Jodhpur and Jaisalmer: Blue and golden cities

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Planning the trip

We were all set to visit Sri Lanka, tickets were booked, hotels reserved and a detailed itinerary planned. However, the Mayan Calendar, not completely satisfied by the multiple books, conspiracy theories and movies made about it, decided to wreak havoc once more. We were forbidden from going on a holiday near the sea, especially on the date when the calendar supposedly went to the next Baktun (ominously, 13.0.0.0), and the world might end!

Back to the drawing board it was. We couldn’t go near the sea, and by similar logic eliminated mountains. Jungles were out too – what if the conspiracy theory actually meant that Jaguars would start taking over the world. No mountains, jungles and seas left us with only the Desert to visit.

Having briefly visited Bikaner and Jaipur for weddings, we decided that my third time to Rajasthan should be more focused on the monuments and culture of Rajasthan. My wife found us great hotels and luckily even though we booked last minute, managed to find good deals.

Day 1 (19th December)

We flew into Jodhpur, and arrived a little after noon. Post collecting our baggage, we found our cab waiting for us outside the airport. The drive from the airport to the Raas, through the heart of the city, took about 15 minutes. Having seen the pictures, I had imagined the hotel to be on the outskirts of the city, in a more open area, and here we were, the lanes kept getting narrower and dirtier. As I cursed myself for not reading more detailed reviews and checking maps for the hotel location we arrived at the front of what looked like an old Haveli. A quaint blue tuk-tuk stood to one side on the entrance porch. On completing check-in formalities, where we were pleasantly surprised to be told that our room has been upgraded from a garden-view to a fort-view room, we entered the hotel. For a second I felt like one of the Pevensie children, climbing out of the wardrobe into magical Narnia. The bridge over the little pond, the clear blue pool, the gardens, the dining area all with the imposing Mehrangarh Fort cut into the hillside in front of us, made us forget the hustle-bustle and griminess of the lanes outsides. The magic did not just end there, our room was beautiful with balcony that had a stunning vista of the Mehrangarh Fort.

Post a quick lunch and nap, we decided to explore the area right outside the hotel, commonly known as Sadar Bazaar. The market is colorful and lively at night, keeping alive the feel of an old bazaar culture. You can find a multitude of knick-knacks in the market, from multi-colored bangles, Rajasthani textiles and spices to clay figurines and marble work. The market is punctuated by a late 19th century Clock Tower,  known as Ghanta Ghar,  constructed by Shri Sardar Singh of Jodhpur.

Back at the Raas, we ate snacks at the terrace bar with a lit-up Mehrangarh Fort staring down at us. For dinner we headed across to Pal Haveli, another hotel one street away but with a rooftop restaurant, allowing unimpeded views of the Fort bathed in a warm yellow light.


Day 2 (20th December)

We started our second day of the trip by touring the Mehrangarh Fort  post breakfast. We took a tuk-tuk ride up to the Fort and hired a guide as well as rented out an audio guide at the Monument itself (I would recommend hiring a guide as the map of the audio guide can get a bit confusing)

The Fort was built in the mid-15th century by Maharana Rao Jodha when he decided to shift his capital from Mandore to the safer city of Jodhpur. The Fort has seven entrance gates and within are several beautifully decorated palaces.  The rampart offers stunning views of the city, and one can clearly see the old boundary wall within which lay the old city. It is this old city, where it is claimed that Brahmins painted their houses blue to set them apart from the rest, which gives the city its nickname of the ‘Blue City’.  The Fort is today managed by the Royal Trust as a museum and only a few of the palaces are open to the public as galleries. These galleries contain beautifully preserved examples of royal palanquins, weapons, miniature art, cradles and instruments amongst other things.

On finishing our tour of the Fort (1.5-2 hours) we decided to explore something advertised as the ‘Flying Fox’, a zip-lining course, consisting 6 zip-lines that take you around the Fort. For ~2-2.5 hours you can pretend to be anyone action movie hero you want to be – Indiana Jones escaping from the Nazis, James Bond getting away after thwarting Dr. No’s evil plans or even Spiderman swinging between buildings – as you enjoy giving you unparalleled views of the Fort from above. As a plus side, being a big Batman fan I got to see the boundary of the pit from which Bruce Wayne climbs out after being put there by Bane (no, the pit doesn’t really exist, it is just the boundary wall of a filled-in well).


Day 3 (21st December)

Day 3 was our so called ‘lazy day’. After having woken up leisurely, we took a tour of the old city by tuk-tuk (organized by the hotel). The tuk-tuk ride took us through the Bazaar as well as to the Fateh Pol, one of the gates of the Fort. A little past the gate, and up a flight of stairs awaits one of the most beautiful sights of Old City. The rows of blue houses in front seem like a gently rolling sea on a warm summers day. After taking in this sight we proceed to walk leisurely around Sadar Bazaar, trying the famous Jodhpuri Mirchi Bada, a snack consisting of chili (Mirchi) and potato stuffing, as well as purchasing some Lehriya Bandhej Sarees, sarees with a wave like print pattern on them, for family. The rest of the day was spent lazing on a deck chair by the pool (it was too cold to get in) and reading.


Day 4 (22nd December)

Day 4 marked the start of our journey to Jaisalmer. We started by driving upto the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur itself. Relatively new (construction started in 1929), the Palace is split into three wings – a part of the Palace is managed as a super-luxury hotel by the Taj Group, a part still serves as the principle residence of the Royal Family of Jodhpur and the third part is converted into a museum showcasing art, furniture, weapons and objects from the Royal Family’s collection. Guides are available at the museum itself, appointed by the museum trust and take you around the museum pointing out important artefacts.

Post touring the Museum, we started off for the Samsara Dechu, a resort and camp between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, although closer to Jaisalmer. The drive to Samsara took us about 2.5 hours and we arrived at the resort around 3pm. Post completing check-in formalities, we hopped into an open jeep for a Desert Safari. The Desert Safari took us across the dunes of the Thar Desert and past a few villages. We also had the opportunity to stop and explore a home in one of these villages to see how the locals live.

At the end of the Safari we were dropped off at the Desert Camp where we were to spend the night. Here, amidst the dunes, night fell quickly, and under a dark sky set with a million sparkling diamonds, you could almost feel time turn back on itself. Forget the en-suite bedrooms and the gentle hum of the generator for a moment, and you could be a Rajput king, traversing across the desert to conquer new lands. An evening program with folk music and dance was followed by desert set out in a large tent hall. As we turned in for the night, we felt something missing. The sudden call of a fox, piercing through the silence, helped us put a finger to it. For the first time, we were going to bed without any noise created by traffic or humans – no horns blaring or cars revving up, nobody talking loudly, no conversation emanating from a tv set and best of all, no phones ringing!

Day 5 (23rd December)

Waking up a little after day break, once again the lack of noise left us a bit disoriented. After breakfast, we climbed back into the jeep to head towards the hotel where we were to spend our last night of the trip. Dropping our luggage off in the room, we started for Jaisalmer to visit the Jaisalmer Fort and the Havelis of Jaisalmer. The drive from Samsara to the Fort took about 1.5 hours.  The Jaisalmer Fort has a resident population of ~4,000 people who are descendants of the workforce who were permitted to live within the fort premises by the Bhati rulers. Parts of the Fort are spectacular and showcase Rajasthani / Rajput architecture at its best. However, the presence of restaurants, hotels and the residents within its premises, gave it a very grubby and mucky feel, especially when compared to the pristine Mehrangarh Fort. We hired a local guide (no audio guide available) who took us through the monument at a relatively quick pace. Unfortunately, the Jain Temples were shut for the afternoon and we decided to skip the museum gallery altogether. One of the ramparts of the Fort gave us a panoramic view of the city and the sun reflecting off the yellow sandstone homes all around is truly reflective of the city’s nickname, the Golden City.

Post touring the Fort, we drove down to an area which has the famous Havelis of Jaisalmer. This consists of Patwon Ki Haveli, the first Haveli of Jaisalmer, the architecture of which influenced all other Havelis. Again, we hired a local guide as there was no audio guide available to tour the Havelis. While were not lucky enough to catch the ‘man with the longest moustache’ who generally is found outside these Havelis, we did get to see artisans working on the famous Rajasthani Dolls. Going through the one of the Havelis, one gets a glimpse of how the landlords once lived in Rajasthan. I for a moment was lost as these Havelis built in the early 19th century, looked no different than some of traditional Marwari homes in the Burrabazar area of Kolkata. The view of the Fort from the roof of the Haveli is breathtaking.

Day 6 (24th December)

5 days later our trip was at an end. The world had not ended (although being ruled by Jaguars would have been pretty awesome) but thanks to the Mayans, I got to explore two beautiful cities of Rajasthan in depth, something I had been wanting to do since shifting to Delhi.

Quick Summary:

Where: Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

When: 19th-24th December 2012, 6 days

Mode of Travel: Flight to Jodhpur, Drive to Jaisalmer and back

Hotels: Raas and Samsara Dechu

Itinerary:

19th – Arrive in Jodhpur, Bazaar walk about

20th – Mehrangarh Fort sight seeing

21st – Old City and Bazaar shopping

22nd – Umaid Bhawan tour en-route to Jaisalmer with stay at Desert Camp

23rd – Jaisalmer Fort and Haveli Tours

24th – Back to Jodhpur for departure flight

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