Breathes history in every stone and marble edifice
Legend has it that he inherited a hermit’s curse that damned Jodhpur with scarcity of water. Taking no chances, Jodha had a man, Rajiya Bambi, buried alive to ensure that the site proved auspicious. As it turned out, technology silenced the curse forever with the Indira Gandhi canal, which feeds the once parched city with a continuous supply of water.
Splendour in the sand
We met Maharaja Gaj Singh, popularly known as Bapji (father), on his home turf, the Umaid Bhawan palace. The three grains of millet and the kite emblazoned on the Rathore coat of arms we saw as we entered the imposing gates represented the very essence of Marwar: the earth from which it draws its sustenance and the acute vision of the far flying kite.
The palace, designed by Henry Vaughan Lanchester, in the Art Deco style, was built during the 1930s Depression to provide employment. We trod Persian carpets past corridors of the most splendid Chittar sandstone hallways, and were ushered in, as the staff withdrew with several "hukums" ("Sir").
Bapji talked about his city with passion. If his forefathers
By Air: Indian Airlines and Jet Airways both link Jodhpur with Mumbai, Jaipur, Udaipur and Delhi.
By Train: Jodhpur is well connected with other cities by rail, and by road on NH14.
There is a wide variety available. At the top end is the Welcomegroup
Umaid Bhawan Palace: A palace room starts at Rs 6,200 plus 20% tax. Tel:0291-33316.
Ajit Bhawan: At Circuit House Road, starts at Rs 2,400 plus tax. Tel: 37410.
Hotel Ghoomar: High Court Road, run by RTDC, has deluxe rooms for Rs 900. Tel: 44010.
Thakur Chandrashekhar Singh and his wife, Bhavna, offer hospitality at Indrashan, 593, High Court Colony. Tel: 440665. They have five rooms they let at Rs 450.
Chandrasekhar’s Rajputana Discovery, organises homestay tours and safaris in heritage hotels in Rajasthan, starting from Rs 33,800 for 16 days (inclusive of meals, transport and accommodation).
Food and Drink
Umaid Bhawan Palace’s Marwar Dining Hall and a la carte restaurant, Risala, offer varied fare, including Marwari, Continental and Chinese. Ajit Bhawan’s On the Rocks specialises in Marwari thali.
In the city, there are Reggie’s restaurant, High Court Colony, and Kallinga on Station Road.
Rawat Mishthan Bhandar, also on Station Road, and Poker Sweet House on Nai Sarak are among Jodhpur’s well known mithai makers. Mohanji Milthalwala in the walled city makes his sweets in pure desi ghee, while Chaturbhuj Aggarwal in Pungal Para is famous for his milk sweets. Mishrillal in Sardar Market is famous for his makhaniya (creamy) lassis.
Kapra Bazaar in the walled city and around Sojati Gate for tie and dye textiles; Sarafa Bazaar for silver jewellery; Mochi Bazaar for leather jootis (traditional shoes) and the Rajasthan Emporium for sundry souvenirs.
Places to Visit
In Jodhpur: the Meherangarh fort, Jaswant Thada, Umaid Bhawan Palace, the walled city, Maha Mandir and Raj Ranchodji ka Mandir, and the royal cenotaphs.
Outskirts: Mandore Rani Sar, Balsamand Lake Palace and Gardens and Sardar Samand Palace.
Rohet Garh, 40 krn south of Jodhpur is another lovely heritage hotel. They also organise safaris into neighbouring villages and Bishnoi lands. Contact Thakur Manvendra or Siddharth Singh. Tel.: 0293668231.
For more information try the Tourist Information Office on high court road Tel: 245083.
Ruled with cannons and courage, the practical maharaja does it with public relations and foresight. He responded to the loss of the privy purse by turning part of Umaid Bhawan, with its 347 rooms spread across more than ten hectares and some 15 gardens, into a hotel, in 1978. Today, Umaid Bhawan is a major tourist draw, functioning as museum, hotel and royal residence.
"Jodhpur," says Bapji, "is not a planned city. The development has been haphazard. But it is turning into a commercial hub, largely because of the handicraft business, which is a Rs 5-bdlion industry."
In fact, more than 50 foreigners reportedly reside in jodhpur, because they export handicrafts to their countries. "Jodhpur has three container ports and direct customs clearance,"
Bapji added. The maharaja has obtained an Asia Development Bank loan that will help to improve the city’s roads and drainage. "We are planning new townships, malls and entertainment to cater to all kinds of tourists."
The Brahmins painted their homes in blue because the colour blue is a good reflector of sunlight
The jewel in the crown
Meherangarh Fort, or the Citadel of the Sun, was our first tourist stop, and, as we stood on its ramparts, it was difficult to tell where natural rock face turned into man-made battlement. At dusk, it seemed to be bathed in a sublime beauty, causing Rudyard Kipling to declare it long ago, "a work of angels and giants ... built by Titans and coloured by the morning sun".
Looking over the city, the fort spans a 125-m high hill with walls six metres thick, and stands resplendent in pink stone, overlooking Brahmpuri, the oldest settlement in the city. The Brahmins who inhabited this area painted their homes in blue, supposedly to distinguish them from the others, but, more pragmatically, because the colour blue is a good reflector of sunlight. Jaswant Thada, to the left of the fort, stands serene in white. These cenotaphs of maharajas and rawals reminded us that even the mighty are made of clay.
Although the approach to the fort is a little dilapidated, once you enter it, you find one of the best preserved forts in the country, the private property of the maharaja. The fort has seven gateways, or pols Jayapol (Victory Gateway) was built by Maharaja Man Singh in 1806, following his victory over Jaipur and Bikaner. Fatehpol (Victory Gateway), was built by Ajit Singh, around 1707, to commemorate the defeat of the Mughuls. At Lohapol (Iron Gateway), which opens onto the palaces and residential sections, we saw 15 hand prints, the self-immolation marks of Man Singhs widows, covered with freshly coated red powder. At Singhar Chowk, a thakur sat in traditional garb, sword, hookah, liquid opium and all, the very cameo of a Rajput warrior. It is here that the new ruler is anointed with blood in a time honoured ritual.
Inside the fort, there are palaces built around a courtyard, which house the treasures of Rajputana, from palanquins and paintings, howdahs and weapons to costumes and jewels. We had opted to take the lift (ten rupees per person, one way) instead of walking the steep cobblestone incline.
At the southern end of the fort, you will see the old canons looking out from the ramparts to the sheer drop of the old city below. The crocodile cannon, captured from the Marathas, is one of the treasures of Meherangarh. The views from here are some of the best of jodhpur city. The Chamunda Devi temple, one of seven in the fort and dedicated to Durga, Jodha’s adopted goddess, is close by.
The affable Dr Mahendra Singh, director of culture of the Meherangarh fort, told us over tea at his house, "This is a living fort with a living history. We organise traditional festivals like Gangaur, Diwali, Holi and Navratri inside the fort." The surrounding area is earmarked for the Rao Jodha Park, where traditional plants will be grown, and which will become a tourist destination in itself, says Singh.
Bustle in the city
We chose to walk down the winding road leading to the old city five kilometres below, passing men huddled together at hatais (street squares), smoking beedis, or grouped in front of tea stalls, where a black and white TV displayed the latest cricket scores. We walked the narrow walled city, discovering Ronye ka Naura, the Hall of Tears, where citizens came to mourn the passing away of their kings and queens. The Ram Rasoda, a guide told us, provides lunch daily to whoever knocks at the door. Also to be seen Glass bangles and silver jewellery compete for customers vvith roadside dentists,potters and lahariya salwar suits propped up like flags were piaos (water fountains) for thirsty passers by, usually run by charities or families.
At the centre of the city, as it were, is the Sardar market square, by the Clock Tower. It bursts with colour, with people bustling and vegetables, glass bangles, silver j ewellery competing for customers with roadside dentists, potters and lahariya (Raj asthani print) salwar suits propped up like flags. At Rawat Mishthan Bhawan, we sampled typical, jodhpuri food: garma garam dal ki kachauri and mawa kachauris (piping hot sweet and savoury pastries). Nearby, Sojati Pol was once the main entrance to the walled city. In earlier days, all six city gates would be closed at dusk, after which no one could enter or leave the city.
At one of the chaukiyans, or squares, we witnessed the Kalbeliya dance. The women moved with sinuous grace, which is not surprising, as the Kalbeliyas are a tribe of snake trappers and charmers.
Thankfully, Marwar, Land of Death, no longer lives up to its forbidding name. The hot breath of the loo, huge clouds of dust that sweep in from the parched lands of the Thar, may polish the sandstone and sting your eyes, but Jodhpur beckons with the devil-may-care charm of its rakish rulers - who took to polo, pigsticking, and hunting when there were no wars to fight -and the cooling colours of its blue tinted dwellings that stand out invitingly against the desertscape.