Marwar, Blue City, Sun City, Gateway to the Thar, call it by any of its several monikers. Jodhpur with its imposing hill fort, beautiful museums with masterpieces, ancient havelis, beaming bazaars and delectable cuisine will leave you bedazzled. The second-largest city in Rajasthan, which was mapped on the old Silk Route, has now found international favour as, ‘The place where Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas tied the knot’.
After all the festivities of Diwali had ended, we decided to visit Jodhpur minus the kids who were away. A short flight from Mumbai saw us arrive at Jodhpur in the evening. After a warm welcome, with a garland of marigolds, tilak and some refreshing mango panna, at the hotel, we decided to freshen up and head to explore the city. Since it was close to sunset, we were advised to head to the Ghantaghar or Clocktower and explore the markets as the fort and museums would be closed.
A prominent landmark of Jodhpur, the Clocktower is the nucleus of the vibrant Sardar Market. The local guides describe the Ghantaghar as the ‘Big Ben of Rajasthan’ which was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh about 200 years ago. As we entered the gateway to the Sardar Bazar the place was buzzing with locals, motorcyclists were zipping by, and shopkeepers were howling to attract shoppers. As we tried to get our bearings, we were greeted by the sighting of the majestic Mehrangarh fort which we would be exploring the next day. As darkness prevailed, the Clocktower was lit up in vibrant colours.
After exploring some of the shops close by, which sell beautiful indigo print merchandise, handicrafts we headed to a rooftop restaurant which provided a panoramic, stunning view of the fort. The fort is lit up between 7-9 pm in the evening when it’s best to have a candlelight dinner, on any of the several rooftop restaurants, as you appreciate the beauty and elegance of Mehrangarh.
The next morning, I decided to explore the royal cenotaphs at Mandore solo. Before Jodhpur, Mandore was the capital of Marwar. The ‘Chatris’ or cenotaphs of the former rulers of Jodhpur are situated in the exquisitely landscaped Mandore Gardens. These immediately reminded me of the cenotaphs of Champaner and Bhuj in Gujarat, all of which have a Hindu-Islamic fusion architectural style.
After a quick lunch, we met our guide Sandeep Goyal who was to give us a guided tour of the city’s attractions. Jaswant Thada, a royal cenotaph, is often described as the ‘Taj Mahal of Marwar’ as it was constructed of white marble that was outsourced from Makrana. As we entered the complex, a local musician strung his Ravanahatta, a handmade bow-string instrument, to the tune of the popular Ghoomar song from Padmavat. The cenotaph of Maharaja Jaswant Singh has intricate jali or latticework and is a fusion of Hindu, Persian, Muslim and Colonial architectural styles, explained Goyal. Frequently women who desire a son come to Jaswant Thada and make a vow.
As we exited the cenotaph and drove towards the fort en route we halted at the statue of Rao Jodha atop a horse with his hand pointing towards the fort. This was a perfect opportunity to get an impressive picture. Built on Bhaurcheeria hill (mountain of birds) 410 feet above the city, the majestic Mehrangarh Fort is the pride of Jodhpur. As we neared it, we could see a gathering of eagles, as tiny specks in the sky, encircling the fort. A ritual that is religiously followed for centuries by the royal family is to feed the eagles every evening from 3-4 pm. A widely held belief is that for as long as the eagles will be seen on Mehrangarh, the royal family will continue to flourish and prosper.
Another legend is that; at the time of its construction; the royal family was advised to bury a human being alive to ensure that the fort site remained auspicious. A commoner, Raja Ram Meghwal, volunteered to do the needful and you can even see a plaque dedicated to him in the fort. It is not just the stories that are woven around the fort but the museum and its attractions, as well as the palaces inside it which will draw you to Mehrangarh.
Made of sandstone that reflects the sunlight, the fort radiates a distinct aura at different times of the day which justify it being called Mehrangarh or the ‘Citadel of Sun God’. Seven gates lead up to the fort. The Lohapol had palm prints of the royal queens who had committed ‘sati’.
Inside the fort were the numerous palaces, expansive courtyards and galleries with priceless masterpieces. The Sheesh Mahal or Palace of Mirrors was the private bedroom of the royals. The Moti Mahal or Palace of Pearls was where the Maharaja sat on his throne and carried out his official proceedings. There were five secret niches from where the queens could hear the goings-on and give advice if needed. The Phool Mahal or ‘Palace of Flowers’, with intricately carved gold ceiling, took a decade to make and is still unfinished as the master craftsman died unexpectedly. It was here that the royals watched the sensuous dancing girls for pleasure. The Takhat Vilas/ Chamber had what looked like disco balls hanging from the ceilings and painted floors. The Janki Mahal was from where the royal women got a sneak peek to the goings-on and houses a collection of cradles.
One of the galleries housed exquisite palanquins, while another had a collection of Elephants’ Howdas and the Daulat Khana or House of Treasures had a treasure trove of paintings, textiles, artefacts, arms, manuscripts, headgears and so on. Indeed the Mehrangarh fort bears testimony to the glorious history of Marwar kings and the opulence of a bygone era.
The next day was set aside to see the Umaid Bhavan followed by a Blue City walk. Our knowledgeable guide Narpat Singh explained that Umaid Bhavan Palace is where the royal family still resides and a portion of it is a Taj property. You can either stay or enjoy a meal at the hotel. A part of the place is converted into a museum and is open to visitors. We got a great view of the palace from the enclosure which has a collection of the royal family’s vintage cars.
It was now time for the Blue City tour which began from the Mehrangarh fort from where we got a bird’s eye view of the blue city. But why were the houses painted blue? Our guide explained that several reasons have been proposed from the blue colour helping to cool down the homes, to it repelling mosquitoes, to it being a symbol of Brahmans! Well, whatever may be the reason the old city with its winding lanes, historical havelis, numerous chowks where people chit chat or partake in events. Shops where one can watch a goldsmith carving a piece of ornament, or a craftsman making decorative torans had charmed its way into our hearts. It is the unexpected that will perplex you: as a statue of the ‘God of Sex’brazenly standing on the street. A silver handprint of a woman who committed ‘sati’ proudly imprinted at the entrance of a home. Pigeon holes being an important inclusion while making havelis as they were believed to absorb negative vibes and thus protect the inmates!
Our guide knew one of the locals, and we could go to the rooftop of their haveli. From the rooftop, we got an unobstructed view of the blue city with the contrasting golden-hued Mehrangarh fort in the distance. Our tour ended near a stepwell called Toor Ji Ka Jhalra which is not included in most local itineraries but is worth a look. It reminded me of the step-wells I had seen in Gujarat like Rani ki Vav and Adalaj ki Vav. Youngsters, including a couple in bridal finery, were posing to get Instagram and Facebook worthy pics that would fetch them numerous likes.
If you like to shop, then Jodhpur is the place to be. Here are my suggestions of things to pick: indigo block print outfits, bandhani and leheriya textiles, mojaris, wooden handicrafts, lac bangles and chunky silver jewellery. For foodies do have mirchi bada which is chilli coated with potato stuffing and then deep-fried. The kachoris in sweet and savoury versions with mawa and pyaz respectively are another option. A famous omelette shop near Ghantaghar, as well as Sri Mishrilal’s Makhaniya lassi with dollops of fresh butter, is also worthy of savouring. The Laal Mass is another favourite.
Jodhpur is not a very big city, so it is possible to explore it in two days. If you have an extra day, then you can go on a desert camel safari and visit the Bishnoi villages to get a feel of the rustic lifestyle. Jodhpur with its glorious history; woven in legends and stories, stunning architecture and masterpieces, the old blue city, colourful markets and delicious cuisine; will captivate you and leave a lasting impression on you.
|GETTING THERE- |
Nearest Airport: Jodhpur has a small airport with connectivity to Mumbai, Delhi and other cities. The alternatives are Ajmer or Udaipur.
Distances: Jodhpur to Mandore 8 km.
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Taj Hari Mahal. You can do a net search for an array of staying options depending on comfort and budget.
Travel Trip: Do have dinner at one of the rooftop restaurants with a view of the fort. ‘The Blue City Walk’ with a guide is recommended as you may not be able to access the rooftops of the homes of the locals on your own. Rajasthan Routes Trails Pvt. Ltd organised the walk for us.