A September 2007 trip
to Jodhpur by phileasfogg
Quote: When five overworked women decide they need a break, even a weekend’s sufficient. And in a historic, picturesque town in the Thar desert? Good fun.
We were desperate for a break from office, so we decided on a weekend in Jodhpur. The train journey to and from Delhi is overnight, so that would give us almost two full days in Jodhpur.
Jodhpur’s the stuff of India tourism brochures: golden desert, towering fort, local men with scarlet turbans and fearsome moustaches. It’s almost legendary for its history and equestrian heritage (the Jodhpur polo team was world champion many years running, and jodhpurs are named after the city).
The main attraction – the majestic Mehrangarh (often erroneously called the Mehrangarh Fort, although the suffix garh itself means 'fort’) – looms above the town, a massive citadel of sheer walls, intricate carving, and breathtaking halls. Below Mehrangarh is Jaswant Thada, a set of white marble cenotaphs for the erstwhile Maharajas of Jodhpur, the Rathore clan. More cenotaphs lie 10 km from town, at the Mandor Gardens. Carved from red sandstone, these memorials spread out across gardens that are popular with picnickers and langurs.
Other than that, two palaces (both now heritage hotels), are worth visiting. The Umaid Bhawan Palace, one of the world’s largest and most bizarre art deco buildings, has a small museum that we spent some time exploring. The Bal Samand Lake Palace, on the road to Mandor, is a nice spot from where to admire the serene Bal Samand, the largest artificial lake in Rajasthan. Do stop at the gate and get permission from the guard to enter (we didn’t, simply because there wasn’t a guard around. As a result, we were shooed out politely by the hotel staff – fortunately after we’d already seen the lake).
And that’s all there is to see in Jodhpur. You can spend time shopping for sweets, souvenirs (especially handmade cloth puppets, and the colourful tie-and-dye bandhej, for which Jodhpur is famous). The National Handloom Corporation shop on Nai Sadak is the place for traditional fabrics.
Good enough for a two-day jaunt. Even better if you’re looking to unwind and de-stress a bit!
Wear light cotton clothing, and remember to carry along a bottle of mineral water wherever you go. Most of the major attractions – like Mandor or Mehrangarh – have stalls outside where mineral water, juices and aerated drinks are sold. The juices and aerated drinks are okay, but the mineral water bottles from these places seemed a bit suspect to me: dirty labels and unknown brands. No ill effects, fortunately, but that may simply be because a lifetime of living in India has made us immune. It may be a better idea to buy bottles of Bisleri from one of the larger shops in Paota or Nai Sadak.
Autorickshaws are surprisingly clean, large and airy. They often have interesting `extras’ – Sim, Booga and Freebie actually travelled in one which had a small video screen and a stereo system. The driver, before starting off, gave them the lowdown on how everything had been programmed – when the video would end, the stereo would automatically start belting out songs, and so on. Ingenious and not quite what I’d expect from an autorickshaw driver. The autorickshaw drivers, on the whole, are a friendly lot (and some of them speak passable English), but nobody uses meters. This means that you’ll need to ask somebody (hotel staff are generally reliable) what the expected fare to your destination ought to be. At any rate, make sure you decide on how much you’re going to pay before you climb into the autorickshaw.
Note that all of Jodhpur’s sights are either outside the city, or in relatively isolated areas. Whereas Mehrangarh and Mandor have plenty of autorickshaws standing outside, Umaid Bhawan and Bal Samand don’t. If you’re visiting either of these places, negotiate with the driver to wait and then take you on to wherever you need to go next. Typically, waiting charges for about half an hour shouldn’t be more than Rs 10 or so, over and above the fare.
The Newtons Manor Web site looked nice and made alluring promises of everything from a microwave oven and coffee maker to flowers and fireplaces in every room. The only extra we discovered was a drawer full of women’s undergarments.
Okay, let me amend that. There were other surprises in store for us. Gops and I shared a small but comfortable room, with a double bed, one chair, TV and a slew of occasional tables. Pleasant room, but the bathroom door had nothing – no rack, rail, hooks, no anything – on which to hang towels or clothing (we solved that by dragging the chair in from the room, but that left us with only the bed and the carpet to sit on). Worse still, the bathroom door had a hand-sized square hole in it. Ahem.
Sim, Booga and Freebie shared the other room – a large, relatively fancy one decorated in a pleasant deep green. It had a huge wardrobe (locked), some drawers (unlocked, but stuffed with the aforementioned undies), and a TV. Where these girls scored over Gops and I was in the voyeuristic possibilities of their bathroom. The upper half of the loo door was frosted glass, put in the wrong way – you couldn’t see into the bedroom from the bathroom, but the view into the bathroom was terrific! They solved it by tugging the huge dresser across the bathroom whenever needed, but this turned out to be pretty tedious – any time someone went in or came out, the other two had to leave off whatever they were doing to haul the dresser around. I don’t remember who had the brainwave of getting newspaper and hanging it up in front of the glass, but that helped.
But really, despite the many fiascos, it was not all that bad. It was clean and homey. The marble staircase was fascinating (Booga took some half a dozen photos of it) and the antiques were really rather interesting. And the staff, if only they’d remember to pass on important bits of information, were a helpful lot.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on September 23, 2007
86, Jawahar Colony
But it was already 3.15 and we were ravenous, so we strode into the hotel lobby – empty except for a handful of workers doing some very messy renovation. Dakshin, we were told, was on the first floor, so off we went. It was a midsized restaurant, with large windows looking out onto an unprepossessing street. The décor was insignificant enough for me to have forgotten what it was; all I can recall is muted beiges and whites, straightbacked chairs and high tables. Dull.
The menu appeared equally mundane: a mishmash of Mughlai, North Indian and South Indian dishes dominated, with only a small array (exactly six dishes) of Rajasthani food. But half a dozen is better than none, so we happily asked for everything Rajasthani – only to be told that since lunch was served only till 3, Rajasthani food was out of the question. Our reactions, which ranged from tearful disappointment to grim-faced abusiveness (well, almost!), made the manager retreat hurriedly, to return shortly after with the welcome news that Rajasthani food could be served. Hallelujah!
Our food arrived soon enough. Hot, muslin-soft chapattis came in small cane baskets; with them we’d ordered some staple Rajasthani dishes. Gatte ki curry, fried dumplings made from chickpea-flour dough and then simmered in a spicy yoghurt gravy. Papad ki sabzi, pieces of pappadums cooked in gravy; and ker sangri, a dish made of local dried berries (ker) mixed with a type of radish seedpod (sangri). Sim, a die-hard carnivore if I ever saw one, insisted on ordering lal maas (literally, `red meat’ – the gravy in which the lamb is cooked is red because of the chillies!). We’d also ordered plain yoghurt and a raita – yoghurt whisked with spices and chopped veggies – but the waiter completely forgot about these. We decided not to remind him, because there was so much food, we didn’t think we’d be able to finish it anyway.
We’d not reckoned with our own prodigious appetites – we consumed everything except a couple of chapattis. The food was delicious, if rather oily. It was spicy, of course, but not enough to bother people like Sim, Booga and I, who I must admit aren’t the "bring on the chillies!" type.
The total bill came to only Rs 850, which included a tip and soft drinks (Gops and I had chhaas, lightly salted buttermilk spiced up with roasted powdered cumin; the others had lassi or fresh lime soda). Good value for money – and we had the restaurant to ourselves. I’d definitely come back here again!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 23, 2007
Mapple Abhay Jodhpur; Paota Circle
+91 (291) 2542971
By 3pm, the five of us were hungry enough to eat a horse – or a cartload of grass, considering that three of us are vegetarian. We’d eaten a couple of sandwiches around 11am, and all the parading around Mehrangarh since then had taken its toll. Thirsty, hungry and tired, we decided it was time for lunch.
Mehrangarh has two restaurants. The first one, a narrow dingy joint where someone was sleeping at a table, was close to the main entrance and didn’t look at all inviting. The second one – Café Mehran – was close to the Zanani Deodi, and though it wasn’t plush, it looked a great deal better than the first. All pillared in pale yellow and white, it had an indigo floral pattern on the arched doorways at the end. Fans whirred overhead, and the furniture-white-painted metal table and chairs – was utilitarian but clean. A tall taciturn waiter in traditional costume, complete with turban, curling moustache and earrings, came by to hand over the menus, and we spent a bit of time poring over them.
Burgers, cutlets and other so-called ‘Western’ dishes (all with fantastic descriptions) seemed to dominate the modest menu, but there were also more dependable North Indian dishes – and, glory be, a Rajasthani thali. The vegetarian thali (a thali, for those not in the know, is a set meal) cost Rs 130; the non-vegetarian one Rs 180. Thalis tend to be notoriously large portions, so we ordered two veggie thalis and one non-veg one. Along with that, we ordered fresh lime sodas and a Coke for me.
The fresh lime sodas arrived – without any salt, syrup, or any other seasoning – so the girls had to ask for some syrup separately. And then came the food. Gops, Freebie and Booga nearly had a little heart attack when one of their veggie thalis arrived with a bowlful of chicken curry in it, but we managed to intercept it in time, so no harm done. In any case, the only difference between the veggie and non-veg thalis was the chicken curry. Everything else was the same: steamed rice; chapattis; roasted pappadum, a tangy pickle, raita (yoghurt whisked with spices), small dark chickpeas cooked with gram flour; local beans cooked with potatoes; and kadhi, a soup-like dish made of yoghurt and spices. All of it was fairly typical Rajasthani food: spicy, rather oily, but pretty good and as we’d expected a large portion. Having finished, we interrogated the waiter on why dessert wasn’t part of the thali; and then, feeling sorry for him, decided to order dessert separately. We shared the dessert too: gulabjamuns, deep-fried dumplings soaked in syrup. Delicious! The total came to Rs 780, which wasn’t bad at all.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 23, 2007
Mehrangarh Museum Trust
Jodphur, India 342006
+91 (291) 2510101
After Mehrangarh, Freebie and I marched off downhill towards Jaswant Thada. The rest were pooped, and hot and irritable to boot. Before we knew it, they’d negotiated with a couple of autorickshaws-wallahs to take us to Jaswant Thada and then on to Jodhpur. Freebie and I were intercepted and summarily told to "Hop in!"
Sardar Singh built Jaswant Thada in 1899 in memory of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II (reigned: 1876-95). Memorials to the rest of the Rathores were later constructed here, so Jaswant Thada today is all cenotaphs, white marble and leafy gardens. Alighting at the gate, we bought our tickets (Rs 10 apiece; Rs 25 extra for a still camera). The wide path to the cenotaphs is paved with red sandstone, which is also used in the carved railings and chhatris alongside. Down to the left, pigeons flocked on the rocky banks of a pond, along with a couple of cattle egrets. Very tranquil; Sim, Booga and Gops were already beginning to look happier. Freebie and I, damn our luck, glanced towards the pond just in time to see two scruffy mongrels fooling around.
We hurried on to the first building at the Thada – a finely carved marble pavilion, standing beneath the trees in a small square lawn. This, we learnt (by dint of some cunning eavesdropping by Gops) marks the spot where Jaswant Singh was cremated. Beyond, a flight of broad steps led to a wide platform. On the other side were pavilions similar to the first, and Gops – she’d make a good spy, that kid – informed us that these marked the places where Jaswant Singh’s maharani and his sons were cremated.
We admired the fragile pristine beauty of these pavilions, then took off our shoes and climbed up to the main building at Jaswant Thada. This is dedicated to Jaswant Singh, and though it resembles a temple on the outside (white marble spire, carved pillars, et al), the interior is a small hall, decorated sparingly. A third of the hall is cordoned off with railings. Beyond them, on a gilded enameled swing, a portrait of Jaswant Singh is ‘enshrined’. The railings are crowded with bits of coloured string and handkerchiefs knotted as a votive offering. It’s a bit surprising, since this isn’t, after all, a temple.
Freebie and I were heading out to join the others when a docent of sorts hijacked us. The poor guy must’ve been bored to death with the lack of visitors at this time of the year; he begged us to see the ‘transparent marble’ in the building. We went back in dutifully, to be shown a slab of yellowish-white marble that forms part of one wall. It’s actually not even co
Attraction | "Mandor Gardens"
Mandor had been a suggestion by a receptionist at Newtons Manor, and when we arrived at the gardens, we all wished we hadn’t listened to the man. The gate to Mandor was almost hidden behind a plethora of hawkers selling ice cream, colas, mineral water and cheap souvenirs. There were hordes of autorickshaws, and the number of people milling around put us off.
We’d travelled far, however – in Jodhpur terms, 9 km is far – so we decided to make the most of it, and made our way in. The path was wide and flanked by lawns with trees and flowerbeds; families with toddlers, teenagers and grandparents in tow, sprawled in loud, chattering droves all across the gardens. Just as we were about to give up and return, however, we glimpsed the monuments that stood across a channel of water on the right. They looked like old stone temples, all very strikingly carved, so we decide to go explore a bit.
Mandor was once the capital of this part of Rajasthan, but when Rao Jodha (the man who constructed Mehrangarh) shifted the capital to Jodhpur, Mandor was more or less deserted. By the 17th century it had become primarily a site for cenotaphs for the rulers of Jodhpur. The cenotaphs, interestingly enough, look so much like temples that many people, at first glance, mistake them for temples. And since there are very few signs around, a lot of visitors probably o through Mandor none the wiser.
The cenotaphs – of maharajas such as Ajit Singh and Jaswant Singh I – are large and intricately carved stone structures. Each of them is a forest of finely carved pillars, jharokhas (windows), arches, spires and sculpture – especially status of deities. We spent most of our time wandering past the larger cenotaphs, even venturing into one, despite the fact that it smelt of bats and God knows what else. The smaller chhatris – relatively unadorned domed pavilions dedicated to lesser royalty – seemed to have been occupied by langurs, so we gave them a wide berth. A few of the main cenotaphs too obviously had their share of simian inhabitants: we saw a long tail hanging from a dark window.
A fifteen-minute stroll down the main stretch of cenotaphs, and we reached a noisy, unbelievably tacky amusement centre of sorts. It was belting out Hindi film songs and nearly everybody around seemed to be gravitating towards it. We, therefore, beat a hasty retreat, back across the channel and to the far side, where an equally tacky corridor called t
Attraction | "Umaid Bhawan Palace Museum"
Umaid Bhawan was light years beyond our budget, but we wanted to see the palace museum. Air-conditioned interiors; interesting history – ah, bliss. But the best-laid plans of mice, men and women tend to go awry. The Umaid Bhawan Palace Museum is small, interesting only in parts, and – the unkindest cut of all – not air-conditioned. We fortified ourselves with chilled cans of Pepsi at the outdoor garden café, then bought our tickets (Rs 15 apiece; Rs 200 if you’re foreign).
The first hall – large and dim – was the most informative. Intriguing black and white photographs of the royal family lined the walls (there were some mesmerising pictures of the queens!). There was a large model of the Umaid Bhawan Palace, perfect in every detail; old photographs of the palace being built and the first party being held; and plenty of interesting trivia. I knew Umaid Bhawan' s one of the largest art deco buildings in the world; but there were loads of lesser known facts.
It was built by Air Commodore Maharaja Umaid Singh between 1929 and 1944, in an attempt to provide employment to the people of Jodhpur during a famine (the opulence of the palace – displayed in a fine video projected on a screen in the museum – suggests more than mere philanthropy). 5,000 people built the palace from blocks of stone which are fitted together by interlocking, not joined by mortar. The stone's mainly Makrana marble, of which 100 wagonloads were used. The palace spreads across 76 acres, of which 15 are gardens (we saw a peacock later on the lawns – Booga nearly chased it to get a photo).
Stephan Norblin designed the interiors and painted some impressive frescoes. Umaid Singh also commissioned Norblin to design the furniture, after the Nazis sank the ship on which furniture was being brought from England. The first big party to ‘inaugurate’ Umaid Bhawan was New Year’s Eve 1942; officers of the RAF at Jodhpur were the main guests.
Beyond the first hall, things started to get a little less interesting. The next couple of halls were dedicated to royal memorabilia: cutlery, crockery,
Umaid Bhavan Palace Museum
Attraction | "Mehrangarh: The Most Impressive Fort in Rajasthan"
A friend once said that the most impressive fort in Rajasthan – a land of impressive forts – is Mehrangarh. All the photographs of Mehrangarh, looming majestically over the blue-tinted houses of Jodhpur, were proof enough. Therefore, when we decided to go to Jodhpur, Mehrangarh topped my itinerary.
A little bit of history first. The construction of Mehrangarh was begun by Maharaja Rao Jodha in 1459. The fort was built on a 120m high hill called Bhakurcheeria (‘The Mountain of Birds’), and to ensure that the gods blessed the citadel, Rao Jodha built a temple within the fort. He also took the drastic step of human sacrifice: four men were reputedly buried alive in the foundations. Plenty of interesting stories abound: there’s one about Maharaja Rao Ganga, who fell to his death from the ramparts in an opium-induced daze; another of Maharaja Maan Singh, who had his prime minister thrown from the walls. There’s also a rather risqué – and tragic – story of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, who defenestrated his mistress, the woman actually being the mistress of his father, who’d just entered the room where Jaswant Singh was ensconced with the woman.
The road to Mehrangarh winds uphill and the autorickshaws we’d hired deposited us outside the fort shortly after noon. The sun was brassy and blazing, the fort gate and walls a medley of shades ranging from pale yellow through tan and ochre to an earthy red. A gnarled tree stood on a high platform outside a small temple, a thin dark woman in a crumpled red sari lying asleep under the tree. Below the platform, a small straggly crowd of local tourists meandered along. Men in white kurtas and dhotis, heavy red turbans on their heads; women in colourful saris, or (more often) in voluminous lehengas, bright odhnis veiling their heads.
Through the Jai Pol (Victory Gate), and we were at the ticket counter, where we paid up 20 each and a further Rs 50 per still camera. Beyond the ticket checker’s turnstile, the path sloped gradually upwards. A minute later, we were marvelling at the circular marks of cannonballs in a rounded bastion. Mehrangarh’s been besieged often enough, but has the distinction of never having fallen to invaders.
A short walk brought us to the Suraj Pol (Sun Pol), where a guard checked our tickets and let us into a series of interconnected chambers and courtyards that form the heart of Mehrangarh. Many have been restored; others have been converted into galleries that showcase artefacts from the area.
Moti Mahal Chowk, In The Museum Area
New Delhi, India