Jodhpur - The Blue City of Rajputana

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The cold was biting and the wind blew mercilessly. The auto rickshaw was speeding towards the old city of Jodhpur. I put the backpack on my lap and bent my head down to evade the chilly wind that was making me shiver violently. The last time I had shivered similarly was when I had underestimated the temperature in Zurich one night and dared stroll near River Limmat with only one light jacket on.

But this time, more than myself, I was worried about two senior citizens who were in the same auto with me, bearing the same gush of cold wind. It is one thing to travel solo or with able-bodied friends and fellow travelers.  It’s a completely different game if you are traveling with parents who are not as hale and hearty as they were in those good old days.

Day 1, January 22 2014, Wednesday:  Our bus from Ahmedabad had arrived at Jodhpur earlier than expected at 5 a.m. on a cold and dark winter morning. The auto that we had hired dropped us unceremoniously in front of a dark lane in the old city. In the little light of a nearby street lamp, I finally spotted an arrow pointing inside the alley, beside the words 'Castle View Homestay'. Thankfully mothers don't use swear words, but she kept cursing all the way till we reached the homestay through the narrow, dirty and stinky approach. The door was shut - that resulted in some more cursing! But the cold was slowly subduing her. I knocked and knocked to no avail. Thankfully there was a couch and a rocking chair in the small verandah and with no options left, we settled into those, waiting for sunrise.

From where we were sitting cringed up in the cold, I could see a vast void in front of me covered in dense fog. For some reason I kept feeling that there was something looming right behind the fog. I kept up my occasional knock-knock on the door, that echoed through the silent lanes. As the sun started to rise, the fog started to clear and so did my doubts. From behind the fog, emerged the Mehrangarh Fort – tall, proud, majestic and formidable! It was tough to believe that the fog had hidden such a huge structure which was on a hill right in front of our homestay.

At 7 a.m. Amit opened the haveli door. Finally!!! I thought… Amit owns this 500 years old haveli turned into a homestay. I was touched by his hospitality when he let us stay in a guest room till our check-in time, for which we were not charged. He introduced me to his cousin and manager Puneet, as he was going out of town for few days. At 11 a.m., Puneet checked us into our room. The room was cozy, with Rajasthani décor, wooden haveli style windows facing the fort and a short wooden door, so short that even someone like me with a mere height of 5.3 feet, hit my head numerous times while entering and exiting the room during my 2 days stay. 

Mehrangarh was not a part of our day’s plan as I had invited two friends settled in Jodhpur for lunch, and also because, Puneet had told us one needs almost an entire day to explore the fort. So after a roof-top lunch, we bargained an auto for Rs. 150 for a roundtrip to Umaid Bhavan Palace – the residence of the current Maharaja of Jodhpur.

Though Maharaja Gaj Singh is revered and referred as “Maharaja”, he does not have any royal powers or privileges, as the Govt of India had abolished the payment of privy purse to the former rulers as per the 26th Constitutional Amendment of 1971. Half of his palace has been converted into a Taj Hotel and only guests are allowed into that part. Entry to the part where the royal family stays is also restricted (Of Course!), leaving only the museum on the ground floor accessible to the public. 

The museum doesn't have anything much of interest unless you are interested to gawp at the expensive gifts that the Maharaja has received from various visiting dignitaries over the years. Instead I found something more gawpable – A picture of Yuvraj Shivraj Singh of Jodhpur. Man! Now that’s what a prince looks like… Unfortunately, he had recently got married. Not really interested in a married man, I turned my attention to Maharaja’s vintage car collection. The automobile gallery bang opposite the palace had some 10-12 exotic cars ranging from Morris Minor to Overland  to Pontiac to Buick convertible to Cadillac to Rolls Royce Phantom I and II – a collection worth dying for (Now don't take that too literally!) and collectively better than the handsome married Yuvraj.

On our way back, we picked up Dal Bati Churma and Ghewar. I have had Rajasthani cuisine many a times in the past, but for my parents it was a new experience and by the look of their face when they were gobbling down the dal bati, I could very well assume that they liked it. 

I wanted to go for zip lining at Mehrangarh fort, but when I looked at the quizzical look on my mom's face while she asked "Why you want to pay money for putting your own life at risk??", I gave up! Parents... You can never explain adrenaline rush to them. That evening I longingly looked at one of the 6 zip lines that was visible from the homestay, as adventure junkies whooshed pass the line. 

I have zip lined across valleys and rivers, but the thought of doing it over an ancient fortified battlement was exciting. I don't know if it had anything to do with my longing but the girl who was zip lining got stuck just then and had to be rescued. Ouch!

As twilight turned into velvet darkness of the night, the fort was bathed in luminous lights. It felt great to sit at the rooftop restaurant with a beer (Umm... Parents were downstairs...) and admire the amazing view. Words are just not enough to describe the feel. 

Day 2, January 23 2014, Wednesday: It was our day to explore the Mehrangarh Fort. 'Mehr' in Rajasthani means the Sun. Mehrangarh means the 'Citadel of the Sun'. So stupendous and massive it is, that Rudyard Kipling had written these lines in its honor -
"The work of angels, fairies and giants… built by Titans and colored by the morning sun… he who walks through it loses sense of being among buildings. It is as though he walked through mountain gorges."
The fort built by Rao Jodha in 1459, can be approached through a steep and winding road. We bargained an auto for Rs. 200 roundtrip, including the waiting charge. The auto dropped us at the first gate - the Jaipol or the Victory gate.

Right after Jaipol is the ticket office from where along with 3 tickets, I picked up an audio tour gadget and a headphone. The audio tour starts at the highest level for which one has to take the elevator. It's easy to miss the lift, which is right after the ticket counter. First we walked past it and reached the next gate - the Dodh Kangra Pol, which had cannon ball marks from the battle between Jodhpur and Jaipur Maharajas in the year 1808. One interesting fact about Mehrangarh fort is that it was never ever taken in a siege. 

We backtracked our steps till the elevator, which took us to the ramparts. The ramparts have many antique cannons that were once used to protect the fort. It also offered an amazing view of the blue city of Jodhpur. The blue houses have a history. That part of old city is called Brahmpuri. It was a tradition for Brahmins to paint their houses blue to set themselves apart from the rest of the population. Over the years, others followed suit, making the entire old city look blue.

Right next to the ramparts is the Daulat Khana Chowk, which is surrounded by various museum galleries. One of the galleries displays royal elephant howdahs and palanquins. One houses the famous Mahadol palanquin. Right adjacent to that is the Sileh Khana (Weapon gallery), which houses the sword of Akbar and the Khaanda of Rao Jodha, along with other armory.

Clockwise from top left : Mahadol, Akbar's sword (one with disc shaped hilt), Daulat Khana Chowk, Cradle gallery.
Upstairs is a gallery of miniature paintings, the Sheesh Mahal embellished with numerous mirrors and the gorgeous Phool Mahal, which has a beautifully gilded ceiling and ornamented interiors. This was where the courtesans danced to entertain the Maharaja and his guests - in short, a pleasure chamber. 

Next we found ourselves staring into Takhat Vilas, the bedchamber of Takhat Singh, who apparently was a womanizer and had 30 wives and numerous concubines... Ahem! Well since he married so many women, he had to obviously find them place to stay. So right next-door is the Jhanki Mahal with latticed windows, for the Maharanis to peep through the Jali screens and watch the courtyard proceedings  from within their private chambers. And right next to that is the Consequence Mahal... Oops sorry! I mean the Cradle gallery, with elaborately crafted cradles for the new born princes and princesses.

The last of the period rooms is the Moti Mahal, pearl-colored and decorated with stained glass windows. This was the main durbar hall, where the Maharaja held his audiences. The courtyard that the room overlooks is called the Moti Mahal Chowk, which has the coronation seat where the Rathod rulers were anointed to rule.

The exquisite Period Rooms (clockwise from top left): Sheesh Mahal, Phool Mahal, Takhat Vilas, Moti Mahal 
Adjacent to Moti Mahal chowk is the Rang Mahal, where the king played holi with his wives and the Zenana Deodi, the sanctum of the palace where the royal ladies would spend their days, guarded by eunuchs. 

I had to handover the audio guide after this point. It has taken us two hours to descend through the levels of the fort, but we were not done yet. Or rather my mother, because right after this point is a small bazaar operated by locals and a shop run by Mehrangarh trust. While mom went shopping, I spotted a Rajput newly wed couple exit the adjacent Chamunda Devi temple. It is the same temple where in 2008, over 200 people were killed in a stampede caused by a bomb scare during Navratri. From here we passed through the Suraj Pol and walked downhill on an elephant ramp. 

Clockwise from top left : Moti Mahal chowk, Loha Pol, Elephant ramp, Fatehpol
We decided to take a break there and had lunch at Cafe Mehran. The Laal Maas that we ordered was a mellowed down version of the super spicy Rajasthani dish - to suit the westerners' palate. It was nonetheless, very delicious.

As we walked towards the exit, we passed by the haunting sati handprints and the Loha Pol, the original entrance with iron spikes on it. Further downhill, you will pass through the Fatehpol, another Victory Gate. The Rathod Maharajas probably had a tendency to build gates every time they won a battle. There are 8 gates in total, and I don't remember the name of the rest or if I have passed through every one of them. 

Clockwise from top left : The bazaar, Musicians playing folk music, Rajput bride and groom,
Sati handprints, Rao Jodhaji's Falsa - the original outer limit of the fort
As we walked out, I craned my neck to look up at the gigantic bastions. It indeed felt like the work of giants, or as if I was walking through canyons.

Jharokhas and tall bastions of Mehrangarh Fort
Our next stop was Jaswant Thada - the royal cenotaphs built in marble, 1 km downhill from the fort and next to a small lake.

Jaswant Thada

Back at our homestay, I spent the evening again at the rooftop gazing at the dazzling fort, joined this time by Puneet who told me stories and legends of Jodhpur and its Maharajas and also about places he has traveled to and about his days in Moscow. We were heading to Udaipur the next day but I told him that I will miss Jodhpur, particularly this rooftop joint and the amazing view of Mehrangarh fort from there.

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  1. Lovey!! Read your blog post after a long time today..and loved it! From your detailed description about each and every thing to the beautiful photographs..loved everything. :)
    So which is your next destination you had told me? ;)

    1. Thanks Sudip :) I don't know what's my next destination... I prefer spontaneity :)

  2. Virtual tour with a feel.Great work from a passionate traveller who knows the art of transforming same through writing...

    1. Thank you Sam :) Do follow the blog if you like my writing.