I left for Jodhpur after relaxing at my Salawas homestay for one whole week. Those beautifully rustic days rejuvenated me completely and slowly a restlessness started to grow. Salawas village seemed smaller with each passing day and my itchy feet made want to explore more. Since, I stayed in Jodhpur for a very short time, my memories of the “Blue City” are a beautiful jumble. Western part of Rajasthan, which held the glorious Jodhpur was quite different from the landscaped surroundings of Jaipur and I keenly felt the desert state‘s gritty aridity there. The dry golden sandy land was interspersed with thorny scrubs, flowering Rohira trees and wildlife like deer and peacocks roamed the countryside fearlessly. It was the region of the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan and famously known as the tree huggers of India, they protected nature even at the cost of their lives. Their villages were often clean, colourful and friendly and made very popular day trips for Jodhpur based travelers.
After the tranquility of Salawas, Jodhpur arrived with a flurry of quintessential Indian city madness. Swirling traffic, infuriating amount of noise, pollution, pushy crowd, garbage piles, and stubborn cows featured in the old royal city and gorgeously dressed residents mingled with them. Resplendent in bold colours, twisted turbans, and curling moustaches, they looked like some kind of a period movie and were absolutely in sync with the gorgeous massive fort which loomed over the city. That was 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.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE