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Jodhpur On the Doorstep of the Thar

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Jodhpur is a city on the edge of a desert where a glowering mountaintop fortress, replete with glittering rooms, dominates the skyline, and men with curling moustaches and multi-hued turbans, and women in swirling ghaghras add to the magic. Its medieval mystique is so powerful that often one feels like one is embracing dozens of centuries at once.

According to legend when Rao Jodha built his city in 1459, he inherited a hermit’s curse, damming the place with water scarcity. Not wishing to take any chances, Jodha had a man, Rajiya Bambi, buried alive to ensure that the site proved auspicious.

To get under the skin of this ancient capital, one must ambled in the narrow lanes of the old walled city where indigo hued buildings leaned crazily against each other. Here one stumbles on grand havalis, each one with a story to tell. Around the clock tower in the Sardar Market, vendors of every hue and persuasion hawk their wares from vegetables to shimmering glass bangles and roadside fortune tellers and dentists ply their trade rubbing shoulders with sellers of gorgeous bandhinis and lahariya salwar suits.

Despite the allure of the Old City, it is hard to resist the siren call of Meherangarh Fort or the Citadel of the Sun. Sprawled across a 125 m high hill with wall 6 m thick, it is as Rudyard Kipling described it, “built by Titans and coloured by the morning sun.”

Originally built in the mid-15th century, the hilltop bastion as seen today is an amalgamation of structures that were added on by a succession of rulers. Large courtyards, filigreed archways, delicately stone carved balconies that suggest they are made of wood, darbar halls, zenanas and royal chambers with walls inlaid with coloured glass, mirrors and precious metals… the architectural influence of the different periods blend together to stunning effect.

A marble platform and throne on which coronations took place dominates a large courtyard encircled by ornate buildings with rooms spilling over with rich legacies. Palanquins, cribs, chandeliers, vases and wealth of other royal trimmings, weapons designed to kill in ingenious ways… The treasures on display are the proverbial tip of the iceberg, for two-thirds of the collection is stored in the basement.

Outside, beyond the rampart walls, stands Jaswant Thada, the gleaming white temple monument that rises up to the heavens from the spot where generations of maharajas and royal family members were cremated. And in the distance stands Umaid Bhawan. The last palace to be built in India and also one of the largest and most imposing monuments in the country, it is unique in many other ways. For when Maharaja Umaid Singh commissioned the building it was not out of a sense of self-gratification but to provide famine relief to thousands of people ravaged by one of the worst droughts to grip the region. Close to 3,000 men and women worked on for 14 years from 1929 to 1943 to complete the edifice.

Today the palace has been converted into a grand heritage hotel and exploring its many chambers is like turning the pages of a photo album that goes back centuries rather than years.

Fact File

Jodhpur railway station has direct links with Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Jaisalmer, Udaipur and Ahmedabad.

Distances of important cities in Rajasthan: Ajmer 205 km, Bikaner 256 km, Jaisalmer 285 km and Udaipur 318 km. The famous Jain temples of Ranakpur are 160 km on the road to Udaipur. Pushkar, famous for its camel fair is 230 km on a detour off the road to Jaipur.

Palace hotels, 5-star resorts, haveli hotels down to budget lodges, Jodhpur has accommodation to suit all budgets.