December 29, 2014 – January 1, 2015
After our tour of the Taj Mahal and celebrating Christmas in Agra we boarded another train west into the desert, to Rajasthan and the city of Jodhpur. Jodhpur, the blue city, has been the home of the Maharaja’s of Rajasthan for centuries, and is home to one of the largest castles still surviving in Rajasthan. And we were just in time to visit for Maharaja’s New Year’s fireworks.
Jodhpur, the home of the Maharaja is a city in the desert of north western India, in a region called Rajasthan. The desert city was inhabited by many at the top of India’s caste system, the Brahmins, the wealthiest and most powerful people in the region. To distinguish themselves at the top they would add indigo to the paint of their homes, making them a light blue color that still remains today on the walls of many of the city’s old and new buildings, earning the city its nickname as the ‘Blue City’.
Due once again to the thick winter fog encasing much of northern and central India, our train was 13 hours late in arriving in Agra for us to board, which increased to 15 hours late on route to Jodhpur. Thus we arrived at night rather than in the morning. We headed out of the train station and met with one of the most common taxi scams in India, something which is particularly common in Jodhpur.
The taxis, three wheeled tuk-tuks, are paid a commission by hotels to bring them guests, so they will often bring you to a hotel which pays them, rather than the one you want to go to. We had already heard that Jodhpur was particularly notorious for this and so we warned our tuk-tuk driver to only take us to the hotel we were interested in, as we would not be taking a room at a random hotel. We informed him that we already had a reservation with our hotel and would not be changing it. Our tuk-tuk driver said no problem and confidently took us through the city, to the wrong hotel. As it turns out many of the hotels have very similar names and the tuk-tuk drivers use this to take passengers to the wrong hotel, but one with a very similar name. I knew something was up when he took out his cellphone on the trip and said a few quick words into it, before putting it away. Something which should always raise suspicion when in a cab. When we arrived at the fake hotel, someone was there to try and sell us a room and told us our reservation was with them. We did not fall for it and demanded to go the correct hotel or we would not be paying the driver. He finally took us the correct hotel, driving straight there because he knew exactly where it was. This scam is common all over India but especially in Jodhpur for some reason, when you make a reservation with a hotel they will warn you that the taxis will always attempt to take you somewhere else. A tip for taking taxis in India – on future taxi rides when we would be riding to a hotel with our large backpacks (obvious that we had just arrived) we would always pick out a landmark near our prospective hotel and ask to be dropped off there and then just walk to our hotel, rather than tell the taxi a hotel as we would probably just end up the wrong hotel. If you ask to be dropped off at a clock tower for example it becomes fairly hard for a taxi driver to drop you off anywhere else. Though they will still ask you about three dozen times which hotel you are going to, or if you want to go to a hotel they know of, just insist that they drop you off where you want.
Once we safely arrived at the correct hotel, we went up to the rooftop restaurant (something every hotel has) and were immediately treated to a view of the main reason for visiting the Blue City, Mehrangarh Fort. The ancient fort and palace looms high above the city and was an unconquerable bastion overlooking the surrounding desert, it also served as the Maharaja’s palace for centuries.
Touring the Fort
The fort is easily accessible as all the tourist hotels and guest houses sit right along side it. And since it rises so dramatically above the city it is pretty hard to miss. Most of the fort is available for tourists to walk through and visit, including the Maharaja’s old palace and private rooms. The current Maharaja lives in a large palace visible in the distance, but his old palace in the fort is open to tourists.
We were so impressed by the fort we visited twice, once in the afternoon and again the next day in the morning. The fort is also extremely photogenic and we wanted to get pictures of it at different times of the day when the sun was at different angles.
The Maharaja’s Palace
Most of the palace is completely open to tourists and there is an impressive collection of art, turbans, rugs, furniture, arms and armor, and everyday artifacts from life in the palace over the centuries.
On the way back to town from exploring the fort, you can visit the Jaswant Thanda, an impressive white marble memorial dedicated to a popular ruler Jaswant Singh II. The pristine building and grounds sit alongside a small lake within the extensive outer perimeter walls of the main fort.
New Years Eve in Jodhpur
We celebrated New Years Eve in Jodhpur, our guest house threw a party and had food and drinks on the rooftop to watch the fireworks. Parties in India are a bit different than in the western world, it is still taboo for unmarried men and women to hangout or celebrate together so our party was only men. When we asked what the women were doing we were told they were at home. We befriended an older Kiwi couple staying in the hotel and had a good time chatting about India.
Exploring Jodhpur – Sardar Market
The main draw to Jodhpur is the massive fort at the city’s center, the city itself has very little of interest to most tourists but there are a few activities worth checking out. Jodhpur’s Sadar Market around the clock tower is fairly extensive and worth a stroll through.
Exploring Jodhpur – All You Can Eat Thali
A “Thali” is a complete Indian meal, served on a tray. It consists of a few different curries and sides of rice and flat bread. You can find a traditional thali dinner at any restaurant in India. With the help of our guidebook we found an all you can eat vegetarian thali restaurant called Gypsy in Jodhpur which is definitely worth checking out if you are visiting. A veggie thali is the only item they serve. Not only was the food tasty, it was fun to watch the six or so different waiters’ system for serving the different foods in a particular order.
After a relaxing New Year’s Day, we were off early the following morning on a bus to our next destination further into the desert of Rajasthan.