Saturday, June 19, 2010

Feeling a little ‘Blue’ in Jodhpur, India

Destination:  Jodhpur, India
Number of days spent:  2 days
Where we stayed:  Durag Niwas Guest House (tel. 91-291-2512385, 450RP/$10)  A little outside the city but the owner is friendly, the courtyard and rooms are well decorated, clean and it’s quite at night.
Best Restaurant:   Samosas are a dime a dozen in India, but this joint just outside the main gate to the city was particularly delicious!  It served up hot and spicy samosas and stuffed peppers wrapped in newspaper, check out the size of that wok :-)
Best of:  One of the finest examples of Rajasthan architecture in the Mehrangarh Fort,  the ‘blue’ city really is blue!
Worst of:  the heat is on – dry, hot, and endless sun make doing anything outside during the day a task
Most memorable:  Watching one of the last Maharaja’s drive into his still active home to much pomp and circumstance.
Useful Tip:  For commanding views of the city exit out of the fort and walk around to the temple at the tip of the rock looming over the center of the city.  Watch out for the cheeky monkeys! 
A night train ride away from Delhi it may be, but Jodhpur seems a world away from Mogul India.  The sands and heat of the desert make their presence known and the air of spice laden camel caravans and turban clad Maharajas still hangs heavy in the air.  The current state of Rajasthan consists of a collection of once former independent kingdoms, all with a ruling head of state, a Maharaja, that maintained a certain degree of Independence by force against the Moguls and diplomacy against the British.  These maharajas have lost most of their political clout today, but they still live on and enjoy their royal status.  With its powder blue buildings, spice markets & thriving royal family Jodhpur provides an excellent introduction to Rajhastani life and culture without all the tourist crowds that have taken over some of the other cities.   
Before the seas became the primary trade route, spices used to have to travel for months overland from India to Europe.  Cities like Jodhpur grew up in the arid northwestern deserts to offer respite to weary travelers.  Today’s market is just a shell of what it once was but is still a colorful array of piles of spices and silk.  Spilling out from the market, the city streets snake and wind around a massive hill that dominates the center of town.  We wandered around the streets a bit, checking out the ever present cows, goats, and lazy dogs.  We would have wandered around a bit more, but the heat at this time of year can be quite oppressive during the middle of the day so we relaxed in the afternoon before making our way up to the top of the hill for sunset.
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From the streets below you get an occasional hint of blue, but from above, the setting is magical.  From the entrance of the fort, we walked around the bottom of the walls until we made it out to a little temple that rests all alone at the tip of the hill.  From the rooftop, shades of blue can be seen everywhere and you will likely have the place all to yourself aside from the temple attendant.
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The Mehrangarh Fort looms over the city below offering protection from would be invaders.  As the largest fort in all of Rajasthan, the fort serves as home to the royal palace, several temples and even a few gardens.  As the royal family still lives here on and off, the palace is well maintained and a delight to wander around.  Even the audio guide is excellent and included in the admission price.   
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While we were there, the Maharaja himself came driving up the ramparts on his way to his private quarters.  Long before his approach, the guards were in a frenzy, ushering visitors to the sides and out of the way of the motorcade.  The band strikes up their finest number.  The whole procession lasts mere minutes but it proves that despite the transfer of power, he is still the most respected man in town.
Just past where we caught the glimpse of the present leader sits a memorial to a past one.  Per tradition, when the king died, his wives (yes, plural), threw themselves onto his burning pyre one at a time from oldest to youngest.  A plaque with the handprints of the departed, some rather small, sits to the side of the main gate in memoriam.
The rest of the palace is a blinding array of stained glass, intricate lattice work, and loads of Arabic style arches.  The blend is distinctly Rajasthan both influenced heavily from their more powerful neighbors on either side – the Moguls and the Persians. 
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More than just a palace, the grounds also serves as an active Hindu temple.  A steady stream of worshipers don their finest saris and make their way to the back of the complex where the temples are housed.
With the fort successfully conquered, we packed up and headed out for the ‘Romantic’ city of Udaipur with a couple of detours along the way.


Karen Bedsaul said...

very colorful. Who is in the jeep?
Very nice pics from above.

Jason and Tracy said...

Thanks! It's the present Maharaja of Jodphur in the jeep...basically local royalty!