We decided to hire a driver for the journey from Udaipur to Jodhpur, as we wanted to stop a few times en route, firstly to see the mighty Kumbalgarh Fort that’s based on a remote rocky point surrounded by jungle, and secondly to visit the Jain temple in Ranakpur made famous by it’s elaborate interior marble work.
Kumbalgarh was every bit as majestic as promised- the monumental yellow stone fortress rose out of the jungle menacingly, its high walls of monstrous proportions and bastions lorded over the surrounding trees. The panoramic views from the top of the ramparts (running 36km in total length around the entire crest of the hill) were brilliant, and the palace at the top of had a real Helm’s Deep feeling to it.
Ranakpur’s Jain temple equally held its own. We arrived at the temple just as a bus load of pilgrims flooded in. As we entered with them via the grand carved stairs up and up through the marble doors, a hush fell as the lofty pillared hall was revealed to us. It truly was breathtaking. The light fell soft on the marble work and the very stone seem to glow with it as it reflected off the pillars and vaulted domed ceilings, all painstakingly hand carved with elaborate mandala designs. We watched as the pilgrims circled the main deity in the central shrine, the doorkeepers ensuring that tourists like ourselves kept a respectful distance. Such a calm and peaceful atmosphere surrounded us.
Onwards to Jodhpur, the famous ‘blue-city’. As we drove, we passed hundreds, if not thousands of walkers plodding along on the roadside, many bearing large flags with the image of a man on a horse. They were heading we were told, to Ramdevra; the biannual festival held in Jaisalmer (some 300km away from us!). People would travel from across Rajasthan by foot, motorbike, car, bus or train in order to join with the festivities that celebrated equality among all religions. Along the way there were numerous stop points and temples, also marked with the flags and tinsel, where the pilgrims were welcome to eat, drink, sleep, dance and socialise for free. For some of the walkers the journey would last over 30 days, relying almost solely on the rest stops to give them all they needed on their way, as they carried just a small rucksack with them to live out of. It was humbling to see so many dedicated pilgrims, and you could almost feel the communal excitement, a real air of festival about it all.
Arriving at Jodhpur, our driver dropped us by the main clocktower square, explaining that for the last bit we had to get a tuk-tuk as no cars were allowed into the old town (the streets were too narrow for them to fit anyway). So we trundled our way through the teeming market place to our gorgeous guesthouse, Namaste Caffe. The room was large and beautiful, the walls painted with colourful murals, and the view from the rooftop over the town (it really was blue!) was beautiful and picturesque, with the Mehrangarh fort towering above us and filling the skyline, appearing to grow seamlessly out of the rock it stands on. We enjoyed a beer as orange flood lights lit up the fort from below, dramatically red against the darkening sky. Large fruit bats swept over our heads. In the distance a lightening storm brewed and we soon had to take cover as the monsoon started to fall. It had been a blisteringly hot day, even for Jodhpur, that sits on the North-Eastern edge of the That desert, and the cool air from the rain was welcome.
As the thunder rolled around the great fort over our heads, the electricity cut out, and we were brought candles in storm lanterns to light our room. Apparently the power cuts are actually instigated in the rain on purpose, in order to prevent dangerous sparking from the electricity cables that hang in tangles over all of the roads like silly string.
The next day the air was feeling much fresher after the storm, and we ventured out to explore the city’s sights. First stop was the white memorial palace (Jaswant Thada) that perches along the ridge from the fort itself, like a mini Taj Mahal, surrounded by dramatic rock desert and a beautiful naturally formed lake teeming with birds and wildlife.
After a lunch of samosa we then visited the fort itself, passing through the old town as we climbed through the steep winding streets, getting lost more than once, eventually being guided by an adorable old man who kept turning around to ask me ‘alright chitti?’ while yelling ‘rights’ and ‘lefts’ ahead to Rich, his English not always correlating with his hands gestures. Eventually we wound our way to the first of the seven mighty gates of the fortress. Each one towered more menacingly in front of us, often set at sharp angles to prevent being charged, as well as spiked to deter elephants ramming against them.
This time it was like being inside the walls of King’s Landing. Eagles circled above in their masses- every afternoon they are fed raw meat off the battlements. Within the walls, market stalls were set up, and busking musicians played sitars with accompanying tabla, singing in a classical Indian moaning drawl echoing through the streets. We got an the audio guide to lead us around the palace itself (not something I’d usually go for but Rich (and the guidebook) convinced me and I must admit it was actually outstanding…).The palace was full of tourists, both local and foreign, and we noticed there were lots of warning signs about taking photographs whilst being on the walls with amusing cartoons of people holding selfie sticks with a big red cross running through. We only found out later that someone had died from falling off the battlements whilst trying to take a selfie…!
After the palace, we had booked in with Flying Fox, a zip wire course around the battlements of the fort, offering us yet more stunning views over the very bluest part of city. The blue walls (painted with lime wash that also makes the tap water cloudy!) traditionally signified that a priest, or Brahmin, lived in the house. Over time, the blue colour grew in popularity, with many believing it could repel insects. Today there are less and less houses being painted blue, as locals opt for other options, but we still found it a satisfying enough amount.
The next day, we went on a tour of some of the local handicraft villages, visiting pot makers (and having a go at it ourselves, apparently my pot would sell in Jodhpur market for 400 Rupees, Rich’s for maybe 10…!), textile printers, and weavers. It was fascinating to see the traditional techniques used and learn about village life – how you would be born into a family of a specific skill set, and that would be your job. Nowadays there is more flexibility, with younger people moving away from the traditional family model and moving to the big cities, getting different jobs that bring more money. Along with new machinery and technology, traditional craft methods are dying out. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is very difficult to say, especially coming in as an outsider. But the skills and dedication to their craft were certainly admirable- especially with the weavers, some of the larger pieces taking up to 6 weeks for 2 people, 10 hours every day.
After one final beautiful evening in Jodhpur, it was time to say goodbye to the blue city, as we continue deeper into the desert, heading for the camel town of Bikaner…
(More photos soon to come… the wifi is struggling!)