Next stop Jodhpur! Our day started at the crack of dawn. We met our taxi driver at 06:00 to take us to Chandigarh Railway Station. We were a little sad to be leaving Shimla – we had really enjoyed the cool, fresh air and mountain vibes. But now it was time to head off to our next destination. The journey to Chandigarh takes around 3 hours and follows some of the twistiest roads we’ve driven on. We’d been warned beforehand, so I made sure to take my motion sick tablets and I sat in front with the driver while André snoozed away in the back seat. We were just thankful not to be crammed in a local Indian bus!
We were pleasantly surprised by Chandigarh railway station. Our only point of reference thus far were the stations in Delhi, so any place that did not have a million people, an army of rats or a river of open sewage, was already one step up in our books! We actually found a little railway café selling good coffee and omelettes. Thought we’d indulge a little to pass the time.
The railway system in India is still very old fashioned but it seems to work. You literally have to look for your name stuck to the side of the carriage to find your berth. The ticket prices are very reasonable for first class though, and the food is filling and yummy! Unfortunately the toilets do leave a lot to the imagination though.
After an overnight train journey, we arrived in Jodhpur, aka the ‘blue’ city.
We took a short ride in a tuk-tuk from the railway station to our guesthouse. Owned by the Jain family, The Blue House is the oldest guest house in Jodhpur. What a gem of a place! On arrival we were given delicious masala chai and made to feel so welcome by Manish. Housed in an old Haveli it feels more like you are stepping into a home than a guesthouse. It’s a maze of stairways and terraces. The rooms are beautifully decorated with items sourced locally. Traditional food is served on one of the rooftop terraces with the most spectacular view over the city and the fort. It’s mesmerizing to sit here at sunset when the air is heavy with the scent of incense and spice and to hear the muezzin call to prayer while the sun sets pink over the squat buildings of the city.
After checking in and just basking in the loveliness of The Blue House we headed off to climb the steep hill to Mehrangarh Fort. There is an easier way of getting there by tuk-tuk, but half the fun of traveling is exploring places on foot.
Our little alleyway was bustling with hole in the wall vendors and people going about their daily business. It was a continuous dodging of auto rickshaws, vendor carts, scooters and cows. We could not believe the amount of people that were out and about. It was unusually busy with the build up to Diwali. Shoppers buying beautiful fabric, flower wreaths, clay oil lamps and foodstuffs all in preparation of the festivities ahead.
We saw these fascinating little red food prints and swastika signs at people’s doorways. They were for sale in many of the markets too. In Hinduism, the Swastika is a very auspicious symbol . Usually appearing red or orange in colour, it is associated with overall wellbeing. Especially during Diwali the swastika signifies the ushering in of a prosperous new year. The little red feet belong to the Goddess Lakshmi. She is regarded as the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. The footprints usually point inwards encouraging wealth to enter the home and stay there forever.
To get to the fort, we had to pass through Sardar Market or Clock Tower market. It is situated slap bang in the middle of the city and is a quintessential example of a lively local bazaar. It’s also one of the oldest markets in Jodhpur. It is noisy, dirty, yet colourful, and has close on 7000 match-box sized shops selling anything from bangles to spices, and everything else in between. It’s great for people watching!
After a 300m climb up the hill, we arrived at Mehrangarh Fort. Rising perpendicular from a rocky hill above Jodhpur’s skyline, it is one of the most magnificent forts in India. It has been home to the Maharajahs since 1848. At some places the battlements are 36m high. The building materials were chiseled from the rock on which the fort stands, so it literally merges with the hillside. Today it is still run by the Jodhpur royal family. It houses a number of fascinating museums and galleries.
The Sati hands are a group of stone imprints of the hands of the wives that died on their noble husband’s funeral pyres. Wives were dressed in wedding finery to join their husbands in death as an act of devotion and faith. The custom of sati has ancient origins in the Hindu faith, and was practiced widely in the Rajasthan area. The practice horrified early western colonials, and it was outlawed by the British in 1829, but was not officially condemned by the Indian government until 1987!
The kite has a significant role in Mehrangarh’s history. The foundation of this fort was laid on a towering hill known as Bhakurcheeria, or the Mountain of Birds. Before the fort was envisaged, the lone human occupant of the hill was an old hermit called Cheeria Nathji, the Lord of the Birds. No one knows if the hill was named after the hermit or vice-versa. The King ordered for the reclusive man to leave his humble abode so that the fort could be built. Annoyed by the impertinence of the King, Cheeria Nath cursed the Kingdom to always be starved of water and fertile lands. One wouldn’t attribute much guile to the hermit, as Jodhpur lies in the heart of a desert. Nevertheless, anxious about the curse, the King reinstated him to the cave where he lived, and also asked his courtiers to feed the kites that surrounded the fort. And so it has been ever since.
Every day at exactly 3:30 sharp the ‘bird man’ stands on the wall, digs into a basket, and swings his lean arm out to hurl bits of meat into the air. In a matter of seconds the sky is filled with over 400 kites. Their cries were haunting and a sound I will remember for a long time. This beastly luncheon lasts for about 30 minutes. To date, the royal family and generous devotees have funded the princely sum of about INR 800 per day for the 2 kg of flying meat.
Although we like to see a few of the main sites a city has to offer when we travel, to us the best thing is just to wander about off the beaten track. This way you get a real feel for a place. Jodhpur is perfect for this. In the maze of alleyways that lead off the main roads, you get to mingle with the locals, eat at little hole in the wall eateries, visit temples, make an offering to a deity in a random little nook, dodge cows and just people watch. It’s great!
There are a number of stories surrounding the significance of the blue colouring used in Jodhpur. Firstly, blue is considered an auspicious colour in the Hindu faith. Its symbolism relates to the protection of humanity and the destruction of evil. Secondly, and this is what most locals will tell you, is that the colour blue is a good reflector of the sun’s rays. This helps keep the inside of homes cool during the scorching summer months. Lastly, as many of the homes are constructed using a lime mixture, they are very susceptible to termite invasion. It is believed that the colour blue aids in repelling them. Whatever the story, it makes for one pretty city!
In Hinduism, the cow is considered sacred and may never be killed. By honouring this gentle animal, who gives more than it takes, Hindus believe they are honouring all creatures. The cow also symbolizes dignity, strength, endurance, maternity and selfless service.
Cow dung is still one of the main fuels in rural India and also serves as a fertilizer. Cow dung and cow urine is also thought to be a disinfectant. Hindu scriptures have always considered the importance of milk as a food source. It’s believed to have a great calming effect and improves meditation. A product of cow’s milk – ghee is used for fire worship. This is considered the highest form of prayer for Hindus.
Encountering an ellie on our daily walks was not an uncommon site.
We were on a quest to find the omelette man of Jodhpur. But in true Indian style, EVERY stall tried to con us into believing that THEY were the original omelette shop. When we finally located the real omelette man, we were surprised to discover that this legend serves his culinary creations from a small stand at the busy intersection and entrance to the Sardar market.
A few plastic stools are haphazardly arranged on the side of the road. I am not sure if it was the fact we were sitting in murky puddles of water or because of the auto rickshaws that came buzzing buy nearly taking off our kneecaps, but you literally fear for your life when sitting there!
Nevertheless, the 3 egg masala cheese omelette in between piles of fresh bread was TOTALLY delicious. It lived up to every review we had read. A bit of useless info – the omelette man goes through over 1000 eggs per day! Pretty insane!
Jaswant Thada was built by Maharaj Singh in 1899 in honour of his father. This temple like structure is built out of intricately carved sheets of marble. These sheets are extremely thin and polished so that they emit a warm glow when illuminated by the sun. It serves as the burial ground for ancient rulers.
We took a tuk-tuk to Mandore about 9km out of Jodhpur. Mandore is an ancient town dating from 6 AD and was the original capital of the area until it was moved to Jodhpur. Built out of red sandstone along the lines of a Hindu temple, it contains the cenotaphs of the former rulers. Quite sadly, it is in a bad state of disrepair and the characters hanging about are nothing short of seedy.
Our train to Jaipur was only leaving at 11:00 pm so we decided to be adventurous on our last evening and have some street food. We had to brave the crazy crowds first though. We had some lassi in the market and then the yummiest fried goodies . It was quite hard to come by beer in Jodhpur and most places seem to sneak it through illegally. We felt a bit like naughty school children having it wrapped up in newspaper and also at this rooftop restaurant, the owner poured it into tea mugs on the floor so the neighbours could not see!