As we walked into the old city in Jodhpur, silence fell. Suddenly there were no homeless people sleeping in the street. There were no dogs. There was nobody at all, which for India is really unusual.
Walking further into the maze of alleyways, unsure exactly which way to go, we finally saw some people up ahead. The two men were dressed casually, one with a hat and a scarf wrapped around his head, obscuring his face, much like a balaclava. The other was wielding a hefty stick. As soon as they spotted us they made a beeline in our direction.
Thankfully, it turned out they were policemen. They were curious to know where we were going and then insisted on escorting us to our guesthouse. Due to the efficiency of the Indian train system, we had arrived in Jodhpur 8 hours late and it was well after midnight by the time we finally made it to our accommodation.
The owner was standing in the doorway when we arrived. He hurried us inside and padlocked the heavy iron gate, that served as a front door, behind us. Waking in the middle of the night to the sound of gunfire echoing across the city, we began to understand why security is taken so seriously in Jodhpur.
The Blue City
Jodhpur, The Blue City
Bordering the Thar Desert, in the heart of Rajasthan, Jodhpur is known as the Blue City. The cityscape consists of a jumbled collection of cubic buildings, many of which are blue, clustered below the imposing Mehrangarh Fort.
The blue houses originated as a status symbol for members of the prestigious Brahmin caste. Being the class from which Hindu priests were drawn, some say the blue colour represents the followers of the god, Shiva. Others think that it simply keeps homes cool, which is ideal in a city known for its sunshine. The blue is no longer reserved for the elite however, and has spread across the city.
The Old City In Jodhpur
Wandering through Jodhpur's old city in daylight was a vastly different experience. The alleyways thronged with people, dogs and bikes. Shops and stalls assaulted our senses with colourful textiles, fragrant spices, delicious sweets and all manner of handicrafts. The shop owners were friendly and relaxed too, much like everyone else we encountered in Jodhpur. We also saw women working in some of the shops, which was not something we had previously seen in India.
The kids in Jodhpur were not all quite so friendly though. We did meet some, playing cricket in the street, who were keen for us to join in their game. However, another group threw stones at us until an elderly man stepped in and shouted at them.
In The Old City
The Palace At Mehrangarh Fort
We took a walk up to Mehrangarh Fort, the most prominent landmark in Jodhpur. Mehrangarh, meaning Citadel of the Sun, was named for the Rathore clan, rulers of Jodhpur who were thought to be descendants of the sun god. The site where the fort was built was originally inhabited by a hermit. Being extremely disgruntled by his displacement, he cursed the fort and wished a scarcity of water on the new residents. As well as trying to appease the hermit, another man was willingly buried alive in the walls as a sacrifice to ensure the success of the development. 600 years later, the complex is thriving with a palace, museums, temple and a small cafe. Perhaps the sacrifice did work after all.
The Palace Of Mirrors
The palace interior was spectacularly over the top. We particularly liked the Palace of Mirrors in the Maharaja's residential quarter. The bright religious scenes on the walls were interspersed with mirrored tiles, which also completely covered the vaulted wooden ceiling. The Maharaja's bedroom was even more elaborate. Every inch of space from floor to ceiling was covered in pictures and designs and even the 'carpet' was painted on. The windows were chequered stained glass and giant coloured balls hung from the ceiling like baubles on a Christmas tree.
Outside, we admired the jali screens, intricate stonework lattices that the ladies could use to watch what was going on in the courtyards, without being seen themselves. And looking out from under the meringue-like dome of Chamunda Devi temple, we were rewarded with a great view over the famous Blue City.
So did Jodhpurs come from Jodhpur?
Yes. They were designed by Pratap Singh, son of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. Singh wore his new trousers while playing polo in England and the fashion caught on.
A short way from the fort, we came to Jaswant Thada, a marble cenotaph built in memory of the Maharajah Jaswant Singh II. Jaswant Thada, in our opinion, rivals the Taj Mahal but it was much quieter so we enjoyed it more.
We took some time to relax in the tranquil and immaculately kept gardens. Listening to a local man playing music, we wandered among the gazebos and smaller cenotaphs outside the main building. The gardens were full of small trees and iridescent flashes caught our attention as purple sunbirds darted in and out, feeding from the abundant yellow flowers.
Inside Jaswant Thada
When we came to leave Jodhpur, we had a very early start. So early in fact, that none of the staff at our guesthouse were even awake. Unfortunately this meant we found ourselves on the wrong side of the heavy iron gate with no way out. We had thought of this in advance and arranged for someone to open the gate early. Of course we had been assured that it was no problem at all. Sadly, they had forgotten about us. We did eventually managed to rouse someone though and, as we'd come to expect from people in Jodhpur, he was surprisingly good-natured about it, despite the ungodly hour.
How To Get To Jodhpur
By Train: Take a train to Jodhpur from many cities including Delhi, Agra, Jaisalmer and Jaipur. This is a cheap way to travel.
By Bus: Buses run to Jodhpur from most cities in Rajasthan, including some that are awkward to get to by train. This is a cheap way to travel but not the safest.
By Plane: Fly directly from Delhi (DEL) to Jodhpur (JDH) with Air India or SpiceJet. This is faster but more expensive than train or bus.