In my initial plan, Jodhpur was not part of the itinerary. I have travelled so extensively across Rajasthan, seen so many wonderful forts, palaces and temples, I think I have sampled enough of the state. I have to move on. Sometimes as a tourist you are compelled to visit some famous place out of mere obligation. If someone were to ask me sometime in the future, ‘Have you seen Jodhpur?’, I wouldn’t like to say no.
The picture of Jodhpur so often advertised in tourist brochures and trailer videos is not only unique but also always the same – low houses packing a broad valley, stretching to the far hills in the background and the houses completely coloured in a uniform shade of indigo blue. I am on my way to Jodhpur to see this picture, something that gives the city its alternative name – the Blue City.
‘You must visit Mandore. It is hardly ten kilometers from Jodhpur,’ tells me a local on the bus. I am on my way from Osiyan. ‘In fact, it is on the way.’
‘What’s in Mandore?’ I ask. I have not heard of this place.
‘It’s the seat of the old kingdom of Marwar established by the Gurjara Pratiharas back in the 7th century. The place has good historic ruins of the period.’
It sounds just the kind of place to interest me but I hate to break my plan of leaving Rajasthan in a couple of days and move on Haryana and Punjab. The plan is to stay for only a night at Jodhpur. I find a room, dump my stuff and hurry up to visit the old fort at Mehrangarh. It was in the 15th century that the king of the Rathore clan of Rajputs decided to move his captial from Mandore to Mehrangarh. I take a long walk through town. The walk takes me past a five-storeyed clock tower which is surrounded by a busy market. It is a nice place to observe local customs and the common ways of the people. From here I can see the fort walls standing magnificently with their many bastions on top of a rocky and steep hill.
The fort and palaces within are vast. There are lots of things to see. Lower fort walls, regular crenellations, high arched gateways and high palaces perched on rocky cliffs come together nicely to make wonderful perspectives. Old cannons heat up not in the face of battle but under the merciless sun. Summer is truly underway and the afternoon hours are getting hotter by the day.
Mehrangarh Fort is a place for tourists and many are to be seen on the inside. A small band of musicians play on traditional pipes and drums, something that might have been played from naubhat khanas for royal ceremonies or grand entrances. Exotic shops sell expensive stuff to the interest of foreign tourists. A palace staff volunteers to tie a colourful turban on a foreign tourist. Other staff are dressed in traditional attire with colourful bandhini turbans. Some of these turbans are a whopping fifteen meters long.
Noteworthy in the palaces are colour paintings, silver howdahs or palanquins, period rooms showing all the richness of an erstwhile kingdom, open terraces or courtyards, and quandrangles surrounded by palaces with beautiful facade in stone. The facades are packed with jali screens, sweeping bangla chajjas, jharokhas on brackets, and eaves strung with stone pendentives. Notwithstanding all such grandeur, they seem at times inferior to the great havelis of Jaisalmer; but that’s only because I saw the havelis first.
From the high reaches of these palaces I get the view of Jodhpur town. There are patches of blue here and there but nothing as complete as in tourist brochures. In some views, there is only an occasional hint of blue. Even the little that is left is not seen to best advantage in the glare of afternoon sun. Perhaps the Jodhpur I had come seeking is no more. It is bit of a disappointment. From what I see, I don’t sense any magic. I say to all would be tourists to the region, be satisfied with the picture postcards before you.
I take one last look of the far town but I am more impressed by the sprawling ramparts in the foreground. I leave the fort and walk down to Jaswant Thada, a marble centoph from a more recent period.
‘We are about to close,’ tells me the guy at the ticket counter. Had he said instead ‘still open for a few minutes’, I might have given it a second thought. I don’t care very much for a five-minute peek at any monument. I sit down outside the entrance and enjoy the evening panoramas spread out before me. In the other side of town is a majestic monument. I learn later that this is the Umaid Bhawan Palace built in recent times.
The sun is setting, the hour is getting cooler. I take a nice long walk back to town and look forward to a much desired good night’s sleep. I have dinner. I blog for a while. A little later I watch a procession of students carrying burning flames. It turns out that today marks the anniversary of Bhagat Singh, that great freedom fighter who was put to death in Lahore many decades ago. I will be in Hussainiwala in Punjab in just a few days, a place where he was cremated by the Sutlej.