With its rolling sand dunes and colorful splendor, Rajasthan has always fascinated and attracted me to come explore its hidden depths. I have visited the desert state frequently in the past few years. But the journey that jumps out from my numerous travels is my visit to the quiet and unhurriedly graceful Jodhpur.
Jodhpur became the capital of the Rathore clan about five hundred years ago after they shifted base from Kannauj, in modern day Uttar Pradesh. The Rathores were fierce fighters, as well as protectors of their land. This formed an inimitable bond between the Maharajas and their subjects. It continues even now, with Gaj Singh no longer being a ‘Maharaja’, but still looked upon as one by his people.
After hearing so many tales about its wonderful history and warm hospitality, I decided that Jodhpur would be the place to go. I planned my trip to take place around January, since the summer months are too unbearable in the desert city.
Although frequent flights provided by Jet Airways get you to Jodhpur in no time, I decided to board the Suryanagari Express, since mine was a budget trip. Arriving at Jodhpur fresh and early, I trudged along to Ajit Bhavan Resort, one of the many charming hotels in Jodhpur.
The classy elegance of the hotel pleased me immensely, as did the courteous and extremely well-mannered staff. Deciding to work my way outwards, I started toward the very pivot of the city- The Mehrangarh Fort.
Nothing dominates the Jodhpur skies like the Mehrangarh Fort, rising from the sheer rock walls of the hill, till it merges with the ramparts. I took the curved path leading up to the entrance, from where a brisk 20 minute walk brought me to the door of the country’s best maintained fort. I grabbed myself an audio guide and set out to explore the wonders of this majestic Fort. I strolled through chambers with beautiful paintings, the throne room, the coronation courtyard and the museums for weaponry, armour, sedan cars, cradles, and even a war tent captured from the Mughal army.
The ease with which I found my way around helped greatly in making the visit more pleasant. The audio guide explained the various sites of the fort, ultimately leading me to the ramparts, offering a breathtaking view of the city with the royal palace, Umaid Bhavan, looming in the distance. It was nearly evening when I exited the Fort and made my way back to the main city.
I finally listened to my gurgling stomach and let my nose follow the intoxicating aromas of the sweet shops at Sojati Gate district. I was directed towards Mishrilal Misthan Bhandar, which is hailed as the best restaurant in Jodhpur. At the Bhandar, I indulged in Jodhpur’s specialty- the kachori. Being adventurous, I tried out both the savoury kind, which was spicy and the mewa variety, which dipped in sugar syrup, and tasted sweet as hell.
Yet another treat that I could not resist were the selection of delectable ladoos which melted in my mouth. The main problem, of course, was the mandatory presence of crowds, cows and flies; but it was all worthwhile.
The next day, I took myself off to the other main attraction- the modern royal residence of the Rathore clan- Umaid Bhavan. It is considered as India’s largest art deco building, but that was not the reason for my eagerness to visit it. It is said that Umaid Bhavan was built as part of a famine relief project, taking fifteen years to build. This obscene amount of time was taken only because the structure was built, torn down and then rebuilt, to keep providing the nearby residents a job and money. No wonder they feel such a kinship to the royal family! Its small museum consisted of clocks, memorabilia, formal tableware and models of trains, making for an enjoyable morning.
Seeing all those antiques made me want to lay my hands on some of them. Thus, I set of to explore Jodhpur- the base for antique shopping in India. Along the streets, I found carved doorways, lintels, carved balconies and windows, utensils, old pictures and other old things- some genuinely old, and some, manufactured to look so. However, shops at the base of Chattar Hill offered the most charming buys. I returned with a lapful of paintings, key chains, showpieces and a carved window.
There were many other places to visit around Jodhpur. Jaisalmer and Luni seemed to be the most exciting, but time wasn’t on my side. The next day, I dragged myself to the train station; loathe leaving the lazy paced, charming city behind.
I also couldn’t bear the fact that I didn’t time my visit around the vibrant Marwar festival. It is held annually in October, and showcases the rich tradition of music, dance and costumes of the Marwar region. But I decided to soothe myself by thinking about the wonderful time I had had in Jodhpur. It truly lived up to its name of being the Desert Diva.