Sometime in 1994 official business took me to Jodhpur. Instead of flying my wife and I decided to go by the metre gauge train and in the process, we had to negotiate the incredible crowds of the Sarai Rohilla Railway Station of Delhi. The station is named after a noble of Mughal era and has nothing to do with the Rohillas of Uttar Pradesh as the name suggests. The railway station serves railway traffic from and to the Northern and Western India. An overnight journey took us to the fabled city of Jodhpur.
Jodhpur is the largest city of Rajasthan after the state capital of Jaipur. The city was founded around five hundred and fifty years ago by Rao Jodha Singh, a Rajput chief of Rathore clan, who conquered the surrounding territories to form the state of Marwar. Later the state came within the Mughal Empire in which it contributed significantly by providing warriors of note. The British too made it subservient to the Crown of England. When the British were preparing to leave the Maharaja did not wish to join the Indian Union. However he was persuaded to do so by the Home Minister of Independent India. It was a case of mischief by Pakistan which wanted to enlarge its territory by offering various benefits to the Maharaja, almost verging on bribery. Fortunately, the mischief was nipped in the bud.
The Meharangarh Fort dominates the city. Built on a rock about 400 ft. high the fort was constructed by Rao Jodha. Enclosed by thick walls the access to it is provided by seven gates. A winding narrow road leads one to the Fort where, like numerous other Rajasthani forts, there are a number of palaces known to be decorated by intricate carvings. The Meharangarh Fort has a fabulous museum and the most interesting item in its collection are the palanquins that used to be in use for the peripatetic maharajas and maharanis.
The view of the city sprawled below from the Fort, which is one of the largest in the country, is unbelievably beautiful. It looks like a spread of blue as most of the buildings are painted blue. The city is, therefore, known as “The Blue City”. Rajasthan has three other cities which are well known by their respective colours : Jaipur is known as the Pink City, Udaipur as the White City and Jaisalmer the Yellow or Golden City of India.
Most interesting feature of the visit to the fort was the strains of shahnai, an ethnic wind instrument, that became audible as we approached the Fort. Two men with colourful turbans wrapped round their heads were rendering the music to the visitors – one was blowing into the shahnai and the other was providing the accompaniment by playing a set of two Rajasthani percussion instruments that looked like nagadas. The turbans of the two musicians with their ethnic musical instruments created just about the right atmospherics for a Rajasthani fort. There was another person in Rajasthani attire lurking around and was more noticeable because of his substantial graying mustachio. Rajasthan is known for its men with massive growths on their upper lips.
For visitors there is another incredible site to see. This is Jawant Thada which is not very old as it was commissioned around the end ot the 19th Century. Its marble cenotaphs are remarkable. It was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh in memory of his father Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. The complex has a good-looking garden with fountains come alive during the day. It is now used as a place of last rites for members of Jodhpur Royalty. It is known as the marble wonder of Jodhpur or even the Taj Mahal of Jodhpur. Some of the marble sheets used in it are so thin that they glow in sunshine. The sun here is rather strong and that has given the city its second nick name, viz. the Sun City.
Umaid Bhawan Palace is of more recent origin and, hence, it is a lived-in palace that also doubles up as a hotel. The visitors get an elevating feeling of sharing the hotel with a real-life maharaja. It is an opulent 5-star hotel managed by the Taj Group. Completed in the 1940s, Umaid Bhawan has more than 340 luxurious rooms some of which are used by Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, many others are set apart for the hotel and a few house a museum. Like any other palace it is located in the midst of splendid gardens with almost regulation fountains at play and pavilions embodying typical Rajasthani architecture. One gets a feeling of opulence scattered all around. Perhaps this is how maharajas live even today in independent India when there have been divested of most of their titles, lands, wealth and power.
One was surprised to see that for a desert town Jodhpur is pretty green. Perhaps the Indira Gandhi Canal has made some difference by charging the underground aquifers. Although it looks arid but it certainly does not give the impression of being a desert town. The invasive Prosopis Juliflora also has spread greenery around. Only time will tell whether this invasion by a foreign species would be beneficial for the community living around Jodhpur.
One must talk about the kachoris, a local fried preparation on which one could snack – no, even survive at least for a day. It is much bigger than kachoris found elsewhere and contains a lot of ghee. We had one each one evening and were done for the day.