INDIA TRAVELS: JODHPUR (Rajasthan)

 

blue-city-jodhpurJodhpur is to New Delhi as Boston is to New York City.  Compared to New Delhi’s 22 million people, Jodhpur’s 1.3 mil seems downright quaint.  The traffic is calmer, the streets less crowded.  It’s often called the Sun City for its sunny climate (and a record high of 129 degrees Fahrenheit in May!) or the Blue City, because they were jealous of the Pink City and decided to paint a large number of their buildings blue.  Just kidding – they too painted their buildings for a royal visit.  You’ll see a lot of signage for military forces – Army, Air Force, Border Security, etc.  Its prime location and extra space makes it a perfect headquarters.

Below you’ll find:

  • Village Tour
  • City Sightseeing
  • Restaurant Reviews
  • Hotel Review

Village Tour

Village Tour
They were gracious enough to share the road with us

We took a package tour that promised to show us “village life.”  Not quite equivalent to a trip to Old Town Williamsburg or Plymouth Plantation, this tour was more like if you went to an American suburb in the 1950’s.  Our stops did not represent a far-distant past, but they were most certainly hiding away any modern conveniences like cell phones.  I’d say it was fun; but if I was a tour guide, I might design this excursion differently.

Pottery Stop

We visited the home of a master potter.  His family all worked there, but clearly deferred to the master of the house.  They created fun trinkets for tourists, including small authentic oil lamps. But another large part of their inventory was clay water containers that keep water cool even in the boiling Rajasthan climate.

Farming Stop

This stop was at a local Bishnoi farmer’s home.  He must be the jolliest man in all of India.  He has clearly been welcoming tourists to his farm for years and loved every second of the attention.  We has left out three piles of different kinds of grain so we could touch and taste.  The Bishnoi are a religious group in this geographic area who follow 29 tenets, many of which emphasize protecting the environment, especially trees and livestock.  In 1730, 363 men, women and children were killed protecting trees, hugging them to prevent the king’s men from cutting them down.

While the women of his family lounged in the shade of their small home, the farmer lead us to a shaded space meant to welcome visitors.  There he demonstrated the local custom of making opium tea for guests.  It sounds exciting and risqué, but honestly is tasted disgusting – like dirty water and no, I did not feel any different.  

Next he demonstrated how to wrap a Rajasthani turban – a red or red/yellow/green fabric strip that shaded their heads or could be unraveled for all sorts of emergency or everyday uses, like tying things.  I really didn’t mind that his operation wasn’t 100% authentic.  Clearly, he got a small stipend for welcoming people and putting on these demonstrations, and he did it with joy – a win-win.

Weaving Stop

WeaverA clean, orderly man sat beneath a canopy and knotted a rug while listening to the radio.  His impeccable English and good quality glasses hinted that he must not really spend his days tying rugs, but we tried our hardest to push that out of our minds.  We’re pretty sure the man he introduced as his son holding his granddaughter was just a worker.  I mean, they had an outhouse with an English toilet in it on the other side of their field… but that’s OK…  You just hope that the men and women who do tie those rugs daily get their cut of the rugs he sells as an “authentic Rajasthani weaver.”  Because no matter what system they set up, these rugs were being woven by hand by real people.  No “Made in India” sticker necessary.  Why am I over explaining this?  Because I caved IMG_5781and bought one.  Sure, I brought the price down from $450 to $300, but I probably could have pushed for $250.  I mean, he has a credit card machine.  When I saw the sea foam rug, I couldn’t resist.  Everything else in India is bright and bold or a rich rust and brown.  This rug is now in daily use at the foot of my bed.

Wildlife preserve

Our last stop was a wildlife preserve.

Evening with Camels

Osian Camel Safari

The evening camp excursion is a popular one in many desert tourist destinations around the world.  I went on one in Dubai as well.  It includes a performance with traditional dancers and musicians, drinks, a meal and a camel ride.  For me this falls into the category of “not necessary, but better than staying at the hotel.”  I preferred the one in Dubai because it included henna.  This one felt a tad lackluster because there were few people there.  If any of my fellow travelers comment below, I’ll include their thoughts.

City Sightseeing

Jodhpur Fort / Mehrangarh Fort

Because this fort is one of the only non-government kept forts, it has a few unique feature.  What makes this fort different:

  • Extensive museum collection
  • Best gift shop BY FAR
  • Some unique aspects like the widow’s wall
  • The view!

This fort was built-in 1460 and towers above the blue city.  Still privately owned by the royal family, this fort has been used in many movies and requires constant fundraising.  The fort and its 7 gates were built for battle.  As you walk through the imposing main entrance –  the Iron Gate –  you will see metal handprints sunk into the wall.  They represent the royal wives who committed suicide on their husband’s funeral pyre, a tradition known as sati.  Morbid and heartbreaking, it is good to know that the British outlawed the practice in 1867 and the last recorded sati in Jodhpur was 1953.  Unfortunately, the Indian government did not pass a Sati Prevention Act until 1987.

I had a blast in the museum gift shop.  Reasonable prices were fixed and clearly marked.  They had a large selection of hand-printed “old” documents. The quotations are because I’m not sure how old or authentic the paper was, but the paintings are exquisite.  I bought adorable cards with hand painted auto rickshaws and parchment bookmarks with painted elephants and horses for 100Rs each ($1.50).  There were books, purses, jewelry and more.  All proceeds go to keeping the fort maintained.

The Hermit’s Curse

I absolutely love a good story, and curse-stories are some of the best.  When Rao JJodhpur curseodha, the chief of the Rathore Clan, needed to establish his dominance after traveling 15 years in the desert, he knew he had to build a fort.  The current location was the most strategically advantageous, but a local hermit was furious that he would be displaced.  He cursed the king and the fort, saying that it would never have water.  Rao Jodha believe the hermit had the power but could not stop his plans.  So he built a temple near the hermit’s prayer spot.  But at the time, it also seemed necessary for a human sacrifice.  A local man Rajiya Bambi offered himself to be entombed in the wall – alive.  In return the royal family promised to take care of his descendants.  To this day, the family lives on the property bestowed by Rao Jodha.  To the right is his headstone along the fort’s wall.

Jaswant Thada

Jaswant-Thada-JodhpurThis mausoleum built in 1899 is covered with intricate carvings.   It gleams white in the sun and is surrounded by impeccable landscaping.  I could have sat there for hours if we didn’t need to get my aunt, sister and BIL to the airport.  There is an extra charge for cameras so we opted not to bring.  This photo doesn’t do it justice.

Umaid  Bhawan Palace

This palace, completed in 1943, was the last palace built-in India.  It was constructed to employ thousands of people during a famine.  Owned by a royal family, it is one of the largest private residences in the world.  You can visit a relatively small but interesting museum that focuses on the 20th century, but the majority of the palace is run by the Taj Hotel.  There’s a significant fee to go into the hotel if you are not a guest. The museum includes models of the hotel and photos of the portions you can’t walk through, as well as many gifts given to the family throughout their reign including rare jewelry boxes, pottery, clocks, art deco paintings and more.  I liked it particularly because you get to see the recent past, including photos and paintings of the family in recent years.

The Jodhpur Jinx

4a3c39136438037a8501c4eeae21f25dThis is a story straight out of a movie.  I would love it, if it didn’t actually involve real life tragedy.  As it was told to me, the hermit who cursed the fort also cursed the Maharaja’s family, but online it seems that most think it is a simply an unfortunate jinx.  The jinx: a Maharaja will never live to see his grandson.  Shockingly this has proven true for 5 generations.  The jinx began in 1895 when Rao Jaswant Sing II died while his eldest son was only a child. That son died at 21 and his heir at 20.  Maharaja Umaid Singh lived to see his granddaughters, but his son died in a tragic plane crash at the age of 29.  The jinx almost continued when young Shivraj Sing nearly died in a polo accident.  However, he was able to partially recover and his family welcomed a son this November (2015)!   The last Maharaja of Jodhpur Gaj Singh met his grandson, breaking the jinx. At least it has a happy ending!

Restaurant reviews

Lunch – On the rock

National Highway 65, Ajit Colony

The guide brought us to a relaxing lunch at a mid-priced restaurant called On the Rocks.  The ambiance is its strong point as you’re nestled away under a large tree in an enclosed patio.  The menu includes Indian, Italian and Chinese a la carte.  The price adds up, but the quality is good.

 Dinner – Indique

Hotel Pal Haveli | Near Clock Tower, Gulab Sagar

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 10.52.53 AM

Indique is the open air terrace restaurant at the Pal Haveli Hotel, the converted former residence of a wealthy local family.  There’s a beautiful view of the lit -up city and clock tower.  I don’t have many pictures because we arrived when it was dark (I stole this one sorry!).  This was possibly the first and only time my family got to experience auto-rickshaws – and so glad they did!  Warning: you have to walk up a few flights of steep stairs.  The ambiance was charming and romantic, though I do suggest you bring a jacket just in case.  We had thalis with a choice of veg or non-veg.  It was delicious!  Every dish was fantastic.  I knew immediately that this would be a food highlight of the trip.

Lunch – Winds

Near Ncc BhawanJodhpur, India

A nice local restaurant under tent on a lawn, tucked away from the street.  They’re clearly used to foreigners.  Trip Advisor reviews say the locals recommend it.  We only found it because out guide knew of it.

Winds Restaurant

Hotel 

Park Plaza Jodhpur

park plaza suite

This mid-level price hotel was a perfect choice.  The rooms were large and clean.  We were given one suite with a large seating area.  The breakfast in the morning was a large spread with manned egg station.  And we had dinner there one night as well, which was also delicious.  There’s even a roof-top bar that is trying very hard but doesn’t quite hit the mark with ambiance and drink prices. In general, this is a very safe choice for foreigners.  If you’re back-packing through India, this is not where you’d stay.  If you’re traveling with parents, this is perfect.

Shopping

Exports – Maharaja Art & Craft

13th Mile Stine, Near Nissan Show Room, Pali Road, Jodhpur

maharajaartncraft@yahoo.com | +91 – 98280 – 82100

This was sold to us as an “export house,” which we thought would mean name-brand items.  But what they meant was they ship out the traditional Indian crafts and textiles to American corporations like Pottery Barn and some bed covers to European designers.  As before, the man laid out his many options, including pashmina shawls.  He had the air of honesty, and truthfully, he had the best prices so far.  He wouldn’t go too low, because it wasn’t in his interest – he was a wholesaler primarily.  We bought shawls for gifts, including a thank you pashmina for all my mom’s help with the wedding.  If you wanted to do all your textile and handicraft shopping in one go, I’d suggest this place.  But don’t expect a Louis Vuitton outlet.

 

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