more paranthas, paneer chilli pepper and some other vegetable delights! Also our waiter brought us Kingfisher beer (and noted that down as BIG pepsi 😉 we are still not a nation that takes alcohol drinking favorably or even normally in most parts). It could also have something to do with needing a liquor license…
Next day our plan was to see the Jodhpur market, the clock tower and some baolis (bathing wells, with staircase like structure also called stepwell). We did see chand baoli, but perhaps the chand baoli was not for the nobility and while we found it after asking a few localites, it looked more like a drain than anything historic. The walk to the market was about 20 min, interrupted by a prolonged session of buying shoes (jutis). Prolonged not by me, as I sat wearing my mask in some discomfort, but, my, the males of our family! I bought a pair for husband, after a size suggestion by the owner of the shop (built in the 1960s, I believe) in 5 min. They fit great! More than I can say about Samrat’s who took no less than what felt like 5 hrs. I gave him a hard time for it, poor thing.
On the way to the clock tower I saw one of those tiny speciality shops thats mends things, only found in old parts of cities now, quietly disappearing as we take on the ill-begotten western culture of use and throw. Leading to one of my best shots of Jodhpur. So much so, that when I saw the client of that shop in front of the tower, I quickly took another shot of my model. Spent some time, with help from an unknown friendly lady in getting attention and haggling for a blanket. I had made up my mind not to freeze to death on the way back because I was already battling a severe case of sore throat. Several cups of their honey ginger tea, could abate but not cure the symptoms!
We had a fantabulous lunch at a luxury hotel’s restaurant just next to the clock tower, if you walk out of the courtyard that encloses it: Pal Haveli. Highly recommend their vegetarian (hariali) kabab. They also have a beautiful speciality gift store selling intricately painted rajasthani miniature paintings, by award winning artistes from Rajasthan. We bought a couple of them and I am still entranced at the detailed work.
Took a cramped autorickshaw back to the hotel as my cousins are not as used to walking in the heat as I am (yeah, the little ones also don’t do their dishes, go figure!). But bonding is best in autos with multidimensional layering of people with their toes and knees touching.
Got the correctly priced ride back to the bus station and boarded our similar bus back to Delhi. Nothing special.. Came back feeling like conquerors, one and all. I kid you not! Jodhpur: we will always have that my beloved cousins. That’s one for history.