A royal experience in Jodhpur, India's Blue City
From its blue-washed walls to the impregnable Mehrangarh Fort and the Umaid Bhavan Palace, one of the world's largest private residences, Kanika Sharma shares the overwhelming feeling that makes Jodhpur a must-visit destination among Indian and overseas travellers
With celebrities often choosing Jodhpur for their weddings and heady sojourns, we were curious to find out why the city ranks high on itineraries. Testing waters, we wanted to gauge whether the Blue City would prove its mettle in a mere weekend. As we arrived in the 15th century city, we smelled the desert air and the baking sun. Rajasthan’s weather famously seesaws, as we were later told by the current prince and princess of Ranbanka Palace Hotel, our temporary abode in Jodhpur and the city’s first classic heritage property, which earned the tag from the government, recently.
Fort of fancy
After refreshing ourselves and lunching on a Rajasthani favourite — Gatte Ki Subji (boiled gram flour oblongs in tomato gravy) we set out on our time travel adventure. Mehrangarh Fort was our first stop. This fort atop a hill offered a satiating view of blue houses that reflected Rajasthan’s clear skies. Maharaja Rao Jodha laid the foundation of this impregnable edifice in 1459. Situated 400 feet above sea level, the sandstone structure has witnessed several eras of architectural styles. Under the reign of Maldeo, the Rajputana architectural style forms the core of this national geological monument, thus, declared by the Geological Survey of India. Three hundred years later, the fort was acceded to the Mughals, a style that is recognisable. It also sports few modern elements like a café and an elevator while having a part of its premises as the Chamunda Devi Temple. Having ventured out on the first day of Navratras, we were alarmed to see heavy security, whose presence owed to the 2008 stampede when 249 people died on the occurrence of the same auspicious day.
The current fort houses several galleries including Elephant Howdah, Palanquins, and the Painting and Textiles section. We gradually lost our way inside Mehrangarh, so a guide is a must. During our straying, period rooms like the Sheesh Mahal, Phul Mahal, Takhat Vilas and Moti Mahal took us into fantasia. The museum shop stocks steeply-priced souvenirs
(T-shirts: `500 to `600; silver jewellery: `1,000 onwards).
When royalty beckons
On our return, we explored the many corridors of the heritage property and had a privileged attendance with the royal couple — Rajkumar Karan Vijay Singh and Kunwarani Shweta Rathore, grandson and grand daughter-in-law of Maharaja Ajit Singh; we were told that the property is constructed by a British architect. Though the place has received celebrity guests including pop diva Madonna and late Lady Diana, the idea to convert it into a hotel emerged in the 1970s. “It was built in 1927. Ranbanka has been a part of the Ajit Bhawan but as per government regulations and inclusion of several elements, it is only now that it is recognised as a heritage hotel,” said Rajkumar Karan Vijay Singh, a polo enthusiast. Sir Ajit Singh was the younger brother of the 20th century ruler of Jodhpur, Maharaja Umaid Singh. Tracing themselves to the Rathore clan, the bloodline that led to the founding of the city, the palace’s chambers are decked in finery and family portraits.
Our gastronomic adventures ensured we savoured the traditional Lal Maas, Junglee Chicken and a Rajasthani Thali that included the likes of Papad ki Subjee. Spice is a major component of its cuisine and our meals were spiked enough as they weren’t catering to foreign tastebuds. Tired, we took comfort in the four-poster bed and waited for our impending trip to the second imposing structure in Jodhpur, Umaid Bhawan Palace.
It resembles Rashtrapati Bhavan and with good reason since the same architect, Henry Lanchester, built both. The museum, a part of one of the world’s largest private residences is imposing and a character-view of its able ruler, Maharaja Umaid Singh. From the dining to the actual room of attendance, Umaid Bhavan imprints Jodhpur and our short-lived trip with exuberance and a promise to spend a week, at least.