For the ride to Jodhpur we had sleeper class train tickets which are about as cheap as you can go before getting to unreserved territory which means bundles and people hanging out of doors like you see on TV program’s about India. Sleeper class was ok, without too many cockroaches and not too crowded either.
When we arrived it was raining which took some of the dust out of the air for a fresher feel to the town. We rode in another type of Tuk Tuk (taller and thinner whilst being as aerodynamic as a brick) to get to the hotel, though the rain had turned the dirt roads into muddy roads. The only locals that seemed to enjoy the weather were the numerous cows. From the rooftop seating area at the hotel there were great views of the Fort sat high above the city.
By morning the world had returned to normal; the rain was gone and the dust was back. We made our way up the hills to Jaswant Thada which is the marble memorial to a Maharaja and is described as “a collection of whimsical domes”. It was excellently carved and we enjoyed our time spent wandering around it, or dancing in Katy’s case.
From there it was a 1km walk along the road to the Mehrangarh Fort, the one we could see from the hotel. The fort sits on a rocky hill which is 120m above the city. The walls are largely carved from the rock on which the fort sits, so the fort literally emerges from the rocks beneath. On the way in we saw that the audio guide to the fort didn’t cost anything so we went for it. Most places we’ve been have audio guided tours but we figured they would be dull and normally an extra cost. We had been advised that this one was really good and once we got past how silly we looked with the ill-fitting headphones the guide did make some interesting points like the fact that the fort location was previously owned by a recluse who was forced off the land to build the fort, so he cursed the site. To counteract this, the Maharaja took the obvious step of asking someone to volunteer to be buried alive in the foundations to appease the gods. A volunteer was found and is still in an unknown location within the foundations.
There were also a couple of literary references from the guide, the first as we passed the impossibly high bastions which inspired Rudyard Kipling to write that the Fort was “the work of angels, fairies and giants…built by titans and coloured by the morning sun…he who walks through it loses sense of being among buildings. It is as though he walked through mountain gorges…” We hear you Rudyard, and we couldn’t have put it better ourselves. This place is incredible and it’s easy to see why it’s regarded as one of the world’s finest forts.
Then there was the self-immolation hand prints made by the last Maharani’s (Maharaja’s wives) to carry out the Sati ritual of throwing themselves onto their husband’s funeral pyre (in 1843). The haunting hand prints on the wall are just inside the gate. The fort contained bucket loads of beautifully carved stonework buildings and some lovely miniature artworks which were immensely detailed showing the lives of the Maharajas. Within the palace was an area where the women were kept (to keep them away from the men) and were never allowed out in public.
Along the high walls the audio guide said that it was from there that Aldous Huxley wrote “from the bastions of Jodhpur Fort one hears as the gods must hear from Olympus”. The sounds of the city are audible from up there, but not the bike horns and engine rumbles so much as the laughter and singing from the surrounding dwellings because of the way the wind catches the sounds and drags them up the walls.
While we were on the walls we met another English couple. They were from Blackpool and are travelling for a year or more and it turned out that we both had bookings on the same carriage of the same train to Jaisalmer.
The walk back to the hotel from the fort took us through some of the old backstreets with many a blue building (Jodhpur is the ‘blue city’). It was about school closing time so there were hundreds of kids on their way home and all of them wanted to say hello to us. The streets all looked very similar and are very hard to navigate. You can’t see enough skyline to navigate by landmarks like the fort, we only had the occasional bit of sunlight to see where the sun was to make our way south east to the hotel. We did find it in the end and getting a bit lost on the way was part of the fun. We had a great curry on the roof while watching the sun set over the fort we had just explored.
The following morning the hotel owner approached us after breakfast to ask for our help with an email written in English. Someone had lodged a complaint against the hotel in the form of negative feedback on booking.com and he needed to reply. We wrote the reply for him as it was clear that the complainer was just being an idiot. While we worked on the email in his house, his mother came and gave us tea to say thank you. Whilst on a high after our good deed we were buying some art supplies from a nearby store when a little girl came into the shop clutching a 20 rupee note to buy an exercise book. She was clearly excited about the prospect so we paid for the book for her (super generous of us to splash out 25p right?!). Despite the lack of large sums of money involved she was over the moon and couldn’t thank us enough. She even chased us down the road a few minutes later on her battered bike to say thank you some more. We feel it justifies our position of not giving money to kids begging on the streets; giving them money just gives them a reason to be on the street begging and a reason to hassle tourists. This little girl wanted a book for school, which she didn’t ask or expect us to pay for, so we felt good about it.
We decided to spend most of the day looking through the busy colourful bazaars. We did wander a bit far though at one point and were mobbed by an army of little kids as we tried to walk past their game of cricket. They were all smiles and hellos but of course there were a couple trying to get into our bags (they failed). The next group were mid-teenagers, one of whom wanted to talk to Katy, she ignored him which embarrassed him (deservedly) and in his embarrassment in front of his friends decided to throw a bit of gravel in our direction. That’s just not cricket, but they ran off after Jason pretended to run at them. We decided that the outer regions of the city were perhaps not the place to spend the day wandering and started to meander back to the centre.
Back in the centre we found a rooftop restaurant and ordered pancakes. An hour later a half cooked mess arrived which we didn’t eat or pay for. The cutlery that arrived with it looked as though it had been used to stir cow poo. Dirty cutlery is expected in India, but there is a limit. We found the whole episode rather amusing. It may sound like we had a bad day, but we really didn’t, we had a great time.
We eventually dinned back at the hotel with the fort view. We had yet another very early start the next day for our train to Jaisalmer.
Jodhpur had been the first step outside the Golden Triangle of north India (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur is the loop everyone does), though a large number do go to Jodhpur too. We liked it a lot even though there were less big ticket attractions than other places it had more charm. As a bonus it was actually very blue unlike previous places that had claimed to be a certain colour then turn out not to be! We heard various reasons for the blue colour, including to ward off mosquitoes to cool the buildings, for good luck and to attract tourists!