After visiting Jaipur and Udaipur earlier this week, let’s continue our journey in exploring more of Rajasthan by heading slightly north-west, arounf 250 km from Udaipur to the city known as the Blue City or Jodhpur.
Jodhpur – The Blue City
The second-largest city in the state, and formerly the seat of a princely state of the same name, Jodhpur has historically been the capital of the kingdom known as Marwar. The city is a popular tourist destination, featuring many palaces, forts and temples, set in the stark landscape of the Thar Desert.
The city of Jodhpur was founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha, a Rajput chief of the Rathore clan. Jodha succeeded in conquering the surrounding territory and thus founded a kingdom which came to be known as Marwar. As Jodha hailed from the nearby town of Mandore, that town initially served as the capital of this state; however, Jodhpur soon took over that role, even during the lifetime of Jodha. The city was located on the strategic road linking Delhi to Gujarat. This enabled it to profit from a flourishing trade in opium, copper, silk, sandalwood, dates and other tradeable goods. There are many building painted blue in the city and this is because it was originally painted blue to signify that they were occupied by the Brahmin community.
So what’s special in terms of places to see and visit in Jodhpur?
Imposing Mehrangarh Fort, which rises above the “Blue City”, is one of the largest and most famous forts in India. One of the largest forts in India, Mehrangarh Fort is also called Mehran Fort and was built in 1459 by Rao Jodha. You can spot imprints of cannon balls which have existed for many hundred years now. The most interesting part of the fort are the seven gates that were built by Maharaja Man Singh to commemorate his victories. As impressive as it is, as a well-preserved heritage structure, there’s so much more to discover inside. The fort has been privately restored and its museum has an outstanding display of royal memorabilia, including about 15,000 items from Maharaja Gaj Singh II’s personal collection. It also has the only professional museum shop in India. The cultural performances that happen daily at various places inside the fort, as part of the special focus on folk art and music, are another highlight.
This intricately crafted cenotaph (empty commemorative tomb) made of milky-white marble was built in 1899, in honor of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. It features white marble lattice screens and whimsical domes, while the inside is adorned with portraits of Rathore rulers going back to the 13th century. It’s a peaceful place to relax and enjoy stunning views of the Fort and city. Many a tired tourist sprawls on the front lawn to recuperate after sightseeing.
Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park
The Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park was developed in 2006, with the aim of restoring the natural ecology of a large rocky wasteland area next to the Fort. Neglected for many years, an invasive thorny shrub overran the park. After the bush was eradicated, more than 80 native species of rock-loving plants from the Thar desert were grown there. The Park extends across 72 hectares (around 200 acres) of rehabilitated land and sits in the lee of Mehrangarh Fort. The park is criss-crossed with walking trails that take you up to the city walls, around Devkund lake, spotting local and migratory birds, butterflies and reptiles. It’s interesting to explore at different times of the year, as its foliage changes with the seasons. Visit in the early morning or late afternoon for the most pleasant temperatures.
Umaid Bhawan Palace
Clearly visible to the south of the city and completed only in 1944, this is the last great palace built in India. The Maharaja of Jodhpur, Gaj Singh II lives here to this day, but half the building has been converted to a 5-star hotel and there is also a small museum on grounds. The construction of the palace started in 1929 for palace for Maharaja Umaid Singh and was designed by the British architect Henry Lanchester and took more than 3000 workers 15 years to complete its 365 rooms, at a cost of around ₹11 million. The building is mortarless, and incorporates 100 wagon loads of Makrana marble and Burmese teak in the interior. Apparently its construction began as a royal job-creation program during a time of severe drought. The museum which includes photos of the elegant art-deco interior plus an eccentric collection of elaborate clocks, is the only part open to casual visitors. A few highly polished classic vintage cars, part of the Maharaja’s collection are also on display in glass enclosures in front of the museum, by the entrance gate.
The century-old clock tower is a city landmark surrounded by the vibrant sounds, sights and smells of Sardar Market. The market is bordered by triple-arched gateways at its northern and southern ends. The narrow, winding lanes of the old city spread out in all directions from here. Westward, you plunge into the old city’s commercial heart, with crowded alleys and bazaars selling vegetables, spices, sweets, silver and handicrafts.
Toorji Ka Jhalra
This geometrically handsome step-well (also known as a baori or wav) has been rejuvenated after decades as a rubbish dump. Its clean lines and clear, fish-filled water will leave you mesmerised. It’s a great place to just sit and watch, and the attached cafe adds further incentive for a visit.
With this we bid goodbye to Jodhpur and travel nearly 300 km in a westerly direction towards the border with Pakistan and the Thar Desert to Jaisalmer.
Jaisalmer – The Golden City
In the heart of Thar or the Great Indian Desert, the town of Jaisalmer stands on a ridge of yellowish sandstone, and is crowned by the ancient Jaisalmer Fort. The town is known as the Golden City for its beautiful sun-soaked sand dunes, exuberant forts, and rich culture and traditions. Many of the houses and temples of both the fort, and of the town below, are built of finely sculptured sandstone, contributing to its name. Jaisalmer is named after Rawal Jaisal, a Bhati ruler who founded the city in 1156 AD. Jaisalmer means the Hill Fort of Jaisal. Apparently if you take in an aerial view of the town, it looks like an image of a prince sitting on the ridge of sand dunes, crowned by the Jaisalmer fort.
Called the Golden Fort because of te yellow sandstone used to construct it, Jaisalmer Fort is a living urban centre, with about 3000 people residing within its walls. It is honeycombed with narrow winding lanes, lined with houses and temples – along with a large number of handicraft shops, guesthouses and restaurants. The fort was founded in 1156 by the Rajput ruler Jaisal and reinforced by subsequent rulers, Jaisalmer Fort was the focus of a number of battles between the Bhatis, the Mughals of Delhi and the Rathores of Jodhpur. In recent years, the fabric of the fort has faced increasing conservation problems due to unrestricted water use caused, in the most part, by high tourist numbers. The sunset from the fort is particularly appealing due to the honey golden hue which drapes the fort because of the material used to construct it.
Jaisalmer is also known for the fairy-tale architecture of its magnificent historic havelis (mansions), located both inside and out of the fort. Many can be found in the narrow lanes about 10 minutes’ walk north of the fort. In this area, the 19th century Patwa Haveli is the city’s biggest and most important one. It’s actually a cluster of five mansions built by a wealthy Jain trader and his sons between 1800 and 1860 who made their fortunes in brocade and jewellery. Kothari’s Patwa Haveli is particularly impressive, with its breath-taking intricate stonework and artwork, and has been converted to a museum. In the same area, the distinctively shaped Salim Singh Haveli and extraordinary Nathmal Haveli are worth visiting as well. Inside Nathmal Haveli, the beautiful gold paintings are a highlight.
Within the fort walls is a maze-like, interconnecting treasure trove of seven beautiful yellow sandstone Jain temples, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. The intricate carving rivals that of the marble Jain temples in Ranakpur and Mt Abu, and has an extraordinary quality because of the soft, warm stone.
Bada Bagh, also called Barabagh (literally Big Garden) is a garden complex about 6 km north of Jaisalmer on the way to Ramgarh. Overlooking a mango grove sits a set of royal cenotaphs, or chhatris, of Maharajas of Jaisalmer state, starting with Jait Singh III (d. 1528), built by the son of the Rawal Jait Singh III, Maharawal Lunkaran Singh. Later, with time 104 members of royal family graves and their chattries were built. Maharawal Lunkaran Singh also completed the construction of Jait Bandh, a dam project that was started by his father Rawal Jait Singh III which stands useful till date for conservation of water.
Sam Sand Dunes
The silky Sam dunes, 41km west of Jaisalmer along a good sealed road, are one of the most popular excursions from the city. About 2km long the dunes are undeniably among the most picturesque in the region. Some camel safaris camp here, but many more people just roll in for sunset, to be chased across the sands by tenacious camel owners offering short rides. Plenty more people stay overnight in one of the several tent resorts near the dunes. The place acquires something of a carnival atmosphere from late afternoon till the next morning due to the cultural performances, making it somewhere to avoid if you’re after a solitary desert experience. On the way to the Dunes, Kuldhara Abandoned Village is a spooky but interesting place to visit. If you’d prefer a more peaceful desert sojourn, the dunes around Khuri village in Desert National Park an hour southwest of Jaisalmer are more suitable.
Thar Heritage Museum and Desert Culture Center and Museum
This private museum has an intriguing assortment of Jaisalmer artefacts, from turbans, musical instruments, fossils and kitchen equipment, to displays on birth, marriage, death and opium customs. It’s brought alive by the guided tour you’ll get from its founder, local historian and folklorist LN Khatri.
The Desert Culture Center and Museum, near Gadsisar Lake, is deservedly popular. It’s run by a local historian and teacher, who also runs the Folklore Museum. The museum tells the history of Rajasthan’s princely states and has exhibits on traditional Rajasthani culture. The diverse collection includes regional musical instruments, old currency, traditional jewelry worn by desert women, textiles, hunting items, royal memorabilia, artillery, and armor. It also hosts nightly half-hour puppet shows with English commentary.
Gadsisar Lake, also called Gadisar Lake, is a huge artificial reservoir built by Maharawal Gadsi Singh in the 14th century and situated on the southeast edge of the city. It provided the only water supply to the town until 1965. The many small temples and shrines that surround the lake make it an inviting place to relax and spend some time. Migratory waterfowl are an added attraction in winter, along with numerous catfish in the water that love to be fed. Boats are available for hire nearby too.
In addition to the cities mentioned, there are a few other places which are equally entrancing in the state.
Sawai Madhopur – For The Love Of Tigers
Founded by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh in 1763, Sawai Madhopur is home to the Ranthambhore National Park, which is best known for inhabiting tigers. The Ranthambore forests were the hunting grounds for the Kachwaha Rajputs of Jaipur till India received its independence. Aer independence it was established as the Sawai Madhopur Game Sanctuary and it rose to being a tiger reserve in 1973 and got its national park status in 1980. The Ranthambhore Palace and Fort, a 10th century historic palace, located in the heart of the national park, is another tourist attraction here and has been declared a UNESCO heritage as it imbibes a vast cultural history of the several clans, kings, and architectures. The best time to visit is between November and February for it is easy to spot tigers at the national park during that period.
Pushkar – The Home of the Largest Camel Fair in India
Known for the world famous five day Camel Fair, where people from nearby villages and towns come to trade camels and livestock, from which takes place in the Hindu month of Kartika (October/November), the town of Pushkar lies about 150 km southwest of Jaipur. For the rest of the year Pushkar remains a prominent Hindu pilgrimage town, humming with puja (prayers), bells, drums and devotional songs. The town wraps itself around a holy lake featuring 52 bathing ghats and 400 milky-blue temples, including one of the world’s few Brahma temples. The main street is one long bazaar, selling anything to tickle a traveller’s fancy, from hippy-chic tie-dye to didgeridoos. The result is a muddle of religious and tourist scenes. Yet, despite the commercialism, the town remains enchantingly mystic and relaxed. It is believed that a dip in the famed Pushkar Lake cleanses all your sins and will cure all skin diseases.
So are you tempted to go visit Rajasthan after reading this post? I definitely am! Hoping to make a trip there sooner than later.