My Jodhpur memories are a beautiful jumble and this had been one of the earliest posts I had written as a travel blogger. To begin with, I have no recollection of when I had visited there and what circumstances had taken me to the famous “blue city”. At that time, I had been living on and off in Jaipur and an overnight train from Delhi had brought me to the bejeweled western part of Rajasthan. The great princely state of Rajasthan, until then, had been a puzzle to me and my brief, highly isolated living in Jaipur had failed to make me experience its true glory. Today, however, after my smatterings of travels into its more deeper parts, I have started recognizing the beautiful layers that exist in the desert state and although much commercialized and over hyped, Rajasthan is undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous places in the world.
On that trip, I had clubbed Jodhpur with Jaisalmer and the stunning romance of western Rajasthan had blown my mind away. Somewhere en route, a small Bishnoi village too had featured on my itinerary and it had been a regular Delhi – Salawas village – Jodhpur – Jaisalmer trip. Two overnight train journeys had taken me from Delhi – Salawas and Jodhpur – Jaisalmer and I think I had taken a Rajasthan Roadways bus to travel to Jodhpur. The Bishnoi village had given me the much required quiet start of a very bedazzling journey and I had stayed at a traditional mud hut with thatched roof home stay of a community weaver. It had been winter at the time of my visit and I vividly remember the sun basked days and cold, shivering nights of rural Rajasthan. Western part of Rajasthan had been quite different from the landscaped city of Jaipur and I had felt its gritty aridity there. The dry golden sandy land had been interspersed with thorny scrubs and flowering khejri trees and wildlife had roamed the Bishnoi region free. Famously known as tree hugging community of Rajasthan, Bishnois love and protect nature more than their lives and it had been much later, that I had found out that visits to such ethnic villages had been popular day activities among Jodhpur based travelers.
Incidentally, perhaps because of the rural quiet, today I have more poignant memories of Salawas than any other place from that trip and in my mind Jodhpur has remained as a culmination of all things exotic about India. The city had arrived amidst swirling traffic, crazy noise and stubborn cows and I had watched in awe at the gorgeously dressed residents. Resplendent in bold colours, twisted turbans and curling moustaches, in my eyes they had looked as beautiful as the massive fort which had loomed over the city. That had been the famous Mehrangarh fort, at the foothills of which the historic old section had coiled like a snake and the modern Jodhpur had spread beyond the fortified sea of blue cube like houses. Also known as the Sun City, due to its brilliant throughout the year sunshine, the erstwhile capital of the royal state of Marwar had been a popular and beautiful destination. The city’s much photographed and written about blue fame had come from the splendid old Brahmapuri area and in olden times those had been the houses of the Brahmins. Since the blue tint had also repelled insects, slowly even the non Brahmins had started painting their houses in the same shade and the blue city is indeed gorgeously blue.
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Although, the best views of blue Jodhpur had been from the top of the mighty Mehrangarh Fort, simply wandering around the tangle of winding, glittering time forgotten aqua lanes of the fortified old city had been a heady experience. Brahmapuri had been encircled by a 16th century old city wall and magnificent gates had cocooned exotic Rajasthan inside its blue whirls. Bazaars, fresh produce markets, temples and traffic had meandered through the blue lanes and crumbling mansions had been separated by tangle of old electrical wires. Cows, cricket, spices, garbage, open sewer, scams and incense had made their presence felt loudly and Brahmapuri had been exquisitely touristy. It had been a shopper’s paradise too and popular with residents and travelers alike. Thus Hare Krishna t shirts and harem pants had rubbed shoulders with fashionable Jodhpur trousers and bejeweled veils and dreadlocks had fought for space with massive turbans. The combination had been completely movie like glamourous and it had been perhaps this charm which had drawn travelers, invaders and opportunity seekers to Marwar throughout history.
The old princely state of Marwar (of which Jodhpur had been the capital) had been extremely powerful and wealthy and its royal family especially the iconic Maharaja Gaj Singh had been responsible for turning the city into such a popular tourist destination. Smart, industrious and far sighted, they had lovingly restored and turned many of their royal properties into excellent hotels and tourist attractions and thus had provided means for these monuments to sustain themselves. The grand Umaid Bhawan Palace is one such heritage hotel where tourists are provided a taste of the royal treatment for around 400 USD/night and the most dominating landmark of the city, Mehrangarh Fort is an immensely popular paid attraction of India. Extremely strong and magnificently built, Mehrangarh is an architectural jewel and it is also the largest fort of Rajasthan. Fully equipped with escalators, elevators, cafes and excellent expensive restaurants, Mehrangarh is extremely tourist friendly and the fort also houses one of the most beautiful museum palaces in India.
Exploring the massive fort is a whole day affair and it had been a complete city within a city. While the highest perches had belonged to the royals, the rest of the space had been filled with staff quarters, temples, stables and watch towers. While, in olden days, the fort had acted as a fully functional enclosed city keeping its residents safe within in its massive walls, today, it is an exciting cornucopia of galleries of royal weapons, utilities, treasures, photographs and even turbans. Grand, showy and not a little ostentatious, tourism had become the highest priority (and revenue earner) of the fort and Mehrangarh had delivered an unforgettable royal experience. Everything about it had been designed, keeping in mind to provide the visitors a blast from the royal past as well as a taste of the local culture and so the fort had teemed with performers, employees dressed up in period costumes and official “royal family endorsed” tour guides. The fantastic Turban Gallery had been one such quirky enjoyment and the displays had been beautiful bejeweled head pieces, that had adorned many proud heads in the olden times. They had seemed multipurpose too as some had mirrors, daggers and even opium pipes tucked in them.
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Somewhere, in the midst of the dazzling royal show, a few gory realities of the past had also peeped out and I had found the Sati Palm collection to be the most haunting sight. The horrific Sati custom which had dictated Hindu widowed women to join their husbands’ funeral pyre to fulfill the marital promise of being partners in life and beyond, had been strictly followed for a long time, until abolished by the British. The custom had been upheld by the queens and commoners alike and the royal brides had always willingly opted for Sati whenever their kings or princes had been captured or killed by enemies. Their royal pride had never allowed them to be at the mercy of the conquerors and women of Marwar had hardly ever been conquests. Famous for their beauty as well as their artistic temperament and excellent warfare skills, Rajasthani history is riddled with stories of brave queens’ Satis and the palm collection had been a chilling reminder of the olden days, when power tussle had been the biggest savage.
That had been a quintessential Jodhpur experience and the grand old city had a way of recollecting and rehashing the past without much changes. Being less cosmopolitan and further located away from Delhi than Jaipur, time had flowed at a more traditional pace at Jodhpur and some of its raw edges had still been pretty sharp. Shaken by the Sati Palm Collection, I had left the fort visibly shaken after paying brief visits to the much popular Mirror Hall, Flower Hall, Pearl Hall and the exquisite queens’ inner chambers. Despite, being winter, the day had still been dazzlingly hot and bright in the Sun city and I had left the melee of equally exotic gaggle of tourists from all over the world for some quiet moments. The nearby cool, white marbled Jaswant Thada had been somewhere on the way and the silent cenotaph had provided lush respite from the peaking sun. Exquisitely carved and beautifully maintained the quiet royal cenotaph had been a far cry from the bustling fort and its city. Peaceful with hardly any body around it, Jaswant Thada had left me alone with the migratory birds floating noisily on the glassy surface of the lake while the flowering frangipani trees had dropped blossoms on its mythical treasure gardens.
According to legends, in olden days the Marwar royal ladies, before jumping into fire to commit Sati, had the practice of burying their family treasures beneath the gardens of the cenotaph. Thus, for many years, Jaswant Thada had been a popular destination for treasure hunters from all over the world until the government had sealed off the place. With that firm restriction, the cenotaph had once again retained the peaceful quiet fit for the royal deceased and and it had been the perfect place to spend a Jodhpur sunset.
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