Fortresses and fables in India’s Jodhpur

In Adventure & Discovery, Holiday Reviews - Asia, Holiday Reviews - China by Natalie Bannister

A busy, bustling city with attractions that are unique to this area in Rajasthan, Jodhpur is definitely worthy of a visit en route to the Thar Desert beyond. With its famed indigo-painted houses that give it the name the Blue City, and one of India’s most spectacular forts, Jodhpur has an air of regality about it – it’s a princely state, with an impressive tale to tell.

Related article: Lakes and laneways in India’s Udaipur

An ornate courtyard at Mehrangarh Fort

Established in the 15th-century by Rao Jodha, the fortress city’s 10-kilometre rampart wall still stands as testimony to one of the fiercest and formidable kingdoms of the Rajput states. Exquisite palaces, temples and havelis are dominated by the gargantuan Mehrangarh Fort (one of India’s largest) to the west and the majestic sandstone and marble palace of Umaid Bhawan to the east (now a grand palace hotel and still home to Jodhpur’s royal family).

It’s a desert city that is rich in culture and tradition. Elephants and brightly painted camels walk down the street next to men in colourful turbans and women dressed in kaleidescopic-coloured saris, heavily jewelled, many with large jiggling gold anklets and bracelets. A strong culture of music and folk dance, and a people that are known as some of the most hospitable in all of Rajasthan, all lends a unique aura and character to Jodhpur.

A musician performs at Mehrangarh Fort

There’s a bunch of great bazaars to explore, and it’s always interesting to walk through the laneways and back streets, too. Go on the hunt for exquisite textiles, antique furniture, traditional handmade and embroidered leather shoes (juttis), lacquerware, antiques, carpets, puppets, colourful bangles and the silver jewellery of the nomadic Banjara tribe. You’ll tackle a riotous show of classic India – a cacophony of sounds, smells and chaos, with vegetable carts, incense smoke, pungent spices, Indian sweets, Chai wallahs and holy cows all jostling for some space and attention. 

You cannot escape the view of the impregnable Mehrangarh Fort from anywhere you stand in Jodhpur. Chiselled out of the perpendicular cliff on which it stands, 400 feet above the city, the fort is colossal in both size and legend. Rudyard Kipling wrote of Mehrangarh when he visited Jodhpur in 1899, that it 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…”

Views of Jodhpur from Mehrangarh Fort

Negotiate a ride from a local tuk-tuk driver and head up the hill to explore the fort’s fascinating museum. The view out over the Blue City from the fort is simply outstanding – first thing in the morning and late afternoon are the ideal times to visit, offering the best light and space to really explore without all the crowds. And be sure to hire the audio guide, as the experience just wouldn’t be the same without hearing the tales of war, love, royal life and history as you explore.

Take in the romance of an evening at RAAS, an 18th-century haveli that is now a beautifully-restored boutique hotel in the north-eastern quarter of the city. Even if you’re not a guest of the hotel, you can still reserve a spot at any of their dining options – our pick is the open-air rooftop bar, which has one of the finest views of Mehrangarh Fort lit-up at night. It’s absolutely spectacular! The hotel is right next to the incredible Toorji Ka Jhalara, an 18th-century stepwell, where you’ll often see the local kids enjoying their favourite swim hole.

Darikhana Restaurant at RAAS

The fabled Blue City is Jodhpur’s most iconic of scenes – twisting lanes of indigo homes which stretch along the walls of the historic walled Old City, where the roads are so narrow they cannot be accessed by large vehicle. It’s a walking-only affair here, which suits us just fine, as it offers the chance to slow down and take it all in. The blue pigment on these houses used to indicate that Brahmin (the priests of the Indian caste system) dwelled there. These days, locals tell us, the blue has been adopted by non-Brahmin families too, as the colour is a natural mosquito repellant, and cooling in the scorching heat of summer. Helpful links:RAASMehrangarh Fort Museum

Related article: Temples and tea in India’s Jaipur

Images by Natalie Bannister and courtesy of RAAS