FOOTSTEPS IN…RAJASTHAN – THE BLUE CITY OF JODHPUR

Driving through twisty, windy, downhill roads nursing a hangover from the awesome reception festivities the night before was probably not the best way to start our jaunt through the rest of Rajasthan, but we made it nonetheless from Udaipur to Jodhpur, via a stop over at the marble Jain temple in Ranakpur, said to be the most spectacular Jain temple in India.

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Must have been wedding season because we arrived at The Gateway in Jodhpur smack in time for yet another reception party! Oh well, having come from a fairytale wedding we couldn’t complain! The Gateway though fell short of our expectations – we had been told it is a Taj property but having come from the grandeur of The Leela, we were grossly disappointed. The hotel is clean and well kitted out but lacks the luxury you would associate with a Taj property. Luckily we had two nights there and a very hectic day of touring ahead, so we didn’t have to spend much time in the hotel itself.

Touring Jodhpur was made most memorable thanks to our guide Mr. Singh, who knew the intricacies of Jodhpur. We started off at the milky white building of Jaswant Thada, which is a memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh III with three other cenotaphs for his family. It is rumoured that this cenotaph is made of the same marble as that of the Taj Mahal. The view of the Meherangarh Fort mushrooming its way out of a cliff is spectacular. There is an air of peace at Jaswant Thada, that made the place somewhat memorable.

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Our next stop was the majestic Meherangarh Fort, which is still run by the Maharaja of Jodhpur, set on a sprawling hill and towering over Jodhpur. The fort follows the lines of the hill and is flanked by seven large gates. I remember the names Jayapol and Fatehpol as standing out, with Fatehpol still showing has cannon ball marks from a bygone era, reminding you of this forts majestic past. A rather sad gate is Lohapol, which still has the tiny handprints of Maharaja Man Singh’s wives that had to commit sati, a practice that I am so glad has now been eradicated. It still elicits a shudder down your spine though.

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The inside of the fort is networked with museums and palaces, with beautiful names such as Moti Mahal and Phool Mahal, and the latticed windows from which women once viewed the world in hiding are prevalent everywhere. The museums house some relics of Indian royalty past, like the howdahs that were placed on the elephants and camel bone carpet weights.

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From the top of the fort, you can catch your first glimpse of the old blue city, which was painted blue to keep it cool.

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One of the highlights at Meherangarh Fort is the zip lining adventure called The Flying Fox, which I think is so undersold. It is based pretty far away from the fort, however the lines start off at the edge of the blue city and the first line zips across the blue houses, reinforcing the reality of being in Jodhpur. It is best to zipline during the morning as the afternoon heat can get unbearable and there is quite a lot of trekking involved to get from one platform to another. Having said that, the treks are totally worth it as the lines zip across the lakes and gardens of the fort and the adrenaline rush of being high above the fort and the panoramic views along the fort and the blue city make for an incredible adventure.

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We then drive through the city to Umaid Bhavan Palace, a beautiful brown sandstone building which was once Maharaja Umaid Singh’s residence, and the current home of Umaid Singh’s successor. Part of the palace has been converted into a beautiful five star hotel. The gardens are perhaps the best bit to visit in this palace, and the Maharaja’s collection of vintage cars is also worth seeing.

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Our next stop is at the restaurant “On the Rocks”, where we enjoy a sumptuous Rajasthani lunch with Mr. Singh. He introduces us to his favourite Rajasthani dish, which is laal maas, an incredibly rich mutton curry scooped up with hot naan bread and rice. I indulge in Rajasthani Biriyani which is amongst the best that I have ever eaten. From the restaurant, we are picked up by an open air jeep to head out into the heart of Jodhpur, through villages to see how some of the traditional Rajasthanis live.

Our first stop is at a potters house, where we see how the traditional clay pots that are used to store water and cook in are made. The potter makes articles out of masses of clay over his wheel and make it look so easy that I want to try my hand at it too, however I fail miserably. We move on to a weavers house, and watch as a family skilfully makes a woven carpet. We have seen many such carpets in our journey across Rajasthan so far and it is incredible to see them being made.

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Our final stop is to see a Rajasthani Opium Ceremony, conducted by an elderly man in their home. The Gods are invoked and a small piece of opium is thrown into boiling water and smoked in a pipe like contraption and visitors to the homestead can indulge if they so wish. I politely declined, given that the water used was not mineral and the last thing I needed was a tummy bug!

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Mr. Singh has promised to take us into the heart of the Blue City and it is almost dusk as we approach the Clock Tower and Sardar Market, which are the entry points into this whimsical place. We stop for the best cup of chai I have ever tasted, equivalent to that had in Mumbai with my parents. The irony is the chai is made on a coal fired jiko, in a pot that looks like it has never been washed, made up in a shack that I would never in a million years venture in to, however the best food and drink are usually from such places and the chai had here is no exception.

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We pass the Clock Tower and go into the heart of the bazaar, the alleyways awash with the bright colour of fabric and spices, the welcome cries of the vendors beckoning you to come and buy something for a couple of rupees. It is the end of a long day for most of these traders and they want to close their business with a good sale. Sadly the only thing M and I want are magnets, which we do manage to get.

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Heading out of the bazaar and into the old city is every bit as charming as I imagine it to be, its blue alleyways welcoming us enticingly to explore it further. I only wish that we had more time to walk in this beautiful old city and soak in its culture some more, but our one day in Jodhpur has captured my heart and imagination in a way that no other city on our tour of Rajasthan ever would. I wish I had taken Mr. Singh’s contact numbers because he made me fall in love with his beloved Jodhpur, for which I will be ever grateful.

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