Romancing the Blue City
After an uncomfortable overnight train journey we reached Jodhpur around 9.30 am with sleepy eyes and stomach full of hunger pangs. Steeping foot into the Jodhpur station, we were surprised to see it being extremely neat and the walls filled with beautiful and colourful artwork unlike most of the typical Indian railway stations.
Art work in Jodhpur Railway Station
Despite our tiredness, we paused to admire the beauty of the station before proceeding to the customary haggling with an auto-rickshaw driver to take us to Hotel Haveli in old Jodhpur. On a side note, more than half the hotels in Jodhpur are named Haveli (translated to Mansion) and we had to give clear instructions so that we didn’t end up in some other hotel. The narrow roads lined with very old buildings on both the sides gave the city a beautiful charm which was indeed a refreshing sight from Bangalore’s concrete wilderness. We felt transported in time to an era of princesses and palaces.
Hotel Haveli was an old family-owned mansion with most of its rooms converted for guests’ use. There was nothing swanky or posh about this place but the narrow wooden staircases and big rooms with old wooden cots and furniture filled us with happiness as we felt being a part of the rich culture here. Looking out of the window we could see the Mehrangarh Fort in the horizon looming over the city in contrast with the blue skies. Right adjacent to our hotel was an old step well with ornately carved platforms for people to view and feed the fishes. Step wells were constructed centuries ago with the intention of providing water to people even during droughts, hence this centuries-old step well still boasted of water underneath with a thriving fish population.
When three girls go on a trip to a place as vibrant and colourful as Rajasthan, maximum importance is placed on; well you got it right, shopping. Rather than shortlisting places to visit, we knew which markets to shop for authentic Rajasthani products. Yet, the breath-taking beauty of the Mehrangarh Fort took precedence over our shopping plans and we decided to give this beauty a visit. Stepping out in the middle of the day, braving the scorching sun and the narrow lanes and armed with a water bottle, we decided to walk the steep ascent to Mehrangarh Fort. A daring act indeed for three engineers who spend most of their time in cubicles and the rest of time sleeping! Reaching the entry point of the Fort after the climb we were already huffing and puffing and sweating like pigs with a near empty water bottle in our hands. With our hearts filled with pride in conquering the ascent without collapsing or any medical emergency, we made our way to the elevator to take us to the Mehrangarh Museum and the period rooms which were two floors above. We were not the least bit embarrassed while awaiting our turn at the elevator in a queue filled with senior citizens. The view of the city below was magnificent, but we knew that this paled in comparison to what waited for us above.
Stepping out of the elevator we reached the rampart fitted with cannons facing all directions. The part of Jodhpur towards the left side of the rampart had all its buildings uniformly painted blue in colour thereby giving the city the name Blue City. After enjoying the view we moved towards the period rooms which comprised of Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), Sheesha Mahal (Mirror Palace), Takhat Vilas and Jhanki Mahal (The Peeping Palace). All these rooms have distinct styles of design, furnishing and carvings suited to their functionality. Moti Mahal was where the king used to sit on his throne and meet all his subjects. Sheesh Mahal, like the name suggests, has beautiful mirror-work. Phool Mahal is believed to be a private and exclusive chamber of pleasure. Takhat Vilas served as the residence of Maharaja Takhat Singh during his reign. Jhanki Mahal was meant for the royal ladies to watch the official proceedings of the court and it also houses the collection of royal cradles which are decorated with figures of fairies, animals and birds.
From here we moved on to the Mehrangarh Museum which has separate galleries for Howdahs, Palaquins, Daulat Khana (treasure house), armoury and paintings. Elephant Howdahs are multi compartmental seats fastened on top of the elephant for the royalty to travel with their personal guards. Palanquins are used by noble ladies to travel across regions. Daulat Khana displays one of the best collection of fine and applied arts of Mughal period. The Armoury displays a collection of armours in Jodhpur as well as the weapons used by various emperors including Akbar. The painting galley holds a fine example of Marwar paintings.
Towards the end of our exhausting albeit informative trip we reached Moti Mahal Chowk. While resting on the benches laid out in the courtyard our eyes fell on something interesting. It was a board for palm reading by Mr. S.L Sharma. We could see the palmist sitting in a small room and giving out information to some foreigners. Interrupting his reading and asking his rate (Rs. 500), one of us decided to take a plunge. Although we all had interests in divining the future and would have definitely loved a trailer of all the perils waiting ahead we contained our curiosity till we heard the reading of our friend and judged his authenticity.
As her turn came, we three walked into the room and sat down. He took my friend’s palms and after a thorough examination gave a few basic facts which were pretty accurate regarding career and life. My friend and I exchanged meaningful glances filled with awe at the accuracy of these details. Soon, the palmist started focusing on specific periods and incidents in her life along with giving more insight into her personality. However, things soon started going south as he gave examples of incidents in her life that had never taken place. I stopped making eye contacts with my friends as I felt I might burst out laughing at the smallest trigger. His readings went so off-track such that I felt the weight of saved 500 rupees in my purse. As a few foreigners were waiting outside to get spiritual insight into their lives, the palmist wrapped up his predictions. We stepped outside and burst out laughing. All the palmistry and mystic knowledge he imparted can make a few gullible tourists feel insightful but not us Indians!
We wrapped up the Fort tour with a visit to the coffee shop at the entrance and munching on really tasty dhoklas as the sun went down. Rejuvenated post a brief rest in our room, it was time for our main agenda – shopping! A bit of bargaining in Sardar Market and Ghanta Ghar market enabled us to buy some traditional jewellery like necklaces and bangles at a very cheap price when compared to Bangalore. Exploring the market, we came upon a few shops selling fabrics, skirts, cushion covers etc. with traditional Rajasthani embroidery and we were like bulls in a china shop buying as much as our hands could carry. Most of the shops were tuned for selling to foreigners and thereby quoted a very high markup price. Haggling is an absolute essentiality!
Sardar Market and Ghanta Ghar
Bangles at Ghanta Ghar
Who does not go hungry after a fantastic bout of shopping and haggling? As our lunch was a huge disappointment (read spice-free and bland), we enquired at Sardar Market and people directed us to Gypsy Restaurant. On enquiring about their authentic Rajasthani Thali, we were taken to a less-crowded section of the restaurant and provided with an excellent meal while being waited upon by a great staff! As we had to catch the 11:30pm train to Jaisalmer, we took an auto back to Hotel Haveli, had an emergency packing session by shoving the newly shopped goods into multiple suitcases and backpacks, checked out and took another auto back to Jodpur railway station to catch our train. Luckily, this time around we had a 3 tier AC ticket. Boarding the train and climbing onto our berths, all three of us immediately fell asleep after the eventful day.
To be continued…
Read Chapter 1 here : Chapter 1