Jodhpur: Ancient City, New Experiences

Jodhpur is an old city, going back to 1459. The magnificent Mehrangarh Fort, the slightly anachronistic Umaid Bhawan Palace, bazaars, the camels that still stride the streets, the food…an experience for all the senses.

One danger with going back to re-visit old haunts is that the present almost never lives up to past memories.

But as far as Jodhpur is concerned, I will not complain on this count! We’ve been going back every few years, and it just gets more interesting!

fort 4This year, the highlight of our trip was the Mehrangarh Fort. We go there every visit, but this year new areas seem to have been opened up. Shaded gardens, cobbled paths, open spaces from which to view the city–many of which I do not recall from dozens of visits. fort 2And the whole, immaculately maintained.

ziplineAnd the zipline running from the Fort! This has been in operation for about a year now, it seems. It has six segments, some offering dramatic views of the blue city; others of the ramparts of the fort; and yet others of the Padamsar lake. And most important, it looks safe and well-maintained, and the people running it come across as professional and competent.

I must not forget however the highlight of our trip. We went to catch a movie at the mall with our friends. And there, waiting with us was a lovely Rajput couple, with their little 6 month old son. He was bundled up in a green velvet teddy-bear like costume. After the usual cooing around the smiling baby, we asked what his name was. It was Rudra Pratap Singh! Wow! What a name for a gurgling little fellow dressed in green velvet! Will it put pressure on him? Or will he just grow into it? Who knows?

–Meena

PS: I did not zipline, scaredy me! Raghu did.

Cry, Beloved Blue City 

A stranger in India, reading the news in the last few weeks, would think that the most prominent landmark of Jodhpur was a huge prison, dominating the landscape. That the principal function of the city was to host trials for all kinds of ‘celebs’ accused of all types of crimes, and to then house the convicted in its boundaries.

I have lived in Jodhpur for several years, and my family has close ties to the city. None of us had any clue where Jodhpur Jail was. After the news of Salman’s conviction, we had to look up Google to figure out the location.

What we do remember of Jodhpur is the magnificent 550+ year-old Mehrangarh fort, one of the best preserved and best kept monuments in India. When I lived there 30 years ago, we would be greeted by drummers when we entered, and there were some friendly moustached guides who would take us around. They almost became like family, so often did I take visitors to the Fort. (Now there are proper displays and exhibits and shops and what not. Still nice, but not so intimate).

When you look down from the ramparts of the fort, you know why Jodhpur is called the Blue City. And there is also a walking path from the heart of the city up to the fort, which we did a few times as students (on furlough from college, no doubt). And the very unique Jaswant Thada, lined with different coloured translucent marbles, as you came down from the Fort.

Then the Umaid Bhavan Palace, the newest palace in the world, built as a drought-relief work and completed in the ‘40s. Part-hotel, part-museum, part-royal residence and wholly fascinating. Specially the indoor swimming pool lined with mosaics of the zodiac signs. And the huge murals of scenes from the Ramayana, with the heroes and heroines of distinctly Greco-Roman cast of features, done by a Polish painter.

The most interesting was where I had the good fortune to live on the grounds of—the Ratanada Palace, one of the palaces of the royal family, never really inhabited because it seems it wasn’t lucky for them. It was turned over to the Government after Independence and became the Defence Laboratory, a lab under the Defence Research and Development Organization. Imagine a lab in a palace! There were rumours that it was haunted, and ‘jingling ghungroos’ and ‘strange noises’ were sometimes an excuse not to stay too late at work!

The Palace-Lab

8F83F2EB-DA84-4F24-B34C-2A579E498DF6

The housing for the Lab scientists was on the palace grounds, in converted elephant and horse stables, garages,  band-house, aloo-khana, etc. So there was the most amazing array of very quaint but probably very uncomfortable houses for the families. I never knew whether we were lucky my father was allotted a proper  house—one that was built for the king’s British pilot, who seems to have lived in true colonial style, in a 14-room bungalow . (The same king, I think, who features in the very interesting movie ‘Zubaida’).

The Pilot’s House

98470196-BBCB-475B-A984-B8F2863C8535

The food—the mirch wadas, the badi pakodis, the kabuli, the sponge rasgullas, ghewar and the array of sweets. The lassi in which we could stand a spoon, the dal-bhatti-churma, the kachodis.

The people—hospitable, chivalrous, generous, entrepreneurial.

The ‘khamma ghanis’ and the ‘padaro sas’ and the courtesy.

The bandhinis, the leherias, the silver jewellery and the lac bangles.

The  bazaars, the gullies, the bargains.

I want these images to dominate my mindscape and Jodhpur memories. Not the prison and the prisoners!

–Meena