It’s 2012, and I am spellbound watching as the ‘Dark Knight Rises’ beyond his entrapment- both physical and soul-sucking mental, up the deep pit. He emerges bruised but unscathed, up into a world full of hope and resolve. As he stands on his feet, he witnesses the proud glory, strength and quiet resolve of a fort towering right above- the great Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. That fleeting sequence got etched somewhere in the corner of my wandering mind. I had to see the Mehrangarh Fort, up, close and personal a la the Dark Knight!
Don’t know what took me so long, but this past new year weekend, we set off for Jodhpur. Mehrangarh was waiting.
We, me and and my wife, reached Jodhpur the morning of 30th December, with a full 3 days and 2 nights at our disposal to check out the citadel, residents, food, quirks and more. The Jodhpur morning of 30th December was crisp, yet comfortably sunny. Trees had smallish leaves, signalling that the desert lay nearby. The town was typically dusty; however there was a quaint charm about it of an era bygone, when it was artistic and pleasing if not grand. The buildings opposite the railway station looked like they had fallen from their days of glory, yet standing proudly reminiscing the good old times. They had typical Marwari dropping arches, cupolas, and intricate jaalis (window work), all in a stark monochrome. Outside was life- lively & colourful. Quintessential Rajasthan.
We checked into our hotel (Mango Hotels) which we had booked beforehand from http://www.booking.com. It’s a nice, new hotel a couple of kms south of the old town, and midway between the old city and Umaid Bhavan Palace which is the other main attraction in Jodhpur. Having refreshed ourselves, we set out on a walk towards the old city.
The old city of Jodhpur spreads outwards from right below the tall plinth on which lies the Mehrangarh Fort. It’s encircled by a wall 10 odd kms in perimeter. We entered from the side of Nai Sarak. It’s not so new, but the name stays. Both sides of Nai Sarak are dotted with shops small & large, selling wares, mostly mundane, but interesting every now & then- jodhpuri earrings, bangles, famous wooden artworks and the like. Nai Sarak is marked at either end by two interesting places to eat like a local. The southern end from where we entered has an outlet of the famous Jodhpuri Janta Sweet Home. It serves all kinds of Marwari and other sweets, and has a separate section for some quick bytes. We were slightly disappointed to find regular stuff like chowmeins, pizzas, Raj Kachoris and stuff there. May be standardization has caught up with Jodhpuris too. However look deeper, and you can spot the famous Mawa & Pyaaz Kachoris, and scores of Namkeen varieties- both at Janta and outside (specially at Chandra Vilas Namkeen). The bottled buttermilk at Janta was great and must be tried. The other end of Nai Sarak houses Shahi Samosa (https://www.tripadvisor.in/Restaurant_Review-g297668-d4114799-Reviews-Shahi_Samosa-Jodhpur_Rajasthan.html) , and what a fabulous little place it is! There’s no place to sit, yet you can find people lined up any hour of the day. We had the most amazing Mirchi Vada (large Chilli and sweetish mashed potato kept side by side and fried together to form an outer coating of besan/gram flour. You can’t eat just one- I highly recommend it. Even the Samosa is brilliant.
While gorging on the Mirchi Vada, I could see Mehrangarh sprawling up, above, not too far, inviting us gleefully. How could we refuse?
We moved past the old Ghantaghar (Clock Tower), into narrow, winding lanes of the old town. Initially, the streets turned out to be dirty, garbage strewn, and open drains. This wasn’t what we had signed up for. However as we delved deeper and subsequently higher, one step at a time, Jodhpur became charming. Drains were still open, as they are throughout the entire walled city, but garbage on street slowly disappeared. Instead we could see little hotels with rooftop cafes, old charming doors, walls in the famous blue hue of Jodhpur, some graffiti, and tourists- foreigners sticking out in the melee of Indian urban crowd and local ethnically dressed ladies and gentlemen. It was a bit of Pushkar and Paharjganj strewn together. We would go up a couple of cafes later during our stay and gorge on hot piping tea, pakodas and stuff while staring unblinking at the towering fort right above the line of our eyesight. It would have melted with all the stares coming its way, had it been human. We went to Namaste Caffe while returning from the fort at night. The view is gorgeous with the well lit fort in front, and the quiet of the evening insulated from the cacophony of the old city below. We could actually have stayed here. Damn. We fell for the modern hotel
trap. There were lovely little hotels- no frills, but charming nonetheless, all with terraces overlooking the gorgeous fort. We should totally have stayed there. May be some other time.
We made our way up the mezze of tiny houses, children playing the street, old men and women relaxing on charpoys right outside the houses, stairs making their appearance hither & thither, and one final push up the rocky terrain took us to the entrance of the grand edifice.
Entry charges are Rs 100 for Indian nationals and Rs 500 for foreigners. There’s a camera charge of Rs 100, and a lift charge of Rs 40 per person. The lift is for those who do not wish to or can not ascend up the hill and the stairs inside the main palace. We decided against the lift. It wasn’t us.
As we entered, we couldn’t but marvel at the grandiosity of the palace from inside the outer facade. The main palace has golden hues, and rises up into the sky. It’s adorned with pretty windows, little cupolas, inviting arches and a general warmth as you walk up the cobbled street or up the stairs admiring the views all around.
Right as we entered the fort, there’s a little cafe known as the Palki. You can munch on some snacks and coffee here. There’s another cafe known as The Mehran Cafe a little inside, right beside the palace which houses the immaculately kept museum. The museum is quite nice with beautiful palanquins which were either carried by men or placed on elephants; swords, armour and more. The art museum next door has some gorgeous paintings most notably of the Devi of Marwar tradition.
As we went up the winding series of stairs from the art museum, we came across the most gorgeous living and private quarters of royalty. Adorned with intricate works in golden hues and crystal, the rooms are a sight to behold.
A sight to behold is also the view down the city. It’s sprawl looks pretty specially in the golden early evening sunlight. As you walk out the main palace and walk up to the fort walls, you can see the famed blue city below you, and the glistening Umaid Bhawan Palace in the distance. It’s said that many people painted the outer walls of their houses indigo in Jodhpur to calm the scorching heat. As more and more people followed, the view from top started looking like a mirror image of the sky. It can be mesmerizing. Off late, the blue walls are giving way slowly to a more mundane cityscape, yet the charm lingers. At the edge of the southern walls of the fort is a little temple, serene and soulful. We had a great view of the sunset from the walls.
The next morning, we jogged up to the fort entrance again. The fort itself wouldn’t open till 9 AM. However the view of the rising sun from right besides it, and seeing the sunlight slowly light up the fort walls and turning it into gold was ethereal. That’s when the idea struck. Why not get a snap at the same spot as the Dark Knight. We looked around only to find that the spot is behind the fort and it doesn’t fall in the permitted strolling area. We did check the boundary wall. It could be scaled; and we did. Never mind the shouting guard running behind us. All he did was shout, but didn’t dare come after us to the other side. We assured him we are there just for a few quick snaps and would be back in no time. He relented and went away. One quick snap turned into another and more, as we walked past rocky terrain, thorns and cacti,and back.
With a victorious smile, the late morning was spent having breakfast at the Cafe with views of the shining golden fort. The food itself was quite average, but the ambience was great, and we were in an indulgent mood.
We spent some quiet moments by the stairs, and made our way to Gypsy restaurant, apparently the only well known thali place in Jodhpur. Located in the modern side of the new town, it’s a typical thali restaurants dishing out Marwari-Gujarati mixed thali. With over 30 different items in little bowls and a large plate, you can gorge on some sumptuous fare. More than the food, it’s an experience. I was surprised though not to find more exclusive and authentic thali places in Jodhpur- the heart of Marwar. May be the business expat population- Marwaris as they are known as all across the country took the food away.
And it was the first day of the brand new year. We gathered ourselves up, and made our way to the last destination- one of the largest private residences in the world- the stately 347 room Umaid Bhawan Palace. Built in the 1920s as an economic impetus in the wake of the draught, it’s built in an Indo-Sarcenic style. The tell-tell signs of a well mixed influence of Rajput, Mughal and British architectures is evident. It’s a sight to behold. The little museum and a few vintage cars on display are what casual visitors are privy to. But that’s enough to soak in the splendour of Umaid Bhawan and wrap up the rustic grandeur of Jodhpur. Till next time..
How to reach Jodhpur: By Air, it’s connected with Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and other cities. By rail, you can reach from all major cities. By Road, it’s midway between Delhi and Gujarat and the highways are excellent.
Where to stay: If you can afford five-star, there are some exquisite options, none grander than the Taj at Umaid Bhawan. If not, there are little, cozy hotels and homestays in the old town with rooftop cafes. These are highly recommended. Give the middle rung modern hotels a miss.
What to eat: Marwari Thali at Gypsy. Tea & Snacks at Namaste Caffe terrace in the evenings or mornings. Dinner at Raas or Paal Haveli overlooking the fort. Mirchi Vada, Samosa, Mawa Kachori & Pyaaz Kachori on the street.
How to travel: Uber and Ola run great & are easily available. Travelling anywhere in the city doesn’t cost more than Rs 100. Auto-rickshaws are good too.