Jodhpur the Sun City, Rajasthan

 (sanjay austa austa)

The local God Baba Ramdev. Not the Yoga Guru but the ancient God in Rajasthan

(click on photos to go to gallery)

(I first travelled to Jodhpur in 2008. But never wrote about it. On a recent trip there I decided to write a travelogue finally for a magazine)

If you enter Jodhpur by the popular Mandor Express which arrives in Jodhpur at 9 am , you will understand  why Jodhpur is called the Sun City. The sun is fierce and beats down on you relentlessly until you reach your hotel.  Jodhpur is on the edge of the Thar Desert and for travelers the sultry weather is a minor encumbrance to be taken in the stride for a city so full of exotic delights.

Apart from the sun it’s the formidable Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur that  looks down at you from its  imposing height on the hillock no  matter what part of the city you are in.  Like all Rajasthani cities Jodhpur too is  defined by its fort.  For this reason the fort is usually the first place one heads out to soon after arrival.  Within one hour of  I am climbing the hillside to the fort myself. The awe for this fort increases the closer you get to it. At the gateway you wonder how Rao Jodha built  something so colossal  so high up on a hill in the 15th century . The walls of this fort are almost 36 meters high. I realize I need an ultra wide lens to get the walls in my frame. You need a very good guide too.  For so huge and complex is the fort that you cannot discover its secret passages on your own.

The Sheesh Mahal, the Moti Mahal, the Phool Mahal notwithstanding  the ramparts of the Mehrangarh fort remain the favorite haunt for all visitors. You are  more than  400 meters above the city here and you get a bird’s eye view of the city and beyond. Most tourists like to see and photograph Jodhpur from this height. From here Jodhpur looks ethereal and otherworldly in the blue hues of the houses in the old city below.  Many reasons are advanced for the blue hues of these houses depending whom you ask. One of them is that the blue gives a cool feel to a place constantly scorched by the sun. Another is that it keeps the mosquitoes away and yet another is that the Brahmins colour their houses blue to distinguish it from the whites of the lower castes.

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

A local marriage in Jodphur

However go down to the old city and you will see crowded congested bylanes, open gutters, cow-dung and cows and canopies of electricity wires. No wonder most tourists like to see Jodhpur from the height of the Mehrangarh Fort.  But mixed up in the dung-splattered streets are ancient smells and gastronomical treats that unless you pick your way through these narrow lanes you miss them all.

I descend to the old city. At the bustling clock tower I meet a man who is making a killing because of a sloppy Lonely Planet entry. Ram Kishen who had a small makeshift  dhaba `Garib Hotel’  happened to host a particularly hungry Lonely Planet writer who wrote in rather glowing terms about an  `Omelette Shop’ where he lunched one day.

Ram Kishen quickly christened his shop as `Omelet shop’ and stopped making anything but omelets. Today he boasts of cracking over 1000 eggs a day for curious bag-backers and Lonely Planet clutching foreigner.  The locals however wonder what all the fuss is about because Ram Kishen’s omlettes don’t taste any different than what they cook at home. However seeing his success some dhabas have started calling themselves `Omlette shop’ too.

Not far from the Omlette Shop is the  Shri Mishrilal Hotel where you can wash the fairly regular omelet with the best lassie you have possibly had. Mishrilal did not have to rely on a travel-writers error of judgment for the  popularity of his fares. The shop has been in the business of lassi-making since 1927 and has been famous  because they assiduously follow the old recipe to this day. The curd is hung in white cloth throughout the night before it is churned into lassi. The lassi in your glass is a thick delicious paste and you can bet you just can’t just have one.

A stone’s throw away is the Shahi Samosa shop. Here the owner is as proud of his samosas as about his posing abilities. He says  he has learnt it all since he is routinely flooded by journalists who want to know about his samosas and take his pictures. The samosas are indeed `shahi’  going by their size and stuffing . Tuck into two of them and you have had your meal for the day.

Not far is the Jodhpur Sweet Home  one of the finest makers of sweets in whole of Marwar.  The owner informs us that now you get almost everything they make in other cities but the taste there is not the same. No wonder sweets from this shop found the taste buds of Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea when they came to Jodhpur in 2000. Even terrorists have come here by the jeepfuls once and sampled a wide fare of mawai ka Kachori, paneer jalebi and chandar kala.  “we realized they were terrorists only when the police came to our shop asking about their whereabouts’’, says Anand the owner.

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

Samosa making at the `Shahi Samosa’ Shop

Drive away from the old city and you come across the vainglorious Umaid Singh Palace. It is touted to be built as a `drought relief measure’ by the Maharaja of Jaipur Umaid Singh. The idea was to make a luxurious 347 room luxurious private residence for the Maharaja in order to create employment for the starving people of Jodhpur. Its construction was begun in 1929 and employed 5000 men for 16 years. I wondered if the irony was lost on the Maharaja.  Imagine a man thinking of making a 347 room luxurious villa for himself out of the misery of the people he is supposed to serve. Surprisingly the Maharaja is glorified to this day for this `noble’ gesture. Today Umaid Bhawan Palace is divided between a luxury hotel , a museum and the residence of the Maharajas’s successors. It still remains the largest private residence in the world.

The Royal Cenotaphs at Mandor 8 kilometers from Jodhpur have beautiful sculptures and cenotaphs  of Jodhpur rulers.  Jaswant Thada is another elegant memorial in Jodhpur .  However these are  two heritage sites  exit in the  shadow of the Meghrangarh Fort  and are often ignored by travelers.

How to Get here.

Air and railways : Jodhpur is well connected by air and railways to all major Indian cities.

Road:  Jodhpur is almost 600 kilometers from Delhi. If travelling from Delhi one can take the state highway passing Jaipur on the way.

 (sanjay austa austa)

The imposing Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

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